Hello, friends! If you’re reading this, you haven’t fully melted yet. Amazing! The past few days have been the hottest EVER recorded for the Atlanta area. When it’s 106 degrees outside in Georgia, it pretty much feels like you have to swim through the humidity just to move. You can actually slice the air with your arms. It’s oppressive and thick, and makes me incredibly thankful for air conditioning.
But, I’m a glass-half-full kind of girl, so let’s talk about the good stuff that comes along with this blazing heat.
Oh, the tomatoes are out in full effect,
as well as the cucumbers
and peaches. And that makes me one very happy girl. The simplicity of these summertime delights is beyond appealing. It’s necessary. Mother nature knows what she’s doing.
Adam and I set out earlier than usual on Sunday to spend time at the market before breathing itself became a task challenged by the weather. We were greeted by the Giant Peach,
patron saint of Peach Jam, a multi-faceted celebration of the all mighty Georgia Peach.
Farm Burger showed off their talents by offering two locally stacked sliders.
The grill was full of dreamy rounds of the highest quality beef,
being lovingly smashed into perfect patties.
Naturally, we had to try both sammiches.
So flavorful and tasty!!!!! The veggies were still crunchy on the egg sandwich. And- mmmmmm- that burger was tender and juicy. Yes, we had a burger for breakfast. It had fruit on it!
Musicians played and danced happily
for the throngs of people filling their bags with fresh, seasonal goodies.
and zucchini showcased our Earth’s diversity.
These new potatoes from Jackson Lowe are spectacular. My mouth watered just thinking about those smashed roasted potatoes we made last week.
Rounding out the multitude of choices at the market were broad beans,
and the first of the okra!
My CSA box was loaded to the gills with wonderful summer treats,
including our first round of sweet corn. It was time for us to head home and get creative in the kitchen!
This week, Jackson Lowe’s CSA community will enjoy corn, peaches, tomatoes, fennel, cucumbers, squash, and blackberries. And, well- we just went ahead and packed one heck of a summer punch into this delectable dinner, using every one of those ingredients.
Today, I share with you Summer Stuffed Pork Chops with Scalded Squash and an Almost Caprese Salad with Blackberry Vinaigrette. Hold on to your short shorts. This one is so, very, summertimely scrumptious!!
Let’s start at the very beginning.
This is The Conway. It proves that cucumbers aren’t just for eatin’!
2 T sugar
Juice of a lime
1 sprig of fresh mint
Use a mortar and pestle to muddle those 3 ingredients until the sugar dissolves and the mint is fragrant.
Fill your drink shaker with ice and pour in 4 – 6 ounces of light rum. Then, in the words of Outkast, shake it like a polaroid picture. (This is my husband’s recipe and he’s a Georgia boy…)
Fill two highball glasses with ice and place 2 – 3 slices of cucumber on top. Then, pour the liquid through the strainer, directly over the cucumbers. And brace yourself for the most refreshing summer cocktail of all time.
Ahhh. Now, onto the main event.
Our goal was to stuff pork chops with the flavors of summer time, balancing the black licorice-y flavor of the fennel (a very popular ingredient in Italian cooking) with the sweetness of the corn and peaches and the saltiness of the cheese. So, you’ll need:
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 bulb fennel, fronds cut off (reserve a couple of the green fronds for garnishing) bulb sliced in half, core removed, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 ear corn, kernels stripped off cob
1 ripe peach, peeled and diced small (the accumulated juices are a-ok)
1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 Cup bread crumbs (Homemade crumbs are super easy! Just toast up a couple pieces of bread and grind them in a small food processor! And if you’re gluten-free, you could substitute almonds or pistachios here.)
Once you’ve got your veggies and fruit prepared, heat a medium pan with a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil to medium heat. Add your onions
and a pinch of salt and saute 4 – 5 minutes to soften them. Stir often and don’t let the onions brown.
Then, add your green bell pepper.
Let the peppers cook for a minute or so before adding your fennel and garlic.
Season again with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper and stir to combine well.
After about one more minute, turn off your heat, and remove the mixture to a bowl and let it cool down a bit. Sauteing the veggies, even that quickly, allows them to soften up and release some of their natural liquids and flavors into the stuffing. And it helps the stuffing to stick together and stay within the chop.
While the vegetables cool, you have time to make your dressing!
In thinking about a side dish for the pork chops, we wanted to carry on with the Italian/Southern Summer theme. Caprese salads are extremely popular this time of year, and rightfully so. The combination of tomatoes, basil, and buffalo mozzarella cheese is classic. So, we took that classic and twisted it. Are you surprised? Instead of using mozzarella cheese (since we already had cheese inside the chops), we substituted cucumbers. They offer moisture and girth to the little salad. For the creamy factor, we employed Greek yogurt in our dressing. Paired with the blackberries- that’s a lot of tang…ergo, the balsamic vinegar and honey to promote balance and harmony. Trust me.
