Cooks’ Exchange: September is time for intense herb flavors –


Many years ago, this time of year wouldn’t have anything to do with full-grown garden vegetables and succulent herbs. Instead, for me as a teenager, it had everything to do with what kind of wool sweater and wool skirt to wear to school.

Forget T-shirts, shorts and sandals. Seasonal footwear also meant saddle shoes and soft, warm matching socks. If you are wondering about how long ago all that happened, give some thought to the early 1950s, and imagine surviving it all when temperatures rose.

It also meant running across East Washington Avenue at noon to have a quick, inexpensive lunch with best friends in a favorite booth while others saved time by staying at school and eating in East High’s cafeteria. It was a great time to grow up that still brings a smile to my face.

If it happens to be a warm, wonderful September day, it means that it is time to include seasonal recipes, and can’t think of a better mouth-watering favorite than a freshly picked and perfectly seasoned garden relish, or antipasto — meaning “before the meal.” I discovered this decades ago in a 1963 “McCall’s Introduction to Italian Cooking,” and it remains one of my favorites.

Pickled garden relish

½ small head cauliflower, cut in florets and sliced

2 carrots, pared, cut in 2-inch strips

2 stalks celery, cut in 1-inch pieces, about 1 cup

1 green pepper, cut in 2-inch strips

1 3-ounce jar of pimiento, drained, cut in strips

½ cup pitted black olives, drained

¾ cup red wine vinegar

½ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon dried oregano leaves

¼ teaspoon pepper

In large skillet, combine ingredients with ¼ cup of water. Bring to boil; stir occasionally. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Cool; then refrigerate at least 24 hours. Drain well and serve. Makes 6 or more antipasto servings.

If I ever return to Panama City Beach, Florida, the first place I’ll check out is Carrabba’s, where Johnny Carrabba and Damian Mandola, who initially created a restaurant in Houston, Texas, then shared their love for cooking by opening restaurants elsewhere. In the midst of an Up North basil season, here is their recipe for my friend, master basil grower Ross DePaola, for basil pesto copied years ago from Johnny and Damian’s “Ciao Yall” portion of the PBS series “Cucina Amore.”

Basil pesto

4 tablespoons walnuts

2 tablespoons pine nuts

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

2 whole garlic cloves, peeled

1 tablespoon softened butter

¾ cup firmly packed fresh basil, leaves only

¼ cup firmly-packed Italian parsley, leaves only

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

¼ cup grated Pecorino Roman

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor, except for the cheese and olive oil. With the motor running, add olive oil in a slow steady stream and pulse for a few seconds until well blended, but not liquefied. Remove pesto from food processor to a mixing bowl and stir in the cheeses. Store in a glass jar or airtight container. Pesto will keep well for four to six months in the freezer and for one month in the refrigerator.

You can use this pesto in salads, pasta, or even as a sauce for grilled or roasted fish.

Although using fresh herbs whenever possible in our four-season state intensifies the flavor of a recipe, getting a full flavor from dried herbs is achieved by rubbing them between your thumb and forefinger before using. Here is a simple recipe and guide that serves six to eight for an intense flavor throughout the year.

Herbed rice

4 cups long-grain rice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil, or ½ teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, or ½ teaspoon dried

To prepare rice, combine all ingredients in 8 cups of water and cook on medium heat until water has been reduced by half, then continue until rice is done.

If you are searching for a side dish for two with a big flavor, try this one from JoAnna Lund’s cookbook “Cooking for Two.”

Grande rice

¼ cup chopped onion

1 cup reduced-sodium tomato juice

¼ cup chunky salsa, (mild, medium, or hot)

1 tablespoon Splenda Granular

½ teaspoon chili seasoning

²⁄³ cup uncooked Minute Rice

2 teaspoons I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!

In a medium skillet sprayed with olive oil-flavored cooking spray, saute onion for 5 minutes. Stir in tomato juice, salsa, Splenda and chili seasoning. Add uncooked instant rice. Mix well. Lower heat, cover and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes or until rice is tender, stirring occasionally. Just before serving stir in butter.

Returning to recipes serving only two, Cooking For Two Today offered a nice main meal seasoned with freshly chopped parsley.

Sausage and potato skillet

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 medium-size onion, sliced and rings separated

4 medium-size potatoes (1¼ pounds), boiled, peeled and sliced

Salt and pepper

¼ cup vinegar

8 ounces brown-and-serve pork sausages, or fully cooked kielbasa, sliced

6 ounces plain yogurt

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in medium-size skillet and saute onion until tender; add potatoes, salt, pepper and vinegar; bring to a boil. Cut sausages into thirds, add to skillet and cook to heat sausages. Stir in yogurt and reheat, but do not boil. Stir in chopped fresh parsley and serve.

A reader recently asked about using ground pork when making meatballs. Here is a recipe provided by Wisconsin Pork Association that takes only 15 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to cook.

All-star pork meatballs

1 pound ground pork

1 tablespoon onion flakes

¾ cup corn flakes, crushed

½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ cup ketchup

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon dry mustard

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine ground pork, onion flakes, corn flakes, salt, pepper and egg. In a small bowl stir together ketchup, brown sugar and dry mustard. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the ketchup mixture into the pork and mix well. Spray muffin tin with vegetable cooking spray. Form 6 meatballs and place in muffin tin. Coat top of each meatball with the remaining ketchup mixture. Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees until nicely glazed and internal temperature is 160 degrees. Serves 6

September is the time for favorite apple recipes, such as Joyce Schoepp’s apple bread recipe. Discovered in Gloria Simely’s Black Earth Our Savior’s Lutheran Church cookbook.

Apple bread

2 cups sugar

3 cups flour

2 cups diced apples

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon (more, if desired)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

Nuts, optional

Beat together eggs, oil and sugar. Add remaining ingredients. Pour into greased and floured pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes.

Note: Bake four mini-loaves for 35-40 minutes. Also, this will make 36 muffins filling ¾ full and baking at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Here’s a homemade crust for a spur-of-the-minute 9-inch fruit pie, from Southern Living’s “Cooking for Two” cookbook.

Graham cracker crust

2½ cups graham cracker crumbs

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

¼ cup ground pecans

½ cup butter, softened

Combine crumbs, sugar and pecans. Stir in butter and mix well. Press mixture firmly and evenly in 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at