Saturday, May 18, 2013
Ramps - Allium tricoccum - are not a weed. They are indigenous to the Northeast, and are threatened by overharvest. It takes many years for a colony to establish itself, and many more for ramps to recover from zealous collection. And they are the one foraged plant whose name most people will recognize, if they like to eat, at all. In spring they flood our farmers markets for a week or two, and then disappaer. Sadly, they really are disappearing.
If you are lucky enough to find a patch, as I did this spring on a Catskills hillside, pick them sparingly, and with respect. One in ten is a good rule of thumb. And then stay away. For, oh, about ten years.
At home, use every single part.
Ramp leaves are very fragrant, but less pungent than their bulb. Preserving their ephemeral flavour in butter is a way to extend this lily relative's fleeting season. Dabbed into hot, slit-open baked potatoes, onto seared lamb chops, grilled steaks or sauteed mushrooms, a little ramp butter goes a long way.
Or schmear with abandon onto a piece of good toast, and eat it all at once.
1 stick (110gr) good butter, at room temperature
3 cups cleaned ramp leaves, loosely packed (about 20 ramps)
In a food processor combine the butter and the ramp leaves. Pulse until the butter and leaves are integrated into a pretty, bright green paste. Pack the butter into small jars and freeze, or use within three days.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
On the lookout for Japanese knotweed recently, I passed a lush patch of young garlic mustard - Alliaria petiolata, a weed so devious it secretes chemicals to inhibit the growth of other plants in its vicinity. It is classified a noxious weed.
Naturally, I felt I should eat it.
I could tell by its sappy flower stalks that it was second year field garlic - the plant is biennial, meaning it lives two years. The flowers only form in the second year. It was growing in the shade, and I know from experience that shade renders bitter plants sweeter (dandelions, too), so I picked a great big bunch, snapping the stems where they were still tender. A woody or fibrous stems means the pant is too mature to make a good pesto - too bitter.
The world does not need another pesto recipe. I know that. And I know that one can use just about any leaf, any cheese, and any nut. But I remain attached to the first, classic pestos I made, instructed from the page by Marcella Hazan. Pine nuts, parmesan, olive oil and butter. I buy Spanish pine nuts, so this is not exactly an economical recipe, but a little does stretch quite a long way. I am allergic, as far I can tell, to the Chinese kind. They give me a bitter mouth for ten days. Currently, Spanish pine nuts ring in at $40 a pound. Holy moly.
You can use garlic mustard's leaves, flowers and stems, but only if the stems are still very tender (bite them, to see!). Otherwise, strip the leaves and flowers from the stems. After spring, the leaves become very bitter, and tough.
For about 4 cups of pesto:
1 large bunch garlic mustard, roughly chopped (yield is about 8 tightly-packed cups)
1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano (the real thing)
1/2 cup pine nuts
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
After washing and drying the garlic mustard put it in two batches into a food processor (a recent gift from the Frenchman; go figure, I wrote a recipe book without a food processor in the house...). Add some of the cheese, butter and oil and pulse gently until each batch is chopped fine and resembles a thick paste. Turn into a bowl and mix the two batches together and taste. Add a little salt (the cheese is already quite salty) and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
Pack into jars and freeze, and eat some at once, spread on toasted bread, as bruschetta. It keeps well in the fridge for a week. It is also good stirred into soup at the last minute, or whisked into a salad dressing.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
One's dinner begins in a place.
If we could have an instant visual reference (reverence...) for all those places that are on our plate at any given meal, we would probably eat very differently.
But my first taste of ramps this season was sweet. I had picked them just few hours before, beside a clear mountain stream in woods whose trees were still bare and brown. In the leaf litter on the forest floor, early green life had begun again. Cutleaf toothwort, trout lilies, violets and wake robin. And ramps. Spotted by Vince, we knew I was thinking about them. They covered a part of the mountain in the valley where we had settled beside that rushing creek for a picnic.
All my previous ramp experience comes from farmers' markets. Ramps - Allium tricoccum, also called ramsons - are the most ubiquitous and well known of foraged foods in the Northeast, so are easily available in their ephemeral early spring season. And where in the city am I going to dig a ramp? If I did find one, I'd leave it in deference to our beleaguered wildflower population. Unlike so many edible weeds I forage in the city, ramps are indigenous.
