Farmers’ Market Friday: Green Garlic

Spring has finally, officially returned and with it, the Copley Square Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a few days, I will start my fantastic new job at America’s Test Kitchen, and since I will only be working half-day Fridays all summer (!!!!), I’ll be able to visit the market on my way home, and early enough in the day that it should still have a good selection. Last year, I had to content myself with whatever dregs were left at the end of the day, and most stands were usually already packing up to leave by the time I arrived at the market. I can’t understand why farmers’ markets in the Boston area have hours that make them practically inaccessible to anyone who works full-time, particularly if you consider their astronomical prices.

This first week, not all of the usual stands were there yet. I saw Old Friends Farm, Iggy’s Bread, and a new fresh-pasta stand, Nella Pasta. At the Siena Farms stand, I was fascinated by the beautiful, long stalks of green garlic. I’d never cooked or eaten it before, so I decided to give it a shot. My goal is to try one vegetable or fruit that is completely new to me each week; I love the challenge of figuring out what to do with it. Green garlic — a young garlic plant harvested before the lower part of the stalk has begun to form the bulbous head of garlic cloves — is a particularly ephemeral item that is only available for a few short weeks in the early spring.

I took the stalk of garlic home, somehow managed to angle it into the fridge (it was nearly two feet long, from the roots to the tips of the leaves), and noticed that the leaves started to wilt soon after. The woman I’d spoken to at the farm stand had told me that the dark green leaves are inedible, in any case. You can only eat the pale green and white parts of the stalk, just like with leeks.

Green garlic can be used raw or cooked. I sampled a small piece raw to see how it tastes. The plant itself gives off a strong garlic scent, and it definitely tasted garlicky, but it’s milder than raw garlic cloves, and with less of a pungent, bitter edge. I decided to cook the garlic into a soup with a bunch of young sweet-pea shoots that I’d also bought at the market. The soup that I made turned out absolutely delicious, tasting of springtime, although it wasn’t as smoothly textured as I’d have liked. I blended with an immersion blender for several minutes but could not get the pieces of pea shoot any smaller. Adding dairy (such as cream or crème fraîche) to the soup might help give it a more velvety texture, but I wanted to keep it light and spring-y.

Green Garlic and Sweet-Pea Shoot Soup

(Serves 2)

1 TB unsalted butter
1 stalk green garlic (white and pale green parts only), finely minced
2 cups water or broth (vegetable or chicken)
1 bunch sweet-pea shoots
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice

  1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized stockpot over low heat, and then add the green garlic.
  2. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent.
  3. Add water or broth; season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Cover pot and bring to a boil, then toss in the pea shoots, cover again, reduce heat and simmer gently for about 5 minutes, or until shoots are wilted and tender.
  5. Puree using an immersion blender, blender, or food processor.
  6. Stir in lemon juice and serve immediately.

This would also be nice served topped with a dollop of crème fraîche, either plain or flavored with fresh mint.

William Woodville: „Medical botany“, London, J...

Image via Wikipedia

Fiddlehead Ferns…Spring?

Fiddlehead Ferns with Browned Butter and Prosciutto

Even though it still looks and feels more like early winter than late spring around Boston, an intriguing local springtime item has suddenly appeared in the produce section of my local Shaw’s (of all places)…fiddlehead ferns. I had never bought, cooked, or eaten them before but was really curious to try.

I decided to cook them as simply as possible in order to see how they tasted. I searched a bit for recipes and ended up using the recipe for “Fiddlehead Ferns with Browned Butter and Prosciutto” that I found here: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/4789959.

I liked the texture of the ferns, crisp and with a bit of snap to them. The flavor is hard to describe — the closest I can come to putting it in words is to say that they taste like the forest. The only feature about them that I found off-putting was their appearance. I hate to say it, but they really did look too much like coiled-up caterpillars for my liking. They will not be available for long, and maybe I’ll try them again next year (perhaps battering and frying them would make them more appealing?).

