Tuesday, December 22, 2009

So Fond of Fondue

Right out of college, I went backpacking through Europe with friends. In addition to wanting to bring home Christmas ornaments from every country I visited, I was looking forward to sampling the specialty foods of each place, from crepes in Brittany to Wiener schnitzel in Vienna to moules/frites in Brussels. So of course, one night in Geneva, I found myself at a small restaurant in the student section of town, enjoying my first cheese fondue.

Of all of the wonderful food I sampled, cheese fondue was the easiest to recreate at home, and so it became one of my favorite winter company dishes. I used a recipe I found in Wines and Spirits, the wire-bound recipe booklet that accompanied the Time-Life Cooking of the World volume of the same name. Not having a fondue pot, I always made it in an electric wok, which made it easy to control the temperature and prevent the cheese from burning. Back then, I offered the traditional dippers: a baguette, of course, but also apples or pears.

Now, cheese fondue is a once-a-year-treat. We still make it in that electric wok, but the concept of dippers
has evolved. This year, we used a ciabatta from Beach Pea, a wonderful artisinal bakery in Kittery run by Thomas and Mariah Roberts, instead of the traditional baguette, and we had some apples from our Winter CSA from Heron Pond Farm. But the real revelation was moving beyond bread and fruit into meat and vegetables.

We had a lot of leftover ham from our holiday party, which dipped in cheese with a little bread, was like eating the most amazing ham and cheese sandwich ever. In a flash of inspiration, we also decided to blanch some broccoli -- after all, it's at its best with cheese sauce, right?  What a revelation! I think that cauliflower or Brussels sprouts would also be delectable, as would steamed baby potatoes.

For cheese, we used  our traditional combination of Gruyère, Emmenthaler, and Appenzeller, which we grated in the Cuisinart to make things easier.

I long ago lost that little wire-bound book with the recipe in it. Just for fun as I was writing this -- and to be able to give some more accurate ingredient amounts -- I googled "Cheese Fondue Recipe from Time/Life cookbooks 'Foods of the World". Up popped this recipe from Melissa Clark of The New York Times. It's a good approximation -- though I'm pretty sure the original called for flour to dredge the cheese, which is what I use. And as you'll see in reading her article, the fascination with new dippers and new versions is not mine alone.

Classic Fondue
Melissa Clark, New York Times
January 23, 1008

1 small garlic clove, halved
1 cup dry white wine
3/4 pound Gruyère cheese, grated
3/4 pound Emmenthaler, raclette or Appenzeller cheese, grated
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch (I prefer flour)
1 to 2 tablespoons kirsch (optional) (To me, this is essential, not optional)
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste (optional) (Ditto)
Crusty bread cubes; steamed broccoli or cauliflower; carrot, celery or fennel sticks; cubed apple; seedless grapes; clementine sections; cubed salami, soppressata or kielbasa; roasted chestnuts and/or dried apricots, for serving.

1. Rub cut side of garlic on inside of large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan, preferably cast iron, rubbing the bottom and halfway up the sides. Add wine and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss cheeses with cornstarch. Add a handful at a time to simmering wine, stirring until first handful melts before adding next. Reduce heat to medium and stir constantly until cheese is completely melted. Add kirsch, if using, and heat until bubbling, about 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, if desired. Serve with crusty bread and other accompaniments.

Yield: 6 main course servings or 10 appetizer servings.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Full Monte

My sister Robin and I threw our first Christmas party in 1975. Our oven broke a week or so before the big event, which reduced us to cooking dozens of appetizers in a GE toaster oven. As for baking, we used the oven in an empty apartment in the basement of our building, carring cookie sheets up and down three flights of stairs. Nonetheless, the party itself was a great success, and with a few exceptions, we have been doing it every year since.

Once, my brother-in-law Dave came into the picture, things got a bit more complicated.

Now, in addition to 15 different kinds of cookies, our typical spread includes homemade pickles of various sorts -- including my current personal favorite, turnips pickled in gin.

Then there are the numerous homemade pates, dips, sausages, rillettes, mustards, and smoked seafood, plus smoked, roasted, and grilled meats -- all the ingredients for which come either from local Seacoast New Hampshire area farms or from Philbricks Fresh Market.

It's a labor of love, which this year began in mid October when Dave started curing his own bacon and salamis and baking his amazing fruitcakes. These have enough fruit, nuts, and cognac in them to turn even the most determined fruit cake hater into a fruit cake lover.

