Friday, December 30, 2011

Flex Your Mussels, Clams, and Other Seafood.

In early November, I had the great fortune to take a trip to Paris. It was all too brief a stay -- just three days and three nights -- but I made the most of it with quiet walks, numerous museums and outdoor markets, and of course, superb meals.

In the process, I rediscovered my love affair with French baguettes and sweet butter; thanks to Beach Pea Bakery and Kate's Homemade Butter, I've been able to enjoy a reasonable facsimile of these right here in Portsmouth. (I'm still yearning for those simple ham and cheese sandwiches one finds in every Paris bakery, though!)

One dinner I particularly enjoyed was at the seafood-only restaurant, Bistrot du Dome Bastille, where I had a lovely stew of fish and shellfish. I was reminded of this just before Christmas when I read David Tanis' recipe for Fishmonger's Stew in one of his City Kitchen columns in the New York Times. Dave, Robin, and I had been thinking about kicking off the New Year's weekend with a bouillabaisse or cioppino. The Tanis recipe seemed simpler; more like the dish that had so delighted me in Paris.

Those of us who live in the Seacoast area are so fortunate to have so many places where we can get the fresh-caught fish a dish like this requires! Saunders Fish Market in Portsmouth had both local flounder and sea scallops -- no monkfish or calamari this week, which was a slight disappointment-- however, it was easy to find the mussels and clams, so we were all set.

This stew has a leek and onion base, with only a few tomatoes to give it some flavor depth and color. We used a good canned fish stock, but you can also use chicken broth or water.  You can also be flexible about what fish you add -- just be sure to put things in to the stock base  in the order that Tanis suggests so the more delicate fish doesn't overcook. If you use sea scallops, as we did, you might cut them in half crosswise so they get done at the same time that everything else does. 
 Most important: don't overlook the sauce. It's the source of the bright, rich garlic-lemon-olive oil-saffron taste that gives this stew its distinctive taste -- just like the one I loved in Paris!

Fishmonger’s Stew ala David Tanis
Time: 45 minutes

1 dozen medium-small clams, like littlenecks
1 pound mussels
3/4 pound monkfish or other firm-fleshed white fish, in 1-inch cubes
3/4 pound scrod, flounder, or other soft-fleshed white fish, in 1-inch cubes
3/4 pound squid, in 1/2-inch rings, plus tentacles
1/2 pound bay scallops, optional
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups medium-diced onions
3 cups medium-diced leeks, rinsed of grit
1/2 cup diced canned tomato
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or a few thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
Pinch of saffron, about 1/8 teaspoon
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
Pinch red pepper flakes
6 cups fish stock, chicken broth, or water
1 pound Yellow Finn or russet potatoes, peeled, in 1/2-inch slices
Garlic-saffron sauce, see recipe.

1. Soak the clams in cold water to remove grit and sand, then drain. Rinse and de-beard the mussels. Put the monkfish, scrod, squid and bay scallops (if using) in separate small bowls. Season the fish lightly with salt and pepper.

2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and leeks and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato, thyme, bay leaf, saffron, garlic, paprika and red pepper flakes. Season generously with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes.

3. Turn the heat to high, add the fish stock, chicken broth or water, and bring to a boil. Taste for salt and adjust to taste. Add the potatoes and reduce the heat so they simmer gently until firm-tender, about 10 minutes. (The stew may be prepared to this point up to 2 hours ahead.)

4. To finish the stew, return the heat to a brisk simmer. Add the clams and cook till they open, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mussels, monkfish and scrod and simmer until the mussels open, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the squid and scallops, if using, and cook 1 minute more. Turn off the heat, stir in the garlic-saffron sauce.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Garlic-Saffron Sauce
Time: 10 minutes

1 cup crustless day-old French bread, in 1/2-inch cubes
2 or 3 garlic cloves
Pinch of saffron, about 1/8 teaspoon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley.

1. Soak the bread in cold water for 1 minute and squeeze dry. Mash garlic and salt into a paste. Put it in a mortar with the bread and pound together with the saffron, or mix it all in a blender.

