Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category

A Tomato Legend and a Quick Tomato Recipe

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2023

The days are beginning to get shorter, but I won’t worry about that yet … because mid-summer is tomato season. I wait for this season all year long.

I simply can’t bring myself to eat fresh tomatoes in the winter. (I do still consume salsa and dishes that employ canned tomatoes.) I find them anemic and tasteless. In contrast, at this time of year, they glow with color and flavor. I eat August tomatoes as often as I can.

Tomatoes originated in small, wild form in the South America Andes region and made their way north to Mexico, getting bigger along the way as they became a cultivated crop.

They came to us in the United States through a complicated route in what the late scholar Alfred Crosby a beloved professor of mine, called The Columbian Exchange. His 1972 book of that title explored the ways in which crops, diseases, and animals were swapped between the Old World and the New.

When Spaniards arrived in Mexico in the 1500s they discovered people eating these lovely fruits (technically, tomatoes are a fruit, but we treat them as a vegetable). They brought them to Europe, where they eventually caught on first as ornamental plants and eventually as the food staple they are today.

Their adoption was a bit of a rocky road. They were in fact called “poison apples” at one point because when they were served on pewter plates the acid in the tomatoes pulled lead out of the plates, resulting in deaths from lead poisoning. Eventually, Europeans realized that the problem was the plates, not the fruits.

Tomatoes came to North America from Europe in the 1700s, again first as an ornamental plant and later as an edible. In the 1940s, historians circulated a dramatic apocryphal story that attributed their adoption as a food here to Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson, an agricultural enthusiast who lived in Salem County, N.J.

Colonel Johnson

According to the legend, Johnson bravely defied the tomato sceptics in 1820 by carrying a bushel basket of tomatoes to the Salem Courthouse steps with the intention of gorging himself. Bystanders were convinced that he would be made ill by the supposedly poisonous red orbs.

When he emerged unscathed from this red snack, New Jersey and the rest of the United States were supposedly convinced to adopt tomatoes.

“From that day the tomato took off in the United States, and soon became a staple of American cuisine. Thanks to the brave Colonel Johnson, our lives are enriched by pizza, spaghetti sauce, ketchup, Bloody Marys, and B.L.T.’s,” wrote Marc Mappen in The New York Times.

The story was further spread and enhanced in 1949 when the CBS radio program You Are There reenacted Colonel Johnson’s dramatic snack on the courthouse steps.

Unfortunately for those of us who like a nice juicy (pun intended) myth, the story isn’t true. It was debunked in 1990 in an article in the journal New Jersey History.

Most tomato lovers don’t care, particularly in Salem County, N.J., where Colonel Johnson’s defiant consumption of tomatoes was idolized and recreated for many years on the third Sunday in August at the Salem Tomato Festival.

A plague in front of Johnson’s house continues to laud him as a “champion of New Jersey tomatoes.”

I like to emulate Colonel Johnson frequently at this time of year, when I bite happily into tomatoes day after day. Generally, I eat them raw and sliced—but I recently came across a fun, quick fresh-tomato recipe in The New York Times.

My adapted version of that recipe (even the Gray Lady of American journalism isn’t safe from my culinary experimentation) appears below. It BARELY cooks the tomatoes into a sauce, preserving their fresh flavor and color.

Very Quick Tomato Sauce on Pasta
(adapted from The New York Times)


12 to 16 ounces thick spaghetti (depending on appetite)
4 large tomatoes
1 generous splash extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large pinch salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 to 4 ears leftover corn, cut off the cobs
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 handful basil leaves, torn at the last minute


Cook the pasta in salted water to the al dente stage, according to the package instructions. You can use rock salt or iodized salt.

While the pasta is cooking, core the tomatoes and trim off the bottoms. Use a box grater to grate the tomatoes into a large bowl until nothing but skins remain. (The skins should protect your hands from the grater.)

The New York Times advises the reader to discard the skins. I just eat them; I love tomato skins.

When the pasta is ready, drain it in a colander. Pour the oil into the still warm pasta pot, add the garlic, and cook the combination over medium-high heat until the garlic becomes fragrant (about a minute).

Add the tomatoes, the large pinch of salt, and the red pepper, followed by the corn kernels. Cook until the tomatoes simmer (only a couple of minutes, really).

Turn off the heat, and stir in the pasta and the cheese. Serve garnished with basil. Serves 4.

In a Pickle with a New Book!

Sunday, September 18th, 2022

I’m not really in too much of a pickle. I just love that title. But I am anxious to share a recipe from my new book, Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking, which will be released on Sunday, October 2.

