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Archive for the ‘Fruit’ Category

If I accomplish nothing else through this blog than encouraging a few people to try persimmons, then I will have done my small part to make the world a better place.

Persimmons have a lot going for them:  They’re photogenically attractive fruits; they offer a bright note of summery, almost citrusy sweetness in a mellow, autumnal package; they’re portable, durable and easy to eat (no messy rind to peel off, no seeds to spit out).  Since I’m obsessed with savory salads based around fruit, the discovery of persimmons and pomegranates at a recently opened nearby produce market inspired me to create this salad for a crisp October day.

I think one thing that may discourage people from buying persimmons, though, is the existence of two distinct and very different types of persimmons:  Fuyu, which can be eaten when they’re as hard as an apple (as the sticker attached to my persimmons told me), and Hichaya, which are painfully astringent at any point of ripeness shy of custardy-soft.  (This article from NPR nicely expounds on the virtues of these two fruits.)

Use Fuyus for this salad.  If you have a mandoline, you can make quick work of both the persimmons and the fennel.  The pomegranates add enough tartness to the salad that vinegar or lemon juice is unnecessary:  Just drizzle with the best extra virgin olive oil that you have and sprinkle with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

  • 4 Fuyu persimmons
  • 2 bulbs of fennel
  • 1 pomegranate
  • olive oil

Wash the persimmons; trim off and discard their ends.  Using a mandoline (or your kung fu knife skills), slice the persimmons to a 1/8-inch thickness and add to a large mixing bowl.

Wash the fennel.  Using scissors, snip off some of the fennel fronds (say, 1/4 c worth); set aside.  Cut off the stalks and reserve for the vegetable stock bag.   Trim off and discard the root end of the fennel.  Slice the fennel bulb crosswise into 1/8-inch thick slices.  Add to the persimmon slices.

Using a chef’s knife, cut the pomegranate in half.  Working over a separate mixing bowl, remove the red seeds from the yellow pith; add the seeds to the bowl and discard the pith (and any gray or rotten-looking seeds).  Add the pomegranate seeds to the persimmon and fennel.

Roughly chop the reserved fennel fronds.  Add to the persimmon, fennel and pomegranate.  Drizzle generously with olive oil and add a healthy amount of salt and pepper.  Toss to combine.  Serve.

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One of my favorite brunch dishes is salade lyonnaise.  Building off the theory that everything tastes better with bacon and a poached egg on top, it is one of the greatest salads around, but perhaps not one that is fit for weeknight dining, and certainly not one that is vegetarian-friendly.  Removing just the bacon for the non-meat-eaters or removing just the egg for the oophobes would throw the entire salad out of whack:  Bacon’s smoky saltiness complements the rich creaminess of eggs beautifully.  After all, bacon and eggs go together like, well, bacon and eggs.

I wanted a simpler, vegetarian salad that still highlighted the bracing bitterness of frisee with notes of smoke, salt, crunch and creaminess, all tied together with a tart vinaigrette.  Nuts were a no-brainer substitution for the crunch factor; blue cheese provided welcome creaminess and replaced some of bacon’s salt and savoriness.  To balance the blue cheese with some brighter notes, and to add the missing smoky element, my eyes turned to the bowl of cherries on the counter.  (I find myself making a lot of recipes with cherries and pecans, and that’s because they’re so damn good together.)  Ever since I got Seven Fires by the Argentine chef Francis Mallmann, I’ve been wanting to grill, sear and char everythingCooking fruit and incorporating it into savory dishes might be my new favorite culinary trick, and it works here:  The smoky charred cherries mingle beautiful with the vinaigrette and add bright treble notes to offset the bass of the blue cheese.

Best of all, it’s a much simpler salad to make than salade lyonnaise.  The pecans and cherries can be cooked in the same skillet, and that’s the only pan to wash up.  I’m not saying this will be the featured dish at a special brunch, but it can certainly be served as a quick and fast weeknight dinner, as well as a delicious side dish to heartier fare.