2. Gradually whisk in the olive oil to make a thick sauce. Add the lemon juice, parsley and salt. Keep the sauce at room temperature.

Yield: 1/3 cup.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Not Sure What Flavors Go With What?

Check out this visualization of complementary flavors by David McCandless and Willow Tyrer. Even if you know how to combine flavors, this is beautiful to look at.«

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tomato Soup That's Just Peachy

If you've been very lucky, sometime about this point in the tomato season, you'll have had so many BLTs, tomato/basil/mozzarella salads, and fresh tomato sauces that you'll be ready to move into something new and perhaps a little unexpected. If that should happen while fresh peaches are still in season, so much the better.

A couple of weeks ago, Mark Bittman focused on heirloom tomatoes in one of his EAT columns in The Sunday New York Times Magazine. There were 12 recipes in all, several of which I've tried and loved -- and will probably spotlight here at a later date -- but there's one I've made twice so far this summer, and could easily think about making again: the Cold Cream of Tomato and Peach Soup 

To say this soup is simple to make is no exaggeration. Yes, it requires a little stove time to sautee the onion and simmer the tomatoes and peaches. And it does taste best cold, so you'll need to make it enough in advance to chill it. But as there's no need to peel or seed the tomatoes, the actual preparation time is minimal. Just make sure the tomatoes and peaches are nice and ripe, because you'll want them to be juicy. Do that, and you'll have a soup that's elegant enough for company and easy enough to make just for you.

It may seem odd for a soup with cream in its name, but Bittman lists that ingredient as optional; he's right, the soup really doesn't need it, the tomato and peach taste comes through just great without it. However, I find topping each serving of soup with a healthy dollop of crème fraîche, provided you can get a good one, like the one made by the folks at Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, adds just the right tang.

Cold Cream of Tomato and Peach Soup
Mark Bittman, Sunday New York Times Magazine

1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
1/2 pound peaches, chopped and peeled
1/2 cup cream (optional) (I prefer to use crème fraîche as a garnish, though you could also purée some with the soup.)
Tarragon for garnishing

1. Cook onion in butter for 5 minutes.
2. Add tomatoes and peaches.
3. Simmer until the tomatoes break up.
4. Add cream (optional but good), purée (in a blender) and chill.
5. Garnish with chopped tarragon.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Back Again: Tomato Bread Salad ala David Tanis

After a few months off to finish my upcoming book, Peaceful Places Boston: 121 Tranquil Places in the City and Beyond, I'm back to writing this blog at the perfect time: just as the height of the summer's bounty begins to appear in farmers' markets and farm stands.

Hallelujah for corn, new baby potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and of course, tomatoes!

I've been making bread salads for years now. My long-time, go-to recipe is the Panzanella: Bread and Vegetable Salad with Anchovies in The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan, which unfortunately, now seems to be out of print.

Recently, I've also enjoyed Judy Rodgers version, Tomato Summer Pudding from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. But I'm always looking for new slants on this salad and interesting techniques--so when I found a recipe for Layered Tomato Bread Salad, in David Tanis' Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys, I was eager to experiment.

Part of what intrigued me was the complexity of the vinaigrette for the salad--complexity of flavor, by the way, not of preparation.
You macerate a minced shallot in red wine vinegar for five minutes, then add a garlic paste, made by smashing garlic cloves and a little salt with a mortar and pestle, then drizzle in some olive oil to make your vinaigrette.

Next, you add some chopped anchovies, capers, and olives to make a chunky dressing that you pour over the cubed tomatoes and sliced cucumbers--and let the pungent flavors meld.

Heirloom tomatoes have just come into the Seacoast Growers' market in Portsmouth. Robin and Dave were able to buy a ripe and colorful selection through our CSA at Meadow's Mirth Farm. We also bought some country-style bread at Beach Pea Bakery in Kittery. Of course, as it was just fresh baked, it was not the day-old bread we needed, so to dry it, we sliced it and left it out overnight, in preparation for grilling it the next day. (The point of this salad is to have some bread pieces be really crispy, while others soften by soaking in the salad juices.)
Because this salad was to be our contribution to a cookout, we made everything ahead of time and transported the vegetables and dressing separately. Our host was happy to grill the bread prior to making dinner, so we could have the completed salad on the table when the rest of the food was ready. Needless to say, it was a big hit!

