Monthly Archives: August 2012

I wouldn’t change a thing.

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It’s been a dry summer in Southern Virginia on the Chesapeake. Irrigation ponds are down four feet or more and many farmers have  let row crops slide to take care of their livestocks’ drinking needs. on a personal – and  far lesssignificant – level, this means that Ellis and Paul won’t be picking up crates of late season tomatoes on their Sunday drives home from the Northern Neck.

My husband Jason has mixed emotions about this. On one hand, it means no frantic Tuesday nights spend blanching, peeling and seeding a couple hundred tomatoes before they go bad. On the other, it threatens a winter freezer free of quart after quart of tomato sauce, preserving the fresh, bright taste of late summer tomatoes and licorice-y basil.

I blame Jason’s conflicted feelings on Andrew Carmellini. His cookbook, Urban Italian, contains a fresh sauce recipe so perfect that we haven’t changed a thing. It may be the one recipe I have never tweaked, not even a little. Lots of fresh tomatoes, cooked quickly and seasoned with basil and garlic-infused olive oil create a bright, sweet and spicy sauce, as easy and non-complex on your palate as it is to cook in 45 minutes per batch.

In Ellis and Paul’s stead, I’m reaching out to Dan at Agora Farms, who can hook me up with the best tomatoes grown in Lancaster County, PA. Dan, we’re going to be needing tomatoes. And lots of them!

Summer Fresh Tomato Sauce

You can use plum tomatoes, like Romas or San Marzanos, for a richer sauce. I don’t even bother to peel and seed them. They will release a lot less water, so take less out and keep a close eye on them. 

Peeled tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 12 fresh beefsteak type tomatoes*
  • 1 head garlic, top chopped to expose cloves
  • 1 cup packed basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 cups olive oil – the good stuff!**

*Three fresh tomatoes and a pound of pasta will make a hearty meal for four people. Don’t worry about being too exact on the infused oil proportions, just make a little less and add it to taste.

**I’ll be using the spicy Sicilian oil from Sapore.

 

Sauce on the stove

Directions:

  • To peel tomatoes, cut an “X” in the skin at the base and blanch them in boiling water until the skin wrinkles and cracks – 30 seconds to 1 minute. Shock the tomatoes in ice water. The skins will slide off easily. Return the water to a boil between batches.
  • To seed tomatoes, cut in half and squeeze them over the sink, watch for seed explosions that will cover the walls of your kitchen. Laugh richly and keep going.
  • Chop tomatoes roughly and place in a large, shallow stock pot over medium heat. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt.
  • Cook tomatoes until soft and bright red, about 45 minutes.
  • Remove liquid while cooking. A total of about 2-3 cups. You want the sauce to remain wet and liquid, but not soupy. Save some of the tomato water in case you take too much out early on.
  • While tomatoes cook, place garlic, basil, pepper flakes and olive oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until basil begins to crackle and pop. Reemove from heat and let the flavors infuse the oil for twenty-ish minutes.
  • Strain oil into tomatoes. Cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Blend with masher or immersion blender.
  • Will freeze through the winter. (If you don’t eat it all immediately!)

Tell me I’m not alone.

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Aside from Sylvester’s famous expletive, I thought succotash was one of those weird, dated American farm dishes where lots of unappealing vegetables were cooked down, in large batches, into an equally unappealing mush that inspired fond, parochial memories, while no one actually wanted to eat it. I was wrong.

Liz Creelman Patterson and her husband Rob are responsible for my recent education. The succotash served alongside my trout at their fabulous wedding earlier this month, was delicious with firm, fresh vegetables and bright herbs.

Based on a Narragansett Indian dish of corn and shell beans, succotash has spread throughout the US. It seems best known today in the South, where okra and lima beans are cooked in lard. I used the bright green beans that were plentiful at DC’s Eastern Market (and no shelling involved), added red pepper for sweetness and color, thyme for savory depth and a pinch of piment d’espelette, a French pepper that is dried and ground with great complexity and mild heat. Bacon brought pig to the dish instead of lard.

