By Gwen Ashley Walters | AUGUST 18, 2009 | APPETIZERS


Nothing says summer quite like a vine-ripened, juicy tomato.

Maybe that’s why Away to Garden’s Margaret Roach selected the tomato as the final theme in the four-week Summer Fest 2009.

illustration by Matt Armendariz of

illustration by Matt Armendariz of

Ms. Roach created Summer Fest 2009 as a way to “cross-pollinate” blogs. Along with her co-creators, she wrote weekly posts around themes, and invited the whole community to join in. She asked others to leave comments and/or links to other posts about the themes.

I did just that: week one: herbs, week two: fruits from trees, week three: greens & beans, and now, tomatoes.

I also left comments on the co-creators’ blogs and on the other great blogs I found by reading through the comments.

Before I jump into my final Summer Fest post let’s see what the co-creators and special guests of Summer Fest 2009 have dreamed up for you this week.

That’s a bountiful basket full of ideas to honor the Grand Dame of summer — the glorious tomato.

Since I did a rather involved recipe for last week’s greens & beans theme, I’ve whipped up something really simple for this week:

Heirloom Tomato & Goat Cheese Napoleon


Although I couldn’t resist giving it a fancy name, it’s nothing more than a fancy tomato sandwich. I’m using heirloom tomatoes, because they taste better than hybrid versions, and they are everywhere right now from farmers markets to local grocery stores.

If you are interested in learning more about heirloom tomatoes, and perhaps even growing some, I recommend The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Tableby Amy Goldman, and Seed Savers, a non-profit organization that sells all kinds of heirloom seeds, including some beautiful tomato varieties.

(You can download a PDF of the Holiday Gift Book Round Up article I wrote for Edible Phoenix last year on several garden cookbooks, including The Heirloom Tomato book.)

The Napoleon is traditionally a stacked dessert of puff pastry, pastry cream and strawberries. Even though my version is more of a savory dish, I did work in a hint of sweetness as you’ll see a little later.

Tomatoes are, after all, technically a fruit. You could serve this Napoleon for brunch, but it could easily work at breakfast or dinner, too.


Even though this is a vegetarian Napoleon, you could add crisped bacon or prosciutto slices, or even lump crab or cooked shrimp to make it more substantial.

The only “cooking” involved in this version is baking the puff pastry.


A more ambitious cook than I might tackle making the puff pastry dough from scratch. Made-from-scratch puff pastry dough is far superior to store-bought dough, although that’s what I’ve used here because, like I said, I’m not feeling ambitious. In fact, I’m feeling kind of lazy this summer.

If you want to make fresh puff pastry dough, I highly recommend you visit Ashley Rodriguez’s lovely blog, Not Without Salt.

Here are her two posts on how to make puff pastry. The first post contains the recipe (which was written by a couple chefs I know, Sarah Labensky and Skip Hause. Their book, On Cooking, now in it’s 4th edition, is a professional text book, hence the expensive price tag.)

Ashley’s second post is a pictorial display of the puff pastry technique. With these two posts, you can become a puff pastry king or queen in no time. Well, maybe a little time.


About the sweetness in this Napoleon I referred to earlier: I slathered a bit of Cotton Country Jams spiced tomato jam onto the puff pastry. Cotton Country Jams is a local Phoenix company, and they make the most incredible jams and pickled vegetables. I’m crazy about their candy-sweet pickled beets, too. (Phone number is (602) 268-3181.)


This Napoleon is really nothing more than puff pastry, tomatoes, herbed goat cheese and jam. That’s it. Pretty simple, right?

OK, you’re turn. Leave a comment and tell me about your favorite summer tomato recipe.


Heirloom Tomato & Goat Cheese Napoleon

Serves 6

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
4 ounces soft, fresh goat cheese
2 tablespoons cream (or half and half)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons tomato jam (or apricot or other light colored jam)
1-1/2 pounds heirloom or vine-ripened tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/3-inch thick

1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper.

2. Unfold puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Cut along the fold lines into three strips. Place on baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Cut in half with a serrated knife, creating a top and bottom.

3. Stir the cream, herbs and pepper into the goat cheese.

4. Spread the goat cheese on the top and bottom of two of the puff pastries. (The third top and bottom will become the middle layer of the other two.)

5. Spread the middle layer with the jam (just 1 side of each, it doesn’t matter if you do the inside or the outside.)

6. Layer 1/4 of the sliced tomatoes on each of the two bottom halves with the goat cheese. Top each with the jam smeared layer. Layer with the remaining tomatoes and place the tops on. Cut into thirds, crosswise, to create six pieces and serve.