  • 1 head of frisee (and/or escarole)
  • 2 handfuls of pecans
  • 1 bowl of cherries (about 2 handfuls)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • 1 T sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 T balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil, as needed (about 1/2 c)
  • 2 oz. excellent blue cheese (Gorgonzola, Stilton, Maytag, etc.)

Cut the root end off the frisee.  Wash and dry thoroughly.  Tear into pieces into a large mixing bowl.  Set aside.

Heat up a cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the pecans and toast carefully, shaking the skillet occasionally, until they become fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Watch them carefully:  You don’t want burned pecans.

Add the pecans to the frisee.  Return the empty skillet to the burner and set the heat to medium-high.

Tear the cherries in halve and remove their pits and stems.  (I find it easier to tear and pit the cherries with my fingers than to cut them with a knife.)  When the skillet is good and hot, add the cherries cut side down.  Don’t touch them for a good 2 minutes:  Let them get a nice sear on them.  When they have some char on them, flip them over with a spatula and cook on the other side for 1-2 minutes.

While the cherries are cooking, make the vinaigrette:  Mash the garlic and a pinch of salt into a paste with the mortar and pestle, then stir in the mustard and the vinegars.  (I’m just about over balsamic vinegar, but here it adds a little sweetness that rounds out the dressing and bridges the cherries with the blue cheese.)  Whisk in enough olive oil to form a creamy vinaigrette.

When the cherries are ready, add them to the frisee and pecans.  Add the vinaigrette and toss the salad.  Crumble in half of the blue cheese and toss the salad thoroughly.  Transfer the salad to a serving dish, making sure some of the pecans and cherries end up on top of the salad, then crumble on the remaining blue cheese.  Serve.

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The trouble with being a pedant is that, one day, your pedantry will come back and bite you in the rear.

After spending a semester in college studying in Italy (well, “studying” might not be the most accurate term), I returned with a little knowledge of Italian and a lot of self-righteousness about the way Americans approach Italian food.  Pasta as a main course?  How ludicrous.  Cappuccino in the afternoon?  Barbaric.  Cheese with seafood?  Puh-leeze.

This condescension extended to the pronunciation of Italian words, especially of America’s favorite appetizer in the ’90s, the ubiquitous bruschetta.  Now, Italian has got one tricky rule of spelling, and it’s not too hard to master:  The letters c and g are always hard (as in the English cat and gate) except when followed by e or i:  Then they sound like the English letters “ch” and “j”.  (Look at the word cappuccino:  The first c is hard as in “cat”, and the second one—well, two—is a “ch” sound.)   In order to keep a hard c or g before e or i, insert the letter “h” after it:  That pasta that you love with meatballs is pronounced spa-get-ee, not spa-jet-ee.  This is how Italian spelling works:  No exceptions.

Thus, it would irritate me to no end when I overheard people ordering “bru-she-ta”, not “bru-sket-ta”.  (What irked me even more—and still perplexes me to this day—is the existence of jarred “bruschetta” topping.  Bruschetta is toast:  You can top it with anything, not just tomatoes and basil.  But I digress.)  I started pronouncing Ghiradelli’s chocolate with a hard g, even though San Franciscans refer to the square whence it comes as gee-ra-del-leez.

But my entire phonological system collapsed when a colleague of mine referred to that bright red cured cherry that you find on top of your sundae as a mar-a-SKEE-no (which is, of course, how the word should be pronounced in Italian).  I had grown up referring to them as mar-a-SHEE-nos, and I suspect you did, too.  Well, if that just wasn’t sunlight to the blind:  I had been brusketta-ing all over the place, and I hadn’t even known it.

What can I do?  I’m left stewing in my own hypocrisy.  I wince when somebody orders brusketta or Geeradelli’s chocolate, but I can’t bring myself to call these delicious little cocktail garnishes “maraskeeno cherries”.  (Oddly enough, I have no problem referring to the bottle of Luxardo maraschino that I finally acquired by its proper Italian pronunciation, but I fear that pronouncing the liqueur one way and the cherries another way is an untenable system.)