Layered Tomato and Bread Salad
From Heart of the Artichoke And Other Kitchen Journeys by David Tanis

12 slices day-old country bread, such as pain au levain
1/2 c olive oil, plus more for brushing
3 garlic cloves for swiping the bread
1 shallot, minced
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
6 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup Nicoise olives, pitted and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
6 ripe large tomatoes, roughly cubed
1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced
A generous handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped
A generous handful for serving, if desired

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Paint the bread generously with olive oil on both sides and place it on a baking sheet. Bake until the slices are crisp and golden, about 10 minutes, turning them halfway through. (Or toast the oil-painted bread on a grill.) Let the bread cool, and swipe each slice with a garlic clove. Break each slice into 2 or 3 pieces. Set aside.

2. To make the vinaigrette, macerate the shallot in the vinegar for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic paste and add the 1/2 cup olive oil. Add the anchovies, capers, and olives and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Put the tomato cubes and cucumber slices in a medium bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables.

4. Assemble the salad on a deep platter or in a low, wide bowl. Layer half the bread slices on the platter or in the bowl and spoon over half of the tomato/cucumber mixture. Lay over the rest of the bread and top with the remaining tomatoes. Cover with a clean towel and let sit for about an hour at cool room temperature.

5. Just before serving, gently press down the salad with your hands to distribute the juices. Sprinkle generously with the basil and parsley. Spoon the salad onto plates lined with crisp lettuce leaves.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Soup's On: Bean Soup That's Fast, Easy, and Delicious

(NOTE: Savoring the Seasons is this week's From a Local Kitchen on the Seacoast Eat Local blog! Thanks, Debra!)

I felt like I was losing a friend when Mark Bittman's last Minimalist column appeared in The New York Times on January 25th. For thirteen years, I'd looked forward to reading it every Wednesday. I learned countless tips for making delicious meals with a minimum of fuss. In particular, I enjoyed being inspired by what I like to call the Bittman 101s, an ongoing series of 101 ideas for simple salads, picnics, appetizers, etc.  that could be made in 20 minutes or less.

However, if the first few weeks of Bittman's new endeavor, Eat, in the The New York Times Sunday Magazine are any indication, I needn't have fretted. (Yes, there is a paywall now, but you are allowed 20 free articles a month  -- or you can just order the Sunday Times.)

Right out of the box, there was a column that blew me away. Called Creamy, Brothy, Earthy, Hearty,  it was essentially a guide to making easy, yet delicious vegetable-based soups, most of which can go from stove to table in under an hour. This includes making your own vegetable stock!

We'd recently bought some dried peregion beans from Baer's Best Beans at the Seacoast Eat Local Winter Farmers' Market. (There are two remaining: April 9th and 23rd at Exeter High School) So I was eager to try the bean soup recipe. As this was a spur of the moment thing, there was no time for overnight bean soaking.  However, I've found that as long as your dried beans aren't too old, this step is unnecessary. It's a great reason to buy dried beans from the farmers' market as opposed to the grocery store. (Not salting beans during cooking is another old wives' tale you can ignore. It doesn't make them tough; in fact, it makes them delicious!)

In less than an hour, we were having a hearty, homemade soup for lunch. Bittman's column featured four different categories of soup; twelve soups in all. I can't wait to sample each one--and then be inspired to create my own!

Earthy Bean Soup ala Mark Bittman
Put 1 1/2 cup dried beans, 1 chopped onion, 2 chopped carrots, 2 chopped celery ribs, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves and 6 cups water in a pot over high heat.

Boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer until the beans are soft, at least 1 hour, adding more water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish: A drizzle of olive oil.

NOTE: We began by sauteing the onion, carrots, and celery before adding them to the beans; then when the beans were almost tender, added some leftover chopped Kellie Brooks Farm ham that we had on hand in the freezer.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shank of the Season: Braised Osso Buco

I view snow on April Fool's Day as Mother Nature's way of reminding us New Englanders not to get too caught up in some romantic vision of spring. But instead of becoming dispirited, I say, salute this mercurial season with a dish that tastes a little lighter than the stews and braises of winter, but still has enough  flavor to be savored in front of a roaring fire with a nice bottle of red wine.

