Monday, April 14, 2014

Field garlic butter

Field garlic (Allium vineale) is one of the earliest plants to appear in local woodlands, fields, lawns and city lots, after winter. It looks a lot like chives. The leaves are hollow, and they smell strongly of garlic.

This is an invasive weed, meaning, it out-competes native flora.

If you have field garlic growing nearby in a clean spot, it is a very good fresh herb and a wonderful, aromatic vegetable, with all the best attributes of shallots, scallions and garlic.

When I collect field garlic I look for a spot where the ground is quite soft, and not too rocky; woodlands with all their accumulated leaf litter, are perfect. Compact soil makes field garlic impossible to pull, unless you have a trowel. I also look for the fattest leaves, which belong to the larger, more mature bulbs, underground. I grasp all the leaves in a clump, grip hard, and pull. Then I knock the bunch against the ground or a log to dislodge as much debris as possible, and finally choose my fat bulbs from amongst the very small grassy ones.

Do not be tempted to take the whole bunch with you. When you get home you will have lost the drive to sort out each and every little garlic bulb and you will go bonkers and wonder whose idea it was to go foraging, anyway. Spend a little extra time in the field to do your sorting

And you are doing the environment a big, fat favour.

At home, wash the field garlic in at least two changes of water, in the (clean!) kitchen sink or a very large bowl. Strip off any loose skins from the bulbs, and discard any dead leaves. Dry well. If the stem-like part between bulb and leaves is tough, discard it, otherwise chop finely with the leaves.

Field garlic butter

A compound butter is any butter that has been encouraged to take on the flavour of something else. Truffles, say. But we don't have any truffles. We have field garlic. And here is a wonderful way to preserve its aroma for months. I made this butter last year for the first time using ramp leaves (more sustainable than harvesting the whole ramp, in sensitive posts, and very delicious).

(Yes, you may substitute chives. Add another cupful of chives to stand in for the field garlic bulbs.)

4 sticks/440 gr unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups chopped field garlic greens (clean, and very dry)
1/2 cup cleaned field garlic bulbs

Cut the butter into chunks and drop into the bowl of a food processor. Add the chopped greens and the field garlic bulbs. Pulse until well mixed, pausing every now and then to scrape down the sides.

If you don't have a food processor, chop all the field garlic very finely. Mix the butter with the field garlic in a large bowl, with a wooden spoon.

Pack the compounded butter into small, sterilized jars and freeze, or use within one week. Keep cold.

How to use field garlic butter? Well, any way you would use ramp butter. Or:

Melted, and poured over a poached egg, on good sourdough toast
Slathered over hot, baked potatoes
Whipped into egg yolks for deviled eggs
Stirred into hot tagliatelle, with a squeeze of lemon and a grating of bottarga
Dabbed onto a rested steak, hot off the grill

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cheese bread with field garlic

Picnic in the rain

When I was little my mother baked a rustic, cheesy loaf I loved (especially toasted, smeared with love-it-or-hate-it Marmite). Recently, I asked her if she remembered it, but she drew a blank. I think this picture will remind her!

I searched 'cheese bread' images on the web and found one that looked exactly like the loaf of memory, and perfect for my purposes - it even included chives: I wanted a transportable treat for the attendees of my Inwood Field Garlic Walk, and chives are very close cousins indeed of the 'weed' that pops up in front laws and in open ground and woodland, everywhere.

The chives, of course, became field garlic.

Garlic mustard and field garlic

The walk itself was wet, and everyone was a bit shivery by the time we took a break beside the dull mudflats - the tide was out - of Spuyten Duyvil Creek to share the fresh bread. We topped the slices with field garlic butter I had made the previous night, and the last of 2013's garlic mustard pesto (frozen till now). We ate, huddled and damp, cheering up with each mouthful of the cheesy, garlicky bread.

Garlic mustard pesto

In style this bread  is really more like a giant scone. It uses baking powder, not yeast, for leavening, and is best eaten fresh, within 24 hours, and later, as the toast I loved when I was small. It is still excellent with Marmite.

In a nod to our South African campsite baking adventures, I added beer, and I changed some quantities.

Cheese Bread with Field Garlic

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour ( I use King Arthur, unbleached)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Back pepper
3 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup beer (I used some leftover Duvel), plus a little extra
3 oz coarsely grated Gruyère
2 oz cheddar, cut into very small cubes (about 1/4")
3/4 cup minced fresh field garlic greens (or chives)
Coarse salt to sprinkle on the top of the loaf

Preheat the oven 350'F/180'C. Butter or oil a loaf pan (or muffin trays, for that matter,  if you'd like individual servings. They will bake much faster).