While my sister is the primary cookie baker (I assist), I've become the party ham specialist. For years, we resisted serving a ham, but then we met Tim Rocha from Kellie Brook Farm in Greenland, NH. His hams come from pigs raised on grains, bread, yogurt, and vegetables and are absolutely delicious. (Tim's pork is on the menu at Portsmouth restaurants and is available at the Seacoast Grower's winter markets.) Fortunately, I have a ham recipe that's worthy of such a creature.

Legend has it that this recipe was given to Monte Mathews, a New York advertising executive, who was told to "buy the cheapest ham possible, glaze the hell out of it and cook it for a long time."

While I'm sure the recipe does wonders for a cheap ham, I can tell you that it truly comes into its own with one of Farmer Tim's succulent, flavorful hams. Try it yourself -- and watch your guests devour the full Monte.

Monte's Ham
first published in Saveur in Issue #18

15-lb. smoked ham on the bone
1 1/2 cups orange marmalade
1 cup dijon mustard (I've been known to add a couple of tablespoons of grated horseradish to the mustard)
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. whole cloves

1. Preheat oven to 300°. Trim tough outer skin and excess fat from ham. Place ham, meat side down, in a large roasting pan and score, making crosshatch incisions with a sharp knife. Roast for 2 hours
2. Remove ham from oven and increase heat to 350°. For glaze, combine orange marmalade, mustard, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Stud ham with whole cloves (stick one clove at the intersection of each crosshatch), then brush with glaze and return to oven.
3. Cook ham another 1 1/2 hours, brushing with glaze at least 3 times. Transfer to a cutting board or platter and allow to rest for about 30 minutes. Carve and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 30

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gone Fishin'

Last winter, the Yankee Fishermans Cooperative in Seabrook, NH started a community-supported fisherey initiative in collaboration with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, N.H. Sea Grant, the N.H. Commercial Fishermans Association, local seafood groups, restaurants, and fish markets. The result is that food lovers in the Seacoast, NH area can now buy local, sustainably caught shrimp, cod, haddock, and lobster -- and support our local fishery -- the way we do our local farms.

Yesterday, when trying to decide what to make for Sunday supper, my sister Robin, brother-in-law Dave, and I found some of the cooperative's local dayboat cod at Philbrick's Fresh Market in Portsmouth. As we had just picked up some leeks and potatoes at our winter CSA, it seemed like the perfect excuse to make one of our favorite fish dishes: a casserole of baked fish, potatoes, fennel, and leeks.

For a while in the early '00s, it seemed that every other newspaper food section and magazine was featuring recipes with cod or halibut baked on a bed of potatoes, often with something wonderful like artichokes or olives thrown in for good measure. Most of them required you to steam the potatoes first. In this receipe, which came from the late, lamented Gourmet's December 2002 issue, you slice the potatoes with a mandoline, so you can cook them in the baking dish from the start. That means they really pick up the flavor of the other ingredients. Because cod is endangered -- and often hard to find -- we usually make the dish with haddock. Now, with cod just off the boat, it seemed like the perfect time to enjoy it with the real thing.

As you'll see, the original recipe didn't include leeks, but I love the earthy flavor they give the dish.  If you like, you could also add a little grated lemon or orange peel -- or maybe even those olives and artichokes. Whatever you do, you'll be enjoying seafood comfort food at its best.

Gourmet Magazine
December 2002
Active time: 15 min Start to finish: 1 hr

2 medium fennel bulbs (sometimes called anise; 1 1/2 lb total), stalks cut off and discarded, and fronds reserved for garnish if desired

2-3 leeks, white park only (if using)

1 1/2 lb large boiling potatoes

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper (We also sprinkle smoked Spanish paprika on the fish before we put it in the oven. It adds a lovely deep red color and rich, smokey taste.)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 lb skinless cod fillet (1 inch thick), cut into 6 portions (feel free to use haddock or whatever fillets lookfresh in your seafood market -- not sure I'd use salmon, though.)

Garnish: chopped fennel fronds or fresh flat-leaf parsley

Accompaniment: lemon wedges

Special equipment: a Japanese Benriner* or other adjustable-blade slicer; a 3-quart shallow baking dish (2 inches deep)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Cut fennel bulbs crosswise into 1/16-inch-thick slices with slicer. Peel potatoes and cut crosswise into 1/16-inch-thick slices with slicer. If using leeks, thoroughly wash and cut into 1/4" rounds.