They are much harder to gather than field garlic, my perennial spring favourite (whose flavour gives ramps a run for the money) in the city. The bulb lies far deeper, and the stems that support the leaves are sappy and easily broken, so tugging on them simply breaks the leaves off, leaving the white part beneath the surface. I turned cave woman and found a good digging stick, rooting about in the soft but rocky soil and looking up every now and then whenever I remembered bears. A clean stream joining out creek washed the soil from them, and we drove them home to Brooklyn in our Zipcar, along with a bag of young garlic mustard. On the way I thought about supper. Vince was feeling a cold coming on, so ginger and chiles and soup were on my mind.
I decided to make a version of tom yum soup, the simple Thai preparation with a lime leaf base that can be awful or wonderful. I turned simple on its head, I am afraid, but the comforting and hot-sour spirit of tom yum still came though. This was wonderful.
For the Soup
3 tablespoons coconut oil (or other unscented oil)
6 large shrimp, shelled and cleaned (reserve shells, and if you have the heads, lucky you!)
5 tablespoons fish sauce
3 cups water
3 pieces lime zest, cut into pieces about 2" x 1/2 "
5 lime leaves
5 thin rounds of ginger
10 very thin slices of a hot green chile
1 tablespoon brown sugar
10 ramps, cleaned, leaves and bulbs separated
2 cups sliced shitakes
1 tablespoon soy
1 cup young garlic mustard leaves
3 stalks young Japanese knotweed, sliced into thin rounds
For the Arctic Char
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 fillet Arctic char
Leaves of 10 ramps
2 tablespoons soy
Juice of half a lime
Preheat the oven to 450'F/220'C.
In a small bowl marinate the shrimp in the juice of one lime.
In a pot on the stove over medium-high melt 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and toss in the shrimp shells. These will form the basis of your broth. When they are pink, squeeze over the juice of one lime. It will hiss. Add three cups of water and the fish sauce. Add the lime zest, lime leaves and ginger. Bring to a simmer.
While the broth is coming to a simmer, grease a baking tray with coconut oil, spread out the ramp leaves and lay the fish fillet on top of them. Drizzle the soy sauce and lime juice over the fish. Slide into the hot oven and roast until barely cooked, about 10 minutes. Baste once or twice. Remove, and keep aside.
After the broth has been simmering for about five minutes, strain the solids out and return the clear broth to the pot. Add the chile slices, the juice of the second lime, and the sugar. Taste. You are looking for a hearty flavor: salty, sour, sweet. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Keep the broth hot over a low flame.
In a separate pan, melt two tablespoons of coconut oil over high heat and add the sliced shitakes. When they begin to take colour, with brown edges, add the ramp bulbs and then the soy. Stir as the soy cooks off and caramelizes. When the soy has evaporated, deglaze the mushroom pan (with the mushrooms and ramps still in it) with a ladleful of the shrimp broth. Stir to remove all the good brown bits and then turn pour the mushrooms into the pot that holds the broth.
Bring the broth to a simmer and add the cleaned shrimp, then the mustard garlic, and finally the knotweed. When the shrimp turn opaque, it is ready.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
I love citrus with peppery watercress. The sweet, tart and hot are perfect, together.
1 Orange (or grapefruit), supremed
Sugar and salt - pinches
1 Small bunch watercress, rinsed and spin-dried (gather in a clean towel, and windmill outdoors)
1 teaspoon freshly sliced hot red chile
A slurp of walnut oil
1 squeeze lemon juice
Peel an orange (or grapefruit) and remove all its pith, then supreme it by slicing each segment free of its membranes. Arrange the pieces on a plate in heap. Season with salt and pepper. Top the orange with a handful of nice, dry watercress (wet leaves make for insipid dressings). Scatter the chiles across the top. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pinch of sugar. Add pepper, and finish with the squeeze of lemon.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Is life too short to record a baked potato recipe? Yes. Then again, sometimes we forget about uncomplicated food.
With Vince in Montreal, I regressed. He loves uncomplicated food, but I suppose the performer in me feels the need to put on a little show every evening, when he's home.
So the other night I made these for myself for supper. They are an ageless comfort food, the kind you roll out against the sadness of a Sunday night (school next day, horrible blue uniform, death in the classroom...oh, wait, that's over), or when you think no one else is looking. They are unimpressive, and starchily soothing.
Quantities are highly variable, but if you use those enormous, log-sized Idaho baking potatoes, I'd say go for it and give yourself two, which will mean four halves.
