Crostini with Ricotta and Assorted Veggie Toppings

These little toasts have a lot going for them, starting with their name. As if “crostini” weren’t inviting enough — roll that “r” and you’ll even sound Italian — few kids I know would pass up toast. And little toasts…well, I hardly have to say more.

Anyone who has ordered a bruschetta appetizer is familiar with this concept: toast up a slice of bread and top it with something yummy. True peasant fare, which is probably how these tidbits became popular in the first place. Economizing with meat or vegetables piled on leftover toasted bread in the absence of elaborate place settings. In the middle ages, after all, you were lucky if you owned a fork and knife, let alone a bowl or plate.

Suffice it to say that the concept of crostini have been around for a very long time. I, however, credit the Italians for elevating this dish by improving upon the toppings (see the afore-mentioned bruschetta as an example) and serving it, frequently enough, with a glass or two of wine.

Now, the kids in the house will have to substitute their favorite non-alcoholic beverage for that wine, but they can easily partake in both the crostini making and eating. And here’s an observation: you may even persuade a non-veggie eater to try something new if you pile it on top of toasted bread smeared with a healthy dollop of creamy ricotta cheese.

The ricotta is a star ingredient, and this ricotta from Fulper Family Farmstead is fresh and fantastic

The ricotta is a star ingredient, and this ricotta from Fulper Family Farmstead is fresh and fantastic

You can’t go wrong with ricotta! Keep reading for our recipe for Crostini with Ricotta and Assorted Vegetables….

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Roasted Corn and Tomatoes with Basil

This year’s crop of famous — and some might say infamous — Jersey corn is still only about waist-high, but those fledgling stalks already have me dreaming of all things corn. We probably have another month to wait until the early ears hit the farmer’s markets and I’m counting down the days.

Same with summer’s bounty of cherry tomatoes. And even though I know I’ll be rewarded if I wait it out, I couldn’t help picking up a pint of grape tomatoes at the grocery store recently to roast with the ultra-convenient frozen corn we nearly always have on hand.

Corn — or maize, as it’s known in many countries — is an ancient grain which is believed to have originated in Mexico. It quickly spread along trade routes into the Americas and Europe — and beyond — due largely to its ability to thrive in extremely diverse climates. The Americas are still responsible for the majority of corn production, both the sweet corn that we prefer to eat and the feed corn that is grown for livestock. Since I’m a believer, as I’ve said before, in the maxim that “things that grow together go together,” it’s little wonder that we’ve paired tomatoes with corn in this dish. Tomatoes, too, originated in Mexico and followed similar exploration and trade routes to become the world-wide crop they are today.

Before the roasting: corn, tomatoes, thyme leaves, olive oil and salt

Before the roasting: corn, tomatoes, thyme leaves, olive oil and salt

This dish qualifies as super simple — a side that comes together so quickly you hardly have to think about it. It’s succotash’s more kid-friendly cousin (nary a lima bean in sight), roasted in the oven to give it a sweeter, slightly more smoky flavor. It’s vegetarian, vegan, and one of those dishes where the quality of the produce really stands out. For those of you concerned about genetically modified ingredients, seek out non-GMO corn and tomatoes and make sure your olive oil is non-GMO too. In my opinion, purchasing produce that hasn’t had its genes played around with means you’ll get the real deal — juicer tomatoes, cornier corn (though perhaps a bit less sweet, but more flavorful!), and olive oil that tastes like the olives from which it was pressed.

Isn't this a pretty dish to set before...well...anyone? Roasted corn and tomatoes with basil.

Isn’t this a pretty dish to set before…well…anyone? Roasted corn and tomatoes with basil.

Get your ingredients together and keep reading for our simple recipe for Roasted Corn and Tomatoes with Basil

New Potato And Green Bean Salad With Bacon-Shallot Dressing And Chive Flowers

Potatoes. America’s #1 vegetable crop according to the USDA, with over 90% of the potatoes we eat being planted in the spring for fall harvest. How, then, did potato salad become the appointed side dish of summer?

Maybe it has something to do with the long shelf life of many potato varieties, or the economics of feeding large crowds with relatively inexpensive ingredients. However it happened, I’m glad that it did.

