It is always a challenge for me to accomplish everything I want, even in the kitchen. I try to eat foods that are in season because it helps us eat locally, fresher and more nutritious foods, and it’s fun to eat what is available for a limited time. I love to eat local strawberries because, let us be honest, strawberries from the grocery store don’t taste anything like a strawberry picked warm from a local berry patch. Walmart tomatoes don’t taste like fresh tomatoes from the garden or the farmer’s market. Herbs are better freshly picked or bought at the farmer’s market rather than the plastic-encased wilted fronds you buy in the grocery store’s produce section. However, I struggle to create or find quick, easy, nutritious, and seasonal recipes. I find I often get into a rut with my menus. I will cook the same fifteen meals and not venture out of my comfort zone.
In searching for easy, seasonal recipes, I have discovered my crew enjoys grilled cheese sandwiches. However, slapping a slice of Kraft Singles between two pieces of Wonder Bread and calling it good wears a little thin after a while. I have gotten creative with grilled cheese sandwiches, and I have found that I can incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables to make them delicious and nutritious. I will share the recipe for pesto, tomato, and fresh mozzarella grilled cheese with a hearty minestrone soup. Although it is a soup, The Bean enjoys the heartiness of the beans. This is a great summer meal that is quick and simple.
Let’s begin with a recipe for simple, fresh pesto. Our neighbors at The Ligonier Market, People’s Farm, generously gift us any herbs or vegetables they don’t sell. In return, we hook them up with soaps and moisturizers. “The Boys,” as we refer to them, gave us a large bunch of fresh basil. It was gorgeous and fragrant, and I couldn’t allow it to go to waste, so I made pesto. My method of making pesto is not exact. I find it is more of a texture thing that you know when you know. So, here we go.
1 Large Bunch of Fresh Basil
High-Quality Olive Oil (I use lemon-infused olive oil from Liokareas Olive Oils at The Ligonier Country Market)
2-3 Cloves of Garlic
2-3 Tablespoons of Pine Nuts
Place all ingredients but the olive oil in a food processor. Use two to four pulses to chop all ingredients. Slowly add the olive oil in small amounts, pulse, and assess the texture. Add olive oil in small increments until you have achieved a thick but spreadable paste. Pesto should be thick enough not to run but thin enough to spread easily.
Pesto, Tomato, and Mozzarella Grilled Cheese
Large Ripe Tomato (I buy my tomatoes at Yarnick’s Produce in Indiana, Pa, and also at The Ligonier Country Market)
Pizza Cheese ( I use the fresh Pizza Cheese from Lone Oak Farm)
Fresh Crusty Italian Bread
Butter (Also from Lone Oak Farm)
Slice tomato and cheese into thin slices. Spread Pesto on one side of bread. Layer cheese and tomato onto bread slices, placing cheese on the piece of bread without the pesto. This helps the bread not to become soggy from the tomato. Butter both outer sides of the sandwich and place on a hot skillet until the bread is golden, turning to grill both sides, and the cheese is melted.
Summer Minestrone Soup
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion, Chopped
2 Medium Carrots, Peeled and Chopped
1 Celery Stalk, Chopped
4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
1 Quart Chicken Stock
1 Pound of Fresh Tomatoes, Peeled, Seeded, and Chopped, or 1 (14-ounce) Can of Chopped Tomatoes with Liquid
1 Medium Zucchini, Diced
1 Medium Yellow Squash Diced
1 (15-ounce) Can of Cannellini, Drained and Rinsed
1 (15-ounce) Can of Red Kidney Beans, Drained and Rinsed
1 cup Elbow Macaroni, Small Shells, or Ditalini Pasta
Freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ Cup Chopped Fresh Basil
¼ Cup Chopped Fresh Thyme
¼ Cup Fresh Italian Parsley
Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese for Garnish
In a heavy stock pot, sautee carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in olive oil until they soften.
Add tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and herbs. Simmer for ten to fifteen minutes until the mixture becomes fragrant. Then add the chicken stock, cannellini beans, and kidney beans. Turn to low heat, cover, and simmer for thirty to forty minutes.
While the soup is simmering, in a separate pan, following package directions, cook pasta until firm. Drain and rinse in cold water.
Add cooked pasta to soup, stir and simmer for an additional ten minutes.
Serve hot, garnishing with freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired.
Leftovers store well in the refrigerator for up to a week. The soup becomes more flavorful as it sits.
I hope, dear reader, you enjoy my simple, easy, seasonal soup and sandwich recipe. Many of the recipes’ ingredients can be found fresh from your local farmer’s market. I can’t emphasize enough the good you do for your family, neighbors, and community by buying fresh, local ingredients.
As always, stay safe, be smart, enjoy the season’s bounty, and keep washing your hands, especially while cooking. Have a wonderful weekend.