By Gwen Ashley Walters | AUGUST 11, 2009 | RECIPES

I better just say this straight out: my recipe for week three of Summer Fest 2009 isn’t a 5 minute, less-than-3 ingredients recipe. But if you’ve been coming here a while, you know that’s generally not my style.

You’re going to have to use your knife skills. And dirty up a couple pots.

But if you love to cook and love incredibly explosive flavors, this might be the recipe for you.

illustration by Matt Armendariz of

illustration by Matt Armendariz of

The Summer Fest cross-pollination blogging project’s third week, created by gardening maven Margaret Roach of Away To Garden, is officially underway with a greens and beans theme.

Earlier this summer I wrote about how to cook Swiss chard and collard greens. Now I’m tackling beans — green beans.

But before I get to my post, here’s what the co-creators of Summer Fest have cooked up:

I borrowed a soy glaze from a recipe in my book The Cool Mountain Cookbook: A Gourmet Guide to Winter Retreats. It really belongs to a sea bass, but I’m sure the bass won’t mind sharing it with the beans.

The result is Sesame Soy Glazed Green Beans.


The first step involves parcooking the beans — an easy step that’s useful for many green bean recipes, not just this one.

Just drop the beans in a pot of boiling water and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, depending upon how crunchy (less time) or tender (more time) you want your final beans to be. After the brief boil, shock the beans by dropping them into a bowl of ice water. 

Now, you may be asking yourself. Why didn’t Chef Gwen say “blanch the beans?”

True, blanching also means dropping food into a pot of boiling water but unlike parcooking,  blanching is a quick in-and-out step.

The point of blanching is to keep the bright color (especially for green vegetables), or loosen the skin for easy peeling (tomatoes, peaches) or soften the food, like a cabbage leaf destined for stuffing, for example.

With parcooking, we want to move the cooking a little further along than a quick blanch. With either technique — blanching or parcooking — shocking the food with ice water is key to stop the cooking.


After parcooking and shocking the beans for this recipe, the next step is slicing the beans at an angle to create bite size pieces with attractive points. In the picture above, you can see the knife is positioned on a whole bean at a severe angle. The more angled your knife, the pointier the ends will be. (Is pointier a word?) You get the point.

The next step is to make the soy glaze. It doesn’t take long so having all the ingredients measured beforehand is key. Get a small saucepan very hot and pour in the soy sauce. Boy, will it ever sizzle! Then quickly stir in some honey and rice wine vinegar, followed by a slurry.

A slurry is a fancy name for a starch (in this case cornstarch but it could also be arrowroot) and cold water. The slurry, when added to boiling liquid, will thicken the liquid quicker than you can pour a glass of wine.


Once the glaze is made (it takes less than 5 minutes) the next step is to briefly saute the beans with some flavor enhancers. I use peanut oil for Asian inspired sautes because I like the flavor. It also has a high smoking point, compared to say, olive oil, so it’s a good oil for serious frying, although we’re not using extreme heat in this dish.

Garlic, fresh grated ginger and red chile pepper flakes are the flavoring ingredients for this recipe. The brief saute only takes a couple minutes, and then the glaze is added and cooked just until it’s heated through.


Toss in some sliced red bell pepper for color just before the glaze is added. While the beans are sauteing, put a small skillet on another burner and toast some sesame seeds. You can buy sesame seeds already toasted, but it’s really easy and only takes a few minutes to toast them yourself.

Just put a dry skillet over medium-high heat and give the pan a shake every once in a while. You can tell they’re done when they turn a shade darker and start to smell nutty. Seriously, that’s it. Takes maybe 5 minutes.


It probably takes 30 minutes from start (parcooking) to finish (glazing), so that’s not too bad, is it?

And the flavor? Well, it’s a party for your mouth — a little spicy, a little salty, a little sweet and tangy, and richly flavored with soy. Fantastic.

I’d love to hear what you think about this recipe, and if you’ve got a greens or beans recipe, leave a link. So drop a comment, and then head over to the other Summer Fest blogs and do the same. You’ll be amazed, reading through the comments, at what other greens and beans treasures await you.

Soy Sesame Green Beans

Serves 6

For the beans
1 pound green beans
2 teaspoons peanut (or vegetable oil)
1/2  to 1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon red chile pepper flakes
1 cup sliced red bell pepper (about 1/2 of a large pepper)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds*

For the glaze
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon cornstarch whisked together with 1 tablespoon cold water (slurry)

Make the beans
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and set up a large bowl of ice water. Drop the beans into the boiling water. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 4 minutes. Remove beans with tongs or a slotted spoon and plunge into the ice water.

