Photo by Sam Armocido
Good food starts with good ingredients. Like “haste makes waste” and the Lord’s prayer, this simple truism about food is fixed in our minds, but its meaning is rarely considered. So is the fact that the best recipes begin with thoughtful consideration of the ingredients we use.
Galeux d’Eysines is a pale, peach-skinned pumpkin covered in peanut-like warty growths. Those “peanuts” are the result of abundant sugars building up under the skin. The dense, bright-orange flesh is relatively non-fiberous, delivering the smoothest purée of any pumpkin I know and, though sugary-sweet, the flavor is delicate.
While hearty Hubbard squash and Marina de Chioggia pumpkin inspire rich recipes, the peanut pumpkin wants a lighter touch: a stock infused with its flavorful seed mass, savory boar sausages and mildly-earthy, sweet Shitake mushrooms deglazed with dry Madeira wine.
Being the pumpkin-whisperer probably won’t get me my own television series, but it did deliver a spectacular soup recipe. And that’s far more important, isn’t it?
“Peanut” Pumpkin Sausage Soup
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 6-8 Shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced, stems reserved
- 3 cups Galeux d’Eysines pumpkin purée, seed mass reserved
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 thyme sprigs
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3 Wild boar sausages, casings removed*
- 1 onion, diced
- 1/4 cup Madeira or brandy
- 1 tbs chopped, fresh thyme
- Fig Balsamic Vinegar*
*If you can’t get to Canales Quality Meats at Eastern Market in DC, grab a pork and sage sausage, or just a pork sauce and mix in some dried sage leaves. Fig Balsamic should be on the shelf at your grocery store, but you can definitely order this really good stuff from Sapore Oil and Vinegar.
- Simmer stock in a 2-3 qt saucepan, for 20 minutes, with the Shitake stems, pumpkin guts, bayleaf and thyme sprigs.
- Meanwhile, in a 4 qt soup pot, brown sausage in 2 tbs olive oil. Breaking it up as it cooks. When browned, remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
- Add 1 tbs olive oil and onion to pot and cook until softened.
- Return sausage to pot, strain in stock and cook for five to ten minutes.
- While the soup simmers, sauté Shitake mushrooms in 1 tbs olive oil over medium heat. When mushrooms have softened and edges begin to brown, deglaze pan with Madeira, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add pumpkin purée to pot and cook five minutes longer.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a tablespoon or two of butter. Serve garnished with mushrooms and Fig Balsamic Vinegar.
Remember that point when salad became something you had to choke down with dinner each night because it was good for you? That was when you fell in love with salad dressings: Ranch, Thousand Island and Italian started a habit that lead to more sophisticated dressings like jars of Marie’s Blue Cheese, Judie’s Poppyseed Dressing (and popovers!) and Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette.
These dressings were all good, but it was like doctors treating the symptom while missing the disease. We were covering up for the increasingly tasteless vegetables we were bringing home from the grocery store. No more. Welcome to 52 weeks of holistic healing for your daily meal.
In my entry for a simple vinaigrette, I mention that it is the most asked for recipe I serve in my home, and the variations are without end. Starting this week I am going to blog 52 weeks of recipes that will take the salad from a must eat back to the vaunted want-to-eat status it deserves.
This is the last time you go to the grocery store, pick up a bag of tasteless Romaine hearts and slather them in thick Ranch or Blue Cheese to stop the pain. Today we start with fresh ingredients, make our own dressings and dress our ingredients lightly. Your perfectly dressed salad should glisten lightly with dressing. When you are done serving there should be almost no dressing in the bottom of the bowl.
To good taste and good health (and the occasional wedge of iceberg slathered in Marie’s rich blue cheese).
White Peach and Nectarine Salad with Mesclun Greens
The honey helps bring out the sweetness in the fruit. White peaches and nectarines taste sweeter than their yellow cousins because of lower acidity.