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy.  Add the milk, olive oil and the beer. Stir to combine. Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients and stir gently till well mixed. Add the cheeses and chive and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. The mixture should be quite stiff, but if it is still a little too dry to turn easily with the spoon, add another slug or two of beer. Do not overmix, or it will become a brick.

Pour the bread mixture into the prepared pan,  making a shallow hollow down the middle of the dough, lengthways. Sprinkle the top lightly with coarse salt.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and gently tip the loaf from its pan. Place on a cooling rack. It can be eaten right away.

Cheese and field garlic bread with field garlic butter

Monday, March 24, 2014

German potato salad

Why German?

My friend Mimi said she was making a ham. The ginger ale ham, no less (see my book, November chapter). So I felt that that called for potatoes. And against the sweetness of the ham and its fluffy mustard sauce, I wanted something sharp. The sorrel is not ready yet on the terrace, so sharp meant vinegar.

To emphasize the hamminess, a handful of crumbled, and crispy bacon.

And with whiskers of dill (the dill is an idea - it must not dominate), there you have a German potato salad.

There are no tricks, other than adding the vinegar to the potatoes while those are still warm. The salad itself is eaten at room temperature.

Potato Salad for 4-6 People.

8 medium potatoes, halved. I like red-skinned ones, others may disagree.
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (or white wine, or red wine - vinegars, that is)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 Tablespoon walnut or hazelnut oil
Lots of black pepper
1 medium red onion, finely chopped (yield is about 1 cup)
6 scallions, finely sliced (green and white parts)
1/3 cup loosely-packed, chopped dill
8 rashers (strips) of good bacon. You could also use cubes of pancetta, about 1/3 cup.

Cook the halved potatoes in salted, boiling water till tender.

While they are cooking, heat the oven to 400'F. Lay the bacon slices on a roasting tray and slide them into the hot oven till crisp, about 10-15 minutes. Drain them on paper towels when done, and then break into small pieces. Save 2 Tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat.

When the potatoes are tender, drain them, peel them, and drop them into a large bowl. Slice each potato piece quite thickly.

Dissolve the salt and sugar in the vinegar, and pour onto the still-warm potatoes. Toss well. Add the saved 2 tablespoons of bacon fat, and the nut oil. Add freshly ground black pepper, and toss again (don't worry about smooshing the potatoes).

Add the finely chopped red onion and scallions, and the dill. Toss well. Taste. I like a very powerful blend of seasonings for this salad - you may want to shake some more vinegar over the top. Add the bacon last, and toss one more time. Transfer the potato salad to a serving bowl.

And there it is.

(I could see this for a late breakfast, with a poached egg plopped on top of the quickly warmed leftover salad. Heaven, with coffee...Or quick potato cakes, with strips of smoked salmon, or gravlax?)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Stuffed crêpes

"Some assembly may be required."

But, hey. At least you didn't have to stand in the Ikea checkout line first, with those meatballs stirring uneasily in your belly. And you resisted the cinnamon bun scent wafting over the cash registers!

I ate crêpes like these a million yeas ago, during a cold December in Geneva. My daily haunt was the opera house in the middle of the fast-flowing Rhône as it emptied into Lac Léman. And after that we ate. Enough to put me in debt. The crêpes were at least reasonable in terms of budget. The truffles and the oysters? - not so much.

At the crêperie you stood outside a steamed window on a cobblestoned plaza where unbelievable spring flowers were sold, and asked for your crêpe, and it was made for you as waited, handed to you on a piece of cardboard with a plastic fork, and off you walked, breaking off bites with the fork, Gruyère melting in strings and egg yolk running


In the spirit of pre-assembled parts, let's say you got your hands on some well-made crêpes. In New York, I am happy if I find Naked Crepini, and I buy extra and freeze them. They really are very good. If you can't find good ones, buy the Roux Brothers' book on Patisserie. It is a classic, and it taught me much of what I know about pastry (including puff...). Their crêpes a la Daniel Pinaudier are the best you will ever make, or eat.

But I'm not telling you how to make crêpes. I'd like to, but I have my limits.

There are endless variations to what you can parcel inside this gossamer wrapping. But I always include a just-cooked, poached egg. Life is better with runny egg yolks. The variations include grated cheese, wilted greens (spinach, arugula, pigweed, lamb's quarters, pea shoots, and so on), crispy bacon or silk-thin ham, or sauteed mushrooms, or caramelized ramps, or melted anchovies, or shavings of bottarga, or, or...

But always the egg.

Let's say there are two of you.

