Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gluten-Free Recipes : Garden-to-Plate #3

This is a continuation on my series of Gluten-Free Blog postings about recipes that use our annual garden harvest for delicious and healthy gluten-free diet delights.

Today's post is all about using those ever versatile vegetables: eggplants!

The first thing I do is quickly rinse the eggplants off, remove the stem, and cube the eggplants. Then, I place the eggplant in a cast-iron fry pan that has a bit of olive oil in the bottom, and I also quickly apply some canola oil-cooking spray to the surface of the eggplant.

Now, crank up that burner on your stove to a rather high temperature, as you will want to caramelize the eggplant and sear the surfaces. This tends to bring out quite a bit of flavor and adds a bit of complexity to the final dishes. This will only take a few minutes, and the result will look something like this (I placed the eggplant in a bowl for the picture, since it didn't show very well against a blacked/seasoned cast-iron pan).

Now you can have all sorts of fun creating a variety of derivative gluten-free recipes and dishes that start with caramelized eggplant.

One simple recipe I create with the eggplant relies on the recipe I just recently posted, which is the Gluten-Free Italian Tomato Sauce Recipe with Peppers, Onions, Garlic, and Basil. That recipe yields another very versatile "base recipe" that can be combined to form many other wonderful gluten-free diet creations.

I simply combine these two items together - the eggplant and the tomato, pepper, onion base. When I finish braising my eggplant, I simply leave it in the pan and then start adding ladle-fulls of the tomato mixture to it, allowing it to simmer and thicken a bit as I go. In the end, I get a nice rich tomato-eggplant stew of sorts that is quite flavorful and goes well with all sorts of other dishes.

Another variation I create simply adds garlic, onion, basil, and some hot pepper flakes to the eggplant towards the end of the caramelization process, and continue to apply the same caramelization technique to these added ingredients, yielding a recipe that delivers something like this to your plate:

Simple, and absolutely fantastic... and, it just happens to all be naturally gluten-free too! I can hardly emphasize enough how I love eggplant, as it is so easy to work into all sorts of dishes. Have fun making your own variations on these gluten-free recipes, and enjoy experimenting with new combinations of vegetables and additional ingredients. Enjoy!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Gluten-Free Recipes : Garden-to-Plate #2

We are busy putting more of our gluten-free garden production to use, and the big project of recent is the mass preparation of a very versatile tomato, onion, peppers, basil, and garlic "base" recipe that we use for many additional recipes that I will be discussing here later, including:
  • homemade gluten-free pasta sauce, which is essentially just a cooked-down thicker version of the "base", plus any additional
  • eggplant recipes
  • pumpkin and squash recipes
  • and many more gluten-free diet recipes that can extend and build upon the core ingredients featured in today's recipe
The primary ingredient in this gluten-free recipe is tomatoes. Tomatoes comprise the bulk of this "base" recipe, and as such the recipes makes for a great way to use up a substantial pile of tomatoes - and our garden is lately producing a very nice pile indeed. In addition, we were lucky enough to find a farm close by in Amish country where they had an abundance of tomatoes for the dirt cheap price of 22-cents/pound! I couldn't believe it when I saw the price of $6.50 for a 30# box. Car Trunk: FILLED :)

So, we augmented our own garden's production with 120 pounds from the Amish farm. This has led to a great deal of cooking the past few days, but the end results are well worth the effort, as we freeze the product of our base recipe and other derivative recipes for consumption all year round. This saves a fortune when compared to buying tomatoes and vegetables off-season!

The recipe itself is quite simple. Just start by placing the following items in a nice big aluminum roasting pan (we used heavy recyclable ones that we easily cook a roast a few batches in before they they wear out - I recommend this method to save all sorts of cleanup time):
  • tomatoes,
  • sweet green peppers and/or red peppers
  • Hungarian peppers or another medium-warm pepper (if you desire a bit of spiceyness and added zest)
  • some olive oil in bottom of pan
  • a bit of cooking spray to coat the tops of veggies with
  • Note: the onion, garlic, olive oil, basil will be prepared stove top in a cast iron pan where we will caramelize those ingredients to add all sorts of flavor to this recipe.

