Wednesday, October 05, 2011

going not gentle but sassy

For lunch a few days ago I went out into the garden and picked a large green tomato that was turning just pink in places. I sliced it and coated it with panko bread crumbs and fried the slices in coconut oil. Golden crispy on the outside and tender and puddeny on the inside. Sided them with a relish of roasted peppers of all decibels and a spoonful of crème fraiche.

Those fried green tomatoes and the peppers and crème fraiche were so wonderful that I wish I could eat them all over again! Which of course I CAN do until the tomatoes freeze off the vine.

Where did this mélange of peppers come from? You’ll remember I wrote about Hedie Francis’s technique of roasting peppers and freezing them? Well, when we had danger of frost a few weeks ago I picked all my Hungarian Wax peppers and added them to an assortment bought at the Farmers’ Market of all varying degrees of heat and sweetness – Lipstick sweet, big red bells, long green pasillos, small bell-shaped fiery habaneros, tiny glossy-green needle-like Thais, and I spent a Sunday afternoon grilling them in my Big Green Egg, and when they had cooled I stuffed them into freezer bags. As is. I did not rub the skins off nor did I seed them or de-membrane them.

I saved out an assortment and did clean them up and then chopped them in the food processor with a little water and some salt. That made a pint of deeply flavored relish with some heat, and I’ve been spooning it alongside everything I put my mouth around. It lasted about a week and a half. You could, of course, add a bit of sugar and vinegar, and they would last longer because they would be pickled and preserved. I’m afraid, though, that the vinegar would mask the natural deep roasty flavor of the plain peppers. You could also omit the roasting/grilling, chop the RAW peppers with the salt and water and leave the mixture on the counter, loosely covered, to develop its own ferment.

It’s not perhaps the intuitive choice, but pepper relish’s natural flavor partner turns out to be crème fraiche – its creaminess and tanginess against the full southern flavor of the peppers with their certain number of scoville units, is perfect with almost everything.

I happened to have some around because I’d noticed a bit of heavy cream that was about to sour, so I whisked some Cabot’s sour cream into it and left it to ferment into the kind of half-sour thickened crème fraiche that we all like. Overnight, in a warm place. That fermentation gives a much longer life to the cream. The ferment keeps the cells busy adapting and not rotting.

You wouldn’t think I would have to call for a certain brand of sour cream, would you? Since I almost always use Cabots I kind of took it for granted and didn’t always recognize what a quality product it is. But Leo brought home some ShurFine sour cream from a stay in the Northeast Kingdom – where he obviously couldn’t get Cabots – and so I’ve been using it up. The first thing I noticed was that its texture was not smooth, like Cabots, but rather curdley. And the next thing I noticed was that it had gone bad! I’d put spoonfuls on the German Cabbage and Pork Soup I made the other night and kept getting a whiff of the rottenness that only really bad milk products give off.

I never usually worry about sour cream going bad – it’s fermented, and it just keeps on fermenting unless it grows mold, at which point you throw it out. So obviously this ShurFine stuff was not naturally fermented, probably had more ingredients than you would think it should have, and was doing something not in the natural way of milk.

As a matter of fact, isn’t the web wonderful, I was able to Google the ingredients in ShurFine sour cream:
Milk Non-Fat Cultured, Food Starch Modified, Whey Sweet, Cream, Propylene Glycol Monoester, Color(s) Artificial, Sodium Phosphate, Agar, Xanthan Gum, Cellulose Gel, Locust Bean Gum, Cellulose Gum, Flavor(s) Natural & Artificial, Sorbic Acid Added as a preservative, Potassium Sorbate Added as a preservative, Vitamin A Palmitate, Rennet
Ingredients in Cabot sour cream?
Cultured Milk, Cream, Skim Milk, Modified Corn Starch, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Locust Bean Gum.
Hmm, that’s like five too many, too, but just about as good as it can get in the commercial marketplace.
So, after you’ve made this crème fraiche what do you do with it? Oh yes, make a potato salad or butter roasted pears.
Crème Fraiche Potato Salad
Wash russety or Yukon Gold type potatoes, cut them in quarters and boil them in salted water to cover until fork tender.

(The best way to test potato doneness is with a silver fork, a regular dinner table fork. A thin-tined cooking fork or the sharp tip of a paring knife are way too sharp to test for real tenderness.)

Drain the potatoes, put the pan back on the burner to sear off the little bit of water left, then crush them with a fork as you add olive oil that has been infused with garlic. Don’t crush them too much – they should be chunky – and use just enough olive oil to coat them and flavor them with garlic. Finally, fold in a luxurious amount of crème fraiche. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Butter-Roasted Pears
(you could use apples, instead, or even bananas!)
Cut pears in half and core them. You needn’t pare the pears. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the butter starts to brown lay in the pears cut side down and let them brown and caramelize undisturbed for some minutes.

You can peek, lifting one edge with a spatula, and adjust the heat accordingly, but if you start moving them around before the underside is caramelized they will tear apart.

When they’re quite browned, turn them over. You might slant a cover over the top of the pan now, just to keep some heat in. When the pears are tender and caramelized they are done.

You may serve them dolloped with the crème fraiche as a dessert or as a side for meats, or simply as a mid-afternoon treat. You could sprinkle them with a mixture of spices that have been toasted and then ground (a coffee-grinder is good for this) – a bit of cinnamon, cumin, and, say, cardamom. Sky’s the limit here, Readers. Try different mixtures. They add interest.

Stable whipped cream:
Folded into whipped cream, Crème Fraiche keeps the latter from weeping – about 4 tablespoons crème fraiche to 1 cup of whipping cream. Whip the cream and then gently whisk in the crème fraiche.
But above all, and for now, side everything (how about maple baked acorn [or other] squash) with crème fraiche and peppers, saying adios to summer and going not gentle, but sassy, into autumn!


1 comment:

Penny said...

Interesting about sour cream. I need to start reading labels more closely. Sharon, your photography is outstanding. Not to mention your writing.