3. Transfer the vegetables to a 9 x 13 baking dish and toss with garlic, salt, pepper, and 4 tablespoons oil. Spread vegetables evenly in dish and bake, covered with foil, in middle of oven until just tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

4. Season fish with salt and pepper and arrange on top of vegetables. Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and bake, uncovered, until fish is just cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes.

* Available at Asian markets, many cookware shops, and Uwajimaya (800-889-1928).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Feelin' Saucy

Growing up, I was never particularly fond of cranberry sauce, which in our family was always the deep maroon, jiggly jellied stuff that proudly displayed its canned heritage, even as it sat in its antique cut-glass dish. My aunt, who liked to think of herself as a bit of a rebel, once served the canned whole berry sauce as well, but as I remember, no one touched it. (I was even less enamored of that than the canned version!)

So you might think that I would be an unlikely person to lead a kind of cranberry sauce rebellion. But nevertheless, Thanksgiving of 1982, I announced that I wanted to try my hand at making cranberry sauce from scratch. I picked a recipe from Bon Appétit that included fresh-squeezed orange juice and cognac among its ingredients. "How bad could anything with cognac be?" I reasoned. Not only was it good, it was a revelation -- to everyone. "Would you bring the cranberry sauce for our Christmas turkey dinner?" my aunt asked me as we helped clear the table. Of course, I would. I was hooked.

By now, I have a repetoire of recipes, and as soon as the displays of fresh Cape Cod cranberries start to appear in our local markets, I begin discussing with my sister Robin and brother-in-law Dave, which one will go best with the feast we are preparing. (Those years when we go to other people's houses, I make whatever they request.) And of course, sometimes, I find a new recipe that's just too interesting to pass up.

So here are my three favorites (currently). I was interested to see that I had a recipe from each of the last three decades, including the original, which I still love. So which cranberry sauce am I making this year? Well, as we are going to take a southwestern approach to our meal this holiday, I thought I'd make the Irene Sax recipe I found in Saveur last year, where the cranberries are roasted with a little jalapeno pepper. That should really spice things up!


Orange-Cranberry Sauce
Bon Appétit, November 1982

1 cup sugar (Recently, I've use a combination of white and dark brown sugar.)
½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
½ cup water (I replace this with another 1/2 cup of orange juice
3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed and stemmed
2 T Cognac
Coarsely grated orange peel
1 T fresh lemon juice

1. Combine sugar, orange juice and water in large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
2. Add berries and cook until popped, 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Mash some of the berries with back of spoon, then remove pan from heat.
4. Cool five minutes, then blend in remaining ingredients.
5. Cool completely. Refrigerate sauce until ready to serve.
Makes 3 cups
NOTE: This is best made at least 4 hours ahead so it can chill and thicken.

Cranberry Agrodolce
Food & Wine November 1994

2 T. vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
5 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 cups fresh or frozen whole cranberries, about 1 cup
½ cup dried cranberries (about 2 ½ ounces) (I plump them for ½ hour in the ¼ cup of port.)
½ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 ½ cups cranberry juice
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup port
1 ½ t. coarse or kosher salt
1 ½ t. coarsely cracked black pepper
½ t. allspice
1 small cinnamon stick
1 nickel-size slice of fresh ginger,
2 whole cloves

1. Heat oil in a large non-reactive saucepan. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 7 minutes.Add garlic and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Stir in the fresh and dried cranberries, the brown sugar, cranberry juice, balsamic vinegar, port, salt, pepper, and allspice.
2. Tie the cinnamon stock, ginger, and clover in a small piece of cheesecloth and add it to the saucepan. Bring agrodolce to a boil over moderately high heat. Lower the heat and simmer gently until thickened, about 35 minutes. Discard the spice bundle and let cool.
(The agrodolce can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 1 week. Let return to room temperature before serving.)
Makes about 4 cups

Roasted Cranberry Sauce
Irene Sax, Saveur Magazine November 2008

1 orange
1 lb. fresh or thawed cranberries
1 cup sugar (I use brown sugar)
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
4 green cardamom pods, smashed
4 whole cloves
2 sticks cinnamon
1 small jalapeño, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 1⁄2 tbsp. port

1. Heat oven to 450°. Using a peeler, remove peel from the orange, taking off as little of the white pith as possible. Cut peel into very thin strips about 1 1⁄2" long. Squeeze juice from the orange; strain and reserve 1 tbsp. juice.
2. In a bowl, combine peel, cranberries, sugar, olive oil, salt, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon, and jalapeños. Toss and transfer to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Roast until cranberries begin to burst and release their juices, about 15 minutes.
3. Transfer cranberry mixture to a bowl; stir in reserved orange juice and port. Let sit for at least 1 hour so that the flavors meld. Remove and discard cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon before serving.
Makes 2 cups

