Monday, November 30, 2009

a jar of dandelion jelly

a jar of dandelion jelly

Here we are again, starting yet another gift-giving season, but thinking it over I find that I have been the happy and grateful recipient of many toothsome gifts all summer and fall, all year, in fact, and I want to talk about some of them. Yes, I realize this is a dangerous subject. Someone is sure to come up to me just slightly irate to say, “So you didn’t consider my gift of genuine Amazonian sperm oil important enough to write about, huh? See if I ever save you a bit of exoticism again!” But I’ll persevere. When was the last time you know me to flinch from confrontation? Canola oil, anyone?

I began to think about this when I was roasting vegetables for Thanksgiving and to that end went through my fridge and pulled out all the root vegetables I could find. There was a very large and beautiful Gilfeather turnip I’d bought at the Middlebury Co-op the week before, a month old rutabaga that I’d bought from Paul Horton’s Foggy Meadow Farm at one of September’s outdoor Farmers’ Markets, and way at the bottom of the crisper a bag of 3 or 4 gigantic parsnips that Paul had given me last spring. They had grown hairy in the intervening months, but were, if anything, and with a little trimming, better than freshly harvested ones. Too, I hauled out a bag of funnily shaped carrots that Paul had sorted into a bag for me last summer as he said, “Here, take these, Sharon. They don’t sell well.” Paul is a very generous person, and I think that’s not all due to the fact that he loves to see his name in print! Of course I'm only kidding about that. Paul is a humble man, though rightfully prideful in his work.

Sally Beckwith, Paul’s partner, has been generous (in absentia) to us all these last couple of weeks at the Winter Farmers’ Market – she’s been making Crispy Kale Chips for sampling at the booth and they’ve been the talk of the town. She even provides recipe cards:

Crispy Kale Chips

Tear a bunch of kale ruffles into a large bowl. Sprinkle with olive oil and salt, maybe sliced garlic if you like. Keeping a light hand, toss so the kale is coated with the oil and salt. Spread the kale on a cookie sheet and bake in a 250 degree oven for 20 minutes. Fluff the kale to distribute the crispier edges with the damper center, return to the oven and bake 20 minutes more. They should be quite dry. Pile into a bowl for appetizers and your guests will rave. I’ve made these twice now and they are the first times I’ve bought kale without a good amount of foreboding.

Many of us were incredibly disheartened that the Kilpatrick boys had decided not to attend the Winter Market this year. I almost cried to see their big space taken up with other vendors, however excellent they might be. For the Kilpatricks could, these last two years, be counted on not only to have the widest variety of root vegetables all winter, but also spinach and other greens, and early spring vegetables, too. So that when I walked into the big indoor space a couple of weeks ago and stopped to talk to Greg Cox at Boardman Hill for a bit, then turned and caught a glimpse of a great spread of vegetables, and looked up to see one of the regular Kilpatrick vendors, I screamed! I really did. I screamed and then I slavered all over her with thanks and questions about how it had come about, and more thanks. I excitedly bought a bunch of stuff from her to show my appreciation and, perhaps to send me off to slaver on someone else, she stuffed two bags of spinach into my bag as thanks for my thanks.

A few nights later I became hungry for creamed spinach, and I served it with a poached egg on top and some good toast. What a lovely, simple, satisfying little supper:

Creamed Spinach

Take a pound of cleaned spinach, stems and all, and put it into a saucepan in which you have brought a little water to boil, maybe an inch. Sprinkle with half a teaspoon of salt – you can add more later, if needed – cover, and cook until wilted, maybe only 3 minutes. Drain well, take handfuls of it, squeeze gently to get most of the rest of the water out, put on a cutting board and chop coarsely.
In a sauté pan melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When it is melted, sprinkle in some flour – try 2 tablespoons. Stir, stir, stir, and when it is golden drizzle in a cup to 1 ½ cups whole milk or half and half, stirring all the while, and cook and stir until thickened. Add in the spinach. Add a scraping of nutmeg, to taste. Turn the heat to very low and partially cover while you poach an egg or two, toast some bread, grate some parmesan. Serve by spooning the spinach into a serving dish, nestle a poached egg on top, sprinkle with parmesan and serve with the buttered toast.