- 1 white nectarine, thinly sliced
- 1 white peach, thinly sliced
- 4 -6 cups mesclun greens – two big handfuls or so
- 1/4 cup peach vinegar*
- 1 tbs chopped tarragon
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 tbs honey
- 1/2 cup mild grassy olive oil like Koroneiko*
*Peach vinegar and Koroneiko olive oil are now available online from Sapore Oil and Vinegar in DC. If you want some quick substitutions to toss this together tonight, use a light white wine vinegar with a good quality olive oil.
- Whisk together vinegar, tarragon, shallot and honey with a pinch of salt and crack or three of pepper.
- Mix the fruit and greens in a large bowl.
- Whisk the oil into the dressing in a thin stream until it gets thick and creamy.
- Taste your dressing with leaf of the greens. Correct seasoning and lightly dress your salad.
I feel like I should be sitting in a confessional, leaning in close, talking directly to the camera.
“I didn’t used to like tomatoes,” I would say in a hushed tone. “For years I thought raw tomatoes were gross!” Perhaps this revelation is so shocking that I should ask to be silhouetted with my voice modulated.
It’s true. As a child I hated raw tomatoes. I loved Brussels Sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Give me artichokes and onions, just about anything Mom put on the dinner table, but I grimaced each year when she asked me to try one bite of a ripe tomato, fresh picked as we stood in her garden.
Nine years ago that started to change and today I love raw tomatoes. I chalk it up to a wiser palate. This past week I decided to venerate the first of this summer’s tomatoes, picked fresh under the hot sun. Two thick slices of beefsteak-type tomatoes didn’t need anything more than salt and pepper, but I went ahead and added a simple balsamic vinaigrette made with fresh basil and garlic scape pesto, fragrant from pounding in the mortar. I fell in love with tomatoes all over again. Then I called my Mom.
Tomato Salad With Pesto Vinaigrette
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or 2 tbs minced garlic scapes
- 1.5 cups thinly sliced basil
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tbs Arbosana Olive Oil, or other high-quality, light, grassy olive oil
- 2 tbs minced shallot
- 3 tbs pesto
- 2-3 tbs Aged Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 cup Arbrosana Olive Oil, or other high-quality, light, grassy olive oil
- Using mortar and pestle, pound garlic or scapes with 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt. Then pound in basil, followed by pine nuts, cheese and oil. Season to taste with pepper and additional salt.
- Make dressing: whisk together shallot, pesto and vinegar.
- Whisk in oil in a thin stream. You may not need all the oil. Start with 1/2 cup and taste as you go.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper if needed. Taste the dressing with a piece of tomato and correct the balance of oil , vinegar and pesto as needed.
- Serve over thick slices of the freshest tomatoes you can find! Top with ribbons of fresh basil.
Anything this orange, made with root vegetables, should be served on a crisp fall day – rich and hearty with a crusty bread and some good farm-fresh butter (which I evangelize about here). But this carrot-beet soup is light and fresh, tastes as good cold as it does served hot and is perfect for summer.
Arriving home from a trip to the Market with baby carrots and golden beets, I began searching cookbooks for salads and sautés. Stumbling across a recipe for Potage Crécy first made me think of soup. Crécy, it turns out, is not French for orange root vegetables, but refers to a town known, once-upon-a-time, for growing exceptional carrots. However, there is debate about which of two French towns, one in the south and one in the north, each with Crécy in its name, first served up this light summer soup.
Reading through several recipes, I discovered a basic formula of carrots cooked with onions and stock, puréed and flavored with orange. We added the golden beets, sweet but far less earthy than red ones. I grabbed a bottle of Sapore’s Orange Oil off the shelf and we served up three bowls, each seasoned differently. It was a quick bite after adding turmeric but before adding cumin that was our favorite – although curry was a close second. Served warm, it is light and sweet. Once chilled it is herbal and far more carrot-y. Both are delicious.