This succotash was the clear winner in our test kitchen that week. Ready in under 20 minutes, there was no sufferin’ in the preparation or the eating.

Corn And Bacon Succotash

Ingredients:

  • 3 slices thick bacon, diced
  • Small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 lb green beans, ends removed and cut into 3/4” pieces
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 3 ears of corn, kernals sliced off
  • 1 tbs thyme
  • Piment d’espelette or cayenne pepper
  • Butter
  • Sherry vinegar

Directions:

  • Sauté bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until browned and cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon.
  • Add onion to skillet with bacon fat and cook until softened. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds until fragrant.
  • Add green beans and pepper to pan and sauté for 5 minutes.
  • Add corn, cover pan, reduce heat to medium low and cook 10-15 minutes until vegetables are crisp tender.
  • Remove lid, add thyme and bacon, and cook an additional 3 minutes.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper, cayenne, butter for richness and vinegar for brightness.

Never give up.

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Sometimes, it takes a little extra effort to get a dish right. We’re gonna eventually get to plum chutney here. Stick with me.

This year at Christmas I wrote on the holiday menu, “I’ve been wanting to make a Bûche de Noël for years. Simple in concept, enchanting in execution, this sponge cake, rolled with buttercream and frosted with ganache, is shaped to look like a log, decorated with meringue mushrooms. That said, I have never made one before. It will be part of the grand adventure of this year’s Christmas dinner. Or, it will fail miserably and I’ll put out a plate of Mom’s cookies. Either way you win.”

The buttercream took me two tries. The cake took three. After the second try my Mom suggested that a plate of cookies would be “just as special,” but I was determined.

What does this have to do with plum chutney? In the test kitchen this week we tried four different versions. There was broad disagreement on a winner, ultimately, because there wasn’t one. I woke up Friday morning determined to get it right. My Saturday morning demos at Eastern Market are a passion and while I don’t want to let “perfect” be the enemy of “good,” just good is never good enough.

After reading another fifteen chutney recipes, a new plan emerged. Ginger and cardamom were replaced by cinnamon and star anise. A different vinegar, Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry, offered more depth, spice and acidity than its predecessors. More sugar brought out the fruit that had been dull in previous attempts.

The extra effort paid off at dinnertime. The chutney paired wonderfully with salt-and-fennel crusted, roast pork tenderloin. Or just spread it with cream cheese on a bagel.

Plum Chutney

My test batch at home included jalapeño but I didn’t see any at the market this week. It tasted great both ways!

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chopped plums, about 6
  • 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup diced red onion, about 1 medium
  • 1/2 jalapeño minced
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 star anise pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 cup Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar*

*One of my favorites from Sapore, well worth the online order. Can’t wait for it to ship? Try 1/2 white vinegar and 1/2 Sherry vinegar for both high acidity and depth.

Directions:

  • Mix together ingredients in a 3-quart saucepan and cook 30 minutes, until thick and bubbly. The plums will release a lot of liquid. Start heat at medium high and lower as chutney reduces to avoid burning.
  • Remove cinnamon and star anise pods.
  • Cool to room temperature and chill. The chutney will last up to a week in the refrigerator, or can be canned or frozen.

Simple. Saucy.

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It’s 5pm, and today has been long. The last thing I want to do is go home and cook, at least, not until I’ve opened a bottle of wine, which usually leads to an hour of sitting on the couch followed by dialing for dinner. I’ve got a fridge filled with ripe tomatoes, sugary-sweet peaches, sockeye salmon and crisp green beans. Honestly, I would rather debate Miley’s new haircut (get over it!) than face another night of steamed veggies and baked fish.

I’ve just killed your buzz. Here you are thinking that I will arrive home with a basket of farm fresh produce on my arm to be lovingly prepared, while discussing the events of the day with my loving husband soothed by a soundtrack of jazz vocals. A long-stemmed glass of something fabulous in hand, we’ll sit down to a candlelit evening at the dining room table, cloth napkins draped over our laps.