Sunday, November 15, 2009

When Life Hands You Rutabagas, Make Rutabaga Fries

Last year, Robin, Dave, and I were part of an informal winter CSA with one of the farmers we met through the Seacoast Grower's Association. It was a little hit or miss -- sometimes we'd get to Portsmouth on Friday evening to find a bag of goodies handing from the doorknob -- often times, not. But there was something satisfying about having farmers' market-quality food throughout the winter, especially since this particular farmer had access to a greenhouse, so we frequently got a bag full of fresh greens as part of our order.

This year, we decided to make things more official, by joining the Winter CSA through Heron Pond Farm. Of course, this means dealing with vegetables we probably otherwise would never buy. Like rutabagas, for instance. Other than potatoes and raw carrots, we never ate much in the way of root vegetables when I was growing up. In fact, the first time I remember actually tasting rutabaga was one Thanksgiving when one of our guests brought some pureed rutabaga with peas. But on Week Two, our CSA share included two rutabagas.

As we were planning to grill a couple of grass-fed rib eye steaks from Wee Bit Farm for dinner, a puree seemed less than optimal. Since oven-baked sweet potato fries are a frequent accompaniment to steak in our house, we thought why not try serving the rutabagas that way? We peeled them, cut them into half-inch sticks, seasoned them with Penzey's Northwoods Fire Seasoning and a little olive oil, put them on a well-oiled baking sheet and baked them just like we would potatoes.

The Northwoods Fire Seasoning is a blend of coarse salt, chipolte pepper, Hungarian paprika, Tellicherry black pepper, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and cayenne, so it was a great complement to the sweet, spicy tast of the rutabaga. I think that chopped thyme or rosemary with some garlic powder would also be good.

While the rutabaga oven fried don't crisp up like regular regular potato fries, they don't get all soft like the sweet potato version either. When they browned up nicely, I just sprinkled them with a little coarse salt and served them up with our steaks. Quite frankly, they were delicious! Best of all, I now  feel ready for anything our CSA gives us. Kohlrabi? Bring it on!

Oven-Baked Rutabaga Fries
2 medium rutabagas, peel and cut into sticks 1/2 inch wide
Olive oil, for drizzling and coating baking pan
Penzey's Northwoods Fire Seasoning (or other spice blend) to taste
Kosher salt for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Drizzle olive oil over rutabaga, put in a paper bag or plastic baggie, add seasonings and shake to coat.
3. Place rutabaga on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake in middle of the oven for ten minutes.
4. Turn rutabaga fries over and cook for another ten minutes, or until well browned.
5. Sprinkle with kosher salt and serve.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

As Corny as NH in October

It's mid October. The temperature is 20 degrees below normal. A nor'easter is heading up the coast. But there's still fresh sweet corn at the Seacoast Growers Market in Portsmouth and that makes me very happy.

For the few first weeks of the season, I can't get enough of corn on the cob. But then, I start to hunger for other ways to enjoy it. If there ever was a day that cried out for corn chowder, this is it, so Robin, Dave, and I picked up half a dozen ears from Heron Pond Farm's stand.

Normally, I'd start my chowder by frying up some local bacon, but we have ham left over from last week's ham and string beans, so I decide to use that. I like to make a "corn stock", by simmering the cobs in milk seasoned with onion, bay leaf, thyme, and sage. I decide to add the ham to the steeping milk mixture to warm it up and to add some smoky flavor to the stock. I take care, though, not to let the milk come to a boil.
As for a recipe, I quickly scan a few cook books with an eye toward creating the ultimate chowder experience. I discover an interesting technique in The Greens Cook Book by Deborah Madison; she thickens her chowder by pureeing half of the corn kernels in a blender before adding them to the soup. I like that idea, though I decide to first saute the corn with onions and some minced chili pepper before pureeing.

Once the milk has warmed up sufficiently and developed a nice smoky taste, I remove the corn cobs, add the uncooked corn kernels and the corn puree, simmering gently, until the corn is cooked and the soup is hot. We sit down to eat, oblivious to the cold outside and grateful to be enjoying the taste of fresh corn in October.

