Espelette peppers, named for the town in Basque France that made them famous, are a unique food. Dried and ground, they have a particular aromatic quality: earthy and yet bright at the same time, with a fairly gentle but insistent heat that represents (in general, based on my own anecdotal experience) the upper limit of most French palates’ tolerance for spiciness. The great hams of Bayonne are cured with copious pepper, and it gives them a gorgeous flavor and tint. It’s not really a cooking spice, but rather a finishing one, especially given how much money a small jar commands. A pinch sprinkled on top of fish, chicken, or potatoes (or a hundred other things) adds an irresistible trebly zing and a not insignificant coloristic bump.
Keep reading Bust A Capsicum…
One of the things the garden forcefully teaches is the vivd difference in flavor between things we grow ourselves and even those things we pay the full yuppie markup for at the local health/organic emporium. For years I bought the herbes de Provence blend at the local Health Mart™ and used it, often liberally, in many dishes. The blend of thyme, rosemary, oregano (and/or marjoram) and lavender (and sometimes fennel, and more) is pretty much Mediterranean in a jar when it comes to giving your meats and sauces that certain fragrant, resinous quality that’s instantly recognizable. Add a few fat pinches to a pan of tomato purée, and it’s pizza sauce. Like that. Keep reading Cut And Dried…
This time every year I order lots of Blue Beech tomatoes for making purée and sauce to get us through until the beginning of the next tomato season. Blue Beech are a variety of paste tomato that can be cooked with skins and seeds and still remain wonderfully sweet, so processing them is dead easy: I trim the stem end, halve them , and throw them in the pot to cook down and disintegrate. Then I stick-blend the whole thing and run it in batches through the food mill to catch the skin fragments and seeds. It saves a lot of time, especially when dealing with a hundred pounds of them at a time as I did recently.
Keep reading Seeing Red…
There are dozens of posts out there about preserved lemons, so to avoid redundancy I thought I’d take the idea one step further and share an idea I had a while back. Preserved lemons are an item that my pantry is never without. They’re easy to make and keep forever, and their bright, unmistakeable flavor is essential to a variety of dishes, particularly Moroccan. What I love about them is that to the nose, they smell candied; it’s impossible to tell that it’s salt that has concentrated their flavors rather than sugar. That sweet, lemony aroma permeates any dish they’re added to, but when the lemons are gone the salt that worked its osmotic magic on them has accrued a great deal of interest in the process. This may already be a thing, but I haven’t heard of it before: preserved lemon salt.
Keep reading Like Salt, Only Better…
Right before Irene hit I went into the garden and preemptively picked all the ripe and semi-ripe tomatoes and peppers, figuring that the winds might bring down the trellises and damage the fragile fruit. It turned out to be prescient, since though the paste tomato trellis is still standing, the other one took the brunt of the tree’s impact and there’s not much left but a few bright cherry tomatoes visible through a tangle of busted-up vines. On the plus side, I had a big pile of beautiful nightshades just begging to be transformed into one of my late-summer specialties: smoked salsa.
Keep reading Cans Of Whup-Ass…
Right after Thanksgiving I semi-accidentally got a job as the food writer for Chronogram magazine. My first piece, about salt pickling and curing, is out now in the January issue.
You can read . . . → Read More: In Print
Funny how my prediction came true and today was completely- and I mean all the way- devoted to dealing with Fruit Mountain. 18 quarts of applesauce (ingredients: apples) and 21 pints of wicked hot spicy peach-habañero chutney that also included lime basil, red onion, and cider vinegar that I infused with cinnamon, pepper (pink & black,) cardamom, star anise, bay, fenugreek, and mustard seeds. I also added some honey to balance the vinegar and let the peaches be all peachy-like.