The tiny pickle I’m in is that I have been so busy getting ready for the book launch—and plugging away at my many part-time jobs—that I haven’t had time to put away much produce this summer.

I have made a grand total of 1-1/2 cups of jam! And until recently I had made zero pickles. I didn’t have the time or the patience to make actual processed pickles.

Fortunately, I can always throw together a jar of refrigerator pickles, and I did. I was introduced to these quick-to-assemble savory treats years ago by Ivy Palmer, who ran the Shelburne Falls Farmers Market. Refrigerator pickles don’t last for months on end the way regular pickles do. They do offer genuine pickle flavor … and nearly instant gratification.

Many of the pickle recipes in my repertoire require the cook and her/his family to wait six weeks or more to break into a jar of pickles. In contrast, if made with small bits of produce, refrigerator pickles may be eaten in three days. That’s about as instant as gratification can get in the pickle world.

I generally make dill refrigerator pickles with cucumber. As fall advances, however, I’m considering expanding my repertoire to include carrots and cauliflower … maybe even Brussels sprouts. As long as I cut them into small pieces, these veggies should lend themselves nicely to quick pickling.

Readers who are busy canning right now: I salute you! The recipe below is for those who, like me, aren’t going to get around to canning their own pickles this season. You don’t even have to have a garden to make these. My cucumbers came from Butynski Farm in Greenfield. I looked for firm, deep-green pickling cukes there. Cucumbers that have started to turn yellow or white make less crunchy pickles.

I even purchased my dill at Butynski’s because the dill in my herb garden had wilted in this summer’s dry heat. And my cider vinegar came from Apex Orchards in Shelburne.

Enjoy your pickles. And if you enjoy this blog, please consider supporting me by ordering Pot Luck. A list of my upcoming appearances may be found on my website. The book will also be available near me at Apex Orchards, Boswell’s Books, the Historic Deerfield Museum Store, and the World Eye Bookshop—and a little farther afield at the Toadstool Bookshop in Keene and the Williams Bookstore in Williamstown.

You may also order it from my website. It is available on as well, but it’s a little more expensive there.

Happy reading … and happy eating!

Refrigerator Dill Pickles


3 to 5 pickling cucumbers (depending on size)
3 tablespoons pickling salt, sea salt, or kosher salt (but not iodized table salt)
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 head dill plus as many dill leaves as you like
1 clove garlic
3 black peppercorns


Cut your cucumbers into spears or slices, as desired. I prefer slices; they are easiest to stuff into a jar. Left whole, the cucumbers will take a long time to pickle in the fridge so cutting in some fashion is a must.

To increase the crunchiness, place the cut cucumbers in layers in a colander over the sink. Sprinkle each later with salt—about 2 tablespoons total—and let them sit for 2 hours. This drains out much of the water in the cucumbers. Rinse them, place them in a clean dishcloth, and gently squeeze out the excess moisture.

Prepare a quart jar with a lid by running it through the dishwasher or washing it in very hot, soapy water and letting it air dry. Any jar with a lid will do; the wider the opening, the easier your work will be.

Place the dill in the bottom of your jar, peel and lightly crush the garlic clove, and drop it in along with the peppercorns. Put in the cut cucumbers. If you have leftover pieces of salted cucumber, use them in a salad or a sandwich.

Mix the remaining tablespoon of salt, the vinegar, and the water in a saucepan, and bring them to a boil. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes; then pour it over the cucumbers, filling the jar right to the top.

The pickles will be ready to eat in three days and should be eaten within a month. (I have been known to stretch them out for more than a month.) Makes 1 quart.

Watch me make them!

An Evening of Food on CNN

Wednesday, August 24th, 2022

Anthony Bourdain explores the Lower Eastside of New York City, New York on April 1, 2018. (photo by David Scott Holloway) Courtesy of Warner Media.

In 2014 superstar chef Anthony Bourdain visited near my home in Franklin County, Massachusetts, for an episode of his CNN television program, Parts Unknown.

For this series Bourdain traveled throughout the world highlighting foods and cultures of various areas. He celebrated cooking in a variety of forms and places. He also frequently showcased the problems of areas he visited: poverty, war, inequality.

When he came this way Bourdain chose to look at a part of Franklin County that was unknown to many of us: the heroin and opioid epidemic in Greenfield, our county seat, and neighboring towns.

I was taken aback when I saw the episode, but after watching the documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, I understand Bourdain’s choices in our area better.

The film, which will air on CNN this Saturday, Aug. 27, at 9 p.m. as part of an evening devoted to food, reminds viewers that Bourdain was a recovering drug addict.