Corny Chowder with Ham

6 ears of corn
1 quart whole milk
1 large onion, diced
1 bay leaf
1 sage leaf
1 sprig thyme
2 cups cubed cooked ham
1 T butter
2 small hot Hungarian wax peppers, minced (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Slice the corn from the cob and set kernels aside in a bowl. Press knife to the cob to extract some of the milky liquid and add to bowl.

2. Cut cobs in half and put in a large sauce pan. Add the milk, half the chopped onion, bay, sage, and thyme to a large sauce pan and gently heat to a bare simmer, stirring frequently to keep stock from sitcking to pan. Do not let stock come to a boil.

3. While stock is heating, add butter, remaining half of the chopped onion, half the corn kernels and the minced chili to a saute pan and saute until fragrant and heated through. Add ham and remaining corn kernels to the stock, continuing to stir frequently.

4. Puree the sauted corn mixure in a blender for at least 2 minutes. If it is too thick, you can add a little water and puree some more.

5. Remove corn cobs and bay leaf from corn stock. Then add the corn puree to the stock. Put cobs in a bowl to capture any corn stock, then add to sauce pan.

6. Cook soup over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Check for salt (if the ham is salty enough, you may not need any.) Add some freshly ground pepper to taste.

Serves 4

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Green, Green Beans of Home

It was just getting dark when I pulled into the Iron Moon Farm stand on Route 1A in Newbury. I was on a mission to find local potatoes and onions, the last of the ingredients I needed to make a traditional Schweikart family favorite: ham and string beans. My sister Robin had picked up one of Tendercrop Farm's corn-cob smoked hams the week before, and the last of the green beans from Wake Robin Farm's stand at the Portsmouth Seacoast Growers Market were in the fridge.

Wendy Smith, the proprietress of the Iron Moon Farm stand, assured me she had just what I needed.  "What are you cooking?" she asked. "Ham and string beans," I replied. She nodded in recognition. "My grandmother used to make that with salt pork, instead of ham," she said. "I wish I would have remembered that last week when I had the last of our green beans."

I quickly learned that while Wendy's grandmother was from Oklahoma and mine was from Pennsylvania Dutch country, both were of German ancestry. "It's not a New England dish," Wendy said softly, her mind in Oklahoma at that moment, I'm sure. "No," I said, thinking of our old family farm in the Oley Valley, " but it sure tastes just as good here."

It's one of those recipes that, every time I make it, the very smell in my kitchen transports me back in time. And because the beans braise for a while in ham broth, it's a perfect way to use up green beans that have been toughened a bit by the cold. One caution: you want to be sure the ham isn't too salty. The Tendercrop ham was perfect, and is well worth searching out. (Their chicken is also some of the best around.)

Maz's Ham and String Beans

1 non-factory-farmed smoked ham, preferable bone-in, as the bone will add flavor.
(Our Tendercrop ham was a boneless 3-lb, but we had a lefteover ham bone in the freezer. If you don't have one, buy a ham hock to supplement a boneless ham. The size of the ham doesn't matter as leftovers can always be used for sandwiches or soup.)
3 medium onions, rough-chopped (about 1 3/4 pounds)
2 1/2 to 3 pounds potatoes
2 pounds green beans, ends removed and snapped into 1 1/2" lengths
1 quart chicken stock, prefereable homemade or low-salt
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Put ham in a Dutch oven with chopped onions. Add a mixture of water and chicken stock to go about 2/3 of the way up the ham, and simmer, covered,  for 1 1/2 hours.

2. Turn ham over, and add potatoes, cover, and simmer for another 1/2 hour. Broth should cover 2/3 of ham. If not, add more water.

3. Add the green beans, cover, and simmer for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes until the potatoes are done and the beans are tender and just about falling apart.

4. Remove ham from broth and let sit for 10 minutes or so. Check broth for seasoning and add salt, if necessary, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cut ham into thin slices and arrange in a soup bowl. Add beans, potatoes, and broth, and serve.

Serves 4-6 with ham left over.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Adios Tomatoes!

Here in Portsmouth, the swamp maples are turning red. Our winter feeder birds—juncos, bluebirds, and white-throats—have arrived. Migrating warblers are passing through. Signs of deepening fall are everywhere, but I can’t stop thinking about tomatoes.

Earlier this week in Boston, when a timely flyer on my car windshield reminded me that the Farmers Market at Prudential Center was still open, I'd headed right over. Immediately, my eye was drawn to the colorful selection of beautifully ripe heirloom tomatoes at the stand run by MacArthur Farm of Holliston, MA. That's when I realized I’d yet to make one of my favorite summer recipes: tomato paella.