Early-season new potatoes are the sweetest of all, perfect, in my opinion, for potato salads. These little guys are simply young potatoes that haven’t matured into larger, starchier spuds. With thin, papery skins and ultra-creamy, moist interiors, new potatoes cook up quickly and make for great bite-sized noshing.

A great side dish for summer entertaining: new potato and green bean salad with bacon-shallot dressing

A great side dish for summer entertaining: new potato and green bean salad with bacon-shallot dressing

New potatoes are readily available in the spring and summer months so there is no reason not to use them as often as you can. Grocery stores, farmer’s markets and road-side stands all offer up wonderful varieties while the weather is hot. For this recipe you’ll want to choose either a waxy variety, like most fingerling potatoes, or an all-purpose variety, like Yukon Gold or Red Gold. Starchy varieties, like Russets, will also work but tend to fall apart more easily after they have been boiled.

Another great farmer’s market find this time of year are green beans. Call them what you will — pole beans, string beans, runner beans, snap beans — these beauties are best when small and freshly harvested. Just-picked green beans are sweet and vegetal and are one of my favorite crops when it comes to pick-your-own. They grow prolifically on their vines which makes them a great crop for kids to help harvest. Teach them to pinch the beans off at the stem (don’t pull!) and they will fill your bag or basket in a matter of minutes.

When you’ve finished your farmer’s market shopping, click here to get our recipe for New Potato and Green Bean Salad with Bacon-Shallot Dressing and Chive Flowers!

My Favorite Sautéed Mushrooms With Shallots And Thyme

We are lucky to live as close as we do to Kennett Square, PA, a lovely suburban community not far from Philadelphia that is also known as — wait for it — The Mushroom Capital Of The World. Lucky because purveyors from Kennett Square frequent local farmer’s markets — like the West Windsor Community Farmer’s Market, a fantastic Saturday market just minutes from our home — with pint after pint of both common and exotic varieties throughout the year. We’re never far from fresh, flavorful mushrooms and the farmers who are excited to talk about the varieties they grow.

We’ve long been enjoying mushrooms from Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms — we last wrote about them in our Butternut Squash and Chicken Risotto with Sautéed Leeks and Mushrooms post — but were happy to see Princeton’s own Shibumi Mushroom Farm join the vendors at the farmer’s market this year. Mushroom junkies like me love to try new strains and species, and Shibumi focuses on cultivating proprietary fungi grown indoors on artificial logs that use no animal products or pesticides.

At the West Windsor Community Farmer's Market with Davidson's Exotic Mushrooms and Shibumi Mushroom Farm

At the West Windsor Community Farmer’s Market with Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms and Shibumi Mushroom Farm

Since mushrooms are used in dishes around the world and have long been served at mealtimes on all contents, they seem like the perfect ingredient for this globally-inspired family. I’ve been on a bit of a mission to get The Stout Sprouts to try mushrooms under the presumption that trying may eventually lead to liking. Mushrooms, I’ve found, are one of those foods that improve with age…and by that I mean there is a direct correlation between age and likelihood to consume mushrooms, with the lowest correlation occurring at the youngest ages (some might even say there is a negative correlation during those early years, with mushrooms actually repelling the youngest eaters with a polarizing force akin to an atom splitter).

Sure, we could simmer the mushrooms in a kid-friendly cream sauce or mince them finely and hide them in a burger, but my husband and I want our daughters to experience mushrooms as mushrooms. To appreciate their rich umami taste and the flavor variations of different mushroom types. And, after having cooked up several batches of my favorite sautéed mushrooms with shallots and thyme already this year, we made another batch this weekend specifically for them to try.

A dish that is welcome on any table: sautéed mushrooms with shallots and thyme

A dish that is welcome on any table: sautéed mushrooms with shallots and thyme

You’ll want to try this recipe too! Keep reading for more on our farmer’s market visit and My Favorite Sautéed Mushrooms With Shallots and Thyme.

Baked Tomatoes

The fruit that took over the world. No, it’s not a long-forgotten sci-fi thriller, or even some GMO experiment gone horribly wrong. It is, in fact, something you have likely eaten, in one form or another, within the past week. It’s the tomato.

