Mark the New Year with late summer harvest menu

A recent trip to Italy made me aware of the wonderful possibilities of growing your own lush, flavorful garden-fresh food. The villa where we stayed was entirely self-sufficient, with magnificent varieties of produce, eggs gathered from the hen house and the proprietors even making their own wine and olive oil.

If you have a garden, you know the pleasure of eating the freshest of salad greens, tomatoes, vegetables and fruits. And since the weather is still warm as Rosh Hashanah arrives at sundown on Friday, Sept. 22, take advantage of the healthy garden bounties and prepare a light menu featuring the late summer harvest of fresh vegetables and fruits to celebrate the New Year.

If you’re not a gardener, visit some of the local open-air farmers’ markets. The Wednesday morning Santa Monica farmers market is one of the largest, and there is an organic Saturday market as well, where the selection and variety is very impressive.

After a special round challah and apple slices dipped in honey, start the dinner with a simple salad of avocado and tomato slices served on a bed of pungently flavored arugula and dressed with a tangy orange vinaigrette. Hopefully, you will be lucky enough to make it with full-flavored tomatoes from your garden; nothing compares with vine-ripened tomatoes. If they are not available, your local farmers’ market will have a selection of the tasty heirloom tomatoes.

Arugula is not only trendy and delicious, but very easy to grow, and seeds are available at most nurseries.

Next, serve a chilled beet borscht, my version of gazpacho, and pass around bowls of chopped cucumbers, green and yellow bell peppers, and chives, for a colorful do-it-yourself garnish.

The main course is a whole roast chicken that has been butterflied and baked on bed of fresh vegetables — a combination of garlic, onions, celery, carrots, parsnips, squash and potatoes, and garnished with fresh herbs from your garden. With this dish we will drink a special toast for a peaceful year with a glass of young, fruity chardonnay.
For dessert, late summer pl
ums, arranged in colorful circles on a light pastry dough make a delicious eye-appealing tart. Serve a sweet late harvest wine or hot tea with lemon, and let the children choose their favorite fruit juice.

Cold Puree of Beet Borscht
4 medium-size beets, unpeeled
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Diced cucumbers
Diced green and yellow red peppers

Scrub the outside of the beets using cold water, place in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until a fork inserted in the beet is tender, about one hour. Cool. Remove the beets, but reserve the liquid. Peel the skin, which should come off easily, and discard.

Dice the beets and return to the liquid. Place half of the diced beets and liquid in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer puree to a bowl and repeat the process with the remaining beets and liquid. Add lemon juice, sugar and salt to taste and mix well. To serve, ladle into shallow soup bowls and garnish with cucumbers and peppers.

Makes eight to 10 servings.

Avocado, Tomato and Arugula Salad

Usually avocados are served mashed or chopped. For this dish, simply slice the avocados and tomatoes, which enables them to harmonize with the pungent-flavored arugula.

2 avocados, peeled and seeded
Juice of 1 lemon
2 large tomatoes, sliced
3 cups loosely packed arugula, coarse stems discarded
Vinaigrette dressing (recipe follows)
Pomegranate seeds for garnish, optional

Cut each avocado into nine to 12 lengthwise slices. Sprinkle with lemon juice and set aside. Slice tomatoes and set aside.

Wash arugula and dry. Slice and mound arugula on chilled plates, fan the avocado slices around the mounds and arrange the sliced tomatoes in the center.

Spoon enough vinaigrette over each salad to coat leaves, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, if desired. Serve immediately.

Makes six to eight servings.

Vinaigrette Dressing
1 tablespoon Dijon-style prepared mustard
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup walnut oil
Salt, freshly ground black pepper

Place mustard, vinegar, lemon juice in a processor or blender. Add oil in thin stream and blend until slightly thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Butterflied Roast Chicken With Medley of Vegetables
1 (4-pound) or 2 (2-pound) whole chickens
1 onion, sliced and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium potato, diced and steamed
2 tablespoons minced parsley
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary

1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon each dried basil, thyme and rosemary, crushed
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 to 3 cups dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Split the chicken along the entire length of the back, removing backbone from tail to neck. Open it out, skin side up. With a mallet or the heel of your hand, flatten the chicken, fracturing the breastbone and ribcage, so it lays flat. Arrange vegetables on a foil-lined large roasting pan, and place the chicken on top, skin-side up.