I first discovered this dish two years ago, thanks to Mark Bittman’s Minimalist column in the New York Times. Because it's so simple, the quality of the ingredients is key here, especially the tomatoes. Don’t try it with tomatoes you find in the supermarket, unless they’re local, farm grown. The recipe itself is pretty straight forward. You core and cut the tomatoes into wedges, season them, and put them in a bowl, so you can capture all the wonderful juices.

Next, you fry up some minced onion, garlic, and a chili pepper (my addition), then saute with saffron and smoked Spanish paprika. The recipe says these are optional, but to me, they form a deep, essential flavor base.

For the rice, a quality short-grained rice is a must. This time, I used a Carnoroli "risotto-style" rice, but I've successfully substituted short-grained brown rice as well.
I also prefer the richness provided by homemade chicken stock, but if you don't have any, you can use water.

You’re welcome to turn this into a traditional paella, adding meat and seafood like shrimp, mussels, or clams. But I love it this way, as a main course on a hot summer night, or as a side to roast pork or chicken on a cool October evening. It’s a great way to say “via con dias” to last of the season’s tomatoes.

(By the way, the Prudential Center Farmers Market is from 11 to 6 on Thursdays through the end of October, on the Boylston Street Plaza.)

Mark Bittman's Paella With Tomatoes
The Minimalist, New York Times, September 5, 2007

3 1/2 cups stock or water
1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 small minced hot pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Large pinch saffron threads (optional)
2 teaspoons Spanish pimentón (smoked paprika), or other paprika
2 cups Spanish or other short-grain rice
Minced parsley for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Warm stock or water in a saucepan. Put tomatoes in a medium bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss to coat.

2. Put remaining oil in a 10- or 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic (and chili, if using), sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, saffron if you are using it, and paprika and cook for a minute more. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is shiny, another minute or two. Add liquid and stir until just combined.

3. Put tomato wedges on top of rice and drizzle with juices that accumulated in bottom of bowl. Put pan in oven and roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Check to see if rice is dry and just tender. If not, return pan to oven for another 5 minutes. If rice looks too dry but still is not quite done, add a small amount of stock or water (or wine). When rice is ready, turn off oven and let pan sit for 5 to 15 minutes.

4. Remove pan from oven and sprinkle with parsley. If you like, put pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a bottom crust before serving.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Behold The Mayo

When my brother-in-law Dave fantasizes about making a meal from scratch, he means literally from scratch. Like the BLTs  we concocted for lunch last Saturday. Actually the project (yes, at our house, lunch can sometimes be a project) began the week before when Dave began curing a pork belly he had purchased from Tim Rocha at Kellie Brook Farm near Portsmouth.

First, Dave cured the pork belly in the fridge for five days, using a blend of pink salt, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, and maple syrup, a recipe from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Then he smoked the pork over maple wood for six hours in his electric Bradley Smoker, one of the top ten best inventions of all time.

Now that we had a beautiful hunk of bacon, we were ready to head off to the Seacoast Grower's Market in Portsmouth in search of the rest of the ingredients for our ultimate summer sandwich. In anticipation, Dave had already prepared the dough for his special sourdough bread, which was rising in a warm spot in the sun room.

At market, we chose arugula from Nelson Farms and bought some green zebras from Garen of Back River Farm. When the time came to make lunch, we washed the lettuce, sliced the tomatoes and just-baked bread, and fried up the bacon. Then came the final task: whipping up some homemade mayonnaise, made with an organic egg purchased that morning from Charlie of Stone Wall Farm.

While I know all about the dangers of eating uncooked eggs--and only recommend that you do so with eggs you can trust--until you behold the taste of homemade mayonnaise, you won't believe the astonishing difference it makes with any sandwich, even if you haven't gone to the trouble of making the bread and bacon yourself.

Best of all, it's easy.We used the recipe for instant mayonnaise from Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, also by Michael Ruhlman, a fabulous reference book that every devoted home cook should own. Though we used the immersion blender, we whisked it at the end to incorporate just a little more air.

Michael Ruhlman's Instant Mayonnaise
(Works best with ingredients at room temperature)
1 large egg yolk, preferably organic or farm-raised
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canola oil (or more as you need it, adjusting the lemon juice accordingly)

Combine the yolk, water, lemon juice, and salt in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring glass. Buzz it once with an immersion blender to mix. Add a few drops of oil, holding the blender to the bottom of the cup and blending until an emulsion forms, 2 to 3 seconds. With the blade running, pour the remaining oil slowly into the cup, beginning to lift the immersion blender up and down to incorporate all the oil. Once you start blending the process should take 15 to 20 seconds.

