A Summer Picnic
Saturday, August 01, 2015
As soon as I tasted our naturally fermented pickles made a few weeks ago, I knew we had to put a picnic together.
Headhouse Market newcomber La Divisa meats made it easy, with a wonderful thinly sliced ham we slathered with Green Aisle Grocery’s horseradish on Ric’s Bread. And of course there had to be a tomato sandwich.
For dessert, I cooked down a bunch of rhubarb from our garden and made a rhubarb fool. This was one of those too pretty desserts I had never gotten around to trying. Definitely worth the minimal effort in the summer - it was cool, slightly tart, and did I mention pretty?
Sauteed String Beans in Tomato Sauce
Saturday, July 25, 2015
While I thought it was fitting to use my grandmother’s bowl to serve this old fashioned dish, the result didn’t taste much like the stewed green beans I remember from childhood. For one, I briefly blanched the beans while the simple tomato sauce was cooking so they could be thrown in at the end to just cook through. I also used a combination of wax beans and two varieties of pole beans for a mix of flavors. Our lovely San Marzano plum tomatoes on the plants we got at Savoie Organic Farm aren’t quite ripe yet, so we used several beautiful Persimmons. They were definitely more juicy than a plum, but that worked well for this quickly cooked sauce. We did add some chunks of fresh mozzarella from Hillacres Pride just before eating - purely for the protein, of course.
Sauteed String Beans in Tomato Sauce
1 pound string beans
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 medium tomatoes
12 basil leaves
Trim beans, blanch in salted water and set aside. Using the same boiling water, blanch tomatoes just long enough for their skins to crack. Rinse briefly to cool, remove skins and chop in 1 inch chunks.
Mince garlic and saute a minute in olive oil over medium heat. Add tomatoes and a few pinches of salt and leave simmering until tomatoes begin to break down and sauce thickens. Add beans and cook until beans are desired consistency.
Serves 2 for lunch or 4-6 as a side dish.
Another Way with Zucchini
Saturday, July 18, 2015
Aside from grilling, my favorite summertime meals are pastas lightly sauced and loaded with vegetables. So, I was particularly happy with this offering from the New York Times’ David Tanis. We used ricotta from Hillacres Pride, available at the Headhouse Market, and the small and piquant leaves of minette basil growing in our window boxes.
My take on this involved three alterations. First, I cut the zucchini into half-rounds that were considerably thinner than Tanis’s. It may just be a matter of preference, but I like the zucchini to nearly fall apart, becoming a creamy sauce in their own right. Second, I cooked the zucchini for considerably longer - and covered - than Tanis instructs. Third, I used more reserved pasta cooking water as well. Adapting Tanis’s wine recommendation, we paired this with a sauvignon blanc from Turdo Vineyards. One final note for future experiments with this recipe: I suspect that a mint pesto, rather than a basil one, might work as well.
Half Sour Pickles
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
As if there is any other kind. It took me a few years of canning before I realized vinegar preserving was not going to get me the slightly crisp, garlicky, mildly pungent taste I was looking for in a dill pickle. I had given up until last summer’s food swap, when Amanda of Phickle traded us a giant jar of naturally fermented pickles. They were perfect. A few days ago we received a big haul of kirby pickles, so I prepared them according to these directions. I learned two interesting things from the article preceding the recipe. First, cutting off the blossom end of the cucumber can help prevent soft pickles, as the blossom ends contain enzymes which can soften your pickles. The article also mentioned adding grape leaves, which contain tannins that counteract softening as the pickle ferments. (This Penn State Extension article does an excellent job explaining the science behind and practical methods for crispy pickles.) The photo above shows one jar in all its loveliness, and the second jar already wearing its baggie full of water to keep air out during fermentation. Not quite as pretty, but a necessary part of safe fermentation. I plan to ferment these two jars for different amounts of time to see how long it takes to achieve the results I want. With any luck, there will be no puckering sourness and no softness, and I will celebrate by making a giant grilled cheese sandwich to eat them with.
