Sunday, July 26, 2009

Just... Summer

Just... Summer Organic

At the Farmers’ Market the other day, somebody asked, “What do you do with beets. Nobody seems to know what to do with them. They seem to be the forgotten vegetable, and they’re so GOOD if you know how.”
I didn’t say that there was no excuse for not knowing what to do with them! Didn’t I write a whole column about them a couple of years back? I bit my tongue instead. So here’s a recap, about them and some other things too.

Just... Summer Beets

Just... buy a bunch of gorgeous beets from a farmer, take them home, cut off the stems an inch or two from the beet, swish them through some cold water – they don't need to be immaculate – put them in a pan, cover with cold water, salt the water with a teaspoon of salt, bring to a medium boil and low-boil them least a half an hour with a cover aslant over them before testing them with a table fork. If they are tender, not mushy, drain them and let them cool a bit before sliding the skins and stems off with your hands. If you can’t push that fork firmly into them, cook a bit more. At 45 minutes they’re probably done whether you think so or not. You can serve them warm with just butter or you can slice them and add... yes, the proverbial three – olive oil, vinegar – in this case balsamic, I would think – and sliced garlic, as much as you want. If you don’t have balsamic don’t go out and buy some just for this – the beets are sweet enough as it is. They make sugar out of them, don’t they? Salt and pepper. You can go on from there with sliced onion or chives. You could add dill? or basil. You could even add some broken toasted walnuts, if you like, and sprinkle each serving with feta or chèvre. Umm.

That’s just the beginning, of course.

Just... toss a red pepper on the grill and singe that skin until it’s black, then rub it off. Slice the pepper in strips (save those thick juices, but flick out the seeds with the point of a knife) and anoint with oil, garlic, and vinegar.

Or if you find those small heart-shaped sweet red peppers – I think they're called lipstick – you can stuff them (after they’ve been skinned) with fresh goat cheese, chèvre, that’s been mixed with something sweet like raisins and something crisp like toasted pine nuts, put them back on the (warm) grill for just a few minutes, carefully – want to keep that sweet cheese inside. Serve with forks. A drop of balsamic vinegar as a finish would not be out of place. (Idea from Tapas by Joyce Goldstein)

Just... cucumbers, fresh off the vine, as good as anything: slice them thin, cover them with cold water with a few ice cubes, add some dill heads to this cold stew and put them in the fridge for awhile. The edges pucker up a bit to make a scoop. They’re crisp, and dill-scented.

Or make Asian-flavored Cucumbers. Slice one or two cukes into irregular slabs, cover with cold salted water for an hour or two in the fridge, drain them, dry well in a clean towel, put them into a bowl with a knob of ginger that’s been julienned (cut into thin strips), and add a tablespoon of sugar, 2 of rice wine vinegar, a teaspoon of dark sesame oil and 2 roughly chopped garlic cloves. Yummy. (Smashed Cucumbers with Ginger from Saveur, Issue #113)

Just... cook dried fava beans (cover with water, bring to a boil, turn to a simmer, about 45 minutes, adding more hot water as needed not to burn, salt to taste during the last ten minutes), spread them out on a plate, top with lots of olive oil and garlic, a strew of chopped jalapenos, and dip up with robust young celery, dark green and positively sweet. I am enamored of the Farmers’ Market celery – who knew it could even be grown here, much less so er, ah, tastefully. I would almost treat it like the cucumber chips – cut into leafy sticks and refresh in icy water for awhile. Then crunch away.

Just... Summer Celery and Green Beans

Just... tiny new tomatoes eaten plain, of course, at first, then halved and fried with garlic in olive oil while you blanch those first new green beans in boiling, salted water for 2 minutes. Drain them (the beans), plunge them into cold water, and chop a clove or two of garlic and add to the tomatoes, which should be browning on the cut side. Stir and fry until you can smell the garlic, drain the beans again and add them to the tomatoes. Turn the heat to high and stir-fry everything until tender enough. Not too long. Tear some basil leaves over them for the last minute, turn off the heat, season with salt and pepper and maybe another drizzle of olive oil. You could serve these with soft scrambled eggs for a simplified version of a dish called piperade. Now I'm thinking – serve them with bits of chèvre sprinkled over the top. I've just finished a plain omelet sided with cut cherry tomatoes and chèvre and it was delicious, so sweet and so good.