For real?! I’ve got a full time job, I’m beat and I want cheap Chinese and glass of whatever I know I won’t really taste after the second glass anyway. Which is when I think about compound butter.

Rolled in my fridge is a pound of farm-fresh, Amish butter (yes, from Dan at Agora). The other night I softened it and folded in fresh cilantro, lime zest, cumin and scallions. In under 30 minutes this evening I can sear a salmon filet, dress a salad and steam those green beans. A thin slice of the cilantro-lime butter will melt over the cooked fish. I’ll toss another with the beans. Suddenly I face the prospect of a richly sauced, yet light, healthy dinner on the table.

Plus, it’s cheaper than eating out, so we can treat ourselves to a good bottle. Something bubbly.

Cilantro Lime Compound Butter

Slices of the compound butter can be spread on fresh corn-on-the -cob, grilled meats or hearty fish like tuna or salmon. Try tossing a tablespoon with steamed green beans or zucchini.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound softened butter
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder or Spanish Paprika
  • 1 tsp finely grated lime zest
  • 1/4 tsp white balsamic vinegar*
  • 2 scallions, whites plus 1 inch greens, finely minced
  • 3 tbs finely chopped cilantro

*Or Champagne vinegar. I bought mine at Sapore.

Directions:

  • Soften the butter at room temperature and stir it briefly in a medium bowl until creamy.
  • With a rubber spatula, fold in the dry spices and lime zest.
  • Fold in the vinegar a few drops at a time.
  • Fold in the scallions and cilantro.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Using a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap, roll the butter into a log and refrigerate until firm.

 

A dish best served cold.

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Cold soups always seem like a special indulgence. It’s like getting to eat dessert before dinner. As a kid, when I first discovered  these blends of fruit and yogurt at Judie’s restaurant, I loved the sugary sweet flavors of blueberry and strawberry in a barely thinned soup (served alongside my popover with apple butter). Cooking in my twenties, I discovered the purées in Silver Palate and Moosewood cookbooks that put fresh fruit center stage.

When I went to develop this recipe for fresh plum soup I wanted something that walked that edge of savory. Let’s leave dessert for the end of the meal. Fresh stewed plums and ginger delivered strong but tart fruit flavors. Red wine gave depth, sweet honey brought out the plums and buttermilk added richness. When our tasting team asked if this was going to be called “plum and honey soup,” we dialed back the distinct floral flavors of the honey with a light, fruit vinegar.

Serve chilled as the perfect start to a light summer meal or ahead of rich, smoky, grilled meats.

Ruby Plum Soup

Ingredients:

  • 6 plums, pitted and diced
  • 1 tbs finely minced ginger
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tbs honey
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup Ruby Red Grapefruit Vinegar*

*Brand new at Sapore in DC. Substitute a fruit infused white wine vinegar or a splash of champagne vinegar, which is more acidic.

Directions:

  • Place plums in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for five minutes.
  • Add wine. Cover and cook for five minutes more.
  • Remove from stove and let cool to room temperature.
  • Pass half the cooked plums through a food mill or processor. Add to a bowl with the remaining stewed plums and stir together.
  • Add honey and buttermilk.
  • Season to taste with vinegar. add half of it at first and add more as needed.
  • Chill and serve.

Watermelon is not a very good vegetable.

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Remember when you discovered that tomatoes are a fruit? You were five, maybe six, and so proud of this strange, new fact that you proudly, hands-on-hips, told anyone who would listen. Your kindergarten classmates responded with doubt and disbelief followed by acceptance and awe, running off to spread the gospel.

Fruit or not, tomatoes are still at their best when savory, sugars perfectly balanced with acidity and salt. Watermelon is also a fruit, one which, a few years back, chefs decided to pair  with tomatoes and treat  as a vegetable. Watermelons, however, are a poor excuse for a vegetable. Their flavor, when savory, is herbal and watery, their sugary sweetness easily lost.