Fortunately, this recipe, adapted from NPR’s Kitchen Window, is very easy to follow, even if I can’t pronounce the finished product.

makes a lot of cherries

  • as many cherries as will fit in a Mason jar or plastic container, washed, stems and pits intact
  • enough Luxardo maraschino liqueur to cover the cherries (I used about 1 cup)

Stuff the cherries (any kind will do—I used Bing) into the jar.  Pour in enough liqueur to cover them.  Put the lid on and shake the jar a few times.

Refrigerate the cherries for at least two weeks, shaking them every other day or so.  (They’re even better after a month.)  I’ve noticed that the cherries have turned a fairly dingy brown, but that’s because their color has leached into the liqueur, which has turned a delightful fuchsia (and is a delicious digestivo).  Clearly, those neon-red cherries you remember from your childhood ice cream parlor have more than a little Red No. 5 in them.  These delightfully chewy maraschinos, with their vague redolence of alcohol, are definitely more at home in an Old Fashioned than on a sundae.  It also goes without saying that these cherries are definitely not for children.


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My mother-in-law recently gave me Seven Fires, an encomium to grilling over live fire by the Argentine chef, Francis Mallmann.  Seven Fires passes the crucial test of any cookbook:  It makes me want to cook.  Particularly, this book makes me want to cook an entire cow over a bonfire by a secluded lake in Patagonia, but, barring that, it makes me want to grill anything, anywhere.

So, the recent World Cup match between Argentina and Germany seemed like the perfect pretext for starting a fire at 7:00 AM and testing Mallmann’s infectiously presented philosophy that everything tastes better when grilled.

Since we don’t happen to own a grill (or a TV, for that matter), and since we are already in the habit of exploiting the generosity of our good friends, The Bearded Quaker and Nurse Lanois, we decided to host the game at their place.  They seemed a little taken aback when I showed up at their house the night before for the pre-game slumber party armed with clarified butter, crêpe batter and a dozen sausages, but, good friends that they are, they have learned to roll with my various eccentricities.

I figured that if I could grill panqueques, savory crêpes to be filled with dulce de leche, I could grill anything.  While I was out there, I might as well throw some sausages on the fire; there was no Argentine chorizo to be found, but some German bratwurst seemed like a noble and diplomatic concession to the opponent.  (My Lovely Vegetarian Wife is also of Polish heritage, so some kielbasa had to find its way on to the menu as well.  She would have been bitterly disappointed without it, I am sure.)  To round out this menu, I had been dying to try Mallmann’s recipe for burnt oranges with rosemary, a dish that he strongly urged should only be prepared outside due to the prodigious amounts of smoke it was sure to create.

Cooking, like all crafts, can be an act of self-discovery when it calls upon our resources and ingenuity to their fullest extent.  There were many uncertainties about my plans for an asado para desayuno (including whether my in-laws would disown me for coining absurd Spanish phrases like that):  Would I be able to fire up a grill at 6:30 in the morning?  For that matter, could I even wake up at 6:30 in the morning on a Saturday?  Would I be able to adjust the coals sufficiently under a cast-iron skillet to control its heat?  Could I do this while also grilling sausages?  And would anybody else be awake to make me a cup of coffee??

The answer to all of those questions was “Yes”.  The crêpes cooked almost instantly and got gorgeous crispy edges; the oranges were sweet, jammy, nicely charred and herbal from the rosemary; the sausage was sausage (i.e., the single greatest food known to humanity).

The game, alas, did not go nearly as well as the breakfast.  According to my wife, we have banished this game from our collective memory.  It is not to be spoken of.

We drowned our sorrows with mimosas.

Panqueques con Dulce de Leche

serves a dozen hungry soccer fans

  • 1 1/2 c butter (Don’t worry—you’re not going to eat all of it.)
  • 3 c flour
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 c water
  • 2 c milk

Make the panqueque batter and the clarified butter the night before, or at least 1 hour in advance:  Melt all of the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat.  Combine 1/2 c of the melted butter, the flour, eggs, water, milk and a hefty pinch of salt in a blender; blend on high speed until thoroughly mixed.  Refrigerate.