To me, that means veal shanks. I actually have a lovely, light almost Easter-dinner worthy recipe of shanks with pea tendrils and a lemon risotto, but  a cool, blustery Spring day demands something a little more substantial, with a sauce that's redolent of mushrooms, root vegetables, and tomato.

Some people who eagerly tuck into other meat feel guilty about eating veal, but those of us who live in the Seacoast have access to local veal that is humanely raised. Mind you, this is not the pale white stuff you'd find in a supermarket. No, this veal is deep pink, with a real meaty flavor; that's because the little critters actually get to spend some time outdoors. We usually get our veal from Kellie Brook Farm, but there are other local farmers who also offer delicious, guilt-free veal.  

From what I've read, traditional osso bucco, which is Italian for bone with a hole, was made with white wine, flavored with cinnamon, bay leaf, and a gremolata of finely chopped lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. This version, an invention of my brother-in-law Dave, was inspired by a couple of recipes in  Molly Steven's cookbook, All About Braising: the Art of Uncomplicated Cooking, though I must admit the delicious fennel/coriander coating for the shanks was all his idea.

While risotto is the classic accompaniment for osso bucco, we served it with farro (which is Italian after all), and some braised local chard. Add in some candlelight and you have a perfect fireside meal for a cold spring night.

Braised Veal Shanks ala Dave
1 T fennel seeds, toasted
1 T coriander seeds, toasted
Dash of salt
Couple grind of pepper
Handful of dried porcini mushrooms, soaked until soft in hot water to cover, then coarsely chopped
6 veal shanks, 2” thick
2 T olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
3 small carrots, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped, peeled tomatoes (We used 1/3 cup of our own roasted San Marzano tomatoes)
1 cup Madeira wine
Parchment paper to fit casserole

1. Toast fennel and coriander seeds until fragrant. Grind with mortar and pestle or in spice grinder.
2. Rub the shanks with the spice mixture, salt, and pepper.
3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
4. In an oven-proof casserole large enough to hold all meat and vegetables, heat 2T olive oil until it shimmers.
5. Brown shanks carefully on all sides, about 15 or 20 minutes, taking care not to burn seeds. Add more oil if the pan is going dry. Remove shanks to platter.
6. Add onions and carrots to pan, scrape up browned bits from bottom of pan as vegetables release their moisture. When vegetables have softened, add garlic and stir, taking care not to let it burn.
7. Strain mushroom soaking liquid and add to pan along with the Madeira. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add tomatoes and mushrooms and stir.
8. Nestle shanks into braising pan amongst the vegetables, and add any juices that have accumulated on platter. Liquid should come up about half way around the meat. If needed, add water.
9. Cover pan with parchment paper, add lid and cook in oven for about 2 hours, until meat is very tender and almost falling off the bones.
10. Remove shanks to platter and cover with foil. Skim off fat from the sauce in the pan and taste for flavor. If it tastes weak, bring to a boil over high heat to reduce volume and concentrate the flavor. Taste for salt and pepper.
11. Spoon sauce over the shanks and serve.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dancing to a Turkish Beet: Beet and Carrot Tzatziki

It's almost March. Well, okay, it's almost late February. In Portsmouth, the chickadees, cardinals, and bluebirds are singing their spring songs. But both there and in Boston, there's still lots of snow on the ground. And it's not that pretty fluffy, white stuff. No, this snow is hard as cement and grey as the sky is all too frequently these days. All this leaves me yearning for colorful, wild, tasty ways to use some of the vegetables from our Heron Pond Winter CSA.

I'd roasted some beets over the weekend to use in a salad with winter greens, walnuts, and Maytag blue cheese. There were leftover beets, but alas, no walnuts, greens, or Maytag blue. And as dinner itself was leftovers -- Paula Wolfert's Lazy Lady Bulgar Pilaf, with lamb, pistachios, and walnuts, (the last of the walnuts, mind you) -- I wanted something that would add both some color and a fresh taste to the meal.

