I haven’t been in school for over ten years, much less in full-on “Back 2 Skool” mode. And yet, like clockwork, every September rolls around and I’m eager to get back to the mellow routine of whatever a schoolyear without anyone in actual school might feel like. (We do call Jack’s wonderful daycare “baby school,” but that’s the extent of it.) The heat and buzz and energy of summer started to fade beautifully right at the end of August, just as I was feeling desperate for some quiet (and to stop being sweaty). September held a few more hot days for us, but by then I was distracted by the few already-falling leaves, planning my fall cooking projects and dreaming up holiday menus. Just kidding, I actually started thinking about holiday menus on the drive back down from Michigan in mid-August. Y’all know I don’t play.
The other upshot of this annual re-grounding is an inevitable resolution to correct whatever bad eating habits we’ve adopted over the summer. This summer was DEFINITELY the summer of simple creamy pastas. Not a bad thing, but not a good thing when it becomes too much of a habit.
And in fact, upon further reflection, my man and I realized that our eating has been a bit off-kilter for a couple of years. It started when I was pregnant, first with an appetite only for crackers and chocolate milk, then with a raging sweet tooth (and all the permissive eating that goes with being pregnant). Though it’s taken different forms since then, evolving as we became underslept new parents all the way to assuming the role of moderately well-adjusted parents, the overall trend is that I’ve allowed sugar a much larger place in my kitchen than it should have. It’s not just a sweet tooth, though that’s been a documented issue here. I’ve done rather too much leaning on refined beige stuff and comfort food in general, and not nearly enough leaning on vegetables and good proteins.
So we decided to do a Whole30 right after Labor Day weekend. No sugar, no grain, no dairy, no legumes, no soy. Though a lot of people try this because it eliminates the main offenders for inflammation, which can be traced to a whole host of common maladies, I liked it because it removed all my sellout foods (pasta, cheese, etc). And without those to prop up my dwindling creativity, I’d have no choice but to create meals around — wait for it — VEGETABLES.
Now. It’s no secret that I love a vegetable. Many of them, in fact. When we go out to eat and relive each course on the way home, I often report a vegetable-based starter or side as my favorite part. But when you’re making essentially every meal from scratch, every day, for 30 days (since most packaged stuff is out), you quickly blaze through whatever capacity you might have had for inventive seasonal vegetable dishes.
So I roasted a lot of sweet potatoes. Trays and trays of them. And zucchini. And carrots. And squash. We ate a lot of salads bulked up with chicken, or steak, or whatever was sitting in the fridge. And, this being Whole30, we ate a lot of eggs. And since I was cooking so much, knocking out a tray of roasted vegetables here or some grilled chicken there, I came to rely on a couple of all-purpose seasonings that played well with pretty much everything. In fact, I owe any success we have had on this (and we have had an overall excellent experience!) to Penzey’s Sunny Paris seasoning and a green dressing/sauce I adapted from a Smitten Kitchen sub-recipe and proceeded to put on EVERYTHING.
I first encountered this sauce while making Deb Perelman’s summer squash gratin with salsa verde. It’s a bit of a cross between a chimichurri and a bagna cauda and creates a lovely, punchy triangle between garlic, lots of lemon juice, and a good amount of fresh mint. In spite of this, it’s not a sauce I think anyone would describe as “minty” or even “garlicky” — it’s remarkably well-balanced. I can attest that it does indeed “make” the dish if you are going to make the gratin (which I suggest you do, if you can still find nice zucchini/summer squashes!). The recipe has you making extra sauce, so I found myself putting it on eggs, salads, chicken, and mixing it in with chickpeas and raw carrots just to use it up, and falling in love with it along the way.
I decided to make the sauce again (and again), but tailored it to the uses I’d found for it as a magnificent AP (all-purpose) sauce, particularly in my time of Whole30 need. I make a double batch each time and keep the sauce in the fridge.
We’re finishing up Whole30 this weekend, but you can be sure I’ll have a jar of this in the fridge from now on.
A few notes:
- Due to the amount of oil in this, you’ll want to let the sauce warm a bit on the counter before using. Or, I’ve found that 5-7 seconds (yes, seconds!) in the microwave is enough to soften everything without “cooking” it, then I just stir from there.
- This recipe is a bit different from the original in that it omits the anchovy entirely (I do like it in that sauce, but found it to be overwhelming when used for all-purpose use). I also up the lemon and herbs a bit, and decrease the capers slightly, though they still give the sauce an important backbone and foil to the freshness of the herbs. I also let my immersion blender do pretty much all the work — there’s no chopping involved!
- Though I’m writing about this in the context of Whole30, don’t be fooled: this is something that everyone should be eating because it is freaking delicious. However, if it helps you (or your kids) look at vegetables in a new light, so be it!
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
- 1 generous cup fresh parsley
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 teaspoons capers, drained (rinse if packed in salt)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Pinch of salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
Special equipment: immersion blender and measuring cup. You can also use a small food processor or regular blender.
If using an immersion blender and measuring cup, you can measure the olive oil right into the cup. Add the herbs, garlic, capers, lemon, salt and pepper, then whiz away until smooth.
Keeps in the fridge for a week.
Uses & variations: Spoon on top of eggs, fish, chicken, or roasted vegetables, use as a salad dressing, dip, or even a sandwich spread mixed with mayo or goat cheese (or on its own!)