2 T plain Greek yogurt
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 t honey
juice of half a lemon
1/2 pint blackberries
salt and pepper to taste
3 T EVOO
1 T water to thin
Simply place all ingredients except for EVOO and water into a small food processor or blender.
and blend to combine and break down the ingredients. (I love my stick blender for this type of job.) Then, drizzle in your olive oil while you blend. Add a touch of water to thin it out so it will pour easily.
Then, pour your dressing through a mesh strainer. This step is important. I tell you can skip steps all the time. You could even skip the sauteing portion above, if you were short on time. But this straining step is key. It prevents you from getting all of those huge blackberry seeds
stuck in your teeth and ruining the moment.
Once your vibrant dressing is strained, set it aside.
And try not to drink it down like a smoothie.
Next, back to the stuffing. Go ahead and place your components in a large bowl.
Season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and stir to combine.
Give it a taste, making sure it has enough seasoning and flavor (not difficult to achieve with this combination of ingredients!), and set it in your fridge while you slice your chops.
You want to use a sharp knife, and carefully open each chop from the side, opening it up like a book.
Go slowly and be patient. You want to make a large pocket for your stuffing without cutting all the way through the other side of the chop. Season the inside and the outsides of each pork chop with salt and pepper.
Then, use your clean hands to stuff each pork chop heartily with your veggies, fruit, breading and cheese. Press it in there well. We stuffed 4 thick-cut pork chops, but you could stretch the filling out to 5 or 6.
Preheat your oven to 350° and heat one large or two medium-sized, oven-safe skillets with a good drizzle of canola oil to medium high heat. Once the pan is hot and ready, carefully place your chops in the pan.
Sear the chops for about 3 – 4 minutes on the first side, creating a golden brown crust, and then flip them carefully.
Cook for about 2 more minutes on the second side and them transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking the pork chops. It takes about 20 minutes. Chops are finished cooking when an internal meat thermometer reads 145° in the thickest part of the meat. Once they’ve reached that temperature, remove the pork chops to a platter and let them rest for about 5 minutes before serving.
While the meat finishes in the oven, you have time to cook your squash.
We used this yellow summer squash- but any kind would work. The other day I ate at Barcelona with a bunch of girlfriends. We enjoyed a plethora of tapas. I think we tried 17 different dishes. It was totally amazing. One of the small plates we chose was Summer Squash ala Plancha. Essentially, the squash was sliced thick-ish on the bias
and cooked on a hot griddle, effectively encouraging a caramelized outside and a tender inside. Thus, my inspiration for this side dish. Since we don’t have a huge griddle, we heated our cast iron skillet with 2 T butter to medium heat. This is super simple. Once your butter melts,
place the squash in the pan.
No seasoning at all. Just let the butter and heat work their magic. After a few minutes, the squash will turn perfectly brown. You’ll want to stay close so you can flip each one when ready.
Mmmhhmm. Let these beauties finish cooking on the other side- just a couple more minutes- and then remove them to a paper towel lined plate. Season with salt and pepper and then place in a bowl. Top with a little bit of fresh parsley if you like.
With your chops resting, you have one last side to pull together.
Simply slice your fresh cucumbers and tomatoes about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick and rinse and dry 2 sprigs of basil leaves.
Time to plate!!!!!
Place a pork chop on your plate and scoop some of your scalded squash on the side. Then, layer your cucumber, tomato, basil and repeat. Cucumber, tomato, basil. Drizzle on some of your creamy blackberry vinaigrette and sprinkle on a few of your bright green fennel fronds. And that is that!
Oh my goodness. Every bite was so super fresh and summery! The squash reminded me of the best parts of spaghetti squash- full of moisture- boasting that wonderful caramelized quality. The crispness of the cucumbers was dazzling and paired with that luxurious berry dressing, the tomatoes were well-celebrated. And the pork chop- it was off the chain. Juicy, sweet, savory, tender- just a spectacular combination of summertime flavor. I found the dish exciting, well-balanced, and comforting. Hot days, cucumbers and tomatoes go hand in hand.
I hope this post finds you happy and cool. I wonder how you’ve been beating the heat…I hope you’re downing tomato sandwiches like it’s your job and soaking up all of the excellence that summer brings. I am wishing you a very happy and safe 4th of July celebration. May your time with friends and family be special and delicious. I’ll be making my way up to the homeland of New Jersey to meet my newest niece or nephew in just a few days, and I think that’s about the best 4th of July present I could dream up!
Happy cooking, eating, and celebrating to all of you!