Jewish Journal

Mark the New Year with late summer harvest menu

Mmmm! Beet borscht!

by Judy Zeidler

Posted on Sep. 14, 2006 at 8:00 pm

A recent trip to Italy made me aware of the wonderful possibilities of growing your own lush, flavorful garden-fresh food. The villa where we stayed was entirely self-sufficient, with magnificent varieties of produce, eggs gathered from the hen house and the proprietors even making their own wine and olive oil.
If you have a garden, you know the pleasure of eating the freshest of salad greens, tomatoes, vegetables and fruits. And since the weather is still warm as Rosh Hashanah arrives at sundown on Friday, Sept. 22, take advantage of the healthy garden bounties and prepare a light menu featuring the late summer harvest of fresh vegetables and fruits to celebrate the New Year.
If you're not a gardener, visit some of the local open-air farmers' markets. The Wednesday morning Santa Monica farmers market is one of the largest, and there is an organic Saturday market as well, where the selection and variety is very impressive.
After a special round challah and apple slices dipped in honey, start the dinner with a simple salad of avocado and tomato slices served on a bed of pungently flavored arugula and dressed with a tangy orange vinaigrette. Hopefully, you will be lucky enough to make it with full-flavored tomatoes from your garden; nothing compares with vine-ripened tomatoes. If they are not available, your local farmers' market will have a selection of the tasty heirloom tomatoes.
Arugula is not only trendy and delicious, but very easy to grow, and seeds are available at most nurseries.
Next, serve a chilled beet borscht, my version of gazpacho, and pass around bowls of chopped cucumbers, green and yellow bell peppers, and chives, for a colorful do-it-yourself garnish.
The main course is a whole roast chicken that has been butterflied and baked on bed of fresh vegetables -- a combination of garlic, onions, celery, carrots, parsnips, squash and potatoes, and garnished with fresh herbs from your garden. With this dish we will drink a special toast for a peaceful year with a glass of young, fruity chardonnay.
For dessert, late summer pl ums, arranged in colorful circles on a light pastry dough make a delicious eye-appealing tart. Serve a sweet late harvest wine or hot tea with lemon, and let the children choose their favorite fruit juice.
Cold Puree of Beet Borscht
4 medium-size beets, unpeeled
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Diced cucumbers
Diced green and yellow red peppers
Scrub the outside of the beets using cold water, place in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until a fork inserted in the beet is tender, about one hour. Cool. Remove the beets, but reserve the liquid. Peel the skin, which should come off easily, and discard.
Dice the beets and return to the liquid. Place half of the diced beets and liquid in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer puree to a bowl and repeat the process with the remaining beets and liquid. Add lemon juice, sugar and salt to taste and mix well. To serve, ladle into shallow soup bowls and garnish with cucumbers and peppers.
Makes eight to 10 servings.
Avocado, Tomato and Arugula Salad
Usually avocados are served mashed or chopped. For this dish, simply slice the avocados and tomatoes, which enables them to harmonize with the pungent-flavored arugula.
2 avocados, peeled and seeded
Juice of 1 lemon
2 large tomatoes, sliced
3 cups loosely packed arugula, coarse stems discarded
Vinaigrette dressing (recipe follows)
Pomegranate seeds for garnish, optional
Cut each avocado into nine to 12 lengthwise slices. Sprinkle with lemon juice and set aside. Slice tomatoes and set aside.
Wash arugula and dry. Slice and mound arugula on chilled plates, fan the avocado slices around the mounds and arrange the sliced tomatoes in the center.
Spoon enough vinaigrette over each salad to coat leaves, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, if desired. Serve immediately.
Makes six to eight servings.
Vinaigrette Dressing
1 tablespoon Dijon-style prepared mustard
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup walnut oil
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
Place mustard, vinegar, lemon juice in a processor or blender. Add oil in thin stream and blend until slightly thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Butterflied Roast Chicken With Medley of Vegetables
1 (4-pound) or 2 (2-pound) whole chickens
1 onion, sliced and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium potato, diced and steamed
2 tablespoons minced parsley
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon each dried basil, thyme and rosemary, crushed
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 to 3 cups dry white wine
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Split the chicken along the entire length of the back, removing backbone from tail to neck. Open it out, skin side up. With a mallet or the heel of your hand, flatten the chicken, fracturing the breastbone and ribcage, so it lays flat. Arrange vegetables on a foil-lined large roasting pan, and place the chicken on top, skin-side up.
Mix garlic and rosemary together. Working with your fingertips, separate the skin from the meat of the chicken, beginning at the neck end, being careful not to tear the skin. Place sliced garlic and rosemary under the skin, including the drumsticks and thighs. Mix together the olive oil and herbs and rub it on the top of the chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Pour the marinade over the vegetables and chicken and bake for l0 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, and bake for 45 minutes to one hour longer, depending on the size of the chicken. Baste every 20 minutes. If chicken browns too quickly, cover it loosely with foil. If the marinade cooks away too quickly, add more. Remove the foil during the last 10 minutes, allowing the chicken to brown.  
To serve, cut chicken and arrange on serving plates with vegetables.
Makes six servings.
Plum Tart 1 (11-inch) baked Sweet Pastry Crust (recipe follows)
6 to 8 cups red or purple plums
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup currant jelly
2 tablespoons port wine
Prepare the pie crust and bake.
Combine sugar, lemon and orange peels, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix well. Slice plums in half lengthwise and remove pits. Cut two 1/8-inch slits on the top of each plum half. Toss with sugar mixture.
Place plums in a baking dish in a single layer, cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until tender when pierced with fork. Cool. Stand plum halves in concentric circles with slit side up, beginning at the outer edge of baked pie crust.
Heat the currant jelly and port wine until melted and smooth. Spoon mixture over plums. Place on rack.
Serve tart warm or at room temperature.
Makes six to eight servings.
Sweet Pastry Crust
1 1/2 cups flour
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsalted nondairy margarine
3 tablespoons cold water

In bowl of electric mixer, combine flour, salt and sugar. Blend in margarine until mixture is crumbly. Add cold water and blend until dough begins to come together (do not overmix). Knead dough into smooth ball, wrap in wax paper and chill for 10 minutes.
Roll out dough on two large sheets of floured wax paper large enough to overlap an 11-inch flan pan with removable bottom. For easier handling, cover pastry with another sheet of wax paper and fold pastry in half (wax paper protects the center of pastry from sticking together).
Lift pastry from bottom wax paper and place on half of flan pan. Unfold pastry and remove wax paper that covers it. (At this point, pastry can be refrigerated or frozen for several days.)
Spread a light coating of margarine on sheet of wax paper and place it, coated side down, onto the pastry, overlapping around outside. Cover with another piece of wax paper with cut ends in opposite direction. Fill center of lined pie shell with uncooked rice or baker's jewels.
Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until sides of pastry begin to brown. Carefully remove wax paper with rice or jewels and continue baking until bottom of pastry is light brown. Remove from oven and cool.
Judy Zeidler is the author of "The Gourmet Jewish Cook" (Cookbooks, 1988) and "The 30-Minute Kosher Cook" (Morrow, 1999). Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.
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