Place those tins of tomatoes and peppers into the oven at a high temperature where they will roast nicely. We've chosen to bake them at 460F for 1/2 hour or a bit more, and we look for a bit of browning / bubbling to occur on the surface of the tomatoes and peppers. Don't be concerned much with a few blackened areas on the vegetables, any overly-burnt areas will easily peel away after you remove these from the oven and let them cool a bit. In fact, a bit of browning of the tomato skins and pepper skins tends to add additional flavor to your recipe.

While the tomatoes and peppers roast, it is a great time to work ahead a bit and move onto the part of the recipe that is done stove-top. As I mentioned earlier, we prefer to infuse additional flavor and complexities into our recipe by caramelizing the onion, garlic, and basils in a bit of olive oil in a cast iron frypan. This is done at a rather high temperature, and doesn't take too long, though it does require you to flip the ingredients around to prevent burning.

After the roasted vegetables are done and cooled enough to work with, you simply move them into a large pot (as pictured at the beginning of this gluten-free blog entry) where you can work with them. At this point, you can optionally cut out any portion of the vegetables you do not want (like the tomato-stem regions, pepper-stems and/or seeds, etc). This is totally up to you. I certainly recommend removing the pepper stems, but I personally don't notice the cooked tomato-stem-base areas if left in the recipe.

Now, if you are adding some flavor to your sauce with various warm or hot peppers, now is the time to decide whether you wanted just an accent, or if you are really going for some spice. If you want an accent only, I defintely advise removing the seeds from the hot peppers at a minimum, since those can tend to really pack a punch.

Basically, you are now just going to get your hands wet (in tomato sauce) as you use a knife or kitchen scissors to chop up the cooked and roasted vegetables to the consistency you desire. When you have the tomatoes and peppers as you like them, go ahead and add the caramelized garlic, onions, basil, and perhaps any optional salt and herbs to your liking. Your gluten-free tomato, pepper, onion, garlic, and basil "base recipe" is now complete.

I will be putting this gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free (heck, it is vegan!) recipe to use a few times in coming gluten-free blog entries. I find this recipe to be an amazingly versatile and portable starting point for all sorts of other kitchen creations. And, this is a very HEALTHY GLUTEN-FREE DIET recipe to say the least. We are always looking for great ways to balance our diet out with fresh fruits and vegetables, and it is always nice when a recipe can be used many times over to achieve this goal. Enjoy, and more to come soon.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Gluten-Free Recipes : Garden-to-Plate #1

I absolutely love this time of year! Our gluten-free garden is reaching full production mode now, and I can enjoy the fruits (or, veggies) of our labor in the form of some tasty and simple-to-make gluten-free recipes. Yes, even though gluten-free desserts are my forte', I enjoy eating the healthy and flavorful vegetable dishes just as much - especially when the entire dish can be prepared using only homegrown fresh produce.

This is a very simple gluten-free recipe that makes use of various items from the garden, and can be made in only a few minutes time.

The recipe components:
  • Zucchini
  • White Squash
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Basil (we used a couple varieties)
  • Olive Oil -- OK, I admit it... we didn't grow olives and press our own oil :)
The key to getting this recipe to produce a spectacular taste is caramelization (i.e., the oxidation of sugars in order to extract a sweet and nutty, browned-sugar accent). You are going to want to fully utilize these naturally occurring sugars in the onions, garlic, and vegetables to your advantage, and the best way to do that is to caramelize the onions/garlic in a fry pan (I love cast-iron fry pans) with a bit of olive oil.

This requires cooking at a fairly high temperature. And, depending on your particular method for caramelizing, you may also want to add a bit of water throughout the process to help spread the resulting browned sugars around and form a bit of a sauce (water addition requirement will depend mainly on whether the items you are carmelizing contain enough naturally-occuring water of their own or not).

Basically, that's all there is to it. You essentially stir-fry the remaining vegetables into the mix, and I suggest adding the herbs (basil) last since they cook quite quickly. In fact, the order you combine the veggies is totally in your hands, since you may prefer a bit crisper onions than squash, or vice-versa. I personally like my vegetables to remain ever so slightly firm throughout (I don't like them turning to mush certainly), as I find the texture and flavor the best at this point.

In the end, you should be able to just dump those fried vegetables out onto a place and enjoy your latest gluten-free recipe from the garden in a flash! Gluten-Free, Wheat-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegan,... plus, healthy and delicious!

Serve it up and enjoy!