Fried Stuffed Zucchini Flowers
Wednesday, July 08, 2015
The last time I made these was in Italy, frying them in tiny single batches in a tin cup we found in the rental villa. The flowers were for sale in the local co-op, the olive oil from the farm we were staying on. I had no thermometer, and no recipe, and I still suspect the first few came out way too greasy, but they were gone as quickly as I could make them. This time was much easier, with both a candy thermometer set at a perfect 350 degrees and this very simple recipe from Tyler Florence to which we only added a small cube of mozzarella in each flower. We used flowers from Queens Farm and Hillacres Pride mozzarella. They disappeared as quickly as last time, though I managed a picture.
New Twist on an Old Dish
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
One of the vendors we religiously shop at Headhouse Market is Shore Catch. Shopping there as much as we do, we inevitably repeat some recipes once we bring the fish and shellfish home. So, there is a perpetual urge to find new recipes.
This one, taken from the indispensable River Cottage Fish, gave me two twists on something I thought I knew inside out: spaghetti and clams. Growing up Italian-American in South Jersey, it was impossible not to see this at Sunday dinners and Seven Fishes. Therefore, I was surprised to see a version use actual cream (completely new to me) with clams that were fresh but removed from their shells - I was accustomed to thinking of either fresh clams in their shells or canned clams. Most importantly, it called for fresh pasta. In retrospect the fresh pasta makes perfect sense - being, as it is, ideally suited to richer, cream or butter-based sauces, but for someone raised on spaghetti and clams in white sauce, this was a revelation.
Discoveries aside, the dinner still needs refinement. Not having any white wine at hand (i.e., my stock of Galen Glen Gruner Veltliner having long run dry), I resorted to a bit of pasta water. The resulting sauce was a little too light and simple. A glass of white wine may have added the depth and viscosity it needed. However, in a nod to my favorite dish from Bistro La Minette, I would also be tempted to add some fresh tarragon to the sauce as well. Either way, from now on if it’s clams in white sauce, it’s going to be fresh pasta.
Four-Minute Squid (or Less)
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
The River Cottage’s seafood cookbook, titled The River Cottage Fish Book strangely enough, continues to be my favorite on the subject. Not only does it advocate for sustainable, local seafood, it provides an abundance of information regarding species, recipe substitutions, and some general cooking guidelines that are endlessly useful. If you are intent on buying seasonally, locally, and sustainably, this flexibility is crucial.
My latest favorite is a quick squid recipe. As he does elsewhere, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall states that this is more a suggestion than a recipe, but I would call it a technique. The bodies of the cleaned squid, which we purchase from Shore Catch at the Headhouse Market, are butterflied (basically cut open so that they lay flat), scored on each side in a diamond pattern, and then tossed with something for flavor. The original recipe calls for olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and finely chopped garlic, but this is infinitely adaptable. To cook, set to maximum heat under your cast-iron pan, griddle, or grill and cook one minute or so per side, turning them twice. Two cautions here, though: one, make sure the pan or grill is thoroughly preheated; two, if you go beyond four minutes, you will have overcooked them. They will curl up, which is good, and they will also char, which is even better.
More from In Search of the Perfect Loaf
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Having already recommended Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf, I will refer you to my earlier comments as to why. However, I can already identify two benefits from reading Fromartz. One, it has given me the confidence to experiment with recipes and tailor results. Two, should those experiments fail - or, more accurately, fail to meet expectations - I now have a better sense of why. Both applied in this instance.
The first time I made this loaf, Jim Lahey’s. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that; it’s just not my preference. This time, I felt confident enough in my baking to use a different temperature and cooking time, based on Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Modena Mountain Bread. This involved not only a lower temperature, but also retaining steam in the oven. This variation was, unquestionably, a success.
Unfortunately, as you can see here, the crumb is anything but light and airy. It’s dense and chewy, which is fine, but that wasn’t what I was going for. What went wrong? Fromartz’s recipe calls for letting the dough rise in a pantry that’s roughly 55 degrees. Given the absurdly low temperatures last night, I am guessing our pantry was significantly lower than 55. However, that wasn’t the real mistake; the real mistake was not trusting my instincts when I pulled the dough out this morning. I was following the recipe exactly, but I should have known it needed a longer rise.
Having written that, I now realize a third benefit of reading ...The Perfect Loaf: rather than discouraged by this disappointment, I will simply try again.