Finish clarifying the butter:  Skim off and discard any foam from the top of the butter.  Carefully pour off and reserve the melted butterfat, leaving the milk solids in the bottom of the pan behind.  Discard the milk solids.  Refrigerate the clarified butter; it will solidify in the fridge.  If you want to melt it before using it, simply microwave for about 20 seconds.

Using charcoal (or, even better, hardwood), build a hot fire.  Pile the coals to one side of the grill so that they reach up almost all the way to the grill rack.  Place a flat cast-iron griddle on the grill rack directly over the coals.  Cover the grill and allow the griddle to preheat for about 10 minutes.  (Alternately, simply heat up the griddle indoors over medium-high heat.)  When a drop of water evaporates instantly on the griddle, it is ready.

Stir up the pancake batter in case it has separated.  Put a tablespoon of the clarified butter on the griddle, spreading it around to coat the griddle evenly.  Ladle about 1/4 c of the batter onto the griddle, spreading it around with the ladle to form a thin layer over the whole griddle.   The panqueque will cook very quickly:  When the edges are brown and firm, flip the crêpe.  Cook for about 15 seconds more on the second side until the pancake is cooked through.

Transfer to a plate.  Put a heaping spoonful of dulce de leche on the panqueque and spread it around.  Roll up the pancake like a jelly roll.  Repeat with the remaining panqueques, adding more clarified butter to the griddle before each one.  Serve with…

Naranjas Quemadas con Romero (Burnt Oranges with Rosemary)

  • 6 oranges
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 sprig of rosemary

Preheat a cast-iron griddle for ten minutes over a hot wood or charcoal fire (or, if you have a stove with a powerful exhaust fan, heat the skillet over high heat).  Meanwhile, peel the oranges and slice them in half through their “equator”.   Place the sugar on a plate.  Strip the rosemary leaves from the sprig and add them to the sugar.  Press the oranges, cut side down, into the sugar.

When the griddle is hot (a drop of water will evaporate instantly), put four of the orange halves, cut side down, onto the griddle.  Add a little more of the rosemary-sugar mixture to the griddle between the oranges.  Cook the oranges over high heat without moving them until the edges brown and start to blacken.  Carefully flip the oranges and cook on the second side for 1-2 minutes more.  Serve along side panqueques con dulce de leche and grilled sausages for brunch, or with a little sweetened yogurt for dessert.

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I understand that it’s been a little on the warm side over on the East Coast.  For those who are sweltering and suffering, I offer this cold soup, based on one in The Minimalist Cooks at Home.  (I added some garlic and sherry vinegar to make this soup more like a gazpacho and less like a smoothie.)

Warning:  This dish does involve about 15 minutes of sauteing.  If that sounds intolerable, I would recommend making the soup at night when the kitchen has cooled down, refrigerating it overnight and enjoying a cooking-free meal the following day.  (Or, if you’re grilling outside, throw the tomatoes and melon on the grill until they get some nice color, then proceed with the recipe.)

  • olive oil, as needed (Maybe I should stop including this in my list of ingredients, since every recipe features “olive oil, as needed”.)
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • 4-6 plum tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and cut into eighths
  • 1 splash of sherry vinegar (say, 1 T)
  • 1 handful of herbs for a garnish (I used a combination of mint and chives, but darn near anything would work:  cilantro, basil, thyme, tarragon…)

Heat up the largest skillet you have over medium heat.  Add the olive oil and the garlic clove.  When the oil is hot, add the tomatoes, cut side down, and the melon wedges.  Saute over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until the melon starts to brown.

Flip over the melon wedges (and the tomatoes, if they’re starting to get too dark) and saute for another 5-7 minutes until the second side is brown.  Remove the skillet from the heat.

Transfer the entire contents of the skillet to a blender (olive oil, garlic and all).  Add the sherry vinegar.

Let everything cool down for a few minutes, then blend:  Start at low speed to get everything moving, then crank it up to high.  Blend the dickens out of it, then taste for seasoning:  Add salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper, a little more vinegar if it’s a little flat, or even a pinch of sugar if the melon could be a little sweeter.

