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Do you ever go to a market and see a piece of produce so lovely that you must buy it, just because of how it looks? At Urban Farm Market at Westminster Hwy. and No. 5 Road, where I shop almost daily, I found such a thing on Saturday. The most exquisite baby eggplants sat piled in shiny purple rows. Their skins were plump and firm. Their stems said they were newly off the vine. I chose two of them and imagined creating a beautiful meal around them.

On Sunday, I made my first eggplant parmesan and wondered how I’d gotten through life this far without this dish. It requires salting the eggplant slices and letting them sit for 30 minutes to remove any bitterness — standard procedure with eggplant. Then they are dredged in flour, dipped in egg and then in Panko crumbs. They are fried until golden brown and crispy on the outside.

Panko-crusted eggplant slices

The next step is to make a rich tomato sauce, flavoured with basil. I use imported Italian crushed tomatoes (sorry about that, 100-mile diet!) and add it to gently sautéed garlic. Then I add bunches of basil and let it simmer to blend the flavours.

Basic tomato sauce with garlic and basil

The whole thing is then combined, kind of like lasagna with a layer of tomato sauce, a layer of eggplant, a layer of fresh mozzarella, repeating and then adding handfuls of parmesan on top of the final dish.

Eggplant parmesan

This day, I also tackled a dessert, something as rare as a hot day in June in Vancouver. Along with my beautiful eggplants, I found the very first local strawberries. There is something about strawberries grown in the Lower Mainland of BC that defies adequate description. They are sweet and intensely flavoured with rich, red coloration throughout. They begged to be displayed in a dessert, so I found a recipe called Crostada di Fragoli e ricotta. It is a simple, crisp sweet crust, topped with a lemony custard made with ricotta which is baked in the shell, then topped with sliced strawberries and dusted with icing sugar. Something so simple in taste, but so crazy good!

Crostada di fragoli e ricotta

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OK, I’m a lousy blogger… I’ve had issues with the garden, largely because an enthusiastic co-gardener has basically taken over and I find myself merely watching when I go to the garden. Such are the politics of neighbours and well-meaning people who insist on control. I haven’t had the gumption to push back as day-to-day has been a bit of a challenge in the last two months. Mom has had a precipitous surgery  to replace a hip and then found herself out of emotional control since the surgery. Then, of course, there was the 10-day hiatus to get away and here I am. I’m writing course outlines for next week, coping with the frenzy of business returning to its normal rainy-season pace and still trying to work in visits with Mom in the hospital. Welcome to the sandwich generation.

Speaking of sandwiches… I made a pit stop — literally — at the garden yesterday. My well-meaning neighbour was nowhere in sight, so I knew I had a chance of getting in and out in under an hour. I made a mad dash to survey the garden and see what I could snatch from the branches.

The plum tomatoes are thick as thieves on the plants. None ripe yet, but I suspect they will all explode into riotous reds in unison. I’ll get the pot ready to make crushed tomatoes for the winter. There are some dazzling little Japanese eggplants tucked under leaves near the ground. I grabbed a couple with the intention of throwing them into the green chicken curry I made tonight. And the beets! Gorgeous little things, no more than 2″ in diameter with sassy green and red leaves. I hatched a dinner plan on the strength of the beets alone. (That’s where I was going with the sandwich segue).

My sister, Libby, had kindly picked up some of my favourite Bortolotti beans at the vegetable market down the road a couple of days ago. They are so exquisitely beautiful. Pink and white pods containing beans of wildly varied pink and white striations and spots! And they taste amazing.

The bortolottis in their natural (as well as naked) state.

Boiling the Bortolottis

Boiling the Bortolottis

Bortolottis ready to serve, tossed with garlic, EVO and sage

Bortolottis ready to serve, tossed with garlic, EVO and sage

 I shucked these and boiled them. Then I tossed them in extra virgin olive oil (EVO) and sage from (my herb pots outside the back door) with kosher salt.   

 

 

 

 

Fresh sage leaves gathered right outside the back door!

Fresh sage leaves gathered right outside the back door!

 I cleaned up the little beets, split them in two lengthwise and tossed them in EVO with four peeled garlic cloves. They sat in a 325 degree oven for about 30 minutes. I stir fried the beautiful greens with a bit of minced garlic, some EVO, organic toasted sesame oil and a dash of soy sauce. I like arugula, as I have said so many times. The arugula from the garden failed because of the horrible spring weather (I’ve since replanted for later on). I bought some organic arugula, dressed it with an EVO, champagne vinegar and sugar dressing and sprinkled it with chopped, toasted hazelnuts.    

Sauteed hazelnuts

Sauteed hazelnuts

Oh, I forgot! I’m not a vegetarian. We had a little ribeye steak in the freezer which I pressed into service with a red wine deglazing sauce. It never ceases to amaze me that, no matter how busy I am in a day, coming home to fresh produce and my kitchen lulls me into a Tuscan haze and I happily create meals that we eat late and slowly. It’s “slow food” of a different kind — not necessarily cooked over a long period of time, but prepared lovingly at a pleasant pace, allowing all of the senses to be delighted by each step of the process.

Ribeye steak with deglazing sauce, sauteed beet greens, roasted beets and bortolotti beans.

The plated meal, clockwise from top: Ribeye steak with deglazing sauce, sauteed beet greens, roasted beets and bortolotti beans.

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