Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dug Up

It’s the season to be digging up dirt-encrusted tubers that have spent the heat of the summer hiding underground. I use to peel everything that has spent its time maturating below the earth but I have given up on that habit. Now, I am more apt to give the vegetable a scrub under water with a vegetable brush or new nylon pad than risk peeling away a lot of the nutrients that exist just below the outer skin of many of these vegetables. And, really can a little dirt harm you.

There is one tuber that hangs around through the autumn that is referred to as sun-chokes or Jerusalem artichokes. Its latter name is quite misleading for it has no relation to the Mediterranean thistle that is the iconic bud of spring. No, this tuber, which is indigenous to North America, is a member of the sunflower. It was brought to Europe and it is a derivation of the Italian for sunflower, girasole that gives us its common reference.

Try buying the least knobby ones, as they are easiest to clean. They should be very firm with a slightly brown mottled outer skin. Once cleaned, the sun-chokes tend to oxidize so in order to prevent that hold them under water, or toss with some lemon juice.

Rye Berry and Jerusalem Artichoke Salad - yields 8 servings

1/2-pound rye berries
1/2-pound Jerusalem artichokes
1/4 pound mixed sprouts (chick pea, lentil and sweet pea)
1/2 pound baby spinach - washed and dried
1 small red onion - diced
2-tablespoons summer savory - leaves only chopped
1-tablespoon thyme - leaves only chopped
1/2-cup sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4-cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring the rye berries and 6 cups of water to a boil over high heat in a 4-quart saucepan. Cooked covered with water for 30 minutes, or until tender to the bite.

Scrub and dice the Jerusalem artichokes into 1/4 inch rounds and mix with the sprouts, spinach, onion, savory, thyme, vinegar, mustard and oil. When the rye berries are cooked drain off any excess water through a colander, and then toss the hot rye berries with the vegetable mixture. Let cool before serving. This salad is great the next day cold.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A fragrant pinch

For a few years now, I have been a tad obsessed with desiccating – you know the drawing out of moisture for the purpose of preserving. Most us have a good idea of this process from history class and the preparations of the mummification of the Egyptian pharos. I am more food-based preservation than the legacy my unnaturally taut skin will offer future archeologists.

It was early summer in Northern California, and I was spending a long weekend at my cousin’s house on the peninsular; at a time when the weather is usually prefect and it was. I woke as I do when on the west cost just prior to the arrival of the horizon’s breaking light so by the time the sky turned a pale blue I was showered, shaved and leaded up with coffee. Sitting on the patio sipping that morning cuppa I was assaulted by the fragrant sortie of the flowering orange and lemon trees. Wow, what a way to inhale the new day.

All that day that initial hit informed my impressions and I had no desire to let it go. I made an iced sun-tea of orange blossoms that was ready for dinner that got me thinking. How was I going to take it home? I could only carry 3-ounce jars of liquid onto the plane, and I am a total carry-on kind of guy. A solid was what I needed and sugar was my answer. I layered the orange blossoms in sugar, and took it home.

A few months later I went to the little plastic container labeled orange sugar, and there it was a warm California morning. I have done rose, lavender, lilac, and lemon verbena sugar and then moved on to salt. Salting my herbs has become one of my preferred methods of capturing summer’s perfume.

So, come to my door to borrow a cup of sugar or salt, and I will have to ask what flavor are you looking for?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

This side of the equinox

The slide into the graying of winter has begun. No, longer I am I being greeted by that early morning light squeezing through my curtains, and as my eyes open I am warmly cocooned in my down comforter. It is amazing how quickly my desire for cold sliced watermelon, juicy and sticky peaches or, petite patty pan squash fades with the season’s shifting light. In the last few days as I have been marketing I have been drawn to the freshly dug starchy tubers that has fed a globe – potatoes which originated in South America has managed to ingratiate themselves into cuisines across the earth, and it is definitely a staple of many a juvenile plate – oh, the French fry. And, even I, who is closer to the grave than the cradle succumbs to the emotional pleasure of the French fry though I will admit I hate deep-fat frying at home so I am always on the lookout for a good crisp.

This humble vegetable has a caloric delivery of about 150 calories for a medium sized potato (approximate 6 ounce serving) before we dollop the sour cream; brown the shredded cheddar, and then garnish with bacon bits. The truth-be-told I am not too obsessed with the gilding as I am more interested in keeping my calories correct for the season. It takes more energy to keep warm, and if in fact, one eats within nature’s seasonal bounty we naturally get more caloric intense foods to warm our bodies, hearts and souls just when we need it.

Potatoes with Greens – serving 6 to 8
1-pound small fingerling potatoes
1/4-cup olive oil
3 to 4 garlic cloves – thinly sliced
5 scallions – sliced into 2-inch pieces
3 cups roughly chopped kale, Swiss chard, turnip or collard greens (or, any combination)
1/8-teaspoon chili flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In two-quart sauce potato cover the potatoes with cold water and add 3 tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil, and then simmer the heat to simmer. Cook the potatoes about 15 minutes or until fork tender. Drain the potatoes.