Supper for One (or half a supper for two)
2 large baking potatoes
1/3 cup buttermilk (or regular milk)
2 cloves garlic, each sliced into 3 pieces
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup grated sharp cheddar, plusfour thin slices to top each potato
Salt and pepper
Bake the potatoes at 400'F/200'C until tender inside and crisp on the outside - about one hour.
Cut them in half and scoop their insides into a bowl, leaving the shells intact. Add the butter to the hot potato in the bowl. Meanwhile warm the buttermilk or milk gently with the garlic in it. Remove the garlic.
Now mash the potatoes and butter in the bowl with a fork or masher until smooth. Add the buttermilk slowly, stirring with the fork or wooden spoon. Add the cheese, stir well, and taste. Season with salt and pepper. Stuff this filling back into the potato shells. Top each halved potato with a slice of cheddar and slide back into the oven for 20 minutes or until the tops are beginning to turn golden.
Snip the chives over them just before eating. Apply freshly ground pepper.
Variations for the potato mixture:
A dollop of sour cream
Creamed goat cheese
Thinly sliced scallions
More butter. Much more butter.
If someone felt like sending me a truffle, I would shave it very lovingly over my baked potatoes.
I would know what to do with that, too.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
I first encountered bottarga (salted, dried grey mullet roe - dark orange, salty, vaguely smoky; a little like bonito flakes in flavour) at Inoteca, an Italian cheese and wine bar slash restaurant on the corner of Rivington and Orchard on the Lower East Side.
Long ago, when I worked nearby, and all my fellow employees were still friends, we'd sneak out together and have lunch there and come back after a bottle of prosecco. And no, that is not why Things Fell Apart. That is a whole book. And not one that I have written (previous employer exhales in relief). At Inoteca some of us would eat an egg cooked inside a thick slice of white bead, beneath melted fontina cheese, a drizzle of truffle oil, on top of a bed of roasted asparagus, and finished with a shaving of bottarga. The bottarga cost $2 extra. That made the egg cost $10, total. It was wonderful.
But that egg is still there.
A month or so ago I spotted bottarga, the whole roes bees-wax-coated and rigid in a big glass jar at The Lobster Place in the Chelsea Market, where beautiful fish is sold. It wasn't cheap. It wasn't cheap at all. But I convinced myself and my husband that we'd eke it out, microplane it fine, make it last. And half of it is still in the fridge all those weeks and three bottarga meals later. You don't need much.
This is not a recipe. Not only because I never measured and would be making up the measurements if I wrote them down here, but because this is very much up to your taste (only you know how much butter you need on your pasta). It's more about ingredients.
Red chile pepper
For these bottarga dishes I used a dried pasta which had egg in it. Now I can't think of the name - it comes in a pretty box. Flatter noodles are better than spaghetti as there is more surface area for delicious stuff to cling to.
While the past is cooking (in well-salted water), grate the bottarga fine (...remove the wax first...). You need only about 2-3 tablespoons, grated, per person. Grate some proper parmesan fine, about 1/2 a cup per person. Have good unsalted butter on hand, cut into small pieces. Have a lemon cut in half and at the ready. Crumble a hot red chile pepper. Warm the bowls or plates from which you will eat.
As soon as the pasta has drained drop it back into the still-hot pot in which it cooked, with some slices of that butter.Toss gently to coat with the melting butter. Be generous with the butter. Scatter some cheese across and toss again. Now add the bottarga. It will sort of disappear but don't worry. You will taste it. Squeeze some lemon juice over. Add more cheese. Sprinkle some chile flakes over the top, and plate and serve at once...
And if you don't have bottarga? Do all of the above, anyway. Sometimes the simplest pasta is the most delicious.
And if you have a birthday coming up and would like to try it, guide your present-giver to the same French bottarga we bought).
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
A Tart with a Past:
Moist, dense, not overly sweet...
I have been bothering my mother to look for the recipe for this almond and chocolate cake for years. I forget, whenever I am in her kitchen in Cape Town, to look for it. Last week I asked again, and managed to describe the layout of the double page spread in the book as I remembered it - a living room scene, a city night outside the picture windows, twinkling lights, a recipe for cracker bread, and this torta di Caprese.
She found it. The book is the Fair Lady Special Occasions Cookbook, by Annette Kessler, long since out of print, and in it this recipe is doubled. I took the liberty of halving it, and of adding the orange sauce. You may thank my Cape Town singing teacher for that. Many years ago, Sarita Stern came to one of our Spring Breakfasts in my mother's garden, where pink umbrellas dotted the lawn, and tables groaned with food my mother had spent days, if not weeks, preparing. Everybody invited their friends, sparkling wine flowed, and nobody left before dessert. One year I made these tarts, and came upon Sarita tucking into a bowl where the slice of tart swam beneath the still-warm orange sauce I had made for crepes Suzette, one of the other desserts. Hmmm, she hummed. Delicious! And it was.