I could write a bunch of breathless paragraphs about how primal and satisfying it is to put fruit up, and funny lines about how peeling 200 peaches (even with a little blanch) is roughly as enjoyable as removing my own upper lip with a wire brush, or wax eloquent about the healthy purity of the applesauce and the kick-ass multi-purposeness of the chutney. But I won’t. Because I am TIRED. So tired that I ordered dinner from the vegan place in town (which is a 2-minute walk from here, and our best takeout option by far.) And I popped another Bret Bos. Pouilly-Fuissé to elevate the perfectly decent food to a richer gustatory stratum. And it was good.
I will say that we now have a winter’s worth of pleasure stored up, and all this fatigue and grouchiness will soon be replaced by months of pleasure as we steadily open little jars of sunshine. And you should see the kid put away this applesauce. I’m . . . → Read More: Yes We Can
Yesterday was Milo’s fourth birthday, so we let him choose dinner. “Pizza” was the verdict. So I made pizza dough and tomato sauce, and pulled other ingredients from the fridge. The pizzas were well received. True story.
Today, in between trying to keep an eye on him while he tear-assed around the driveway on his new bike ($10 from the used bike guy in town, and the best ratio of glee to expense I have ever seen) I tried to get on top of the garden by weeding, thinning, and picking the things that needed to be weeded, thinned, and picked. From the picked things, I made a variety of first-rate condiments. First, some sambal. As you can see, there are many kinds (including the ancestor sauce to Ketchup) but here I was trying to duplicate some that friends brought us from Holland last winter- it was hot, but with ginger, kaffir lime, and sugar to balance it out. We went through two pint jars of it in no time- honestly, my wife would have injected it straight into her veins if she could have. Since our hot peppers are going off like fireworks right now, I tried to use a bunch of them up in a few different ways.
For the sambal, I chopped the cayenne peppers with Thai and lime basil, red onion, garlic, dried shrimp, and ginger, then mashed it all into a paste in the suribachi with some lime juice . . . → Read More: Hotness Cubed
I’m off to the city tomorrow, for an unknown period of time (probably a week) so this will be the last post for a bit since the laptop is kaput. I do have a couple of nice things scheduled, so if I can I’ll post them while I’m there. Tonight’s dinner is unremarkable to look at, for sure- but to taste, well, that was another matter. It began with some ground (local, organic) turkey. Now this is a bland meat, made all the more so by the inexplicable absence of fat. It makes a passable burger, or meatball, or even part of a sausage, but not without copious flavoring and usually heroic doses of duck fat.
In this case, however, such is the bounty that is pouring forth from the garden every day that all I had to do was throw it in the mix- though it definitely got an assist from the lobster broth we brought back from Vermont. So turkey, white carrot, white beet, yukon gold potato, onion, beet greens, green beans, Roma tomatoes, zucchini and herbs all went in a big pot along with a pint of the broth (after the meat and roots browned a bit) and simmered or about 30 minutes I thickened the liquid with a little flour about halfway through. The result was a one-pot meal that spanned sweet and hearty, and had astonishing freshness and depth for what was essentially a pot pie without the crust on . . . → Read More: A Fistful Of Basil
Last night we had our first frost, and the row covers worked well to protect the less hardy greens. My hope is that we’ll be able to keep some things going at least as far as full Winter, if not longer for the kale and collards. Those I planted a month ago will have a great head start in the spring if they survive. In any case, it will be a good chance to learn about what does well and what doesn’t, and whether some more robust winterproofing is in order for next time.
Tonight I made falafel for the first time in a long time, which is odd because it’s so easy and so good. The key is to soak and then cook the chick peas early in the day so all that’s needed come dinner time is to fry them up and assemble the garnishes. These included fresh radishes, pickled beets, hot and mild garden salsas, mixed late greens (arugula, mustard, mizuna, sorrel) and of course tahini (but with an avocado mashed in for good measure.) A very nice balance between the crispy fried and the crunchy raw ends of the spectrum, all tied together with creamy sauce and a little spice.
The other accomplishment today was the crock of kimchi- two perfect cabbages, carrots, scallions, a couple of radishes, garlic, ginger, and a minced cayenne pepper combined in salt water- in a week or so I’ll check its progress. I’m pretty excited for . . . → Read More: Frost