To me, growing tomatoes is like playing golf ? addictive.
Golf can be a frustrating experience, but once you hit a few nice shots, it becomes a lot more compelling. That long, middle-of-the-fairway drive has a way of erasing the crummy shots that came before and after, and sucks you in.
It's the same thing with tomatoes. The "perfect" ones I picked from the garden last year are fixed in my mind, making me forget the majority that fell short of expectations. The big, sweet, juicy globes also wiped out the memory of the work: putting up the fence, hauling compost, tilling and pulling the hateful weeds that eventually reclaimed the ground.
So I'm back for more torture. I've got 15 sturdy tomatoes in the ground, and I feel like a new mother. I started them from seed in February and fussed over the young, tender shoots through March until I could introduce them to the outside world. Their names delight me: Dona (she's French), Brandywine, Green Zebra, Persimmon, all heirlooms; and Yellow Jelly Bean (a grape variety).
So far, so good. They're keeping company with cucumbers, peppers, squash, turnips, beets and okra. And I'm trying a new tactic with the weeds. I've surrounded the plants with pages of The Post and Courier (we'll see if "knowing makes a difference") and covered the newspaper with wood chips and mulch.
Tomatoes are on my wish list, but not Marie Link's of Goose Creek, who asked for lasagna recipes minus red sauce. We got great response to the tomato-less call.
Maxwell Mowry of peninsular Charleston sends a version starring a classic duo, ham and asparagus. He points out that asparagus is in season, a perfect time for this dish:
Ham and Asparagus Lasagna
1 (16-ounce) package lasagna noodles, uncooked
1 1/3 cup milk
1 1/3 cup condensed chicken broth
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cubed
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided for use
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus (or 2, 10-ounce packages frozen)
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced red onion
1 pound thinly sliced ham
12 ounces Monterey Jack, Swiss, or Muenster cheese, shredded
Cook 16 pieces of lasagna according to package directions. Drain and place in a single layer on waxed paper so they will not stick together as they cool. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together milk, broth, cream cheese, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and mustard. Stir frequently until mixture almost comes to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cut the fresh asparagus into 1-inch pieces, discarding the bottom 1 inch of each stalk. In a microwave-safe dish, microwave the asparagus pieces and onion slices on high for 7 minutes. (If using frozen asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces and microwave with the onions on high for 4 minutes.)
Pour 1/2 cup sauce into the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Place 4 pasta pieces lengthwise over the sauce, overlapping the edges. Layer 1/3 of the ham slices over the noodles, followed by 1/3 of the asparagus-onion mixture, and 1/3 of the shredded cheese (approximately 1 cup). Pour 3/4 cup sauce over the cheese. Repeat the layers twice more, beginning and ending with pasta. Pour the remaining sauce over the pasta before covering the dish with foil. (At this point, the dish can be refrigerated until time to cook.)
Bake the dish for 50 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, and return to the oven for 10 minutes uncovered. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serves 8-10.
Kaye Bull of Mount Pleasant writes, "I am sending a recipe for a 'white' lasagna that I have had for many years. It is very good and when shared, the feedback is always highly complimentary." Kaye credits the recipe to Better Homes & Gardens, 1978.
Kaye adds, "You could probably use the 'already cooked' lasagna noodles. A friend of mine tried this and added some sliced Italian sweet sausages in before putting the meat sauce on and said it was great."
Al Brown's Lasagna
8 ounces lasagna noodles
1 pound ground beef
1 cup finely chopped celery
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried basil, crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon Italian herb seasoning
1 cup light cream
1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, cubed
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded Gouda cheese
1 1/2 cups cream-style cottage cheese
1 slightly beaten egg
12 ounces sliced mozzarella cheese
In large saucepan, cook noodles according to package directions; drain. Set aside.
In a skillet, cook ground beef, celery, onion and garlic until meat is browned and vegetables are tender. Drain off fat. Stir in basil, oregano, salt, pepper and Italian herb seasoning. Add cream and cream cheese. Cook and stir over low heat to melt cheese. Stir in wine. Gradually add cheddar and gouda cheeses, stirring and heating until cheese is nearly melted; remove from heat.
Stir together cottage cheese and egg.
Layer half of the noodles in greased 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Top with half of the meat sauce, half the cottage cheese mixture, and half the mozzarella. Repeat layers. Bake, uncovered, in 375-degree oven, 30-35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Makes 16 servings.
Diane Williams of Kiawah Island forgets where she found this recipe, but says it gets rave reviews. "It's also nice because it can be made ahead of time and frozen," she notes.
This recipe is made in a 9x13-inch pan and can serve six easily, potentially eight, she says.
3 pounds seafood of your choice, cooked and chopped bite-sized (see cook's note)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
2 to 3 teaspoons basil
2 to 4 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
12 to 15 ounces ricotta cheese
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 egg, beaten
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 box lasagna noodles, cooked or use the no-cook kind
Grated parmesan cheese to taste
Cook's note: Diane uses 2 pounds shrimp and 1 pound crab, but says scallops could be used as well as lobster, if you can afford it.
Cook all seafood, rinse, drain and set aside.
Sauté onion, mushrooms, basil and garlic in butter. Add wine, salt and pepper and cook about 1-2 minutes.
In large bowl, combine cream cheese, ricotta, mushroom soup and beaten egg; mix well. Add onion mixture and seafood; mix well.
Grease 9x13-inch oblong pan.
Start with a layer of 3 noodles, then a third of the seafood mixture and a third of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat two more times, ending with cheese. Sprinkle top heavily with parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
For making ahead of time: Bake lasagna for about 30 minutes, remove from oven, cool, cover well and freeze it.
When ready to use, take it from freezer, thaw and continue cooking for balance of 30 minutes.
Serve with salad and warm bread.
Also thanks to Kay Roettger of Summerville, Margie Whiddon of West Ashley, Terry Pogue of Potomac, Md., and Lisa K. Barclay of Charleston.
A top prize of $10,000 is being offered in a competition "for America's best backyard griller."
Sponsored by Pam for Grilling and Char-Broil, the "Most PAM-azing Griller 2006" is open to adults 18 and older. To enter, contestants are required to submit a 100-word essay on "Why I should be crowned America's Most PAM-azing Griller" by May 31.
Ten winners will be notified by June 14 and later test their craft in live "grill-offs" June 24 at Boone Hall Plantation.
From there, a single local winner will compete in the national finals Aug. 19 in New York City. The winner will be pitted against 19 other finalists from around the country.
Contestants will prepare the same preselected recipes and will be judged in four categories: skill and technique, confidence, enthusiasm and originality. Enter the competition and get more information by visiting www.pam4you.com/grilling.
Who's got the recipe?
--Margie Whiddon is still looking for two recipes she says were once served at Morrison's Cafeteria west of the Ashley. "I have the ingredients for both but not the amounts." One is a spinach casserole and the other is an eggplant casserole without tomatoes or tomato sauce. Maybe readers will have similar recipes to share.
--Joan McCutcheon of Charleston also is seeking some restaurant recipes, which I'll try to get. Sometimes they will give them out, sometimes not. One is a cream seafood soup from Hyman's Seafood, which Joan believes is made with scallops and shrimp. Another is the corn and crab soup from The Boathouse, and lastly, Boulevard Diner's remoulade sauce.
Reach Food Editor Teresa Taylor by calling 937-4886; e-mailing email@example.com; writing to The Post and Courier, 134 Columbus St., Charleston, SC 29403; or faxing to 937-5579.