Puy Lentils with Bacon and Beer

1/4 lb bacon (about 4 strips), diced; plus 2 extra strips, cooked separately until crisp and crumbled (for garnish)
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 lb (16 oz) French green (Puy) lentils
4 cups chicken broth
2 stalks of fresh thyme, leaves stripped from stems
2 TB beer (I used Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale.)
Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or sauce pot, cook the bacon over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and crisp.
  2. Add the garlic, onion, carrot, and celery.  Cook for about 5 minutes, or until softened.
  3. Add the lentils and thyme leaves and cook for about 1 minute, stirring.
  4. Add the broth and mix well. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes, or until lentils are tender and liquid has been absorbed, stirring occasionally.
  5. While lentils are simmering, cook the 2 extra strips of bacon separately in a frying pan until well browned and crisp.
  6. In the last few minutes of cooking the lentils, add a few splashes of beer (about 2 TB) to the pot.
  7. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper and serve, topped with crumbled bacon.

Buddhini, jiggling tranquilly in a sea of tropical fruit…

A few years ago, my friend Brendan gave me a delightful gift that I absolutely adore — an ingenious set of dessert molds in the shape of little Buddhas — and I finally have gotten around to using them. Their name is a clever pun in Italian; “Buddhini” means “little Buddhas,” and is also a homophone of budini, or “puddings.”

I used a Thai jasmine-flavored agar dessert mix that you can easily find in most Asian food markets; it’s also available in almond flavor. You simply dissolve the powder mix in boiling water, pour into the molds, and refrigerate for at least an hour, or until firm.  I supported each mold in a small bowl by bunching up paper towels and using them to prop the molds upside-down.  You could also insert each one in an appropriately sized drinking glass or jar.  Once they have set, unmold by gently squeezing each mold over a plate, and serve with an assortment of tropical fruit (fresh, canned, or a mixture). A refreshing dessert for the summer. Yes, I’m aware that it’s not yet summer in Boston — or anywhere near it — but I can dream, can’t I?  I’m getting tired of root vegetables and hearty stews.

Want to try making Buddhini yourself?  You can find more information on the molds — including many recipes and where to buy them — online here:  http://www.nobodyandco.it. They’d also work great with ice cream, pudding, panna cotta, or any other type of dessert or savory treat that firms up in the fridge or freezer (they are not, unfortunately, oven safe).

Don’t Turn the Spurtle Widdershins

 

Porrige Spurtle

Porrige Spurtle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It sounds like a nonsense word straight out of “Jabberwocky,” but a spurtle (or “spirtle”) is a Scottish cooking implement with a history dating back to the 15th century, closely intertwined with that of porridge (we know it as “oatmeal”), the traditional staple food of Scotland. It’s a wooden dowel used to stir the oats during cooking to prevent the formation of lumps and to create a thicker, creamier porridge. The origins of the name are murky, although the Oxford English Dictionary points to the Latin spatula as a possible root.

Early versions of this instrument were made from a thin, straight branch of a tree, and usually turned from hardwoods such as beech, oak, chestnut, or ash. Scottish housewives who didn’t have a spurtle might have used a rung from a ladder.

They are typically about a foot long, an inch in diameter, and cylindrical, with one rounded end. Usually somewhat tapered at the stirring end, spurtles are often shaped at the handle end in the form of a thistle, a national symbol of Scotland.

As with all wooden cooking tools, treating a spurtle with mineral oil before use and after each wash will keep it in good condition and lengthen its lifespan.

According to tradition, only the right hand should be used for stirring porridge, and it should only be stirred in a clockwise direction, as stirring “widdershins” (or counter-clockwise) was believed to invoke the devil and bring bad luck.

Today this stirring stick lives on — at least in name — in the “Golden Spurtle”: the World Porridge-Making Championships held annually in the Scottish Highland village of Carrbridge, although the rules do not specifically require the use of a spurtle in the competition.

Of course, you don’t specifically need a spurtle to make porridge at home either — the handle of a wooden spoon will do just as well, but it is important to stir oats frequently during cooking to help disperse the starches, which makes for a thicker, creamier bowl of cereal.

Traditional Scottish Porridge

Makes 3 cups

The conventional cooking method is a lengthy endeavor requiring upwards of half an hour. Soaking the ingredients overnight allows you to have breakfast on the table within 15 minutes. Serve with individual bowls of milk, cream, or buttermilk for dunking each spoonful of porridge before eating. Porridge can also be served with brown sugar, jam, honey, syrup, or molasses. Other time-honored conventions: For reasons that have been lost to the mists of time, porridge must always be referred to as “they” or “them” and must be eaten while standing up, using a bone spoon. If you’ve only ever eaten rolled oats (the flattened grains used in “instant” or “quick-cook” versions), which can easily turn into a gummy paste when overcooked, you may be pleasantly surprised by the nutty flavor and chewy texture of steel-cut oats.