Humble and Lazy Beans
Sunday, November 02, 2014
Each year, I am amazed at the diversity and output of our little garden plot. Even when the success rate of our three-sisters experiment was 66% (no squash), we still came away with delicious corn and an unusual pole bean called Lazy Housewife.
I thought the Lazy Housewife was just amusingly named, but there’s a metaphor buried in that imaginative moniker: there was little effort in harvesting the dried beans. To be honest, we picked the beans, plopped them in the vegetable bin in the fridge, and completely forgot about them. Weeks later, we remembered, peeled them open, and out popped dried beans.
Since these were special to us, I wanted a simple preparation - no stews or soups here. So, I opted for this recipe from Jamie Oliver. The Lazy Housewife may have been used in “Humble Home-cooked Beans,” but don’t let the underwhelming adjectives deceive you. They were absolutely delicious. Apart from the (apparent) simplicity of the dish, I was interested in the technique: simmering the beans with vegetables and spices to impart flavor. I had done so with garlic and herbs, but never this many ingredients. The results were beans that didn’t taste like the vegetables, but a more interesting, complex version of themselves. Just a word of warning: a long, slow simmer is best. In fact, simmer these the way you would simmer a slow-cooking shoulder-cut of meat.
In Search of the Perfect Potato Salad
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Anyone who grew up near Vineland in South Jersey will surely know Joe’s Poultry. Our parents would never consider fast food appropriate for dinner, but a stop at Joe’s little shop for a rotisserie chicken was a different case altogether. But it wasn’t the chicken that was my favorite - it was the potato salad. Almost creamy, with bits of shredded carrot and diced pickle and never too much mayo, the potato salad deservedly became the standard by which all others were compared in my family. (Joe’s Poultry is still going strong, by the way, and if the reviews on Yelp are any indication, we’re not alone.)
A few years ago I tried my hand at potato salad, thinking I could definitely come up with something delicious with all the wonderful local potatoes at hand. Nope. I used Tom Culton’s lovely fingerlings, which according to many recipes should have been the perfect texture, and left the skin on. The result was more like like pieces of potatoes dressed in mayonnaise - not at all the moist and flavorful texture of Joe’s. While the skins were delicious, there was way too little potato exposed, so nothing cohered. I tried again, this time choosing young potatoes with thin skins, but big enough to allow for pieces with plenty of exposed potato. I also mashed the potatoes slightly with a fork and added tiny diced bits of pickles and chives. My family wholeheartedly approved.
So why is the potato salad pictured purple, you ask? We picked up a massive jar of naturally fermented pickles made by Amanda of Phickle at the food swap the week before and they had a fantastic half sour taste that was perfect for potato salad. The only potatoes we had on hand were from Savoie Organic Farm and just happened to be purple. Prettiest batch I ever made.
2 pound potatoes, skin on is fine if they are new potatoes, cut into pieces of 1 1/2 to 2 inches
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons mayonnaise, or more, depending on your preference
1 bunch of chives, chopped
1 dill pickle, diced
Put potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Add 1 tbsp salt and bring to boil. Boil potatoes until fully cooked - usually no more than 10 minutes, but test with fork. Drain and allow to steam dry.
Transfer potatoes to a bowl and roughly mash some with a fork to desired consistency. Toss potatoes with mayonnaise, chives and pickle. Add 1 tsp salt and taste to adjust salt or mayonnaise. Serves 4-6.
Marc Vetri’s Rigatoni with Swordfish and Eggplant “Fries”
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
It was partly because yesterday’s weather - warm but breezy, comfortable in the shade - reminded me so much of our biannual trips to Italy. It was partly because I was looking for something to eat with a particular, local wine. And it was partly because these ingredients were available concurrently at Headhouse Market. At long last, I was ready to make Marc Vetri’s rigatoni with swordfish and eggplant fries.
This has been on my “must-make” list ever since I first opened my copy of Rustic Italian Food. However, I never seemed to have either the time to make it (and, it must be said, this dish is rather time- and labor-intensive) or all of the necessary ingredients.