The night before, I'd served the pilaf with a cucumber tzatziki, so I guess I was thinking in that vein when I remembered that Ana Sortun, owner and chief chef of Oleana, one of my favorite restaurants in the greater Boston area, has a recipe for a tzatziki made from beets in her cookbook, Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean. After a quick perusal of the fridge, I determined I not only had everything I needed to make that recipe, but some CSA carrots as well.

Is there such a thing as a beet and carrot tzatziki?
The quick answer is yes, indeed. I used it as a dressing of sorts for a salad of the remaining roasted beets. It was quite delicious, if decidedly neon. Kind of like a gorgeous late February sunset over Sagamore Creek!

Beet Salad with Beet and Carrot Tzatziki
Adapted from Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, by Ana Sortun

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups hole milk yogurt or sheep's milk yogurt (I used NH's own Brookford Farm non-fat yogurt, which I drained for 10 minutes.)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
2 to 3 smallish raw carrots, peeled and grated
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked shredded beets -- about two large or 4-5 golf ball size beets
1 large beet, sliced (See Note)
Feta cheese, crumbled

NOTE: For those who want a more subtle color, Sortun recommends chioggia (pink) or golden beets.
Beets can be boiled or roasted, but I'm partial to the latter. I cut off tops and tips, wrap in tin foil, and season with salt, thyme, -- if I have it on hand -- and olive oil. Put the beets in a 350-400 oven and roast until fork tender. They're relatively easy to peel once cooked, thought the red ones will stain your hands.

1. Combine the lemon juice, garlic and salt in a bowl and let stand 10 minutes. (Sortun says this takes some of the heat out of the garlic.) Stir in the yogurt, olive oil, and pepper. Fold in the beets, carrots, and dill and re-season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Root of Comfort: Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

Is there anyone who doesn't love walking into a home where a chicken is roasting the oven? Okay, it may not be the aroma of choice for a vegetarian or vegan, but for me it's a promise of comfort and goodness. Ironically, that's not because this is a smell that takes me back to dinners in my childhood. I grew up loving my mother's oven-fried chicken and being rather ambivalent about the stewed chicken that was something of a Sunday staple at my grandmother's house. No, roast chicken is an addiction of my adulthood.

It's a kind of freedom, really. Because I'm not bound to a "but that's the way my mother did it" recipe, I'm open to any interesting technique or combination of ingredients. For a couple of years now, Judy Rodgers "Zuni Roast Chicken", with her salt-and-season ahead approach, has been my standby, even if the chicken is destined to be rotisseried on the grill, instead of roasted in the oven. Then the other day, I was thumbing through the copy of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home that I'd given to my brother-in-law Dave for Christmas. (Is it unseemly to give someone else a cookbook you're dying to have? I certainly hope not!) There was a recipe for roasting a chicken on a bed of root vegetables.

Since we'd just picked up our Heron Pond winter CSA, we certainly had root vegetables. We also had one of  New Roots Farm's pasture-raised chickens in the freezer, which would easily defrost over night. (Luckily the Ad Hoc chicken does not need to be salted ahead of time. In fact, Keller recommends leaving the chicken uncovered in the refrigerator for at least a day -- it dries out the skin, which helps it crisp up nicely during roasting. Another secret Keller swears by: letting the chicken sit at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours before roasting.)
While it takes a little time to cut up all the vegetables, this really is a relatively easy dish to make. (We made it a little more difficult because we flipped the chicken to make sure the skin got brown and crispy on all sides.) The smell of the roasting chicken and vegetables was truly divine. Plus the way the vegetables infuse the chicken with their flavor -- and the chicken infuses the vegetables with its juices -- makes the entire dish a satisfying treat. And the warmed up leftovers the next day? Remarkable!

Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables
from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home

One 4 to 4 1/2 lb chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
6 thyme sprigs
2 large leeks
3 tennis-ball-sized rutabagas
2 tennis-ball-sized turnips
4 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut in half
1 small yellow onion, trimmed, leaving root end intact, and cut into quarters
8 small (golf-ball-sized) red-skinned potatoes
1/3 cup canola oil
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

2. Preheat the oven to 475 F.

3. Remove the neck and innards if they are still in the cavity of the chicken. Using a paring knife, cut out the wishbone from the chicken. (This will make it easier to carve the chicken.) Generously season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper, add 3 of the garlic cloves and 5 sprigs of thyme, and massage the inside of the bird to infuse it with the flavors. Truss the chicken.

4. Cut off the dark green leaves from the top of the leeks. Trim off and discard the darkened outer layers. Trim the root ends, cutting around them on a 45-degree angle. Slit the leeks lengthwise almost in half, starting 1/2 inch above the root ends. Rinse the leeks well under warm water.

5. Cut off both ends of the rutabagas. Stand the rutabagas on end and cut away the skin, working from top to bottom and removing any tough outer layers. Cut into 3/4-inch wedges. Repeat with the turnips, cutting the wedges to match the size of the rutabagas.

6. Combine all the vegetables and remaining garlic cloves and thyme sprig in a large bowl. Toss with 1/4 cup of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables in a large cast-iron skillet or a roasting pan.

7. Rub the remaining oil over the chicken. Season generously with salt and pepper.

8. Make a nest in the center of the vegetables and nestle the chicken in it.

9. Cut the butter into 4 or 5 pieces and place over the chicken breast.

10. Put the chicken in the oven and roast for 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 F and roast for an additional 45 minutes, or until the temperature registers 160 F in the meatiest portions of the bird--the thighs, and under the breast where the thigh meets the breast--and the juices run clear. If necessary, return the bird to the oven for more roasting; check it every 5 minutes.

11. Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 20 minutes.

12. Just before serving, set the pan of vegetables over medium heat and reheat the vegetables, turning them and glazing them with the pan juices.

13. Cut the chicken into serving pieces, arrange over the vegetables and serve.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Warm Spot for Spicy Black Bean Chili

Is there a dish more aptly named than chili? I mean on a morning when the snow banks along the walkway to the front door are up to your hips and you can practically see your breath inside the house, and more than anything you want something that explodes with heat the second you taste it, you know it's a chili day. Even better, it was a Seacoast Growers' Winter Market day. That meant I could buy some black beans that Jean Jennings of Meadow's Mirth Farm had grown and dried last season and make my favorite chili recipe, the Black Bean Chili from Cafe Beaujolais.

I'd first sampled this dish in the late '80's at Margaret J. Fox's restaurant of the same name in Mendocino, California, after a breathtaking, but harrowing drive up the coast from San Francisco. Mendocino bills itself as a perfect replica of a quaint little New England town, though I might point out that the ocean is on the wrong side. But it was a beautiful place to relax for a couple of days, (I stayed at the inn that was the setting for the movie, Same Time, Next Year), and I was very pleased to take a number of meals at the sunny yellow cottage that was home to this illustrious cafe. (In the 70's and 80's, Margaret J. Fox was almost as famous in the Northern California culinary scene as Alice Waters!)
To me, what makes this recipe so special is the seasonings, which include cayenne pepper and paprika, as well as a blend of cumin seed and dried oregano, basil, rosemary, and thyme that have been heated in the oven for 10 minutes or so. To add a little smokey zip, I chopped up a couple of chipotle chiles en adobo and added them, with a little of their sauce, to the pot.

You may think dried beans are dried beans, but the truth is that the fresher the beans, the more flavorful they are -- and the faster they cook. I was looking forward to sampling Jean's beans, and can happily report I was not disappointed.

Don't try to substitute canned beans here -- I think the texture would be all wrong. Plus the dried turtle beans don't need to be soaked for this recipe and since they're really quite small in size, they were ready to go after just an hour and three-quarters of cooking -- it's also a nice way to heat up the kitchen on a col, cold day.

To serve, put some cheese in a bowl and scoop in the chili and top with chopped scallions, more cheese, and a little cilantro -- the latter is optional. One note of warning: this is a spicy chili -- if you don't like the heat, well maybe, you should stay out of the kitchen. 

