There's an enormous variety of veggies out there in our Maryland markets and grocery stores. And as students at La Schola cooking school can tell you, one of life's treats is to go shopping with Chef Jerry Pellegrino and fill your basket with whatever captures your fancy at the farmers market.
One thing you can do is whip up a vegetable-heavy summer casserole.
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One of my favorite summer casseroles is an eggplant "lasagna," which my girlfriend Vickie has perfected. The key, other than using lots of asiago and mozzarella cheese, is to pre-cook the eggplant slices, but not the tomatoes or onions.
Resist the temptation to use a tomato sauce, because summer tomatoes have so much flavor that even baking them does nothing but intensify the fresh garden flavor.
Here's what to do. Sautee thin slices of eggplant in olive oil until they brown slightly. Make a bottom layer of eggplant, a layer of mozzerella, then a layer of sliced tomato and onion, then a layer of browned ground turkey, another layer of eggplant, another layer of tomato and onion, and a final layer of shredded asiago cheese. The casserole will produce a lot of liquid, so drain that off carefully before serving.
Food and Wine magazine put together a summer vegetable casserole recipe that combines a whole bunch of veggies. Working with thinly sliced Yukon Gold potatoes as the bottom layer, you work in thinly sliced yellow and orange bell peppers, a white onion, garlic, sliced plum tomatoes, sliced zucchini, various herbs and spices and some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
We invented a squash, onion and curly kale casserole. You can put thin slices of yellow and green summer squash and onion in a tin-foil pouch an cook it on the grill with a little olive oil and seasonings. Chop up your curly kale into small pieces and blanch it on the stove until tender. De-seed two or three jalapeño peppers and cut into julienned slices. Mix all the vegetables in a baking dish along with two cloves of minced garlic. Season with salt, pepper and herbes de Provence and then cover with a dusting of bread crumbs and bake for about 30 minutes in a 350° oven. Take it out, let it cool a little, tilt the dish to drain any extra liquid, and spoon out copious amounts of sour cream on top.
Another idea combines grilled chicken breast, corn, tiny cherry tomatoes, and grilled shallots. For the shallots you want to peel about 4 large bulbs, then grill them over indirect heat. Slice them up crosswise, and add to your cut up chicken, and the other vegetables. Season with salt and pepper and a generous amount of thyme and oregano. Mix thoroughly, pour into a baking dish, then cover with about 5 or 6 beaten eggs. Bake it for about 30 minutes. You may recognize this as a frittata, but for purposes of our show today, we'll call it a casserole.
And to get a little exotic, how about a Moroccan twist. Using ingredients like onion, diced pumpkin, purple potatoes, cauliflower florets, chickpeas, and dried currents we would add a variety of spices. You can easily go vegetarian with this recipe, or add some cut up lamb cubes that have been browned in safflower oil.
For a bed in the baking dish, we would lay down a layer of couscous, drowned in vegetable broth.
In any case, the idea is to get fresh summer ingredients mingling together in a baking dish and then bring all those succulent flavors to the table.