- 2 tbs butter
- 1 candy sweet onion, or white onion, diced
- 4 cups thinly sliced carrots
- 3 cups diced golden beets
- 1 tbs minced garlic
- 6-8 cups vegetable stock
- 3 tbs Orange Oil*
- 1/2 tsp Turmeric
- 1/3 cup cream
- Sherry vinegar
*If you don’t have Orange Oil, substitute 3 tbs olive oil, and one tablespoon grated orange zest
- Melt butter over medium heat in a 4 quart soup pot. Sauté onions until
- soft and translucent.
- Add carrots and beets. Sauté 7-10 minutes until golden on edges. Add ginger after 5 minutes.
- Add stock and simmer approximately 30 minutes until vegetables can be mashed with a fork.
- Pass soup through the finest blade of a food mill or purée with a blender. Return to pot.
- Stir in Orange Oil and simmer an additional 5 minutes to bring flavors together.
- Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and stir through cream.
- Add turmeric a little at a time so as to not overpower the carrot flavor.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper and sherry vinegar.
- Serve hot or cold.
Our weeknight dinners are built around turning the bags of farm-fresh produce we carry home each weekend into new recipes for Saturday morning demos at Washington, DC’s Eastern Market. Recently, our friend Sam has joined us for Thursday night’s six-hour marathon sessions where we finalize Saturday’s menu.
Last week, eying a bag of Agora Farms black-red sweet cherries, he said” My Mom used to make a sweet and sour sauce with cherries and peaches. It started with a can each…”
I know. You’ve got a mental image of a loud record scratch accompanying this look of horror on my face. But you’re wrong. No one cooks better than your Mom. No one. At that goes for each and every one of you.
However, since Sam thought it would be fun to go home for a visit sometime and show Mom a new upscale version of her sweet and sour, cherry-peach chicken, we started experimenting. Sweet and sour dishes hang on the balance of sweet, acidic and salty. We began with shallot and fresh cherries, added brown sugar for sweetness and depth, and rosemary for a savory bite. Peach infused vinegar replaced the canned peaches and orange zest add citrusy brightness. The cherries we had were so sweet, and the the peach vinegar mildly acidic, that we added a splash of sharper vinegar to finish the thick, jammy, sweet and sour cherry chutney. Then we served it over wild boar sausages.
I’m still willing to bet that Sam’s Mom’s is better. After all, Mom’s who cook are nigh invincible in the kitchen. But we had a pretty darn-good meal.
Sweet and Sour Cherry Chutney
Sweet and sour is all about the balance of sugar, salt and vinegar. Taste often as you finish the sauce.
- 2 tbs grape seed or vegetable oil
- 2 large shallots, diced
- 4 cups sweet cherries, pitted and quartered
- 3 tbs brown sugar
- 1 tbs minced rosemary
- 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
- Peach Vinegar*
- Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar*
*More wonderful vinegars from Sapore Oil and Vinegar on Capitol Hill. You can substitute with any fruit vinegar, just make sure you get enough acidity. We used about 1/4 cup Peach vinegar and reduced it down slightly as the chutney finished cooking. A splash of the Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry vinegar gave us the extra acidity that we needed. Sherry or cider vinegar would be a good substitute.
- In a small sauté pan, warm oil and cook shallots over medium heat until soft, without browning.
- Increase heat to medium high and add cherries. Sauté 5 minutes until cherries start to soften and liquid begins to evaporate.
- Reduce heat back down to medium. Add sugar and cook another 5 minutes until chutney starts to become jammy.
- Add rosemary and orange zest and cook another 5-10 minutes until chutney is thick.
- Season to taste with salt and vinegar. This sauce is all about balance, so taste after each addition of salt or vinegar. If your fruit vinegar is not acidic enough, add a splash of something a bit sharper. Add more sugar if needed.
Absolutes are rare in cooking. Once you learn the basics of technique and flavor you can experiment freely – recognizing you’re going to bomb every once in a while and that every truly great dish has been practiced and refined over time. While researching broccoli rabe last week, I discovered an exception to this rule. Every single recipe I read began with blanching and included garlic and red pepper flakes.