Just... Summer Cabbage

Just... silken, buttery cabbage, technique from Simon Hopkinson. For 2 people use 1 of those football-shaped cabbages, quarter it lengthwise leaving the core in. Plunge it into boiling salted water and cook until very tender. Drain it well, remove the core, melt a sufficient amount of butter in the empty pan (please, not too little, you’ll spoil the dish), don’t let it brown, add the cabbage to it, grind salt and white pepper over it, turn and turn until it is a buttery mass and then turn it out onto plates or into bowls. If you like, a sprinkle of vinegar – I’d say cider or sherry – to finish it off.

I heard someone ask Paul Horton at Foggy Meadow Farm what he had been eating that had, up to now, called themselves carrots – certainly not these fresh, bright, sweet, crunchy things. Yvonne Brunot from her Wallingford Right Mind Farm (don’t you love the name), a new vendor, made a Moroccan Carrot Salad to sample hers, serving them with The Foreign Kitchen’s lovely crackers to dip it up with, and a little bowl of sheep’s milk yogurt to drizzle over each bite. She gave me the recipe to pass on to you, so here you go.

Just... Summer Carrot Salad

Just... cook 1 pound of scrubbed new carrots – mix and match yellow, orange, purple, pink, for visual fun – until just crisp/tender – you don’t want mush – in boiling, salted water, drain and chop them rather finely and toss with 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, ¼ cup olive oil, ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, and salt to taste. Let sit around to marry the tastes. Serve as a salad or as a dip with crackers. Don’t forget the yogurt. Delish! (Exigencies: I used Sherry vinegar, added a scattering of green cilantro seeds, and used ancho pepper because that’s what I had).

Just... make a whole meal of fresh corn on the cob with just butter and salt and pepper. Or mix a quarter pound of butter with lime juice, lime zest, garlic, salt and pepper, hot pepper flakes or powder or chopped fresh hot pepper... chopped cilantro... anything that strikes your fancy.
Leftover butter can be used when you next bake some of those lovely russet potatoes to be found at Heleba’s market stall.

Just... make thin-leaved, spiky Frissée (a curly endive) from Boardman Hill into a classic poached egg salad in the style of Simon Hopkinson in his Roast Chicken and Other Stories, my newest acquisition in the way of Cookbooks. For Salade Frissée aux Lardons everything has to be done at once – the bacon fried, the egg poached, the vinegar heated. The fewer people, the easier it is.

It basically involves cleaning the frissée, maybe half a head for two people, and putting it into a heatproof bowl. Season it lightly with salt and pepper. Make some croutons by rubbing a couple of slices of bread with a cut clove of garlic, cutting them into cubes, and frying them in olive oil. Set aside. Put two eggs into simmering vinegared water to set them poaching. Fry 3 thick bacon strips, cut into pieces, in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until crisp and golden. Toss bacon and fats onto the frissée and toss. Put the pan back on the heat, add 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar to it, swirl around, add to the frissée, which should be wilted, and toss. Add the croutons and toss. Arrange the frissée mixture on plates, top with a poached egg, sprinkle with sea salt and a grinding of pepper, and............. EAT!

I used to think this seemed to be a winter salad, but it always gets chilled around the edges. So now I think it’s a summer salad – perfect for a cool night. Oh, right, you could sprinkle all this with chopped parsley if you like.

Just... Summer Garlic Scapes

Just... substitute garlic scapes for basil in your favorite pesto. Into the food processor go, say, 10 garlic scapes, ½ cup each of toasted walnuts, parmesan, and olive oil... chop it up good, amalgamate, add more olive oil if it needs to be loosened, salt, spoon it over pasta, or tomatoes, or spread it on bread.

