Monday, March 26, 2007

In the moment......

Cooking seasonally means developing a keen eye and sensitive nose as you traverse the aisles of nature’s store. The trimmings of each season is color-coded – spring’s plate is drenched with verdant green leaves, tender stalks and gentle herbs; summer is resplendent with myriad reds, oranges and yellows creating texture and bold redolent assaults; autumn’s quieting is rich with umber root vegetables and a second hurrah of green leaves. This rainbow presentation is an initial starting point for setting a menu.

I discovered the excitement of the green market while living in Australia. Through my weekly jaunts to Sydney’s Paddy’s Market I connected with nature’s rhythm and reveled in the great unknown with each culinary discovery the seasons offered. One spring day - no it was autumn (I never did get use to the reverse of the seasons down-under) – I went to the market yearning for something new and ripe. I roamed the aisles in hopes of being seduced by something that would plicate my out-of-season timing. There, in a quiet corner away from the hustle and bustle, squeezed between crates of oranges and shining green peppers, stood a farmer with fresh knobs of turmeric, bundles of cilantro, rows of chilies and fussy okra adorning his table. While his labor bore beautiful, healthy produce it was an odd, inhospitable looking thing that intrigued me. It was the size of a softball; had a mottled reptilian skin and was very dense to the touch. I had found it – something new, something that piqued my creative craving.

Besides the many farmers markets found throughout the country there is another alternative to getting seasonal foods – joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). These are local co-ops where you buy a share in the bounty of a local farmer, and get delivered a weekly largess of the land. Though don’t expect home delivery they are usually set-up in a central location in town. You will receive what is peaking that week, and only what the farmer grows. In this time, where food security is in question and how it is grown a relationship with the farmer seems like an answer to some of our needs to know where our foods come from.

The up side to belonging to a CSA is that you get fresh, flavorful, nutritious foods that is days from the earth. Not to mention encouraging and supporting local farming economies. The downside is that you will gorge on a selection of foods for a week or two at a time. Mother Nature does not allow everything to come to market at once…..

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Wild Mushroom Strudel - yields 6 to 8 servings

2 pounds assorted wild mushrooms such as shiitakes, oysters, hen of the woods
1/4 cup dried morel mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots - sliced thin
2 garlic cloves - diced
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup pine nuts - lightly toasted; roughly chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley - leaves only, chopped
1/8 cup thyme - leaves only, chopped
Salt and pepper
1/4 pound phyllo dough - at room temperature
1/2 pound Butter - melted

Clean the mushrooms with a damp kitchen towel and roughly chop them.

In a fine mesh colander rinse the morels under running water to rid them of any dirt and grit. Soak the morels in 1/2 cup of boiling water for 30 minutes. Roughly chop the morels and reserve its soaking liquid.

Heat a 10-inchsauté pan to hot and add the olive oil. Sauté the shallots until lightly golden and then add the garlic and, the fresh mushrooms and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Add the brandy and morels along with the mushroom liquid. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the liquid has evaporated. Mix in the pine nuts, herbs and season with salt and pepper. Cool the mushroom mixture.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Lay a sheet of phyllo out flat and using a pastry brush lightly paint the sheet with the melted butter. Always start brushing the phyllo with melted butter from the outer edges working your way inward as the phyllo starts to dry on the outer fringes first. Place an additional 5 sheets on top of this first one buttering each layer. You must hold the phyllo you are not working with spread out flat under a damp kitchen towel in order to prevent it from drying out. Spread half of the mushroom mixture along the length of the bottom third of the phyllo. Then carefully roll up the phyllo over the mushroom mixture and continue to roll the mixture completely up into a tight log. Once you have rolled the strudel half way you will have edges that you should fold in just like if you where wrapping a gift, and then continue to roll the strudel completely up. Transfer to a parchment lined baking tray. Cut three to four slashes in the top of strudel. These cuts allow steam to escape and helps prevent the strudel from bursting. Lightly brush the phyllo with some melted butter. Repeat this with the remaining mushroom mixture. Place the strudels in the oven and baked for 15 minutes or until golden and crisp. Slice the strudel on an angle while warm and serve.

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