meatless monday: simple southern summer supper

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Welcome back to Bungalow Kitchen, and let’s do the happy dance for the full return of Meatless Monday!  After a year-long class on Monday nights and a summer away at my beloved GHP, I am so incredibly glad to be back in the Monday groove.

Tonight’s Meatless Monday is a tribute to not only my childhood, but also the lives of plenty of southerners in the summertime: the veggie plate.  Dwellers of the American South are smacked in the face with heat and humidity all summer, but a silver lining of the oppressive heat is the gorgeous bounty of produce that comes from our summer rain soaked grounds.  This is a great secret of southern kitchens; while many people associate meat-heavy dishes with our region, particularly fried chicken, catfish, and barbecue, many of us know that when company isn’t coming, we feast on whatever is plentiful from the garden.  In tonight’s case, we enjoyed what was plentiful from our CSA box via The Dirt Farmers.  Meatless Monday is so easy when you have an elegant array of fruit and vegetables, plus it’s a blast to let the CSA box inspire and push you to try new food and preparation.  Tonight, I selected okra, the squash medley (one pattypan, one Mediterranean, and one eight ball zucchini), 1 heirloom tomato, and a small watermelon.  A welcome addition to our dinner was some cake-like, delectable cornbread gifted to us by our friends and neighbors, Lauren and Adam Ragusea, after Alex helped Adam remove a tree in his yard.  Can you get more southern than that?

Ok, so let’s begin with the okra.

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Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Take 1 lb. of fresh okra, slice it lengthwise, and place in a large mixing bowl.  Drizzle with 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, and 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes and toss to combine.  Place okra on a cookie sheet in a single layer and roast for 20 minutes, flipping the okra at the 10 minute mark.  When it’s ready, take the okra out of the oven, place on a serving plate, and top with about 1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese.

Next, let’s tackle the squash medley:

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Cut each squash into bite sized pieces, taking care to remove the seeds from the center of the pattypan squash and leaving the waxy skin on the squash.  In a large, heavy pan, melt 2 Tbsp. butter over medium high heat, adding 2 tsp. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 4 crushed garlic cloves.  Let the garlic cook in the butter and oil for about 30 seconds, then add in the squash pieces and toss to combine.  Let the squash cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When the squash is cooked through (but not soggy), display it proudly on a serving plate and add about 2 Tbsp. of chopped fresh basil.

Next, let’s look at the pillow-like cornbread from Lauren and Adam with some honey butter from Southern Swiss Dairy out of Waynesboro, GA:

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It was nothing short of amazing.  Well done, Raguseas.  I’d like to point out that Adam, the cornbread’s creator, hails from Pennsylvania, but I’m guessing that he must have been below the Mason-Dixon line in a past life in order to create this masterpiece.

Let’s check out the heirloom tomato now:

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See this red and green misshapen thing?  That is a tomato.  Grocery store tomatoes pale in comparison to a ripe tomato that hasn’t been picked before its time, then shipped on a truck, then stuck on a display under fluorescent lights for days.  Tomatoes from a farm tell a story: their strange coloring, interior seed pattern, and exterior bumps and lumps tell you that they’re natural and the way the soil intended.  Slice one up, add salt and pepper, and maybe add a little bit of olive oil to gild the lily.

Now, for the watermelon:

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I don’t know if the watermelon or the cornbread was our dessert, but between the two, we were certainly satisfied.  Watermelon is gorgeous on its own, but add a piece of rind to your display dish for a nice look.

So that’s it, folks: I cooked the okra and squash, sliced up the tomato and watermelon, and enjoyed some cornbread from our sweet neighbors.  This meal is so quintessentially southern to me, but it’s a kitchen table, weeknight supper as opposed to a buffet of party food like barbecue or fried chicken or a “company is coming” dinner like honey baked ham or pork tenderloin.  Notice that nothing is fried in this healthy meal, but the ingredients call to the spirit of southern home cooks.  This kind of resourcefulness always reminds me of the resilience of our region, and I’m proud to pull down the veil of southern entertainment and let you in on the veggie plate secret.  Bon appetit, y’all!

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