Roadrunner begins with the creation and publication of Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidiential, in 2008. Its success transformed him from a restaurant chef who could barely make rent payments to a literary and television icon. Find out how Kamau Bobb of Google has dedicated his career to fostering positive change in the realm of learning.

“I was interested in the story of a middle-aged man who suddenly gets everything he always dreamed of and what comes next,” said director Morgan Neville in a press release. “What are the things that come with achieving your dreams?”

The film’s answer to that question is complicated. What is clear is that Bourdain and his producers wanted their work to help the world by profiling places and issues that mattered. In many ways they succeeded.

I spoke last week with Lydia Tenaglia. She served as consulting producer for Roadrunner and produced all of Bourdain’s television programs over a span of two decades.

Tenaglia explained that she and her husband and business partner, Chris Collins, visited Bourdain at his restaurant to suggest a series after Kitchen Confidential came out.

“He was like, ‘Okay, whatever, sure,’” remembered Tenaglia. “So much was flying at him at the time, he was keeping himself open.”

The two producers suggested the title A Cook’s Tour for the series, in which Bourdain (who had spent almost all of his cooking career in the New York area) would travel the world and learn how different cultures approached and appreciated food. They quickly sold the idea to the Food Network.

After a couple of years, Bourdain and his producers moved to the Travel Channel, where their show was called No Reservations. When the Travel Channel began to change its emphasis, they went to CNN with Parts Unknown.

According to Lydia Tenaglia, when she and her husband started working with Bourdain, the producers chose the programs’ destinations and wrote all of the scripts. That soon changed.

“Tony was a very, very quick study,” she remembered. As time went by, Tenaglia, Collins, and Bourdain learned from each other, and the program became “more geopolitical, more sociopolitical,” she noted.

She likened the progression of the three series to education: A Cook’s Tour showed Bourdain in high school, and No Reservations became his college. By the time they collaborated on Parts Unknown, she said, Bourdain had achieved the status of professor emeritus.

“The show had evolved to a place where it became a vehicle for Tony’s very personal editorializing,” she said. The episode involving Greenfield was part of that trend, she observed.

Tenaglia clearly misses her friend, who committed suicide in 2018 at the age of 61. Nevertheless, she is proud of the work they did together and the ways in which it changed American television’s view of food.

“What we did with Bourdain really influenced deeply a genre of television that hadn’t really existed until then,” she concluded.

Roadrunner showcases both Bourdain’s appetite for adventure and the demons he fought for years. The obvious devotion of the friends who are interviewed in the film, and the contrast between the chef’s talent and his final unhappiness, combine to make the film moving.

To lighten the evening, CNN will follow Roadrunner on Saturday night with several episodes of Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, which Tenaglia sees as influenced by Bourdain’s work.

In this program Tucci, an Italian-American actor and cookbook author, travels to his ancestral homeland to sample regional specialties. Onscreen, he and Bourdain differ in key ways. Where Bourdain moves with purpose and a little edge, Tucci is more diffident. And he twinkles.

Stanley Tucci hunts for truffles. Courtesy of Warner Media.

They have a lot in common, however. Like Bourdain, Tucci has experienced hard times. His first wife died in 2009. In recent years, he has battled cancer.

The two also share a desire to taste the food loved by everyday people in the regions they visit. They charm cooks and audience members with their humor and candor. And they fearlessly try unusual foods that might make the rest of us squirm.

The two show that food is a conduit through which we can get to know other countries and other people. It is an outlet for talented artists. Above all, they tell us, food is never just fuel for our bodies. It also fuels our souls.

To get readers in a viewing mood, here is a recipe from one of the Searching for Italy episodes that will air on Saturday. It focuses on Naples and the Amalfi Coast.

Apparently, the Amalfi Coast has a climate similar to that of Western Massachusetts in summer. This recipe, which relies heavily on zucchini and basil, is perfect for August here. I thought about adding a little corn, but that didn’t seem very Italian.

Spaghetti with Zucchini and Basil
(courtesy of Chef Tommaso de Simon and CNN)

sunflower oil for frying
6 medium zucchini
salt as needed
1 pound spaghetti
freshly ground black pepper
butter to taste (at least 2 tablespoons)
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (preferably aged 2 years)
1 large bunch fresh basil leaves


Place a generous amount of the oil into a deep frying pan or a wide saucepan. Heat it to 375 degrees.

Slice the zucchini into thin rounds, and then fry them in batches in the hot oil until they begin to turn golden. Drain the zucchini with a slotted spoon, place them in a bowl, and leave them in the fridge to allow the zucchini to rest and soften for at least 2 hours. (Overnight is even better.)