And, while this may have taken two people and ninety minutes from start to finish, it was worth every second. The combination of flavors is wonderfully evocative of summer, and the ingredients are perfectly proportioned. Moreover, as with Vetri’s fava bean and pecorino pasta, it takes very little to make a sauce: in this case, eight ounces of cherry tomatoes, garlic, onion, some olive oil, and a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. That’s it. But, trust me, once the tomatoes exude their liquid, and you see it coat the rigatoni, you will understand.
We don’t normally drink wine with lunch unless we are out or have company, but since this dish was so redolent of Italy, what could be more Italian than a long pranzo outside with a glass of wine? In Rustic Italian Food, Jeff Benjamin recommends a Calabrian Ciro Rosso. Not having any in my wine cellar (aka our unheated basement pantry), I used this as excuse to open this Sangiovese from Turdo Vineyards in Cape May, NJ (one of our local favorites). Sangiovese is best-known as the primary (but not necessarily sole) grape in Chianti. However, the typical aroma (sometimes described, affectionately, as similar to a “barnyard”) and tannins are not apparent in this one. Coupled with the soft tannins are aromas of black fruit and spices. The medium body balanced nicely with the mild flavor of the swordfish.
It is a measure of the quality of this recipe that I would, without hesitation, make it again despite the work involved. The only modifications I would offer are:
1) Make the eggplant fries early on and have them warming in the oven. The rest of the dish comes together very quickly if you measure and prep everything else and, especially, if you are using dried pasta (as we did). We let the eggplant drain on an upside-down drying rack on top of newspaper. Then, we discarded the oil-soaked newspaper, and put the rack in the oven until we were ready.
2) Add the eggplant fries to your dish as you eat. Start off by topping the dish with a few, and then stir in more as you eat. This will keep them from getting soft.
3) Cut the eggplant “fries” to match the length of the rigatoni.
4) Either chiffonade the basil or, even better, use minette basil leaves. Still waiting on our abysmally slow-growing basil plants in the garden, we plucked the leaves of a couple of minette basil plants in our window boxes. The flavor is fantastic, and the small leaves were more evenly distributed.
5) Regardless of whether you scale this recipe up or down, be sure to keep to the proportions Vetri dictates. The balance of flavors and textures, in the correct proportions, is what makes this greater than the sum of its parts.
A New Way with Carrots
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
When I pulled an actual bunch of carrots from our garden last week, it was cause for a (minor) celebration. After years of trying and failing with Scarlet Nantes, I’d found a new variety perfectly suited for our plot. To celebrate, then, I wanted something special. Thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi, I found it.
What’s particularly impressive about this dish, and Ottolenghi in general, is how he uses spices and small quantities of exotic ingredients to create vibrant, unique vegetable dishes. Many other chefs would resort to slabs of bacon - not that there is anything wrong with bacon. Here, however, Ottolenghi creates a curried flavor that relies on olive oil and yogurt for its fat content. It certainly showcases the carrots, but it is also worlds away from the roasted carrot salad I normally make in summer. I made only a few minor changes: omitting the preserved lemon and cilantro (not by choice, only by circumstance); altering the cut and, therefore, cooking time of the carrots; omitting green chiles; and substituting chives for green onions and adding them to the yogurt. Ottolenghi suggests this as a side to a fried fish, but it was perfectly satisfying as a part of a light summer lunch along with an omelette and a green bean salad.
So, should you find yourself in possession of a fresh bunch of carrots, think twice before adding bacon.
P.S. Unlike Smitten Kitchen, I do not ever doubt Yotam Ottolenghi’s sanity.
Sunday, April 06, 2014
When I first started eating seasonally and locally, I thought that the short, dark days of winter would be the hardest to abide. I quickly learned, however, that the early, longer days of Spring were much more difficult. The temperature surpasses sixty degrees, and you immediately start looking for ramps, asparagus, and new potatoes. This, of course, is contrary to all reason and experience - even if you yourself just planted your spring crops - but it doesn’t stop you.
Perhaps that’s why this dish was such a welcome harbinger. It was an authentic spring vegetable, arugula, from this, the last month of Farm to City’s Winter Harvest.
