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Geneseo Republic - Geneseo, IL
  • Kitchen Call: An end-of-summer potpourri

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  • By Linda Bassett
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    At summer’s end, the activity of families is both filling up and the filing out. Collecting notebooks and crayons and rulers and computer equipment all in the process of gearing up for new beginnings. Other families empty closets and bureaus, packing up vans as older kids head off for new adventures.
    While the elementary school bell may be a few days away, those vans are already on the road. Moms and dads are waving kids off from cozy rooms kept immaculately free of grime and germs and stocked with the latest electronics. Their precious kids, in the process of moving into crowded dorm rooms strewn with dirty socks and wet towels, will be out all hours of the night on weekends and may miss the occasional breakfast. And maybe, or maybe not, they’ll call home once a week. And parents will worry.
    Once the empty-nesters get accustomed to the eerie quiet they can rediscover freedom the vast world out there that has nothing to do with carpools and soccer games and parent committees and dance recitals.
    Flavorful figs
    Empty-nesters can’t eat out every night, because there’s that tuition to be paid. So now’s the time to try something new in the kitchen. Figs. They’re not just for Newtons any more. And they’re in the markets right now, shipped from 100 growers in California. Displayed with the fresh produce, figs are at their peak now. When the fresh ones disappear in December, find the sweet dried ones heaped in the section with the walnuts and dates.
    Here in the Northeast, we’re most likely to see fresh Black Mission figs, deep purple to black with a round earthy flavor. Or pale green to yellow Calimyrna figs with a sweet, buttery flavor.
    Professional chefs blend Black Mission with savory flavors accents, like cocoa and spices, for a meaty flavor and smoky aroma a little like steak. Lighter-colored figs take well to lavender, pine nuts, fennel. Instead of complicated chef recipes, a home cook might slice them into a salad of arugula and crumbled blue cheese tossed with a few drops of olive oil, some salt and pepper. Or quickly sear a few in the fat left in the skillet after cooking a pork chop. They’re also great cut into halves, then wrapped in bacon and broiled.
    Figs are a good source of dietary fiber, rich in antioxidants, and a source of calcium and potassium. Some like the natural energy boost they provide, by themselves before a walk or a workout at the gym. Best part, besides the flavor: Figs are free of fat, sodium and cholesterol.
    The cute little guys even have their own website: www.californiafigs.com in case you want to check the exact figures.
    Page 2 of 2 - Go green
    While playing in the kid-free kitchen, a cook may want to whip up a bowl of green soup, something that would have sent their teens screaming in protest. But when it’s only the grown-ups, and the weather is still warm enough for cool soup, here are a couple to try. I promise, no hard-to-find ingredients — and no kale.
    HERBED ZUCCHINI SOUP
    Makes 4 to 6 servings
    This cool soup, seasoned with three mint family cousins, is thickened, gazpacho-style, with a slice of bread. It tastes just as good warm. In that case, peel and cube a large Idaho potato, sauté it gently for 15 minutes until slightly tender, then add the zucchini to the pan and continue the recipe. Use the bread for croutons instead.
    2-1/2 pounds zucchini, peeled and chopped
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 slice bread, without crust
    1/4 cup each fresh basil leaves, cilantro leaves, mint leaves
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    3 tablespoons lemon juice
    Salt, pepper
    A few extra mint leaves and lemon zest for garnish
    1. Gently sauté the zucchini in the butter until wilted, about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
    2. Pulse the zucchini in the food processor with all the remaining ingredients until smooth. Pour into bowls or frosted mugs. Garnish with mint leaves and lemon zest.
    COOL GREEN MELON AND CUCUMBER SOUP
    Makes 4 to 6 servings
    A cool soup, this one is best when one of those hot days ambushes you.
    2 pounds honeydew melon, cut into cubes
    2 medium cucumbers, peeled and seeded
    2 slices bread, without crust
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 tablespoon fish sauce
    2 tablespoons lime juice
    1 small shallot
    1 cup water
    Ground black pepper
    Cilantro leaves, for garnish
    Incredibly easy to make, just pulse the melon and cucumbers in a food processor. Then feed the remaining ingredients through the top until the soup is smooth. Serve over ice in a stemmed glass. (A stemmed beer glass works very well.)
    Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by email at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.

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