So here it is. In another lifetime.
This is not a light and fluffy cake. It has heft. Just saying. Because of the heft, you don't need much...
250 grams/ 1/2 lb ground almonds (almond flour)
100 grams/3.5 oz dark chocolate, grated
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
100 grams/3.5 oz unsalted butter
100 grams/3.5 oz sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 drops almond essence
4 eggs, separated
Pinch of cream of tartar*
This I why I don't bake often. Too Many Bowls.
In a Bowl 1 mix the almond flour, grated chocolate, cinnamon and salt. In Bowl 2 cream the butter and the sugar well, and add the essences. In Bowl 3 whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the cream of tartar and whip once or twice more.
To the creamed butter add the egg yolks one by one until well mixed-in. Now begin to pour the dry mix of almonds and chocolate into the butter and egg batter. Keep stirring - it becomes quite thick. Slide in half the egg whites and fold them through the thick batter. This helps to break it up. When they have been smoothly incorporated, add the rest of the whites gently, folding them in again.
Pour into a greased and lined spring form pan or quiche dish. If you don't line the dish with buttered parchment the tart will stick to the bottom. If it's a quiche dish just lay a big piece of parchment over the dish, butter it, and pour the batter in, nudging it to the edges so that the paper is cosy with the sides of the dish, all the way around
Bake at 350'F/180'C for about 25 minute until just set.
When cooked and cooled, slide a knife around the edges and lift the tart out, parchment and all. Peel the paper off and return the tart to its dish, or to a pretty plate.
Zest of 2 oranges or 3 clementines- I like to use a rasp, because it makes the zest so fine (watch your thumb; mine has been shredded a few times)
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons Grand Marnier (or other orange-flavoured liqueur)
In a small bowl mix the butter, sugar, and zest. You can do this well in advance and refrigerate. Just before serving the tart, melt the butter mixture in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the Grand Marnier. Cook till bubbling and the sugar has melted. Pour, hot, over individual slices of torta di Caprese.
* Who has cream of tartar in their kitchen cupboard? Nobody I know. I do, though. Why? Because it is an essential ingredient in South African rusks - those dry "biscuits" (in Southern parlance) that we South Africans like to dunk into our tea or coffee, for breakfast. Pioneer food. Made for rough living. And delicious, too. This recipe won't flop without the pinch of cream of tart. It does help stabilize the egg whites. And guess what? It is a by-product of wine making - those crystals you find in the bottle, sometimes? Potassium bitartarte. Cream of tartar. Also useful for cleaning things, if mixed with vinegar or water...
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
(Originally posted 30 March, 2010. Updated today. No new pictures yet...)
Once upon a time I dated a man whose ancient Hungarian father cooked the first paprikash I had ever tasted. I loved the stew, even though there was no love lost between me and the misogynist dad.
The rich red sauce that accompanies the tender chicken seems to possess restorative super powers.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes (or 2 small dried chiles)*
4-6 pieces chicken (I generally use thighs, but any brown meat is fine)
4 cloves of garlic, squashed and chopped
1 small can of tomatoes with juice, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, scraped and cut into rough lengths (yield is about 2 cups)
2 medium-large potatoes, peeled and cut up into chunks
2 teaspoons sumac (or half a lemon's juice)
2 bay leaves
6 long fresh sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried summer savoury
salt and pepper
Water. Or wine, white.
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (if you're using water, not wine)
In a deep pot with lid, saute onions in the oil till translucent. Add tomato paste, paprika and chile flakes (*if you like less spice use a whole chile and leave it intact), stir and toast lightly. After a minute add the chicken, garlic, tomatoes, carrot, sumac, chile and herbs and cover with water or wine. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered. Add potatoes after an hour. Add the lime juice now if you used water. Cook another half hour till potatoes are done and chicken is falling-apart tender. About one-and-a-half hours. Remove the lid and increase the heat to a boil if you'd like the sauce to reduce and concentrate the flavour a little.
Another version could be cooked in the oven: more browning and caramelization that way.
Either way, taste every now and then for seasoning.
Serve with buttered rice (or spatzle) and sour cream.
Or just as is. With a spoon.
And bread for wiping the bowl.