Now, I’m sure there’s an exception out there somewhere, but once I spent some time getting to know broccoli rabe, it all made sense. Though it looks like broccoli, broccoli rate is closer in relation to the turnip, another member of the brassica family, which includes cauliflower, cabbage, mustard and kale. It has a sharp bitterness to it which is abated by blanching. The heat of the pepper flakes and richness of lightly browned garlic reveal subtler flavors in the rabe.
While there is no sauce in this pasta, I used a common Italian technique of adding the pasta cooking liquid to the sauté pan, along with slightly undercooked pasta, and letting the dish come together while the liquid is absorbed or evaporates. This leaves the pasta almost as flavorful as the greens.
Broccoli Rabe with Pasta
- 2 bunches broccoli rabe, stems cleaned and peeled, and damaged leaves removed*
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tbs red pepper flakes
- 2 tbs chopped oregano
- More olive oil – the good stuff!
- 1 pound dried penne or farfalle
- Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
*Chop off the bottom 1/2″ of the stems, then peel them. If your rabe is very leafy, remove the leaves, blanch them separately, and add them about 2 minutes after adding the stems so that they do not become over-cooked.
- Blanch broccoli rabe for 1 minute in salted, boiling water and remove to ice bath. When cool, drain.
- Chop broccoli rabe into 1” pieces.
- Boil water and start cooking pasta.
- Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium low heat. Add garlic and cook until starting to light brown. Be careful not to burn.
- Add pepper flakes, cook for 30 sec.
- Add broccoli rabe and cook 2-3 minutes until crisp tender.
- When pasta is almost ready, drain, reserving two cups of liquid.
- Add pasta and liquid to broccoli rabe. Cook until liquid reduces to coat pasta.
- Toss with oregano, additional olive oil, cheese, pepper and salt.
With each new summer cookout, looms the threat that someone is going to show up with those clear plastic containers from the deli counter of potato salad, macaroni salad and coleslaw. Now, rumor has it that these salads actually contain potatoes, macaroni and cabbage, but the protective coating of mayonnaise obscures any possible proof.
Okay, that was a bit of hyperbole, but most summer cookouts abound with rich, grilled meats and sauces, toasted buns and baskets of chips and dip. What I want from my salad is something light and bright to balance the plate, and a gloopy heap of mayonnaise just doesn’t cut it. Enter the “French” potato salad.
Like may other American “French” delicacies like fries, toast and dressing, I’m not sure how french this is, but I think they would approve. Boiled potatoes are tossed, still warm, in a sharp, buttery vinaigrette, with garlic or shallots and fresh herbs. They soak up the dressing and releasing the flavorful oils from the greens; exactly what you want sitting next to your burger, hanger steak or chicken thighs, complete with flawless grill marks.
This is a recipe I served at Eastern Market recently, but experiment throughout the summer. Toss with halved cherry tomatoes and basil, use fresh tasting tarragon and shallots, baby arugula or minced red peppers. But please, I’ll take my potato salad without mayonnaise. and I like my burgers rare.
French Potato Salad with Mint and Garlic Scapes
- 4 cups small potatoes
- 3 tbs mint
- 1/4 cup finely chopped garlic scapes
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 cup Champagne Mimosa Vinegar*
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup Koroneiko Olive Oil*
*More magical ingredients from Sapore Oil and Vinegar. Champagne or white wine vinegar can replace the Champagne Mimosa. The Koroneiko Olive Oil is Greek. Mild and grassy. Substitute another high-quality olive oil.
- Boil potatoes in salted water until still firm but can be easily pierced through to the center with the tip of a knife. Drain potatoes.
- Meanwhile, mince garlic and mash it into a paste with coarse sea salt. Whisk with Champagne Mimosa Vinegar. Season with pepper. Set aside.
- Mix mint and garlic scapes in a salad bowl.
- Cut warm potatoes in 1” pieces – halved or quartered – and toss with mint and garlic scapes. The heat will release oils in the mint.
- Whisk oil into vinegar mixture in a steady stream until creamy. Toss with potatoes. Dress lightly so not to overpower the other flavors.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper and additional mint.