Beet carpaccio. Not a neologism. Red / white.

September 27th, 2008

Beef carpaccio is the classic dish of paper-thin slices of raw beef, invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice in the 1950′s and originally garnished with a white mayonnaise-based sauce. See the original recipe here. Variations on this theme are ubiquitous, and modern versions of the dish are often garnished with shaved parmesan cheese, olive oil, diced red onion, and capers.

You’ll find “carpaccios” of everything under the sun on modern menus, from fish to spam. However, this name is quite appropriate for a dish made with red beets and white goat’s cheese, because the name was inspired the similarity in palette to the brilliant reds and whites used by Vittore Carpaccio, a famous Venetian painter.

Here’s a beet carpaccio that uses gorgeous beets from Pachamama Organic Farm and Haystack Mountain’s incomparable goat’s cheese.

Beet Carpaccio

  1. one bunch red beets
  2. Haystack Mountain goat’s cheese
  3. 1/3 cup hazelnuts, shelled and papery skins removed, roughly chopped
  4. olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel beets, rub with olive oil and wrap tightly in foil. Roast 1 hour until tender and allow to cool.

Slice beets paper-thin, using your mandoline of choice or your best knife. Spread out over serving plate,  dot with goat’s cheese bits and chopped hazelnuts, then drizzle with good olive oil.

The most difficult part of this dish is removing the skins from raw hazelnuts. The most obvious way is to roast the nuts about 15 minutes at 350 degrees, allow to cool, then remove the skins by hand. Others swear by blanching, about 5 minutes (some recommend the addition of baking soda!), then drain, refresh with cold water, and peel.

Sources

Pachamama Organic Farm

Haystack Mountain

The mandoline. Less is more. Essential slicer.

September 27th, 2008

With mandolines it’s true that less is more. Classic french examples weigh a ton, cost a mint, and are perfectly capable of removing entire body parts if misused. Most working chefs favor an inexpensive alternative, the japanese Benriner (pictured left, in the queasy green color), and I use mine weekly.

Another strong contender is the all-stainless steel model made by the venerable German firm Rösle (pictured right).

What is not apparent from the picture is that the Benriner also comes with additional blades that allow it to be set up to quickly cut uniform strips for julienne and brunoise.

I find that the Rösle is easier to adjust accurately for slicing but agree with Rulhman that if you have only one tool it should be the Benriner, since the Rösle does not have julienne blades.

For wimps, hand guards are included or available with either model.

Sources

Amazon.com carries both mandolines.

Corn #3. Another Southern bellwether. Fried corn.

September 21st, 2008

Another southern preparation, here using Munson Farms corn of course.

Fried Corn

  1. 4 ears corn
  2. 2 tablespoons butter
  3. salt and black pepper

Slice the corn lengthwise from the cob into a bowl, then scrape the cob with the edge of the knife to catch any remaining liquid. Sauté the corn in butter, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and lots of black pepper.

Like any true southern dish this was classically prepared with bacon drippings, caveat emptor.

Sources

Munson Farms

Spaghetti squash. Uncharted territory inside. Brown butter.

September 13th, 2008

I have always marvelled at the spaghetti squash. This stealthy vegetable appears to be an ordinary, even boring squash but when cooked its flesh magically separates into simply uncanny spaghetti-like strands which have a wonderful texture and a surprisingly unsquash-like taste. I chose a lovely orange example (apparently this is the “Orangetti” variety) from Pachamama Organic Farm, and prepared it pasta-style with a simple brown butter sauce.

Spaghetti Squash with Brown Butter

  1. a firm spaghetti squash, about two pounds
  2. 3 Tb butter + a bit more, softened
  3. salt and pepper to taste

Preheat over to 375 degrees. Cut squash lengthwise and remove seeds and fibers, pat dry. Rub the cut surfaces and pits with a little butter, season with salt and pepper. Bake cut-side down for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Allow to cool a bit. Meanwhile, heat butter in a small saucepan over medium flame, watching carefully until slightly browned, then remove immediately from heat.

Scrape flesh into a bowl, separating strands with two forks. Toss with browned butter and serve immediately.

Sources

Pachamama Organic Farm

Dinner party. BCO’s greatest hits. Top three.

September 7th, 2008

We are a part of a “supper club” with a group of friends. Our turn came up, and it only seemed natural to revisit my favorite recipes of the year. The evening was fine and the dinner al fresco, featured were Pimientos de Padrón, Vichyssoise, and Blasut’s Chicken.

Ingredients came from the usual suspects: La Tienda, Red Wagon Organic Farm, and Wisdom’s; the dishes were well-received by all.

Classic Vichyssoise. Potato leek soup. Not French.

August 31st, 2008

VichyssoiseA disappointing Summer Corn Soup got me thinking about Vichyssoise, a cold potato leek soup that my parents were fond of making when I was young. To my 9-year old mind it was the very apotheosis of French sophistication, a cool, silky delight that seemed to be a great effort to make. I was wrong on both counts. Vichyssoise was invented at the Ritz Hotel in New York City, and the soup is dead easy to prepare. They used Julia Child’s classic recipe from Mastering the Art of French cooking, and so do I – difficulty really is a matter of perspective.