If you don't have an immersion blender: whisk the mayonnaise in a large bowl, with a dish towel twisted around the base to stablize it. Begin whisking the yolk, then drizzle in a few drops of oil, while whisking until the emulsion forms. Then whisk continuously, adding the remaining oil in a thin stream.

If the emulsion breaks: simply pour the mixture back into the oil cup, add a teaspoon of water to the empty bowl and a little more egg yolk, if you have it, then pour the broken mayonnaise drop by drop into the water, while whisking or blending to reform the emulsion. Continue to add the broken mayonnaise in a thin stream.

Makes 1/2 cup

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just Fritterin'

For years, my family had the same exact meal for Christmas and Easter as we did at Thanks-giving.

This was not due to any lack of imagination on the part of the women who cooked it -- Nana, my grandmother, and her two daughters, my mother and aunt. Rather, it was to insure that no one got an easier meal to prepare than anyone else. While all three were able cooks, none was particularly eager to spend time in the kitchen. (My mother was an incredibly enthusiastic proponent of convenience food in all forms.)

That's why I see the corn fritters that Nana made every year for my birthday as a true labor of love. And, though there have been a few of improvements to the recipe over the years -- substituting corn oil for Crisco, for instance -- I am especially delighted that my sister, Robin has continued this particular birthday tradition.

Nana began with corn fresh from my father's garden -- looking for older ears, with bigger kernels. Robin and I do our shopping at the Heron Pond stand at the Seacoast Grower's farmer's market in Portsmouth, NH, so we have to work a bit to find ears of the right maturity in early September.

Because we prefer our fritters with kernels in them, Robin cuts the corn off some of the cobs and scrapes the kernels off the rest with Nana's Pennsylvania Dutch corn cob grater, a kind of wooden plank with two sets of metal teeth set in the center. (See below.)

We like to say that while my aunt inherited Nana's jewelry, we got the corn grater, which to us, was the better end of the deal. Robin adds some fresh thyme and sage to the batter along with the traditional salt and pepper. Otherwise, these corn fritters are pretty much the way Nana made them -- a little complicated, maybe, but outrageously good.

Nana's Corn Fritters
1 dozen ears of fresh sweet corn, older, fatter kernels are better than younger
1/2 teaspoon each of thyme and sage
1/2 teaspoon, plus pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of cream of tartar
2-3 tablespoons oil to cover bottom of skillet, preferrably corn
1. Cut the corn off five ears, then grate six ears, using corn grater. If you're not lucky enough to have inherited one, use a box grater to scrape off the kernels at half their depth and then, using the back of a knife, scrape off the remaining pulp on the cob. Depending on the ratio of corn to batter you prefer, you can either grate or cut the kernels off the remaining ear. (NOTE: We're freezing the cobs to make a corn stock for chowder sometime later in the fall.)

2. Beat the egg yolks into the corn batter.

3. Add a pinch of salt and cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form.

4. Add oil to cover the bottom of a fry pan (we use a 14" iron skillet); then heat until just shimmering.

5. Mix in 2/3 of the egg whites, then gently fold in the remaining 1/3.

6. Put a generous 1/4 cup of batter into the oil. Don't crowd -- in our 14" pan, we make four at a time. Sometimes the corn has more moisture in it than others, and the batter can get too runny. If that happens, just stir a tablespoon of cornmeal or flour into the batter and continue.

7. As the fritters cook, they'll puff up and get brown at the edges. Nudge them a bit to make sure they're not sticking. When they have cooked enough to hold together, it's time to turn them. Put a insulated sleeve on the hot pan handle, then use a spatula to flip them. (Watch for spattering!) Swirl the pan to make sure the oil is covering the entire surface, and cook for a few minutes more. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don't burn, but don't rush them, either -- they take time.

8. Carefully remove cooked fritters and put them on cookie sheets in a 200 degree, so they crisp up.

9. Repeat, adding more oil, if necessary.

For some reason, the first batch frequently falls apart. If that happens, carefully remove the bigger pieces before proceeding. They make great snacks, but remember, they're hot!.

This recipe makes enough to serve six as a side. We made the full recipe for the three of us and heated up the remainder in the toaster oven for lunch the next day.