Mix garlic and rosemary together. Working with your fingertips, separate the skin from the meat of the chicken, beginning at the neck end, being careful not to tear the skin. Place sliced garlic and rosemary under the skin, including the drumsticks and thighs. Mix together the olive oil and herbs and rub it on the top of the chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Pour the marinade over the vegetables and chicken and bake for l0 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, and bake for 45 minutes to one hour longer, depending on the size of the chicken. Baste every 20 minutes. If chicken browns too quickly, cover it loosely with foil. If the marinade cooks away too quickly, add more. Remove the foil during the last 10 minutes, allowing the chicken to brown.

All Dressed Up

I remember what I was wearing on just about every first date with every boyfriend I’ve ever had.

I remember what I wore on the first day of fifth grade — a hand-me-down green flowered dress with red polyester kneesocks.

I remember the pastel, flowered, zipper-at-the-ankle Guess? jeans my mom bought me at full retail because I had stopped biting my nails for two weeks.

I remember the dress I wore to my senior prom, not because it was beautiful, but because it was returned. After spending all kinds of cash on college applications and SAT prep courses, I knew my mom was tapped out. I didn’t want to ask her for more money for a prom dress because I knew she’d find a way to give it to me, and I knew she didn’t have it.

My after-school job at Lombardi’s Sporting Goods wasn’t exactly flooding my coffers with cash. I got an idea: buy a dress from Nordstrom, renowned for its liberal return policy, tuck in the tags, and take it back to the store the next day.

I bought a stretchy black dress with spaghetti straps and a satin skirt. Shoes were courtesy of my friend Tasha, half a size too big, but a perfect match. I felt clever, but I also felt ashamed. The Nordstrom saleslady to whom I returned the garment shot me a look that said, “I have to take this dress back, but you and I both know you wore it to the prom last night.”

I had forgotten about that dress until I read about Dana Green, a 29-year-old freelance public relations consultant who started a program to provide nearly new, stylish formal dresses to young women for proms, graduations and other celebrations.

The idea started with the bridesmaid’s dresses in her own closet she knew she’d never wear again. She collected dresses from friends. She stockpiled shoes and accessories.

In two years, she has given away close to 100 dresses in connection with A Place Called Home, a youth center in South Central Los Angeles.

With a black beaded shift and a sea-foam green, sleeveless bridesmaid’s dress slung over my shoulder, I headed toward A Place Called Home to meet Green, who had set up a makeshift boutique in the center’s playground.

It was “Clothes Give Away Day,” thanks to donations from Temple Israel, and mothers, kids and strollers were crowded into a line, waiting in the late afternoon heat to go through the piles of clothes. Green was standing near a rack of gowns: yellow, pink, silver, all fresh from the cleaners in plastic bags.

I added mine to the rack and dropped off a couple pairs of faux pearl earrings to go with them. “This is a city of haves and have-nots,” Green told me, squinting into the sun. “This is a great way for people to share what they have.

“The reward is to see the smiles on the girls’ faces,” she added. “What girl doesn’t know how great it feels to put on a pretty dress? It builds great self-esteem.”

I sat on a nearby bench and watched a teenage girl twirl in a pink satin, floor-length gown, her jeans and sneakers peeking out from the bottom. Her friend had on a sophisticated silver silk number. Both were beaming.

“Some girls wouldn’t even be able to go to the prom at all because they couldn’t afford a dress,” Green explained.

Ray Gallegos, executive director of A Place Called Home, took me on a tour of the center, which has 4,000 members between ages 9 and 20. There’s a music room, a tutoring center, a kitchen that serves three meals a day, arts and crafts and a busy computer lab. Even a guy like Gallegos — who told me he was both stabbed and shot during his gang days — is hip to the importance of the right dress.

“After Dana was here last, the buzz went on for days. She gave the girls a whole new picture of themselves,” he said. It wasn’t just the dresses, he added, but “seeing people from an affluent background come down here and spend time with them, help them pick out clothes.”

The at-risk youth Gallegos works with have what he calls “a brick-around-the-neck stance,” something the dresses help alleviate, if just a little.

My frocks haven’t found a home yet, but when they do, they won’t have to be returned. In fact, Green tells me that the dresses are often passed along to a cousin or friend, recycled and given new life until they wear out.

Green is hoping to expand her program, so that next spring she can set up four different “boutiques” around the city. She needs shoes, new hosiery, makeup and, of course, those dresses you know you’ll never wear again but can’t bring yourself to throw away.

Dana Green can be reached at