2. Remove the beans from the ice water after a few minutes, when the beans are cool. Pat dry. Slice the beans, at an angle, into 2-inch, bite-size pieces.

Make the glaze
1. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat for several minutes. Pour in soy sauce (it will sizzle furiously). Stir in honey and vinegar. Stir in slurry. The mixture should quickly thicken, probably in less than a minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the green beans and stir to coat with the oil. Stir in the garlic, ginger and pepper flakes. Saute for another minute or two. Stir in the glaze, tossing to coat and cook just until heated through. Remove from heat.

3. Place the beans on a serving platter and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds.

* To toast sesame seeds, heat a small, dry skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the sesame seeds. Shake the pan occasionally to prevent burning the seeds. The seeds are toasted when they turn a shade darker and smell nutty. It should take about 5 minutes, give or take.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | AUGUST 05, 2009 | DESSERTS

illustration by Matt Armendariz of

illustration by Matt Armendariz of

Summer Fest 2009 is a multi-week, “cross-pollination” of blogs, created by Margaret Roach from Away To Garden. She enlisted the help of several top food bloggers with the goal of sharing recipes and tips.

The best part is that everyone can participate in the fun, just by leaving comments, and if you’ve written about the topic, leave a link, too. But even if you don’t have a blog, you can still leave a comment. It’s all about sharing — I know I’d love to hear from you.

The first week was all about herbs, this week is fruit-from-trees. Next week is greens and beans, with a grand finale of tomato week.


I’ve chosen nectarines for my Summer Fest fruit-from-trees post. I’ve got nothing against fuzzy peaches, but I just love the smooth-skinned yellow nectarines.

Before I dive into my post about wrapping nectarines and blueberries in a free form pie dough for a very rustic crostata, here’s a look at what some of the other Summer Fest participants are doing:

You’ll find even more links to other great Summer Fest posts by reading the comments on these co-creator blogs. Why, I think you could spend a whole day reveling the wonders of fruits from trees.

Let’s talk about pie, shall we? Crostata is an Italian term for a rustic, free-form, open-faced pie.

This recipe is adapted from a pear and dried sour cherry recipe in my cookbook, The Great Ranch Cookbook. But since it’s Summer Fest, and pears are definitely not in season, I’ve replaced the winter fruit with what’s in season now.


Nectarines, like peaches, give off lots of juice during baking. I don’t want the juice oozing out of my open-faced pie, so I sprinkle the peaches with sugar and let them sit for a while. It’s really a little bonus for the cook, too. You can drink the juice (maybe mix it with a little rum and a splash of soda? Just sayin’.)


The reason I love crostatas is because they’re fast and easy and you don’t have to be a champion pie crimper. Didn’t roll out your dough into a perfect circle? Who cares! Of course, I do like my silicone pastry sheet with measured circles that lets me know when I’ve reached roughly the right size.


You don’t have to expertly arrange the fruit either. You can just mound it in the center of your not-so-perfect pie dough, letting the fruit fall where it may. Then just pick up an edge and pull it toward the center. Pull up another section a couple inches away, and pleat that over the first piece, working your way all around the pie.


Brush the pie edges with a little milk or cream and sprinkle with sugar. Granulated sugar works just fine, but raw sugar adds a little more character.


That’s my take on fruit-from-trees for Summer Fest 2009. What do you think?

Nectarine Blueberry Crostata

My Dad would not like this rustic pie for two reasons. 1.) He really hates blueberries. Says they make your breath smell bad. 2.) This pie isn’t very sweet. It’s what I call barely-sweet. That’s why you can add whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream and it doesn’t make the whole dessert just one big tooth-jarring sugar bomb.

The recipe calls for 1-1/2 pounds of nectarines, which is about four large ones. I usually buy one more than I need because there is always one nectarine that’s either not ripe enough, or has a bad pit, or bruised. It’s always something.

Serves 6

1 recipe Easy, Buttery Pie Dough
1-1/2 pounds just-ripe nectarines
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon milk or cream or in between
1 tablespoon sugar (I like raw sugar, or big crystal white sugar)
1 tablespoon peach or apricot jam (for glazing, so any light colored jam will do, even strawberry)

1. Make the pie dough and let it chill while you prepare the filling.

2. Cut the nectarines into 1/2-inch wedges. Place in a large bowl and toss with lemon juice and sugar. Set aside for 20 minutes. The nectarines will give off about 1/3 a cup or so of juice.