Full of Beans

"Help!" said my friend Laura, "I've got beans coming out of my ears." Well, at least she had them coming out of her garden.

I thought immediately of one of my favorite bean salad recipes. I'd found it in Cooking Light about eight years ago and I've tried to make it a couple of times a summer ever since. The thought of it made me wish I had a garden full of beans.
Lucky for me, it was Copley Square Farmer's Market day and the people from Silverbrook Farm in Dartmouth, MA still had some tasty-looking beans, both green and yellow. I also bought some cherry tomatoes and some basil from them. (Normally, I grow herbs in window boxes on my balcony, but this year's plants succumbed to overwatering, courtesy of Mother Nature, during Boston's near-record wet July.)

This recipe is ridiculously easy to make, but it's both delicious and unusual. One key is to find a mild feta -- you don't want this to be too salty. I'm going to use one of my favorite goat cheese fetas from Brookfield Dairy in New Hampshire.


4 cups of water
3/4 pound of green beans
3/4 pound of yellow beans
2 cups chopped tomatoes (I used quartered cherry tomatoes)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
1/2 cup (2 oz.) crumbled feta

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Cook beans in boiling water for 5 minutes or until crisp tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again.
Combine next 4 ingredients (through pepper) in a bowl. Divide beans evenly on 8 plates. Top each serving with 1/4 cup of the tomato mixture. Sprinkle each serving with one tablespoon basil and 1 tablespoon crumbled cheese.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The First Ratatouille of Summer

I stopped by the farmer's market in Boston's Copley Square the other day, in search of some baby golden cauli-flower. I was looking forward to making this delicious pasta sauce that gives your mouth the sensation of a creamy alfredo, but without the fat and calories. I believe this dish was created by George Germon and Johanne Killeen of Al Forno fame--I think it was from a Boston Globe article about what chefs make for Valentine's Day--but I long ago lost both the article and the recipe, so now I have to make it up as I go along.

Anyway, I stopped by Siena Farms, one of my favorite stands. (It's owned by Farmer Chris, husband of Oleana's Ana Sortun.) I didn't see any cauliflower, but there were some beautiful San Marzano tomatoes, which got me thinking about another one of my favorite summer dishes: ratatouille.

The thing that makes this recipe so special is that instead of stewing everything in a big pot on top of the stove, you first roast the eggplant, onions, squash, and peppers in the oven, then mix
it with a quick-simmered sauce of plum tomatoes seasoned with garlic, minced chilies, and some thyme. It has a deep, rich flavor and a hearty texture the stove-top versions lack.

The recipe, which I found in Gourmet, is actually a sauce for pasta, but I've never served it that way. Usually, I use it as a side with grilled lamb from the Chestnut Lamb Co-op stand at the Seacoast Grower's Farmer's Market in Portsmouth, NH, which is what I'm going to do this time. Oh, and as soon as I find that cauliflower, I'll share that recipe with you. too.

Ratatouille with Penne -- from Gourmet, September 1999
Active time: 1 1/2 hours; total time: 1 3/4 hours

2 eggplants (about 1 1/2 lbs) cut into 1/2" cubes
4 onions, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
coarse kosher salt to taste
4 yellow squash (about 1 1/2 lbs) cut into 1/2" cubes (I sometimes use a mixture of yellow and zucchini)
2 large red peppers (cut into 1/2" cubes)

1 hot pepper, minced
8 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
7 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 lbs penne rigate (with ridges) (if serving with pasta)
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste (if serving with pasta)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Stir together eggplant, onion, 1/4 cup olive oil, and kosher salt in a large roasting pan, then roast mixture in middle of oven, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Stir in squash, bell peppers, 2 T olive oil, and more salt, and roast, stirring occasionally, until peppers are tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, simmer tomatoes, garlic, minced hot pepper, thyme, remaining 2 T olive oil, and kosher salt in a heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 12 to 15 minutes.

If serving without pasta, turn tomato mixture into eggplant mixture, season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in basil and parsley and serve while warm or at room temperature. Serves approximately 12 as a side dish.

If serving with pasta, cook the penne in a six-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente, and drain. Meanwhile combine eggplant mixture and tomato mixture and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in basil and parsley. Toss penne with 1/3 of the ratatouille, and served topped with remainder. Sprinkle with cheese, if desired.

NOTE: Ratatouille can be made 2 days ahead and chilled. Reheat before using with pasta. Serves 6 as a main dish.