Both potatoes and leeks came from Red Wagon Organic Farm.

Classic Vichyssoise

  1. 3 cups peeled potatos, rough dice
  2. 3 cups leeks, cleaned and sliced thin
  3. 1 1/2 quarts good light chicken stock
  4. 1/2 – 1 cup heavy cream
  5. 2 tsp minced chives
  6. salt, white pepper

Simmer vegetables in stock until tender, about 45 minutes. Pureé vegetables and pass through a chinois or fine sieve. Stir in cream, and season with salt and white pepper. Conventional wisdom (Julia) suggests slightly oversalting, because this a cold dish. Chill well and serve in chilled cups and garnish with chives.

The fine sieve step and use of white pepper are affectations – the soup will taste equally wonderful even marred with lumps and unsightly black pepper.

Sources

Red Wagon Organic Farm

Agua frescas. Watermelon lime fresca. So refreshing.

August 24th, 2008

Agua fresca means “fresh water”, a traditional Latin American drink that is perfect for hot summer days. Agua frescas are made with many different fresh fruits and even rice (then called horchata), and are often seen on counters and street stands in a colorful array of glass jars called vitroleros.

If you have a blender and some fruit you can make agua fresca. Red Wagon Organic Farm has some beautiful little watermelons, so here we go using a recipe courtesy of the L.A. Times. The recipe calls for a medium seedless watermelon, about 6 pounds of flesh, but I used a smaller watermelon, seeded it, and adjusted the other ingredients by weight. The drink is sweetened with agave nectar, a honey-like elixir that dissolves very easily in water.

Watermelon-Lime Agua Fresca

  1. A medium seedless watermelon, about 6 pounds
  2. 4 cups water
  3. 2 Tb agave nectar
  4. 3 limes
  5. salt, to taste

Combine watermelon, water, and agave nectar in a blender and pureé. Strain through a fine sieve (a chinois, or China Cap, is ideal), discarding solids. Add lime, then salt to taste. Fine tune flavor with additional salt, agave, and lime.

Sources

Red Wagon Organic Farm

Okra’s appeal. Southern litmus test. Love it.

August 17th, 2008

Fried Okra

There’s no ambivalence whatsoever about okra – people love it or hate it. Two places that love it are the Southern United States and India… maybe it’s something about hot, humid climates? In the US it’s a litmus test – anyone who’ll eat it is probably from the South.

Texture is the problem. Detractors call it “slimy,” and indeed it is if prepared improperly. The classic gumbos are thickened with okra, except for Creole-style which uses filé, ground sassafras leaves. Institutional gumbos certainly can be slimy, as they are made haphazardly and with canned ingredients… “cafeteria gumbo” is undoubtedly the worst single contributor to okra’s poor reputation.

Fried okra is the classic Southern preparation. It’s very simple: okra is dredged in corn meal and fried in some kind of fat until lightly browned. In the old days the fat was always bacon drippings,  but now we use canola oil and a lighter touch.

Fried Okra

  1. 1 pound okra
  2. corn meal (I use Anson Mills)
  3. 2-3 Tb canola oil
  4. salt, pepper

Wash and dry okra and cut into 3/16″ rounds, discarding stem ends. Place in bowl, mix in well a handful of corn meal. Add small amounts of corn meal until no more sticks to the okra. Heat the canola oil until hot but not smoking, then add the okra with a slotted spoon to minimize adding loose cornmeal. Fry for a moment, then toss to coat with hot oil. Do not overcrowd the pan. Cook until a light golden brown, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sources

Miller Farms

Anson Mills

Anson Mills. Organic heirloom grains. Best grits.

August 16th, 2008

Anson Mills, founded in 1998, is a small mill in South Carolina that is dedicated to supplying the finest organic heirloom varieties of grits, polenta, cornmeal, rice, flours, oats, buckwheat and farro. Especially grits, Anson’s are the darling of so many “New Southern” restaurants around the country: now Shrimp and Anson Farms Grits is almost a menu cliché. Happily, Anson also does a brisk internet business selling to grain lovers everywhere.

This is the source for connoisseurs of grits: Anson’s offerings range from quick cooking varieties to “antebellum” grits that replicate the very grits that might have graced Scarlett O’Hara’s breakfast table. Also exceptional are the polentas, these often much fresher that Italian imports, and the otherwise hard-to-find Carolina Gold rice and farro.

The web site also has a terrific collection of recipes showcasing the various products.

Corn #2. Cool summer soup. Too milky.

August 11th, 2008

On a cold soup kick, I tried a riff on this Summer Corn Soup recipe from the latest Bon Appetit. The premise is intriguing: corn is stripped from the cobs and sautéed with aromatic vegetables, meanwhile the cob is simmered in milk to extract even more corn flavor. All is combined, puréed, and chilled; I served as small “shots.”

The results were pleasant enough, if a bit too milky for my taste. Next time around I’ll take a more classic chowder-style approach.

Sources

Munson Farms