3. Drain the nectarines and return to the bowl. Add the blueberries, cinnamon and nutmeg and toss gently.

4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll the pie crust out on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle. And by circle, I mean something similar to round, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Fold the dough over the rolling pin and transfer it to a lined baking sheet and unfold.

5. Mound the filling onto the center of the dough, leaving a 2-1/2 to 3-inch border all the way around. Fold the border over the filling, pleating as you go. A good portion of the filling will be uncovered.

6. Brush the dough with the milk or cream, and sprinkle with the sugar.

7. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the dough is browned and cooked through.

8. Warm the jam in the microwave for 10 seconds or so and brush the jam on the fruit, to give it a little sheen. Rest the pie 5 to 10 minutes before cutting. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream if you like.

By Gwen Ashley Walters | JULY 29, 2009 | RECIPES

Summer Fest 2009.

Sounds like a groovy 60’s, peace-love kind of thing, doesn’t it?

Oh, it’s groovy, alright. Summer Fest is a blogging project masterminded by a group of talented food and garden bloggers with the sole purpose of sharing, so it does have something in common with the free-spirit decade.

illustration by Matt Armendariz of

Matt Armendariz illustration

I found out about it on Margaret Roach’s lovely blog, Away To Garden. You can also read about it, if you haven’t already, on one of the other co-creator blogs:

Steamy Kitchen
White on Rice Couple

And, look for “special appearances” by:

Shauna James Ahern, aka the Gluten-Free Girl, the lovely and talented Marilyn Pollack Naron from Simmer Till Done and writer-cook-mom-multitasker Paige Orloff from The Sister Project.

The whole point of Summer Fest 2009 is to share.

Share tips, recipes, anecdotes, sad-but-true mishaps, brilliant successes, not-so-brilliant successes — anything. How? Leave a comment. Here and on the co-creators’ blogs.

Each week will feature a different theme. This week is all about herbs. Next week is stone fruits (not stoned fruits, mind you), followed by beans & greens and a glorious finale week celebrating that special Queen of summer fruits: the tomato.

Of course I want to join in on the fun, so I’m talking about two of my very favorite herbs, cilantro and mint, using them together in a bright, kicky citrus salsa. I really shouldn’t say favorite, because truth be told, I love ALL herbs. Never met an herb I didn’t like. Can’t say that about all edible plants (ahem, Brussels sprouts?)


The great thing about cilantro, other than the lemony flavor, is that you can use the whole herb, leaf to stem. And you certainly can’t say that about rosemary, can you? Oh, wait, actually, you can.

You can use rosemary stems to flavor stocks, soups and sauces, and if they’re woody enough, you can even use them as spears for grilled shrimp, but with cilantro, you can eat the whole sprig.


About mint. Mint is a greedy little herb, I learned after the first planting. It will take over a garden before you know it. Consequently, I’ve banished it to a pot, where it grows nice and contained, and frankly seems happier with boundaries (kind of like my dogs, and children so I hear, and in no way am I condoning the planting of children in pots.)

I’m always making salsas around here (living in the southwest, salsa-eating is state law…kidding…sort of).

Earlier this summer, I posted a recipe for fresh cherry salsa but today, I’m making a cranberry grapefruit salsa. This recipe is really more of a holiday salsa. Citrus is a winter season fruit and even though it’s available year-round.

Top grilled fish (halibut and tuna come to mind) with this mouth-puckering salsa, or serve it with blue corn chips. It’s even fun to serve with cheese quesadillas instead of traditional tomato salsa.

So, welcome to Summer Fest 2009. What do you think?


Cranberry Grapefruit Salsa

Makes 3 cups

2 large navel oranges
1 pink grapefruit
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 jalapeno (remove the seeds if you must)
2-3 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
2-3 tablespoons chopped mint
1/2 lime, juice only
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
*1-2 teaspoons Agave nectar or sugar (optional)

1. Cut peel and white pith from oranges and grapefruit. Cut between the membranes to remove the citrus sections, then cut the sections into small chunks.

2. Place the citrus in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients (cranberries through lime juice). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Rest the salsa about 1/2 hour, give or take, before serving. Will keep about a day, maybe 2, although it looks best the day it’s made.

*Sometimes, you just want a little sweeter taste than what some citrus offer. If your lips purse together and you shake your head after the first taste, add a teaspoon or two of agave nectar or sugar to tame the tartness.

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