We discovered this developing a watermelon gazpacho. We mixed Brandywine and Purple Cherokee tomatoes and sweet crisp watermelon with candy sweet onions and a pinch of salt. The tomatoes were delicious. Brandywine and Purple Cherokee are the pinnacle of a classic beefsteak, thick and meaty, a perfect balance of sugar and acidity. The watermelon was weak, barely there. A drizzle of honey brought it back. Fresh basil gave life and depth. Pressing additional fresh watermelon through a food mill  provided the extra liquid we needed and a splash of pomegranate vinegar delivered a perfect finish.

Watermelon Gazpacho

The salt brings out the flavors in the tomato and the honey make the watermelon pop. You’re looking for a good fruity, vegetal balance. Leave out the watermelon juice, add some cumin and serve this as a salsa over fried fish tacos!

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups watermelon diced and separated
  • 1 large Black Cherokee or Brandywine tomato diced, about 2 cups
  • 1/2 Red Candy Sweet onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp lime zest 2 tbs lime juice
  • 1/2 jalapeño seeded and minced
  • 2 tbs basil, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Pomegranate Vinegar*
  • 2 tbs honey

*I got mine at Sapore. A good, mildly acidic, red wine vinegar can be used instead.

Directions:

  • Mix together 4 cups of the watermelon with the tomato, and onion.
  • Add lime zest and juice, jalapeño and basil. Stir together.
  • Press remaining 2 cups of watermelon through a food mill or puree in a food processor and strain out solids.
  • Add Pomegranate Vinegar.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and honey.

 

Take a chance on me.

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I love when a new recipe directs me to an ingredient I have never heard of or worked with before. There’s that moment of fear at the market when you say the name out loud for the first time, wondering just how horribly you botched it’s pronunciation. There’s a prickly moment of anticipation when you begin to cook and again when you taste it, knowing you may have completely screwed up, rendering it nearly inedible. Finally, there’s the moment when you serve it, smiling, to your dinner guests and tell them it’s quite possibly the best thing you’ve ever tasted, hoping desperately that they’ve never heard of it before either*.

This is cooking at it’s best. This is “What I Haven’t Cooked Yet” is all about. I  love nothing more than trying new things, taking a chance, failing miserably sometimes, and getting right back on that figurative horse. It’s the only way you learn, and there is joy and fellowship in sharing these adventures with others.

So grab some soba noodles – Japanese buckwheat pasta – rich, dark, Japanese tamari soy sauce, deep, roasted sesame oil and that odd beast, fresh, unsalted peanut butter, with a skim of oil over the top, and make this wonderful cold summer salad. Feel free to get it wrong a few times, but each time you bring it to the table smile, tell them it’s magnificent, and enjoy every minute of your time together.

*This, of course, is significantly more fun if you’ve just laid down the weekly grocery budget for something like dried porcini mushrooms or a rack of lamb. Soba noodles are cheap.

Asian Peanut Noodle Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound soba noodles
  • 3 medium cucumbers, peeled, halved, seeded and sliced
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup fresh, unsalted peanut butter*
  • 3 tbs Tamari soy sauce
  • 2 tbs sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar**
  • Sriracha hot sauce
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Fresh cilantro

*The oil separates and rises to the top in fresh peanut butter. Just stir it into the jar before using. You can find organic brands like Teddy Bear on your grocery store shelf. If you are allergic to peanuts, try Tahini, a toasted sesame seed paste, or another nut butter.

**Brand new from Sapore. The vinegar is actually fermented honey. OMG! You can substitute 1 tsp chili oil and 3 tbs rice wine vinegar which will give you similar heat, mild acidity and sweetness.

Directions:

  • Cook noodles by adding the package to boiling, unsalted water. When al dente, drain and rinse with cold water.
  • Make the dressing: Thin the peanut butter by whisking it with 1/4 cup warm water. Whisk in tamari soy, sesame oil and Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar (or chile oil and rice wine vinegar).
  • Add Sriracha to taste and dress salad. Start slow and make sure you don’t overpower the noodles.
  • Serve topped with cucumbers, fresh cilantro and sesame seeds.