Monday, July 27, 2009

well preserved

No matter how many times I recite that familiar mantra on the way to the farmers market "I will not overbuy, I will not overbuy", something happens to me when I get there. I get out of my car, grab my fabulous expandable shopping bag, all the while remembering self control is a good thing.

But as I walk in and smell the strawberries, see the plethora of lovely lettuces piled high or notice those yellow zucchini blossoms...something happens. I inevitably end up in some sort of fresh fruit and vegetable trance, and then proceed to go to town filling up my shopping bag.

Once I get home with half of the market in tow, I usually get that "You need to join a group" look from my husband. Now in my defense, I have been cooking up a storm, finding new and creative ways to use up all of these wonderful finds. But still, I must confess there are those times that I open up my fridge and see those beauties, that don't look quite so alluring as they did at the farmers market days before. I feel guilty when I see them wrinkling, browning and bruising, just waiting for me to get inspired.

So to ward off some of the guilt as well as preserve some of the bounty that is in season. I have been boning up on recipes and techniques for putting up small batches of seasonal foods to enjoy later in the year.

To that end I will be sharing with you my findings...the first of which is preserved lemons. I actually used Meyer lemons, while the trees produce fruit throughout the year, the majority of the crop is available in winter. It is native to China, and thought to be a cross between a true lemon and a mandarin orange. The fruit is yellow and rounder than a true lemon with a slight orange tint when ripe. It has a sweeter, less acidic flavor than the more common lemon and a fragrant edible skin. Which makes it a perfect candidate of preserving.

Preserved lemons are a staple in Moroccan cuisine, but can be adapted to many other dishes. They add a wallop of flavor to any dish that calls for strong lemon flavor, including condiments like homemade mayonnaise and vinaigrette. However, they are intense and should be used in moderation. There are about a thousand recipes for preserved lemons out there. This one, I like best and is a confluence of many. I like the tangeriney quality of Meyer lemons, but you can preserve any kind of lemons with this recipe.

Preserved lemons are a type of pickle made by the dry salt method: brined in salt and the lemon's own juices. After the curing process, they are stored in the refrigerator.


Preserved Meyer Lemons
makes 2 pints
10 Meyer lemons, regular lemons, or a combination, scrubbed
1/2 cup kosher salt

With a sharp knife, remove the stem ends of 6 of the lemons. Slice the lemons into quarters from pole to pole.

Bring 2 wide-mouth pint jars and their bands to a boil in a large pot of water fitted with a rack. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove jars with tongs (the tongs don't need to be sterilized). Simmer new lids in a small pan of hot water to soften the rubberized flange. When the jars are dry but still hot, shove the lemon wedges into the jars, trying not to crush the fruit too much, but do pack them in, sprinkling 3 tablespoons of salt per jar as you go and making sure the salt is well distributed throughout. Meyer lemons are softer than regular lemons and therefore easier to squash down in the jar.

Juice the remaining 4 lemons. Top each jar with 1 final tablespoon of salt, then distribute the juice between the jars, making sure the lemon wedges are completely covered with juice. If you see air bubbles along the side of the jar, slip a butter knife down into it and press aside the fruit to allow juice to fill the space. You may need more juice depending on the juiciness of your lemons. Set on the lids, and screw on the bands fingertip tight. Let the lemons ferment on your kitchen counter for 2 weeks for Meyer lemons, 3 to 4 weeks for regular lemons, which have tougher skins, and ferment until they are soft enough to tear. Turn the jars upside down every other day to make sure the salt stays well distributed. The lemons will become soft and the salt and juice mixture syrupy. Transfer the fermented jars to the refrigerator, where they will hold for up to 6 months.
To use, remove a lemon wedge and scrape off the seeds. If you see white stuff on the lemons, don't worry: it's just a precipitate of salt, oils, and whatever from the pith. Scrape the pith off the lemons before using. For a milder taste, rinse before cooking.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

ode to the cauliflower

The quest continues on finding new ways (or variations of old ones) for elevating to culinary greatness those precious veggies that I receive from my local organic farm.

I believe I have found a winner. This is based on some research done on some unsuspecting friends we had over for dinner the other night. I am not sure they knew what they were in for. Although I did warn them that they would be guinea pigs for some recipe testing I was doing. They seemed up for the adventure. Until, they spotted the cauliflower. That white bulbous thing that most of us have had only steamed until it was mush and then doused in some processed cheese sauce. Frankly, I would run too! But I reassured them to hang in there. And after the drinks were refreshed, appetizers were served, I continued on with the dinner preparations.

Well, it was time, the moment of truth. We sat down. Gave thanks (I said a little prayer for the cauliflower) and the platters were passed. Slowly the comments started. By the time the cauliflower went around a second time I was getting questions "What is in this sauce?" and "How did you cook this?" I was more than happy to go into every last detail on the process.
So there you have it, the cauliflower was a hit. So much so, that my guests who were proclaimed cauliflower "unbelievers" have now been converted. But I can't take all the credit. I will give that to the salsa verde that accompanied the lovely caramelized slices of cauliflower and perhaps the little prayer.