These are just a few of the fresh new vegetables we’re gloriously JUST keeping up with these days, and along with a handful of berries – the latest is blackcaps mixed with fresh, unpasteurized Jersey cream and frozen – provide most of our meals these days.

...from marble to merlot...
is an event to benefit Dimensions of Marble and Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) where you can, for $10, sample all these foods – wines from Neshobe River Winery, produce and cheeses from Rutland area farms and producers. It’ll be held at the Vermont Marble Museum on Wednesday, August 5, from 5 to 7. 802-459-2300 or .

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cast Iron Dhal

When I saw the enormous cast-iron wok at a garage sale I wasn’t thrilled yet, but I asked Cassie how much she wanted for it. My sly young friend cocked her head at me and asked, “What’s it worth to you?”
I tossed off a figure – five dollars, maybe – and she accepted. I hefted it into the car – it’s a heavy thing – and thought that it might be just the thing to put on/over my Big Green Egg (a kind of outdoor grill/cooker), in order to cook with more variety outdoors this long hot summer.
As it turns out, of course, the summer, if that’s what this is, has not been onerously hot, and I’ve made good use of that wok on the stove-top. Its glorious expanse of hot cast-iron heats the entire kitchen nicely, not a bad thing in this subzero July.

I was struck by the quandary, recently, egged on by a website called Gherkins and Tomatoes, of whether cuisines grew up around available cooking utensils rather than utensils being invented to fit the cuisine. This wok (labeled Mr. Bar-B-Q and made in China) tapers from a 14 inch rim to a six inch flat bottom, and the cast iron conducts heat through the entire pan. You can make a pretty sizable stir fry in that without overflowing. You can also steam vegetables in it by setting a bamboo steamer over water in its bottom; you can make rice in it – a rather large lid fits down inside of it – and I imagine you can even make a soup or a casserole. It’s a pretty all-purpose, one-pot-meal kind of thing. Now I’m getting a little more thrilled.

That wok wasn’t my only new (or used) acquisition lately. Down at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, I was checking out the cookbook section when Simon Hopkinson charmed me with his lead-in to a recipe, Spinach and Coconut Dhal, in his book, Second Helpings of Roast Chicken. He described it as "Sloppy, warming, comforting, and astonishingly delicious. Also, extremely gassy. Time to tether the duvet to the bedposts." That made me chuckle and it made me buy the book.

The book is organized alphabetically, somewhat haphazardly, mostly by ingredients but sometimes by genre. For instance, Cabbage, Celery, Chicken, Chillies, lead to Cocktails. After that comes Cocoa, Cucumber, and then Curry. Under each chapter heading are three recipes, and under Curry is Mrs. Pringle’s kofta curry, Constance Spry’s original coronation chicken salad dressing, and the aforementioned Spinach and coconut dhal. The paper is thick and very white, which I know is just wrong, but I love the texture. But the best thing about this book, besides the originality and imagination of the recipes, are Hopkinson’s words. He has a sly and irreverent take on everything, and I find myself looking forward to his description and humor.

I had everything I needed for the Dhal except the black mustard seeds. I substituted black radish seeds which I had, somehow, in my spice cabinet. I always have a quantity of roasted cumin seeds because they are a favorite snack. For the tomatoes – which are not yet in season – I used almost a quart of crushed canned ones from Foggy Meadow Farm. I have onion, garlic, cilantro, and mint in my garden. And I happened to have red lentils and canned coconut milk in my pantry. As for the spinach, mine is either not growing or bolted, but it’s the usual spinach contest between Dutchess Farms, Foggy Meadow, and Boardman Hill at the Farmers’ Market. I hold really sweet taste photos in my mind of each of these spinaches, and perhaps will tell you about them in the future, but for now, let’s just say that I’ve bought spinach from each of them, it is all excellent, and I cannot remember whose this is in a plastic bag in my fridge.