Ingredients:

Porridge

Porridge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3 cups cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup steel-cut oats (known as “pinhead” oats in Scotland)
1 1/2 cups milk, cream, or buttermilk (optional, for serving)

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring water and salt to a boil.
  2. Stir in oats and boil for 1 minute.
  3. Cover and let stand overnight at room temperature.
  4. The next morning, uncover, stir well, and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
  5. Reduce heat to low and simmer 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently with a spurtle (or the handle of a wooden spoon), until the porridge is thick and creamy and the oats are tender.
  6. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for a few minutes before serving.

Carrot and Cilantro Soup

Carrot and Cilantro Soup

Carrot and Cilantro Soup

Our Deep Winter CSA share from Red Fire Farm was far more interesting this week: carrots, baby salad greens, beets, garlic, cilantro (With the roots! Cilantro roots are an important ingredient in Thai cooking and very difficult to find in this country.), red onions, cabbage, radishes, and an amazing Jersey Cheddar cheese from The Farmstead at Mine Brook.

Tonight I used the carrots and cilantro to make this velvety, comforting soup. It’s good served with toasted and buttered slices of a hearty bread. I used Tuscan Wheat from When Pigs Fly bakery.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 lb onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 lbs carrots, peeled and sliced thin
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed, dried, and roughly chopped
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  1. In a large stockpot, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add coriander and cumin and stir well.
  2. Add onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add carrots and water and salt to taste.
  4. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, cover, and let simmer for about 30 minutes or until carrots are very soft.
  5. Remove pot from heat and stir in cream.
  6. Puree the soup thoroughly until it is velvety and smooth (a hand-held immersion blender works well for this step, although you can also use a food processor or upright blender).
  7. Adjust seasonings as desired, then stir in cilantro and serve.

Pork Chops with Rubbed Sage and Apples

Pork Chops with Sage and Apples, Toasted Almond Rice Pilaf, Celeriac and Carrots

A comforting meal for “extreme cold” alert nights.

3/4 tsp sage leaves, rubbed between your fingers (to release the flavor) and finely minced
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp (a pinch) ground allspice
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 TB flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 bone-in pork chops, about 1″ thick
1 TB olive oil
1/2 a medium onion, thinly sliced
1 Braeburn apple, sliced into thin sections (about 1/4″ thick)
1/2 cup applesauce mixed with 1 TB water to thin
1/2 TB brown sugar

Mix flour with spices and salt in a bowl. Distribute half of the minced garlic evenly over the pork chops and then sprinkle seasoned flour evenly over the surface of each chop.  Turn and repeat – reserving about 1 tsp of the seasoned flour for later.

Heat oil in a large skillet, then add chops and brown on both sides over medium-high heat. Remove chops from the skillet and set aside. Add onion to skillet and cook for 3 minutes or until softened, stirring frequently. Add apples to the skillet, cook and stir for about 2 minutes.

Add in the applesauce, water, brown sugar, and reserved seasoned flour. Mix well. Clear a space in the middle of the skillet and return chops to the skillet. Bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to low – cover and simmer for about 5 minutes over low heat or until pork chops are done.

We had this for dinner last night with toasted almond rice pilaf and celeriac cooked with carrots (both the  celeriac and carrots were from our winter CSA share).

Deep Winter Locavore CSA

Watermelon radishes from the first Red Fire Farm Deep Winter CSA share

Today is the first day of the Red Fire Farm Deep Winter CSA and I can’t wait to see what we’re getting! My friend Denise and I decided to split a share. If you’re not familiar with the acronym, it stands for “Community-Supported Agriculture” and is a relatively new (in the U.S., anyway) scheme where you pay for a seasonal subscription to a local (and often organic) farm, in return for a weekly or biweekly share of the farm’s produce.

