Enjoy the summer bounty

As the summer season concludes, now is the perfect time to harvest an abundance from the garden. Here’s how to make the most of summer tastes: from beet gnocchi to peach and basil sorbet, learn to expect the unexpected.

by Daniela Pagliaro | photography by Nadia Pagliaro

This unusually hot, humid and rainy summer has given us the gift of a spectacular garden bounty. Sometimes, due to the oppressive humidity, it felt like we were living in southeast Asia – I’ve lived in southern China and Thailand, so I know – but I’m grateful for the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables that come with it.

If you’re one of the lucky ones in Cottage Country who’s managed to save your vegetable garden from deer, groundhogs, red squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons, I salute you! I, however, have not been successful on the summer garden front despite the gardening skills inherited from my Italian ancestors. I live on a common deer throughway in Haliburton Village and like the fact they enjoy relaxing and chomping on my property. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of locally grown produce available at farmers’ markets, local shops and via garden gate sales at farms scattered across rural Ontario.

For me, the end of summer signals family time making a year’s worth of tomato passata for the extended family, gathering around a huge table and enjoying what the late summer harvest has to offer. To this end, I’m excited to share some of my new favourite summer recipes. Enjoy!

Deadly Serious Beet Gnocchi

I am obsessed with beets … and the opener of Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins: “The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.”

Although there is some touch-and-feel required, gnocchi is a surprisingly easy dish to make and you don’t need any special pasta tools. Plus, using your hands in this way is super meditative so you can contemplate the end of summer while you make these soft pillows of yumminess. The flavour is more earthy than a simple potato gnocchi, so a brown butter sage sauce is a nice fit. Alternatively, a simple aglia e olio (with sautéed beet tops) would be lovely, and a nice way to make use of every bit of that beety goodness!

Ingredients

• 2 to 3 red beets, unpeeled (about ½ lb or 120g)

• 3 russet potatoes, unpeeled (about 1 ½ lbs 675g)

• 1 egg (preferably farm fresh)

• 1 to 1 ½ cups (236ml to 355ml) unbleached all purpose flour (I like to use a 1:1 mix of AP and stone milled Red Fife)

• ½ tsp (2.5ml) salt

Directions

1. With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 350F (176C).

2. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil. Using a fork, prick the potatoes. Place the beets and potatoes (unwrapped) directly on the oven rack. Bake for one hour or until very tender. Turn off the oven, remove the beets and potatoes and let them cool. You could boil the potatoes, but baked potatoes contain much less moisture which is the key to great gnocchi.

3. Once cooled, peel the beets. In a food processor, blender or bullet, purée the beets until very smooth. You will need 1/2 cup (118ml) of beet purée.

4. Peel the potatoes while they remain somewhat hot. If there’s a bit of a hard layer just under the skin, cut them in half and scoop everything out. Press through a potato ricer (you could use a colander) and place in a large bowl.

5. Add the beet purée, egg and salt to your potatoes, then, adding ½ cup (118ml) of flour at a time, use your hands to fold the flour into the potato and beet mixture, rotate the dough one-quarter turn, add more flour, fold and repeat. This fold and turn method keeps the gnocchi dough airy and fluffy. Add more flour as needed until the dough doesn’t feel sticky. It will be softer than traditional gnocchi dough.

6. Move the dough onto a floured surface and divide it into six to eight pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope about the width of your thumb or index finger.

7. Cut each rope into 3/4-inch (2-cm) gnocchi. Lightly dust with flour. Place on a floured baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes or until firm to the touch. Note: if your gnocchi feels dry enough, use a fork to “roll” the pieces and make the familiar gnocchi pattern we all know and love. This may not be appropriate, though, since the roasted beets make this dough a bit more delicate.

8. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water (like the ocean) to a boil and slide in your gnocchi. Cook until they float to the top and remove with a slotted spoon or spider strainer. Simply slide the cooked gnocchi into your pre-prepared sauce. Alternatively, rather than boil, sauté the gnocchi in olive oil and garlic.

Summer Harvest Panzanella with Cacio e Pepe Dressing

If you’ve ever visited Rome, you probably discovered that it’s not only famous for the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain, but for what many consider to be the best pasta – cacio e peppe (cheese and black pepper). For this recipe, I decided to give a Roman flare to the traditional Tuscan bread salad, Panzanella, by adding a cacio e pepe dressing. Usually Panzanella is made with stale, crusty bread, tomatoes, fresh basil, vinegar and olive oil.

It’s usually served in summer, making use of an abundance of fresh vegetables, so I’ve decided to add a Canadian twist by including roasted corn. I encourage you to experiment by adding other warm weather vegetables, such as zucchini or even fresh peach slices. Seriously, with this dressing, you can’t go wrong.

Ingredients

For the cacio e pepe dressing

• 3/4 cup (65gr) finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

• 1/3 cup (178ml) boiling water

• 1/3 cup (178ml) good quality extra-virgin olive oil

• 2 tsp (10 ml) freshly ground black pepper, or as much as you can handle! I like 1+ tablespoons

For rest of salad

• About 7 cups (1,700ml) crusty bread, torn into bite-sized pieces

• 3 cups (700ml) fresh corn kernels (cut from about four ears of corn)

• Salt (I prefer kosher) and freshly ground black pepper to taste

• 1 cup (236ml) mixed coloured cherry tomatoes, halved

• 2 to 3 cups (470 to 700ml) arugula

• 1 cup (236ml) fresh basil leaves, roughly torn (chopping basil bruises it)

• 8 to 10 oz (29ml) burrata or good-quality fresh mozzarella

• Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for serving

• Peach slices (optional)

Directions

1. To make the dressing, add the grated Pecorino to a large bowl and whisk in the boiling water until the cheese is melted and evenly distributed. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified, then add the black pepper. Set aside 1/4 cup (60ml) of the dressing for when you assemble the salad.