This arugula pesto came from the my ongoing purge. Desperate for something springlike but also rather exhausted from the workday, I found the minimal effort involved in the dish was perfect. I substituted almonds for pine nuts simply because that’s what I had, and I used all pecorino rather than half pecorino and half parmesan. This was partly because I didn’t have any parmesan, but I think the pecorino’s smoother flavor is more appropriate and helps distinguish this from classic pesto. Also, I didn’t use anything like a full cup of olive oil. I add a little oil as I start the food processor, drizzle in more while it purees, but only as needed. This way, I get exactly the texture I want and as little oil as necessary.
It went very well with some whole-grain gemelli, but I think long pasta would work well also. It would also serve as a nice condiment to fish. The bright, lemony flavor would really cut through an oily fish, but it is delicate enough for white-flesh fillet as well.
Tattie Scones: What Your Mashed Potatoes Want To Be
Saturday, March 08, 2014
I love the flexibility of latkes or similarly made potato pancakes - they can be served with breakfast, as an appetizer with any number of delicious things on top, or as a dinner side. I’ve tried to do similar things with pancakes made from leftover mashed potatoes, but they always seemed to come out with a bit of a crust that sticks to the pan and tasting mostly of - well, warmed leftover mashed potatoes. Last week I came across a recipe for a tattie scone, which adds just enough flour and leavening agent to create a pancake that stays together, browns beautifully and tastes of potato, but slightly chewy and springy.
1 1/2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Combine mashed potatoes, flour and baking powder thoroughly, forming a dough. (If your mashed potatoes had no butter or salt in them initially, melt a tablespoon of butter and add to mixture along with a generous pinch of salt). Form four or five balls and dust with flour. Heat a large cast iron skillet or nonstick pan on medium and add a teaspoon or so of butter. Flatten each ball of dough in the skillet to a thickness of about half an inch. Cook for a few minutes on each side until browned.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Since we’re still waiting on the polar vortex to release its death grip once and for all, the only real novelty at the farmers market the past couple of weekends was the return of Taproot Farm’s lovely golden-yolked eggs. I decided to feature them as prominently as possible in dessert form, which meant a vanilla-rich creme anglaise served over a very simple compote of apples, raisins and toasted nuts.
We recently acquired a sous vide machine, so I used it to make both components. Although it makes the custard foolproof and significantly less work than making it the usual way, you certainly don’t need a sous vide for this recipe. I’ve included instructions for making it both ways.
If you’re still in new year healthy eating mode, this is actually a fairly low-sugar dessert, since there’s no added sweetener in the compote.
Apple Compote with Creme Anglaise
5 egg yolks
2 cups half and half
6 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of Maldon or other flaky sea salt
1 vanilla bean
6 firm eating apples, peeled and cored, and sliced in 1/2 inch thick wedges
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (if not cooking sous vide)
3 tablespoons apple cider (if not cooking sous vide)
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
Using a sous vide machine:
Follow these instructions for the creme anglaise, and chill for at least several hours before using.
Toss the sliced apples with the raisins, lemon zest and just enough of the juice to lightly coat them. Vacuum seal the apple mixture or just use a zip-top bag and press out as much air as you can. Cook at 185F for about an hour, until the apples feel tender through the plastic.
Without a sous vide machine:
Split the vanilla bean open and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the pod to a small saucepan with the half and half, bringing it just up to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let steep for 15 minutes, then pull out the vanilla pod.
Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. In a smaller bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and salt. Bring the half and half back up to a simmer, then pour in a thin but even stream into the yolks while continuing to whisk. Scrape the mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat a spoon, around 2-4 minutes. Clean the bowl you used for the egg yolks and set it in the ice bath. Pour the custard through a strainer into the smaller bowl to get any stray egg filaments, leaving the custard over the ice bath until it’s at room temperature before transferring to the refrigerator, tightly covered, to chill thoroughly.
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, add the apples, sugar, lemon zest and juice. Toss in the pan until the edges begin to caramelize just slightly, then add the cider and raisins and cover the pan, cooking a few minutes more until the apples are tender and the raisins are plump.
Decant the warm apple compote into pretty bowls or stemware. Pour a few tablespoons of creme anglaise over each serving, and top with the nuts. Circulate a pitcher of the remaining custard for your guests to add more to their taste.