One of the most unique gifts I’ve received was from a neighbor with whom I exchanged some of the tarragon, that happens to’ve survived almost 30 years in my garden under less than optimal conditions, for some of the mammoth dill that grows in her garden, and has year after year. After the trade-off she whipped out a little jar of clear golden jelly. Dandelion! Now who woulda thunk? It is such an oddity that I have not opened it, nor tasted it, but kept it displayed prominently for that slight jolt it gives me each time my eye lights upon it.
More gifts! Annabelle thrust a head of radicchio into my hands straight from her garden, saying, “I knew I’d discover who this belongs to when I saw her. It is you!” Chris showed up on my doorstep one night with a bunch of beets straight from HIS garden, saying, “You wrote about the last sweetness in the garden, and here it is.” Julie handed me a pint of golden honey from the first season of Mark’s bees, and we opened it and dipped fingers into it. Sticky sweetness to our wrists. Bees: One of the wonders of our world. Skiing Fool (he emails a wonderfully scurrilous ski report starting when the snow flies) showed up one Saturday afternoon: “I missed you at the Farmers’ Market but I wanted to give you some of my grape jelly.” He’d made a most marvelous jelly from the grapes that twine up the pergola in his back yard. Somehow he’d left the velvety little skins in the otherwise clear jel and they hit the tongue most softly. And then there’s Janet , who gave me two quarts of lard she’d rendered a couple of years ago and sealed in a boiling water bath. I was just about to beg Monty for some fatback to render my own. Lard is a necessity in my life, but I won’t buy it from the supermarket – it’s full of trash that allows it to sit on a shelf far from the refrigerator case.


Sometimes you have to look for your gift, search it out, as I did with these little Whole Wheat Walnut Cookies. I found them on October 3rd.

a jar of dandelion jelly

You remember October 3rd! It was drizzly and cold and while we drove to West Haven it began to rain. Oh. Lovely! We were going to a wedding that was being held in the third meadow back of beyond, a half mile walk from the parking area, no house in sight. But once we got there, in the dining tent, I hadn’t seen so many trays of lasagna since the old hippy dippy days. And mac salads, and potato salads, and sauerkraut, and lovely little individual lobster quiches, and at the very end a platter of little rounded cookies, made with whole wheat flour, walnuts, and five spice powder. They were tremendous. I spent much of the rest of the time trying to find out who made them.
Finally I found Leah, who had made them from a recipe in the Tassajara Bread Book, one that I cooked out of with wonderful results back in the ‘70s. But they were in a newer edition, and so I had to haunt Leah again until she most graciously gave me the recipe:

Whole Wheat Walnut Cookies

Heat the oven to 350 degrees

Reserve ¼ cup of the flour and combine all ingredients in the order listed
• 1 cup softened butter
• 2 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
• 1/3 cup brown sugar (or rapidura)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 teaspoon 5-spice powder (optional)
• 2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
• powdered sugar (or rapidura) for dusting
As you mix the ingredients, add reserved flour as needed until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
Form and roll into spheres about the size of walnuts. Place on a greased cookie sheet
Bake for 20 minutes or until firm to the touch.
Dust with powdered sugar.

These are sandy, like shortbread, not too sweet, absolutely delectable, and so fast and easy to make.
It turned out to be a lovely day for a wedding. And the sun came out just as the bride said “I Do!”


So! To all of you now I say thank you. Thank you very much. Thanks. Thank you. Merci. Gracias. Really: Thanks!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

cooking sublime thanks

We went to friends' house for Thanksgiving, so Leo made his fat noodles and I made a pumpkin pie, the Italian Green Tomato Mincemeat Tart, creme fraiche, roasted vegetables, kale chips and... something else, I think.

Leo's noodles went together without a hitch. Here he is cutting

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

and hanging them

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

So far, so good.

But my crusts were a different story. Remember how I told you not to worry if you had to put them together like a jigsaw puzzle? Well, both of mine were jigsaw puzzles...
Here's the bottom crust of the IGTMT...