You'll need:

4 nice eggs
4 crêpes

Optional, choose one:

1 cup grated parmesan
4 slices of soft cheese, like brie
8 slices thin ham - Serrano, prosciutto, your local Iberian hog, whatever
8 slices crisp bacon (I roast mine on a tray in the oven at 450' till plank-like)
1 1/3 cups cooked, wilted greens, thoroughly dry
8 ramps, sauteed till cooked through (greens and bulb)
4 very finely chopped anchovies
4 tablespoons finely grated bottarga
1 1/3 cups sauteed and seasoned mushrooms (include lemon juice and thyme when cooking)

Poach your eggs two by two in gently boiling and salted water, turning them over as soon as the white has congealed on one side. As soon as the other side is set, lift them very gently with a slotted spoon and place on a kitchen towel or paper towel to drain. You can do this in advance.

On a lightly greased baking tray that will fit four folded-up crepes, spread one pancake.

- If it's cheese, place an egg dead center, top with a 1/4 portion of cheese and season with pepper and a little salt. Fold the crêpe, one side at a time over the filling. A neat parcel will require four folds.

- If it's ham or bacon, it's up to you. For bacon I like the egg to be on top. For soft ham, I like the ham to be on top. Again, divvy up a 1/4 portion of the pork product, breaking the crisp bacon to fit,  between four crêpes. Season with pepper, and go easy on the salt.

- For wilted greens, do make sure they are wrung dry, first. Nothing worse than a soggy crêpe. Place a 1/4 portion of the greens in the middle, and top with that egg. You may sprinkle some cheese ever the top! Season. (Add a slice of thin smoked salmon, for that matter. And a dollop of Hollandaise sauce! But I am overreaching...)

- For ramps, curl the wild onions beneath the egg. Season. (Go wild with some anchovy butter over that, if you like.)

- For anchovies, you could melt them first, in a saucepan with two tablespoons of butter. Otherwise, drape a fillet over the poached egg. Wrap.

- For bottarga, sprinkle the very finely grated or microplaned bottarga over the egg. A slug of truffle oil makes this stratospherically good.

- Mushrooms: mushrooms first, then egg. See truffle oil note, above.

The oven is preheated to 450'F/220'C.

Slide the tray with the four crêpes into the hot oven and leave it there for five minutes. This is enough to melt the cheese, warm the ham and egg, dissolve the anchovies, etc.

Slide out, scoop onto warm plates, and eat at once.

This really is quicker than it sounds. Just make sure you have everything ready in advance. And the result is wonderful; the first knife-pass through the crunchy, yielding, melting mass will convince you of that.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Beetroot and mozzarella salad

Tomato season seems very far away. But there are still ways to enjoy mozzarella salads.

Beetroot is a wonderful cold season partner for creamy buffalo mozzarella, or burrata. It is also extremely good for us.

I give thin slices of beet a quick-pickle for about half an hour, drain them, and layer them with the slices of white cheese. The acid of the vinegar is a foil for the mellow mozzarella, and the result is surprisingly addictive.

In the salad above I've added hardy sorrel leaves and the first leaves of mustard sprouts.

This is very similar to the recipe I use in the March chapter of 66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life, which is dedicated to using the thinnings of cool weather greens.

The quantities are deeply flexible, but for two:

1 medium-sized beet, peeled and quite thinly sliced
1 ball of buffalo mozzarella
Mustard or pea shoots (optional)
Good extra virgin olive oil

For the quick pickle:

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup good vinegar (I use white wine, sherry or apple cider vinegar, depending on my mood)
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, stir the sugar and salt into the water and vinegar. When they have dissolved, add the beet slices. After about half an hour remove the slices and pat them dry.

Slice the mozzarella and alternate on a serving plate with the beet slices. If you have young green shoots, scatter them over the top. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, a good cracking of black pepper, and drizzle with the olive oil.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Not another Margarita

...because one forgets. This can be a very, very good drink.

Margaritas are mostly a cold weather cocktail, for me. Perhaps it's the sour citrus, a sub-tropical winter fruit. Perhaps it's because I know that if you sat me outside in August and plied me with these things I'd never want to stand up again.

We are in a new neighbourhood, so we buy new Tequila. In this case, Puerta Negra Reposado (pale gold and "rested" after two months in oak) from the Eritrean liquor store on Lenox. The Cointreau in the Tiffany's decanter moved with us from Brooklyn.

And the lemmings (squeal, squeal! as you squeeze them), are from Fine Fare, also on Lenox. Organic - a good surprise.

So there it all is. You could use Triple Sec. Less expensive. But since we drink these infrequently, the Cointreau is a good investment. You could use other Tequila. Don't ever, ever use sour mix.