Salsa Verde, the classic green sauce of Italy, is traditionally made of olive oil and chopped parsley flavored with lemon zest, garlic and capers. It adds a lively freshness to almost any dish. Flat-leaved Italian parsley is my preference, but curly parsley is good too. Fresh parsley is the star of the show, but almost any other fresh, tender herb can enhance salsa verde: tarragon, chervil, cilantro, and chives are good choices.

Zest, is the thin outer layer of the lemon's skin (or lime, orange): avoid grating any of the bitter white part called "pith" beneath. The zest brightens the flavor of the sauce, so don't be shy with it. My tool of preference for zesting is a microplane.

For a little variation try adding a little chopped salt-packed anchovy fillet, or chopped shallot, or finely chopped jalapeno for some extra zip.

Don't hesitate to experiment. I make salsa verde more or less thick depending on what I am using it for. I tend to use less oil when it's for roasted meats, and grilled/roasted vegetables and more for fish.

This recipe is an adaptation from the "classic" Italian salsa verde. But the amounts used here translate to any combination. Be creative!


Caramelized Cauliflower with Salsa Verde

1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 small or 1 large garlic clove, minced with a pinch of salt
zest of 1 lime
3 Tbsp. lime juice
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

for the cauliflower

1 medium cauliflower (2 to 2 1/2 pounds)
salt & pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

First, prepare the salsa verde. In a medium bowl, combine the jalapeno, cilantro, garlic, lime zest, lime juice, and olive oil. Whisk to combine. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, whisk and taste for seasoning. Set aside at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour to let the sauce develop in flavor.

Wash and dry the cauliflower. Put on a cutting board stem side down, and slice vertically into 1/4 inch slices, starting from the top going through to the core. You will probably only get 4 or 5 slices that remain in tact. The rest will be broken up, but not to worry.
On a heavy, large, rimmed cookie sheet carefully place the slices of cauliflower. Brush olive oil on both sides of the cauliflower and season with salt and pepper. The smaller pieces can be tossed in a bowl with some of the olive oil and then seasoned with salt and pepper. Place the smaller pieces on the cookie sheet with the slices of cauliflower. Be sure not to crowd or it will steam rather than roast.

Bake until the cauliflower is tender, golden, and deeply browned in spots, 20 to 30 minutes, turning once with a spatula.

Serve hot or warm, with the salsa verde on the side for drizzling.

Yield: 4 side-dish servings or 2 larger servings

Thursday, July 9, 2009

for the love of butter

Once in a while I have the privilege of participating in some sort of creative project with a good friend of mine. Not long ago, I received a text from her saying "Hey, can you help me with a wedding that I'm coordinating?" I was more than willing to oblige. So I texted back "of course!" Then proceeded to give some suggestions on services I could provide. I believe they included an interpretive dance number, and a song played on my son's out of tune five string guitar. Apparently, these ideas were not what she was looking for, because neither suggestion was even a continuing topic of discussion. So, I decided to stick with my strengths. That would be the food.
Which brings us now to butter. Yes, butter.

While we were brainstorming on easy, inexpensive, but tasty ideas for one of the appetizers, we came up with flavored butters. Compound butters to be exact. What could be more simple than bread and butter? A little boring you think? Well, I have to tell you. The two hundred people (plus two dogs) in attendance could not get enough of the glorious stuff. Every bowl was scraped clean, even when we ran out of bread and crackers, the people resorted to putting it on the crudites (not sure how that tasted).

But the idea was perfect...easy...inexpensive...and most of all tasty. So here you go, the top three hits of the appetizer countdown.



Herb & Lemon Compound Butter
1 pound unsalted butter

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. parsley
2 Tbsp. chives
zest of two lemons
2 Tbsp. lemon juice (or to taste)
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. pepper
When making flavored butters, start with cold butter and be careful not to over process, or the butter will melt.

Chop butter into uniform chunks. Place olive oil into the bowl of a food processor, add parsley and chives. Process until herbs are finely chopped. Using the whisk attachment, whip the butter in the mixers work bowl at medium speed until it softens and lightens in color, about 5 minutes.

Add the oil herb mixture to the butter, along with the zest and lemon juice, salt and pepper. Beat for another 2 minutes until fully incorporated. Taste for seasoning. Remove butter from bowl and spoon onto parchment paper or plastic wrap. Roll into a log. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Rosemary & Roasted Pecan Compound Butter
1 pound unsalted butter, cut into pieces
15 oz. pecan pieces, toasted
1/4 cup finely chopped rosemary
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
2 tsp. pepper

Combine in a food processor until smooth and all ingredients are incorporated. Store in the same manner as above recipe.

Sundried Tomato Compound Butter
1 pound unsalted butter, cut into pieces
8.5 oz. jar sundried tomatoes, chopped fine
1 Tbsp. salt
2 tsp. pepper
Combine in a food processor until smooth and ingredients are incorporated. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.