Heat a 10 or 12-inch sauté pan, and add the drain potatoes and oil. Then add in the garlic, scallions, greens, chili flakes and black pepper. Gently toss to wilt down the greens. Serve warm.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Smooth, soft and luscious
Enthusiastically downed
Each nibble guarded

Figs stuffed with Gorgonzola and Walnuts – makes 24 pieces
21 figs - cut in half
1/4 pound gorgonzola cheese
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

In the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the steel blade, place the gorgonzola cheese and chives, and blend to smooth.

Remove from the gorgonzola from the bowl of the food processor to a work bowl, and mix in the walnuts.

Place a small dollop of the cheese mixture in the center of each fig, Refrigerate for 15 to minutes to firm the cheese.

In a one cup sauce pan heat the balsamic vinegar to reduce by half. Drizzle some of the reduction over each half, and serve cold.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shifting times

The earth’s axis is shifting – summer is transiting into autumn creating a slightly schizophrenic food possibility. Apples, hard skin squashes quietly call as I prepare my cashmere yet my heart still is on the beach still craving a weekend bar-b-que. Autumn’s bounty takes me through the cold months -- I am always reticent to fold away my Bermuda shorts for the season. While, I can still have shaved corn, raw, from the cob and pick between red, golden or orange cherry tomatoes to pop in my mouth I will not budge. It will take the first morning that greets me with its low-slung light and the need to add a layer of wool before heading outdoors no apple will pass these lips…okay maybe a honey crisp might slip in.

Red and Yellow Marble Salad - yields 8 servings
1/4 pound baby red potatoes
1/4 pound baby Yukon gold potatoes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pint red cherry tomato - halved
1 pint yellow cherry tomato - halved
1 Green Chili - diced ( such as jalapñeo or serrano)
1/8 cup champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 lime - zested and juiced
1 cup tightly packed arugula leaves - roughly chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste

Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Toss the potatoes with the oil and place on a baking tray. Cook the potatoes in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until tender and slightly blistered.

With the potatoes still warm gently toss together with all the remaining ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate 2 hours before serving.

Friday, September 12, 2008


In late summer the arrival of the most commonly eaten flower bud arrives in the market. Cauliflower is a cluster of unopened buds that is eaten raw or cooked. They are found in the ubiquitous white variety but then there are purple, green and cheddar-cheese orange ones. I must confess to being a bit of a traditionalist in this world and have a difficult time wrapping my lips around these “fashion” cauliflowers.They are all the same in terms of cooking possibilities and should be purchased when the cauliflower is tightly closed and un-blemished. If there are a blemish or two I simply shave them off with a pairing. Find the orange colored one try it with some potatoes for a very groovy mash -- at the other end of the spectrum roast the cauliflower whole for simple elegance.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower – yield 4 to 6 servings
1 head cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon - juiced just drizzle

Pre-heat the oven to 350-degrees.

Carefully core the cauliflower by placing “x’s” in the stem. Then using a pairing knife remove the core taking care not to loosen the cauliflower cluster from its stem. On a baking tray place the cauliflower. Drizzle with the oil, salt and pepper. Cook in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the cauliflower to a platter and pour over the lemon juice, and serve.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Chili at your own risk

I must seem so redundant though it is the end of the summer season I cannot help but to be puttn’ up. My stores are filling up fast and it is with great pleasure I assess the booty I have managed to stash. I usually have to resist dipping into my stashed too soon – I like to wait to the memory of the season has just faded to some poetic recall, and then I am ready to play.

One of the items I must make annually, and start to use immediately is chili sauce. Over the years I have tried many versions from mild jalapeno and poblano chili blends to blistered Thai chilies with lemon grass but always come back to an incendiary puree using habaneros chilies. Never shy this chili is explosive with citrusy notes and I must warn against the airborne chili as you puree. Admittedly, it is difficult to analyze the subtleties when your lips are melting. I store these bottles in the refrigerator, and over the months there is a mellowing of the concoction – though never to the insipidness of ketchup.

Green Chili Sauce - yields approx. 2 quarts
1/2-cup fresh lemon juice (approx 2 lemons)
2 cups distilled white vinegar
2 ounces fresh turmeric – peeled
3 to 4 inch piece of ginger – peeled
1 cup packed lemon verbena leaves
1/2 cup packed Vietnamese mint leaves
3 tablespoons salt
1 head garlic – peeled
2 pounds orange or yellow habaneros

In the blender add the lemon juice, vinegar, turmeric, verbena, mint, ginger, salt, garlic and process until smooth. Then with the blender running feed the chilies through the opening to create a smooth puree. Store in a clear glass jar in the refrigerator.