As you’ll see, Hopkinson recommends serving this Dhal with Naan, a flat – well, puffed – Indian bread made with yogurt, enriched with egg, risen with yeast. I remember seeing a recipe for it that I trusted lately, but I cannot find it when I need it, of course. I’ll pass it along when I do. At its lack, I served this with thinly sliced, lightly toasted Bear Mountain Honey Oatmeal bread, which was not awfully authentic but was awfully good. So now, without further ado...

Spinach and Coconut Dhal
Serves 4
9 oz onions, peeled and finely chopped
6 tablespoons butter
1 ½ tsp whole cumin seeds, roasted
1 tsp whole black mustard seeds, roasted (I used black radish seeds because that’s what I had)
4 cloves
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
¾ cup plus 2 tbsp split red lentils
1 2/3 cup water
1 2/3 cups coconut milk
3-4 thick slices of fresh ginger, unpeeled
1 lb fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
9 oz fresh leaf spinach, washed, trimmed, and roughly chopped
plenty of freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 large lime
1 tbsp freshly chopped cilantro
2 tbsp freshly chopped mint
1 tsp salt
Serve with
naan or pita bread

Fry the onions in 4 tbsp of the butter until pale golden. Add the whole spices and half the garlic and continue to cook gently for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the turmeric and chilli powder until well blended, and cook for a couple of minutes. Tip in the lentils and the water, coconut milk, ginger, tomatoes, and spinach. Bring up to a simmer, add the pepper, and cook very gently, stirring occasionally, for about 30 – 40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and have all but dissolved into the liquid.

Remove the pan from the heat. Melt the remaining 2 tbsp butter. When it starts to froth, throw in the rest of the sliced garlic and stir around vigorously until it starts to take on a little color, and the butter starts to smell nutty. Immediately tip into the lentils and stir in. (There will be spluttering, so watch out.) Add the lime juice, the cilantro, mint, and salt to taste. Cover with a lid and leave to mellow for 10 minutes before serving, remembering to remove the slices of ginger before you do so. Eat with hot and fresh flat bread, such as naan or, failing that, pita bread.

I find that my beautiful cast-iron wok retails for less than $30 on, and receives less than glowing tributes. Apparently a better one is made by Lodge, and sold for slightly less than $80, though it would probably be over $100 by the time you paid Amazon's shipping. Nevertheless, I made the Spinach and Coconut Dhal in mine, and it was nothing short of delicious. Incredibly satisfying, not at all gassy, and the duvet stayed put.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Giraffe in the Shrubbery

The Giraffe in the Shrubbery
I thought Lysander got the last strawberry out of my little patch – almost two weeks ago, but this morning – this cold morning – I see that a small handful, several small berries, have ripened to the requisite jeweled sheen, and I pick them and they are unmarked – must be it’s too cold even for slugs – and I rinse them off and pop them into my mouth, and they are the best, the absolute best, of the season. And definitely the last.

Lysander and his parents were here only a few hours this year, and Lysander is an energetic three year old. Almost immediately he got up in the old high chair I keep for him and devoured some strawberry shortcake. Then he led us on a merry chase until I gave him the hose with a trickle of water and a couple of buckets. That kept him intently occupied for at least an hour, until Leo stuffed one of his big fingers down the hose to show Lysander how to make it squirt.
The Giraffe in the Shrubbery

"Oh very good, Leo," I said, and escaped into the kitchen to get together a small supper of egg salad sandwiches and more shortcake. A tearful Lysander came in and told me in a quavery voice, "Giraffe bite." Leo had placed a wooden giraffe inside the small tree off the deck, and I have to admit that the first time I discovered it it was a bit of a shock.

"No," I said, "that giraffe doesn't bite."

"Giraffe Bite," he insisted. "Leo told me!"

"You tell Leo," I said, "that if he doesn't behave himself he's cruisin' for a bruisin!"

A week or so later I found this small giraffe at SolarFest. I'll mail it to Lysander with the little clothes that Leo pinned on the line and forgot to send along with him when he left. Maybe I should wash them first.
The Giraffe in the Shrubbery