I’m kind of envious of the world tour undertaken by this humble fruit (and yes, contrary to what you may have been lead to believe, the tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable). Originating in the Andes Mountains in South America, it soon became a domesticated crop that was, by 500 BC,  being grown as a food source throughout the Mexican peninsula.

One of the early Spanish explorers — perhaps even the fabled Christopher Columbus — returned to Spain with the seeds of this fruit after a trip to the New World. Although initially suspicious of the fruit of any plant in the deadly nightshade family, Spaniards couldn’t resist the juicy, sweet tomato, likening it to an eggplant. Those same explorers were responsible for introducing tomatoes throughout the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and the Mediterranean. Climates in countries like Italy were especially favorable for growing tomatoes, though the Italians in the 1500 and 1600s  used them originally as ornamental fruits, believing that they were not edible. That changed, obviously, and thank goodness it did, or we may never have gotten the opportunity to experience pizza in its many forms and permutations.

Tomatoes continued to migrate — north to France and Great Britain, south and east through the Middle East and Africa, and, eventually, made their way back across the ocean…this time to North America.

So the next time you cut one of these beauties into a salad, make a batch of salsa, or serve a simple vegetable soup, think of all the places the tomato has been. And all the passport pages it must have gotten stamped. Now, that’s a trip I want to go on!

Baked tomatoes ready for the oven: stuffed and dotted with butter

Baked tomatoes ready for the oven: stuffed and dotted with butter

Speaking of trips, the Stout Sprouts and I have a simple recipe for baked tomatoes that could take you no further than your garden, or just the produce aisle of your local grocery or farmer’s market (can’t WAIT for Jersey tomatoes to come into season here). If you’re having a big barbecue this weekend — ’tis the season, after all — this is an easy side that is a great complement to steaks or baked chicken or a hearty rice dish and takes absolutely no time at all to make.

This recipe for Baked Tomatoes is a vacation for your mouth. Check it out and remember to come home when you’re finished!

Purple Cauliflower Purée

When encouraging kids to eat their vegetables there are only two methods you can employ: visible, or hidden. And right up front I’ve got to admit that I’m not a big fan of duplicity. It seems downright sneaky to me to trick any kid into eating healthy, though I’m down with some of the struggles parents go though. Every kid is different, and for those of you who think our Stout Sprouts line up in front of the produce drawer every night, I’m going to surprise you by sharing that our girls are no different than most children. Many veggies get a good going over before they make it past anybody’s lips, and I’m extremely cautious using any sort of herb (aka flavor!) in preparing our meals.

Yes, I’ve put baby spinach into smoothies before, but our Sprouts turned into tiny interrogators and I had to fess up. Guess those blueberries just didn’t camouflage the spinach well enough — either in taste or in color. So now I just cop to what I’m doing and hope it goes over well if they are willing to give it a try. Plus, I feel strongly about helping them make healthy food choices, which they are less likely to do on their own if they don’t know what they are eating.

What kid could turn down at least a taste of this cauliflower purée?

What kid could turn down at least a taste of this cauliflower purée?

All is not lost, however, if you’ve got a picky eater and you’re still committed to going the visible route. Sure, the veggies are right out there in plain sight, but it doesn’t mean you can’t employ a little sleight of hand and some creative marketing. (I am a marketer by profession, after all!) Veggie purées are one option. They are less intimidating to some youngsters — like graduating from baby food in teeny tiny steps — and still preserve the taste of the vegetable, which can be all-important in transitioning a child to the point when they accept a steamed vegetable, in all its glory, on their dinner plate.

But if you’re going to purée a vegetable, be adventurous. Puréed carrots will probably be embraced just as readily as steamed carrots. Save that veggie for a nice soup, with a hint of ginger when junior is ready. Instead, choose something that your child may not universally love. For instance: cauliflower.

Keep reading for our Purple Cauliflower Purée recipe – a real kid-pleaser!

Artichoke and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Call it what you will: hummus, hummous, hummos, or even حمّص بطحينة (that’s chickpeas with tahini, in Arabic, as translated by the wonderful contributors at Wikipedia). But whatever name you choose to embrace, this dish — with the addition of marinated artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers — is something you’ll want in your entertaining repertoire going forward. Trust me — we’ve made this once so far this season and have already been asked to share the recipe!

Keep reading for more about our Artichoke and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, including step by step directions for making it.