We went to Vermont last weekend, and there was some good eatin’- most interesting was a shellfish stew with local kielbasa that I’ll describe in the next post. This afternoon I got busy trying to turn the last of the season’s tomatoes- bought at the farmers’ market yesterday because ours are done, and now dead from frost- into a couple of kinds of salsa to compensate for the complete lack of home-canned tomato sauce this summer, using our last (and best; they’re just coming in now due to ridiculously cold and wet summer, so I have them under plastic to try to prolong their lives) pepper harvest as the other main ingredient.
First, I washed the tomatillos and heirloom green tomatoes I bought, chopped them coarsely, and spun them with cilantro, lime juice, garlic and serranos to make two quarts of super-clean, bright green, pretty damn hot salsa verde. I fridged one quart and froze the other. They are a lovely, near-flourescent green. The rest of the serranos went into the smoker, along with two hunks of bacon I’m sending out as gifts and the pasta for tonight’s dinner and a bunch of Amish Paste tomatoes. The rest of those fat red beauties got cut up and cooked with red onion, garlic, coriander and cumin seeds, and more lime juice, then had smoked tomatoes and peppers added in after a quick blast in the processor. The result was two pints of smoky, spicy-ass goodness that will take the sting out of whatever winter throws at us (which may well include several inches of snow on the ground when we wake up. On October 16.)
Taking a cue from Aki and Alex, and not wanting to waste any of the precious smoke, I also put a box of whole wheat shells into a metal colander and popped them in the smoker for about half an hour. Then I soaked them in some of the wonderful, raw Taylor Farm milk we brought back from Vermont until they softened up a bit. I mentioned this last time I made lasagna; pre-soaking pasta- especially for baked applications- is much more effective than boiling. Plus, the soaking liquid can be flavored, and can in turn benefit from the addition of some of the pasta’s starch. Say, for example, if you want to then make a liason with some fat, flour, and cheese. Which I did.
To begin, the final little nub of the last batch of bacon, diced, rendered in some butter because I’m crazy like that. I added flour to make a roux, then whisked in the milk which the smoked pasta had soaked in until half-tender. The resulting roux didn’t quite have the body I wanted to handle the volume of milk (since I never measure anything) so I mixed a bit of the glorious fat that sits on top of the local yogurt we buy with a bit more flour to make a tangy, yogurty version of beurre manié and used that to thicken the béchamel to the right consistency. Then I added salt, black pepper, fresh thyme, rosemary, chives, and parsley, and then stirred in the shells to coat them thoroughly. Then they went into a pyrex loaf pan with a layer of panko and truffle oil on top.
It looks kind of drab and beige, but rest assured it was orgasmically wonderful to taste. Smoky, creamy, tangy, rich as shit- it was sort of like a Bacon-Cheddar Loaf™ even though there was maybe a teaspoon of bacon actually in it. It was like a neutron gut bomb- it pummeled the stomach, but left the grinning, beatific soul miraculously intact- even fortified. I instantly realized how I am going to turn this into the apotheosis of itself at a future fancy dinner to be named later. Seriously, though- smoked mac and chee? It’s a cream dream. And it doesn’t even get your bong all greasy and clogged with cheese.
Not wanting to disrespect the vegetable kingdom, as a first course, I took some of the pink heirlooms from the market (I’ve forgotten their names) and puréed and strained them into a saucepan. Over gentle heat, I added some thyme, pepper, and salt, and then served it. Bright, sweet, tart, and perfect, it was summer’s last sweet rosy echo as the rain turned to sticky wet snow outside.
Or, less diplomatically put, an upraised middle finger to the foul weather we’ve been under for the better part of six months now. Giving said finger an extra stiffening was a bottle of 2000 Hilberg-Pasquero Nebbiolo. I’ve been a fan of theirs for a long time; their “Vareij” (a Barbera-Brachetto blend) is the wine that first taught me that feet and ass belong in good wine. It tastes like blueberries and night-blooming jasmine strained through a virgin’s dirty gym socks. I drank that fateful first bottle in Vermont, actually, when I was up there for Christmas 2002 with my Mother two months before she died. It was a hard winter, needless to say, and I reverently worked my way to the bottom of the bottle after I got her to bed, rotating the flavors in my mind and trying to reconcile the tension between the flowers and the feet. All of their wines are biodynamic, and their single-vineyard Barbaresco is pretty damn good, as is this Nebbiolo. They age nicely; at 9 years they’re really roaring right now. Sadly, I have finished my stash. Time to stock up for future bliss.