Refrigerate for several hours, then serve cold with a drizzle of the best olive oil that you have and a handful of minced herbs.  Enjoy the refreshing coldness and try to cast your mind back to just a few months ago when you were buried under three feet of snow.

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We interrupt these self-indulgent ramblings to bring you an actual recipe.  Enjoy.

  • 1 small seedless watermelon
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and quartered
  • 4 oz. feta
  • handful of chives
  • olive oil, the best you’ve got, as needed

Using a sharp knife, remove all of the peel from the watermelon.  Cut the watermelon into 1-inch thick disks.

Preheat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Cut half of the disks into 1-inch-thick lengths, and then crosswise into 1x1x3-inch blocks.  Place a handful of watermelon blocks in the skillet and sear.  (Do this in batches; don’t overcrowd the skillet!)  When the first side gets a nice charred crust, about 1 to 2 minutes, flip the blocks and sear the second side, about 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and place in a large mixing bowl.

Using a vegetable peeler, shave the unsliced watermelon and the red onion into thin slices.  Add to the mixing bowl with the seared watermelon.  Crumble the feta into the bowl.  Mince the chives and add half of them to the salad.  Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over the salad and toss to combine, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the remaining chives on top.  Enjoy!

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Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “There is never an instant’s truce between virtue and vice.”  As a refutation of this statement, I offer up this breakfast gratin.

I try to be virtuous; I really do.  I’m trying to eat more whole grains, more beans, more fruit.  (My current project is to make a batch of whole grains and a batch of dried beans each weekend to use throughout the coming week; we’ll see how this goes.)  So, this weekend, I made my big pot of wheatberries.  I wanted to do something with it besides making wheatberry salad or wheatberry soup.  In particular, I wanted something I could eat for breakfast, which is a very carbohydrate-friendly meal, after all.  If I can replace my daily Cheerios habit with dishes based on oatmeal, cornmeal, wheatberries, quinoa, etc., I’ll be consuming less processed food, saving money, removing myself from the agricultural-industrial complex, and generally be living a more Walden-esque existence myself.  Or something like that.

Before they have their morning (five cups of) coffee, Militant Carnivores need to be handled gently, however.  Breakfast is not the time to be assaulted with discussions of commercial food production or spiritual awakening via whole grains.  Breakfast, frankly, is the time for maple syrup.  Or brown sugar.  Or strawberries and cream.  Or milk and honey.  (Nobody ever described the promised land as one of quinoa and spelt.)

So here we are with this breakfast gratin:  Some whole grains and fresh fruit, tempered with a little butter, milk and brown sugar.  It takes a little more time than fixing a bowl of Cheerios, true, but not much more time than making bacon and eggs.  And as you settle down to a bowl of warm, wheaty goodness, you’ll apprehend that brief, beautiful moment when virtue and vice dwell together in harmony at last, and “all nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself.”

Or something like that.

  • 1 T butter
  • 1 medium eating apple, such as Braeburn or Fuji, peeled
  • 1 c cooked wheatberries
  • 1/2 milk (skim if you’re feeling virtuous; whole if you need a little more vice in your life; heavy cream if you’ve descended irredeemably into moral turpitude)
  • 1/4 c blanched slivered almonds
  • 1/4 c brown sugar

Preheat the broiler.  Melt the butter in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat.  With the coarse holes of a box grater, grate the apple into the butter; discard the apple core.  Saute the apple until it starts to brown, 4-5 minutes.  Add the wheatberries to the skillet and toss with the apple; saute for another 1-2 minutes.

Add the milk to the skillet; continue cooking for 1-2 minutes on the stove until the milk reduces and thickens.  Add a pinch of salt and a little black pepper, if you’re so inclined, to the skillet.

Mix the almonds and brown sugar together (I ground them together in the food processor, and I liked that quite a bit) and sprinkle over the top of the wheatberries.  Place the skillet under the broiler and broil until the topping is brown and starting to blacken in spots, about 1-2 minutes.

Serve immediately, with a little extra milk or a dollop of yogurt, if desired.  Contemplate how much better this is than cold cereal.

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