My mind changes often regarding the ratio of liquors and juice. Every time I seem to state with utter authority that THIS is it. All I can say is that it has seemed so, at the time: mostly Tequila (this was a dangerous summer iteration, on Fire Island), equal parts (last February), or as follows, the more moderate version, as drunk recently:

3 parts Tequila
2 parts Cointreau
1 part lemon or lime juice

Shake up. Pour into coupes. I rubbed ours with lemon and dipped the edges in salt. I always regret that, vaguely.

Awfully good with spicy, long-cooked Cinco de Mayo pig. But for that we will have to wait.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Rabbit terrine

I made a rabbit terrine.

It is a hybrid of Patricia Wells' recipe in Bistro Cooking and Richard Olney's in Simple French Food. Haha. Simple. He was a funny man.

I messed with the seasonings, as usual - cognac, local juniper, lots of thyme and a heavy hand with the salt and pepper. And I added, at Olney's suggestion, a paste of breadcrumbs and garlic.

So if you'd like to make this terrine soon, buy both books - you won't be sorry - throw them in a blender and see what comes out.  Exercise your judgement.

But when I have made it again, and tested my meddling, I'll post this recipe. Promise. It's wonderful.

The terrine cooked in a low oven in a bain marie. Hot water bath. Then it was weighed down with one jar of grape jam, a can of beans and a bottle of artichoke hearts, with dry black beans as ballast. This compressed it a little and also pressed the meat layer below the fat that melted from the smoked bacon lining the terrine container. I've made a similar recipe before, for a dinner a long time ago, and, like an idiot, I did not write that one down. It was very good. At least this time I took notes. I have a little black book of untranscribed recipes...

Here is a slice served with moskonfyt (MAWS-con-fate) - a jam made on the West Coat of South Africa from grapes, usually hanepoot (Muscat d'Alexandrie). This jar came from Oep ve Koep, Kobus van der Merwe's mom's shop in Paternoster, attached to his wonderful restaurant of the same name.

Otherwise, we wait. For the promised - or threatened snow. I am very excited. If you have a warm bed to sleep in, and a roof over your head, snow is very beautiful. I'll never grow tired of its magic.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Spinach gnudi

My relationship with gnocchi used to be based upon suspicion. I still expect leaden pellets in restaurants. Only Al di La's malfatti were perfect and still stand at the apex of gnocchi lightness. And then I learned about gnudi. Thank you, dear reader. More ricotta. Less lead.

I warned Vince NOT to expect lightness on my first - or even tenth - attempt. And yet: light these were, the first time, and in every subsequent iteration. Thanks to my friend Bevan Christie, yet again - his was the recipe.  Instead of gorgonzola sauce, though, I chose butter and sage. It's a blue cheese thing. Makes me itch.

I have used fresh and frozen spinach for these gnudi - fresh is softer, less watery and less fibrous. Excess moisture in the spinach or ricotta is the enemy of good texture

Instead of making small pellets, I make larger ones, about an inch-and-a-half.

As each pops up I scoop it with a perforated ladle directly onto a warm serving plate.

...pour over the sauce over the top, sprinkle parmesan, and we eat.

Gnudi Verde - for Two Humans

8 oz/225 gr cooked spinach, squeezed dry (about 2lbs/1kg fresh)
1 cup ricotta (drained if not firm)
½ cup coarse dried bread crumbs
1 egg
½ cup finely, freshly grated parmesan
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Black pepper to taste
1/2 cup flour for dusting and rolling

Cook spinach after washing,  putting it in a pot with lid and no extra water. It will wilt and reduce radically in volume. When tender, run under cold water and squeeze as dry as possible. If possible, wring it out in a clean cloth, getting every drop of water out. Chop it.

Mix spinach, ricotta, breadcrumbs, egg, parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, thoroughly and then refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Scoop into rough balls using two teaspoons. Rest the balls on a flour-dusted board, making them in batches of 8 or so. Roll softly between your palms or on the board into logs about an inch and a half long and half an inch wide. I dent each log gently along its length with a finger. Put each finished log onto a plate, also dusted lightly with flour. Once you have used all your mixture, cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes or more.

In a large pot or pots, boil salted water and drop the gnocchi in one at a time till there are about twelve on the bottom of the pot. Keep the water simmering. When the gnudi rise to the surface remove (gently) at once to a warm plate and keep warm while the others cook.

Make the quick  sauce while the gnudi are cooking.

Sage Butter Sauce

3 Tablespoons butter
Handful of sage leaves - say, 12 leaves
1 gentle squeeze of fresh lemon juice, less than a tablespoon
Salt and pepper
Grated parmesan

Melt butter, add sage, cook gently (you may allow it to turn barely brown), squeeze the lemon, add salt and pepper. Cook till the sage is crisp. Pour over plated gnocchi, sprinkle parmesan at once and eat at once.

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