2. Add the bread and corn to a sheet pan lined with parchment or a silicon mat. Season with a few pinches of salt, then add the remaining dressing. Keep the residue dressing in the bowl for later.

3. Using your hands (my favourite part!), toss until the bread and corn are well coated with the dressing.

4. Place the sheet pan in a cold oven and heat to 375F (190C). When the oven reaches temperature, check the bread. If they’re browning nicely, remove the sheet pan from the oven, flip them and stir the corn. If not, keep baking for a few minutes longer. After you’ve flipped the croutons, bake for four to six minutes longer (or less/longer depending on your oven), or until they’re golden and crispy on the outside, but still a little soft in some parts from the dressing. They will continue to crisp up as they cool.

5. Add the halved cherry tomatoes to the large bowl you used for the dressing. Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper, then gently toss so they’re coated in the residual dressing in the bowl.

6. After the croutons and corn have cooled for a few minutes, add them to the large bowl with the tomatoes and arugula and drizzle a little more of the dressing over the entire salad. Add the basil and big torn pieces of burrata or fresh mozzarella,

then top with more grated Pecorino and black pepper, to taste. Alternatively, you could assemble the salad in one-person portions. For a tasty twist, add sliced peaches. Delicious!

Sweet and Spicey Pan-Fried Eggplant with Ricotta

Indulge your fry tooth with this remedy that will use up a ton of eggplant from your garden. I simply love the pairing of crispy, fried slices of young eggplant, fried garlic and hot chili flakes offset by the fluffy, creaminess of ricotta and the sweetness of honey. This can be a main course if you add a side, or it can be a side for a main course. You choose!

Ingredients

• 1.5 pounds (680kg) young eggplant, cut into 2-inch (5cm) strips

• Fine sea salt, as needed

• ¼ cup (60ml) extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

• 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

• 12 ounces (354ml) (one tub) of whole milk ricotta

• 1 tbsp (14ml) local honey, or to taste

• Balsamic reduction as needed

• Red pepper flakes, to taste

• Flaky sea salt or coarse kosher salt to taste

• ⅓ cup (177ml) torn fresh basil leaves

• Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)

Directions

1. Sprinkle the eggplant lightly with fine sea salt and let sit while you heat a large frying pan over medium heat.

2. When the pan is hot, add the oil and heat until shimmering. If needed, pat the eggplant dry, then arrange in a single layer in the pan. You may need to cook them in batches. Fry the pieces until golden brown on all sides, turning them often.

3. Transfer the eggplant as it cooks to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle very lightly with more fine sea salt.

4. When all the eggplant is cooked, reduce the heat to low and add the sliced garlic and a little more oil if needed. Cook until just golden. Use a slotted spoon to transfer garlic to the paper towel-lined plate next to the eggplant.

5. Spread ricotta on a serving plate in an attractive swirly pattern. Top with fried eggplant and garlic. Drizzle with honey and balsamic reduction for colour and flare, then sprinkle with red pepper flakes, kosher salt and torn basil. Serve immediately with lemon wedges, if you like them, on the side.

Try adding zucchini or use mascarpone in place of the ricotta

Basil and Peach Sorbet

There’s nothing better than a warm summer peach, am I right? Except, perhaps this super simple basil and peach sorbet! Years ago, before I started my handmade pasta business, I entertained the idea of starting a gelato business in my neck of the Cottage Country woods. I took a professional gelato making course and worked for a short time with an incredibly talented PhD chemist-turned-gelato maker in Toronto. I learned a bit about how to combine seemingly disparate flavours to create something delicious. This recipe is a new spin on a strawberry basil gelato I have been making for years.

Ingredients

• 1 cup (236ml) sugar

• 1 cup (236ml) water

• ½ cup (119ml) packed fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped plus more to taste

• Sea salt or kosher salt

• 2.5 lbs., about 4 cups (946ml), of ripe peaches, peeled and cut into pieces

• 3 tsp (15ml) fresh lemon juice

Directions

1. Combine the sugar and water in a small stainless steel pot, heat slowly and stir until the sugar dissolves.

2. Add the chopped basil, as well as a pinch of salt, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the mixture completely cool. Strain the syrup and reserve the basil.

3. Put the peaches in a blender or food processor, add the cooled syrup, the lemon juice and puree. Add about 1 tsp (5ml) of the reserved basil and pulse until it makes green flecks in the peach puree. I like to add more fresh basil at this stage to deliver further flavour: a teaspoon (or thereabouts) will amplify the taste.

4. If using an ice cream maker, chill the mixture well, then freeze it in your ice cream maker, following the manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, it still works if you transfer the mixture to a large bowl and put it in your freezer until it’s about half frozen. Once the edges get hard – but the middle remains a little soft – remove it from the freezer and whip with a hand mixer. Repeat this step three times.

5. Transfer the sorbet to a chilled container, cover tightly and put it in the freezer for about two hours to firm up.

Daniela Pagliaro learned the art of pasta making from her Nonna Ortenzia Giodano and recently started OGCucina in honour of her Nonna. Follow Daniela at Facebook.com/ogcucina and Instagram.com/og_cucina.