Black Bean Chili
from Cafe Beaujolais by Margaret Fox
(Recipe originated at Greens in San Francisco)

4 cups dry black beans
3 cups  crushed whole tomatoes
2 large finely chopped yellow onions
1 1/2 cups finely chopped green bell peppers (I used red because I like the color contrast)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons dried oregano (You can also try to approximate the famous Beaujolais Blend by substituting a mixture of dried basil, rosemary, and thyme for one of the tablespoons of oregano.)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1/2 cup finely chopped jalapeño chiles (2 large jalapeños) (Canned are okay -- I also added a couple of chopped chipotle chiles en adobo.)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, grated
2/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
8 sprigs or 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1. Sort through the beans; discard the funky ones and any small pebbles. Rinse well. Place the beans in a large pot and cover with water by several inches. Cover and bring to a boil.

2. Reduce the heat and cook for about 1 3/4 hours, or until tender. You'll need to add more water if you start to see the beans. Water should always cover the beans, so add more if the beans start to peek through.

3.When the beans are cooked, strain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water and adding it back to the beans.

3. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Toast the cumin seeds and oregano in a small pan until the fragrance is toasty, about 10 minutes.

4. Sauté the onions, bell peppers, and garlic in the oil over medium-high heat with the toasted cumin seeds and herbs, cayenne pepper, paprika and salt until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and chiles. Add this mixture to the beans and stir well. Add additional seasoning to taste.

5. To serve, place about one-quarter cup grated cheese in a warmed bowl, add a generous cup of beans, and dollop with a spoonful of sour cream. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon green onions, a little more cheese, and the cilantro.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Delicata Balance: Persian-Inspired Squash

Now that winter is in full swing, our Heron Pond Farm CSA usually includes some form of winter squash. As someone who is not particularly fond of overly sweet dishes -- except of course, when they're desserts -- I'm always looking for interesting ways to serve this vegetable that don't involve brown sugar or maple syrup.

That's what was made this dish I found in Deborah Madison's Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmer's Market's  so intriguing. Borrowing on the Middle Eastern tradition of including dried fruit, nuts, and exotic spices in savory dishes, this recipe, which Madison calls "Persian-inspired", gets its sweetness from chopped dates. But these are softened by the addition of shallots, garlic, and lemon juice.

 The original recipe calls for butternut squash, but Madison says that Delicatas work just as well. Though we had both on hand, the latter are much easier to peel and slice -- and I thought their bright yellow hue would provide a colorful contrast to the other ingredients in the dish.

The smells from the oven as this dish bakes are heavenly. And it made me want to try adding other Middle Eastern, Asian, even Mexican-inspired spices and seasonings to squash as the winter season continues.

Delicata Squash Rounds with Dates and Pistachios
based on a recipe by Deborah Madison from

2 -3 Delicata squash, or 1 butternut squash, about 3 pounds)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely diced, about 1/3 cup
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/ 3 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup peeled pistachios, preferably unsalted, slivered or chopped
1 tablespoon grated zest from 1 Meyer lemon or orange
6 Medjool or Deglet Noor dates, pitted and chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon or 1 Persian lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly butter a large baking dish. Peel and slice the Delicatas sideways into 1/3 inch rounds, cutting the slices in half if the squash is particularly fat.  (If using a butternut, peel the neck of the squash and slice into rounds about 1/3 inch thick.)
2. Heat the olive oil in a wide nonstick skillet. Add the squash in a single layer and cook over medium heat until golden, then turn and brown the other side, 8 to 10 minutes per side. When the pan becomes dry add 1/3 cup water. Cover the pan and steam the squash until tender when pierced with a knife, about 10 minutes. Check while it’s cooking and add more water as needed. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the shallots (or onion) and garlic and cook without browning, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes. Ad the nuts, zest, dates, herbs, and cinnamon and raise the heat. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes, then add lemon juice, cook for 1 minute more, and turn off heat.
4. Arrange squash rounds in the baking dish and scatter the dates and nuts over them. Add 1/4 cup water and bake until heated through and the topping is barely crisped, about 15 minutes.