Physalis is one of my favorite genera of plants. Not aesthetically or even culinarily, but because of it’s family relations. Physalis philadelphica, also known as the tomatillo, is a close relative of Physalis alkekengi, those bright orange Chinese lantern plants that fill gardens and vases each fall.
“But wait,” you’re thinking, “isn’t the tomatillo related to the tomato?” Well yes, they are both members of the nightshade, or Solanaceae family. However, that makes them about as similar as other Solanaceae including potatoes, eggplants, peppers and even the petunias in your pots.
Now you’re thinking, “who cares?” True, this knowledge won’t impact your ability to make a great salsa. It may, however, make it more fun.
I’ve tried it boiled and roasted, but this simple, fresh salsa is light and easy, citrusy and bright. Peeling a tomatillo involves removing the papery skin and washing them clean, they may still be a little sticky. The glossy green skin gets eaten.
- 4-6 tomatillos, peeled, washed and cut in quartered
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro – stems and all
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, about 1 fresh lime
- 1 jalapeño
- Place tomatillos, garlic, cilantro and lime in the bowl of a food processor.
- Slice jalapeño in half, and using a teaspoon (eating not measuring) remove the seeds and ribs. Roughly chop and add to food processor. Wash hands with soap and water for 30-60 seconds. Don’t touch your face, anywhere, for the next 10 hours. Wear gloves to bed.*
- Pulse until finely chopped, but not liquified. Add a tablespoon or two of water to thin, if needed.
- Eat with tortilla chips or fish tacos.
*In this age of hysteria, I would like to qualify this statement as hyperbole. Chile peppers aren’t that dangerous, but don’t rub your eyes or lick your fingers for a little while.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
Corn and Zucchini Pasta’s inclusion in Chez Panisse Vegetables is more of a concept than a recipe. Alice provides ingredients and technique leaving the vagaries of measurements and time to the individual cook. This is recipe trading grandmother style. “What do you mean measurements? You can just feel when you’ve got it right.”
It’s a gift. You learn more in the making than you ever could in rote execution. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Practice your knife skills. Cut the zucchini down into a 1/4″ dice, approximately the same size as the corn kernels.
- Fresh pasta isn’t just un-dried. Fresh pasta is traditionally made with eggs and soft wheat “00” flour while dried pasta is made with just hard durum wheat and water. An easy rule of thumb is to use fresh pasta for light dishes and cream sauces. Dried pasta is your choice for heartier sauces like Bolognese and Carbonara.
- Large pasta is tough to mix with small ingredients. When tossing the corn and zucchini with the fresh fettucini that Alice recommends, you end up with all the veggies in the bottom of the bowl. Orzo is easier to mix through.
- Butter is a condiment. Add it at the end. Don’t even think of leaving it out. It adds a necessary richness.
Corn And Zucchini Pasta
This tastes just as good hot as it does as a cold pasta salad.
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 1 large candy sweet or yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 jalapeño, minced
- 2 cups zucchini, finely diced (about 1-2 medium)
- 2 ears corn, kernels removed
- 1 cup Orzo, uncooked
- 2 tbs butter
- 2-3 tbs chopped cilantro or parsley
- Champagne Mimosa or Sherry Vinegar
- Bring a 4 qt pot of water to a boil and salt heavily, 2 tbs.
- Heat olive oil in a 12” sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened.
- Add garlic and jalapeño and cook 30 seconds until fragrant.
- Turn up heat to medium high and add zucchini.
- When you add the zucchini to the pan, add the pasta to boiling water.
- When zucchini is softened but firm add corn and cook 1 minute.
- When pasta is still undercooked – firm in the center, strain it, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Add pasta and liquid to vegetables. Cook until water has evaporated.
- Add cilantro and butter. Season to taste with vinegar, salt and pepper.