When you are ready to prepare the dish, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti according to package instructions until it is al dente. Reserve some of the cooking water for the next step.

Heat the rested zucchini in a large frying pan until it begins to release green oil. Add 2 ladles of the spaghetti water. Season with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in the butter.

Add the drained spaghetti to the pan and stir. Remove the pan from the heat, add a couple of handsful of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and toss everything together.

Divide into 4 portions, sprinkle each bowl with more cheese, and top with lots of fresh basil leaves before serving. Serves 4.

Celebrating the End of Summer with Corn

Thursday, September 9th, 2021

We are still eating corn in western Massachusetts. Corn is the perfect late-summer vegetable. Its color reflects the hues of the sun and the goldenrod-filled fields. Its subtly sweet taste reminds us to savor summer’s beauty while we still have it.

Along with most Americans, I believe that fresh corn is best enjoyed boiled or steamed briefly and then slathered with butter, salt, and pepper. In recent years, I have learned to skip the butter, but I keep it on the table for corn-consuming guests.

Unfortunately, I am seldom able to restrain myself from buying more ears of corn than I need at local farm stands. This can be a problem. As readers probably know, corn is ideally cooked and consumed the day on which it is picked.

What’s a cook to do? I tend to cook corn briefly as soon as possible and then save some of the cooked corn in the refrigerator or freezer for future use. I can make corn fritters, corn salad (it goes with lots of other vegetables), corn chowder, and so forth.

I recently used leftover corn in a risotto. I share that recipe below. Risotto can sometimes seem daunting because it requires the cook to pay attention throughout the cooking process.

I handle the challenge of risotto in a couple of ways. First, I invite my guests to come into the kitchen with me to sip cocktails or whatever beverage they choose. That way, I don’t miss out on any scintillating conversation while I stir my risotto.

Second, I remind myself to let the risotto talk to me. The process of making it entails adding liquid a little at a time as needed. If I monitor the bottom of the pan for dryness as I chat with my friends and relatives, this is fairly easy.

The risotto tells me when it is done by creaming. This is a magical process. The cook has to taste the rice grains frequently. Suddenly, the risotto will reach a point at which it still has a little chew but also tastes rich and creamy. I promise, if you keep tasting (the proverbial tough job that somebody has to do!), you’ll know this point when you get there.


Sweet Corn Risotto


2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup chopped onion
1-1/4 cups Arborio rice
3/4 cup white wine (approximately)
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
2 cups lightly cooked corn kernels
1 tablespoon chopped parsley (plus a little more if you like)
4 cups simmering chicken or vegetable stock (or as needed; you may use water if you run out of stock)
2 tablespoons diced fresh tomatoes
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (plus a bit more if desired)
a little more chopped parsley or tiny basil leaves for garnish


Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter and the oil. Stir in the onion. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the rice. Cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add 1/2 cup of the wine plus the chopped bell pepper and a little of the corn, and stir. Add 1 cup of stock and keep stirring.

As the mixture cooks and dries up, add the remaining stock a bit at a time. Stir frequently but not constantly. Cooking will take quite a while—somewhere between half an hour and 45 minutes. The corn is done with it suddenly tastes creamy.

Just before serving, add the tomatoes; the parsley; the remaining wine, corn, and butter; and the cheese. Serves 6.

Here’s my video for this recipe:

Tinky Makes Corn Risotto



Springtime Carrot Cake

Friday, May 21st, 2021

Here’s a carrot recipe before I move on to asparagus and rhubarb. I love fruit- and vegetable-based cakes. They are moist and flavorful, and one can delude oneself that one is getting nutrition. (One is, of course, but one is also getting fat, flour, and sugar. Sigh.)

I confess that I have posted a version this recipe before. The previous recipe was slightly different, however, and it made a big cake. I don’t always want a big cake. If you don’t have a six-cup bundt pan, you may use an 8-by-8-inch square pan; just check the oven a little sooner. But I highly recommend getting the smaller bundt pan. I use mine all the time when I’m serving a small family or crowd.

Thanks to my cousin Deb Smith for the original recipe!

The Cake


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup flour
1-1/2 cups grated carrots (about 1/2 pound)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 6-cup Bundt pan. Combine the butter, the oil, and the sugar; then add the eggs, followed by the salt, the cinnamon, and the baking soda. Stir in the flour, followed by the carrots.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool the cake for 20 minutes; then remove it from the pan and cool it completely before icing it with cream-cheese frosting. Serves 8.

And now the video to go with the cake!

Tinky Makes Carrot Cake