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

That's not too bad, right? After all, I told you it might be a jigsaw puzzle. Here's the top...

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

It looks messier, but it wasn't. Here is the way it came out of the oven. I think it looks like a Jackson Pollack, very rustic, very modern... There's something truthful about it, as though the baker had grown beyond worrying about it.

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

And, in spite of it all, it was really quite delicious. I think.

The real surprise is the regular crust for the pumpkin pie.

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

It would not. hold. together. I had to patch it and form it just like the cookie crust dough of the IGTMT. Which is NOT all right. You ruin the flakiness when you press it. But no matter, it, too, was good. I used Edna Lewis's recipe for pumpkin pie, using a heritage long pumpkin for the... well, you know, pumpkin. It has some bourbon in it, I believe, and I used... surprise... surprise...bourbon. And it calls for evaporated milk, which is a common ingredient of southern, turn of the century, early 20th century, recipes. But since I didn't have any, after a day's worth of interrupted thought about it, I used coconut milk. It was dense, but I think it always is, and very sweet! But then so was the IGTMT. Must be my tastebuds. This is how they looked when done. I decorated each with a single red oak leaf.

the real truth about thanksgiving kitchens

I love Thanksgiving, our wonderful secular holiday in stick season. I love the muted colors of the sticks and the old leaves, the mauves and grays multiplied now. I love the murmuring voices of Thanksgivings past. Happy Thanksgiving season, everyone.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Italian Green Tomato Mincemeat Tart

Thanksgiving Morning after
No photos of the handsome Italian Green Tomato Mincemeat Tart?? What a shame. So as a placeholder here is one of the Thanksgiving table the morning after. Looks like we made some progress on that jigsaw puzzle!

If you were provident you made your Green Tomato Mincemeat a month ago or so. Now here, as promised, is the recipe for this handsome rustic pie that is not shy of taking its place on the holiday table. When it is taken from the pan and placed on a pretty plate or, as I do it, on a large, round, cast-iron griddle, the top fits over the bottom like the lid of a pot. As beautiful as it is it is no less delicious. A slender slice succinctly complements slivers of roast meats as well as finishes a meal. And if there is any left over there's no better way to break the fast the next morning!

There are three steps involved, but the Italian pastry, which can be done by hand or in a food processor, and the mincemeat can be made ahead of time, preparatory to assembling the tart. To remove the tart from the pan bottom easily, use a flat, somewhat flexible piece of metal such as another tart pan bottom or a sharp-edged baking sheet without a rim to slip between bottom crust and pan.
Serves 8 to 12

Italian sweet pastry dough:
  • 2 1/3 cups flour (10 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (2.5 ounces)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream cheese layer:
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 egg beaten (you'll use 4 tablespoons of it)
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  • 2 cups green tomato mincemeat

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and zest. Cut the butter in with a knife or pastry cutter, then rub the mixture quickly between your palms until it is the texture of cornmeal. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, yolk, and vanilla. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and toss until incorporated. If you use a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest just until combined, then add the cold butter, the egg and yolk, and the vanilla, and pulse several times just until combined and only beginning to come together in a ball.

Turn onto a work surface, knead lightly with the heel of your hand to distribute the egg, form the dough into 2 disks, one slightly larger than the other, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, roll out the larger portion of pastry and with it line a 10-inch, fluted, removable-bottom tart pan. Press excess pastry back into the fluted sides, pinching the two layers together and forming a 1/4 inch margin above the edge to allow for shrinkage.

Don't become distraught if the dough tears -- it does so easily but it can all be pressed together to mend it. I've taught this dough and had to patch it like a jigsaw. Laugh it off.

Blend the cream cheese with the honey until soft, add 2 tablespoons of the beaten egg, the milk, zest, vanilla, and nutmeg, and mix but do not beat. You do not want to incorporate air.
Pour into the pastry-lined pan and spread evenly. Bake the pie for about 20 minutes or until just set.

Meanwhile, roll out the top crust and prick it several times, decoratively, with a fork.

Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Carefully spread the Green Tomato Mincemeat over the cream cheese layer in the pan. Drape the top pastry over a rolling pin and carefully lower over the pan. Arrange it evenly and then run the rolling pin across the top of the pan. The fluted edge of the pan will cut off the excess and seal the top to the bottom crust. Brush with the remaining egg. Bake until the top is delicate golden, about 20 minutes.

Let it cool and remove from the pan to a serving plate.

Serve in wedges, warm, with a spoonful of Creme Fraiche.

There may be no more fitting inscription on my tombstone, when the time comes, than
'Here lies she who developed the glorious Italian Green Tomato Mincemeat Tart.

Creme Fraiche

Stir 2 or 3 tablespoons of sour cream or buttermilk into 2 cups heavy cream, not ultra-pasteurized. Whisk together well, cover loosely, and leave in a warm place until the mixture becomes thickened and of the tang you like. This can take half an hour on some days and all day on others.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

an autumn German layered soup

This soup seems to me to be the quintessential autumn soup. About this time of year it comes into my mind and I begin to think about it, and I make it again. The time has just changed – it’s light when we wake up here in Vermont, and dusk comes at 4:30, soon it will be 4. Root vegetables are rampant and fresh, tinged with sweetness because of the frosts and now freezes. A woman named El writes about them beautifully and practically here.

Cabbage AutumnSoup

I came upon this soup by accident. I had a bit of ground pork in the fridge, and half a cabbage. I sprinkled the meat into an olive-oil burnished pan over a really quite low heat. I didn’t brown it so much as just sprinkled it into the pan. I had in mind a layered soup, with meat at the bottom, hard vegetables – all the fall vegetables I could find, possibly a turnip, probably some carrots, certainly potatoes, all cut into a very small, regular dice indeed, the real imprimatur of a good vegetable soup – on top of that, increasingly tender ones layered over hard, until on top would be some half moons of celery, the cabbage, and then tomatoes. All to be cooked over very low heat just to sweat their juices and let them seep tenderly down through each layer, amalgamating the flavors. When they were sweated and tender indeed, stock, broth, wine, or just water would make the whole into soup.

Cabbage and pork equals German, I thought, and German would mean vinegar and sour cream, too, as a topping for each finished bowl of soup.

This last time I did not have ground pork, but I had mutton, and so I started with that. At the end I forgot I had sour cream, so I used a dollop of yogurt. It fell short, somehow. I did not have fennel vinegar, which would have been outstanding, but I had a jar of last summer’s plump red raspberries that had been marinating for months in white vinegar, so I spooned that over the soup and yogurt and it was inexplicably incredible.

But that’s the thing with good fresh flavors – you might start by hankering after fennel, but unexpectedly really, truly raspberry thrills you with a certain gratefulness and joy.

In my book Tomato Imperative I called this simply and, some might say, unimaginatively,

Cabbage and Potato Soup
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 large garlic cloves, smashed, peeled, and chopped
• 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
• ½-1 pound very lean ground pork (or beef or mutton, or... ostrich. Whatever you have on hand)
• 1 small hot pepper, chopped, or crumbled if dried
• 1 ½ cups finely diced late season vegetables (carrot, eggplant, fennel, sweet pepper, turnip, etc)
• 2 large potatoes cut in ¼ inch dice
• 2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
• 2 cups finely shredded cabbage
• 1 teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon pepper
• 2 cups beef broth (thanks, SZ)
For the toppings:
• flavored vinegar
• crème fraiche, sour cream, or yogurt.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a deep but fairly broad pan. Strew in the garlic and onion, stir for a moment until they are slightly limp. Crumble the ground meat into the pan and mix with the onion and garlic. Add the hot pepper to taste and stir until the meat is just pink on the way to being browned. Layer in the mixed vegetables and over them the potatoes, then the tomatoes, then the cabbage. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until the cabbage is limp and the potatoes tender, keeping them at a low simmer. This might take 20 minutes, or 40. Then stir in the broth. Heat, season to taste, and serve in bowls topped with a spoonful of sour cream and one of vinegar.

A deeply satisfying supper!