Strangely enough, this is the first time I’ve ever joined a CSA, although they are very popular in the Bay Area. For various reasons, I was never able to either get on the list in time (some fill up quickly) or find one with a pick-up or delivery scheme that was convenient for me. Now that I am living in Boston, I am particularly excited about this “deep winter” version, since, unlike in California, the outdoor farmer’s markets have long since shuttered for the season — the seemingly endless winter season. There’s a joke that in New England, there are only two seasons: winter and “the other six months.” I didn’t realize how spoiled I was in California until I moved here to face the harsh reality of frozen ground from November through May. Spring comes slowly here. To truly eat locally in this area for the winter months would be a pretty grim prospect, largely limited to root vegetables, winter squashes, apples — for as long as they would last, and preserves. I haven’t seen our first share yet but word on the street is that it contains spinach, celeriac, butternut squash, cilantro (with the roots, I hope!), pickles, rutabagas, and radishes. The reason I’m yearning for cilantro roots is that the roots are an essential ingredient in many Thai dishes, but they’re usually cut off and discarded here in the U.S. before sale, making them very difficult to find. So whenever I do manage to find some cilantro with the roots still attached, I store them in my freezer until the next lucky break.

A frissedhra

I was delighted to stumble across a package of “friselle” in a small market in the North End the other day. These are a regional specialty from the south of Italy (Puglia, to be precise) and are difficult to find in other regions of Italy, let alone in the U.S., although I did once see something quite similar on an island in Greece and assume that they are eaten there in the same way. Perhaps friselle even came to Puglia via Greece, as the area was once colonized by the Ancient Greeks (some small villages exist in Puglia where people still speak a dialect of Greek).

Also known as “frise” or “friseddhre” (in Pugliese dialect), they are twice-baked, ring-shaped rusks, usually made from a mixture of whole-grain durum wheat and barley, which somewhat resemble hardened, halved bagels. Friseddhre must be first soaked in cold water for approximately 30-60 seconds to soften, and then they are drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and served topped with diced tomatoes, capers, salt, pepper, and fresh oregano. I also will usually rub half of a clove of raw garlic on the frisella before soaking it. They may not sound very exciting but they’re quite tasty and wholesome, sort of a larger, softer, more rustic version of bruschette.

The capers I use are salt-packed capers that I brought back from the Aeolian Islands in Sicily. Salt-packed capers are harder to find in the U.S. than those cured in vinegar, but if you can find them, they are well worth the extra effort and cost (ironically, in Italy the salt-packed capers are cheaper and it’s harder to find them in vinegar!). I’ve converted many former caper-haters by introducing them to this type; instead of tasting strongly of vinegar, the delicate flavor of the capers shines through, and I find that the texture is better as well: firm and slightly crisp, rather than soggy. To use them, you just need to rinse them well, then soak them in some cold water for about 20 minutes to half an hour, then rinse and drain again.


A Moveable Feast

This afternoon I joined a guided walk through Forest Hills Cemetery led by Anthony Sammarco, a local historian and author of more than forty books on the history of Boston.  This garden cemetery is one of the most beautiful in the country, aside from holding great personal significance for me (my paternal grandparents are buried here), and I was excited by the idea of a food-themed walking tour, replete with tastings! It was a beautiful, brisk, fall day as Mr. Sammarco led our small group through the turning leaves.

We started at the grave of Thaddeus Clapp, the hybridizer of the Clapp’s Favorite variety of pear, a cross between the Bartlett and Flemish Beauty (apparently there is a giant pear sculpture in Everett Square in Dorchester, MA commemorating this accomplishment). This variety was unique because it was an early ripening pear, making the fruit available at a time of year when it was previously unobtainable. While Mr. Sammarco spoke we enjoyed some slices of fresh pear.

Our second stop was at the grave of Samuel Downer (1807-1881), who achieved fame for hybridizing the Downer’s Late cherry, which conversely ripened about a week after the regular cherry season, extending the availability of fresh cherries. Here we sampled fresh cherries, cherry juice, and gummy cherry candies.

Next up on the itinerary was the final resting place of Jacob Wirth (d. 1892), restauranteur and one of the first to introduce “ethnic” food from his native Prussia to the Boston area at his beer hall in Stuart Street, founded in 1868 and the second-oldest operating restaurant in the city after the Union Oyster House. At Jake’s gravestone we enjoyed some apple cider, the original idea of beer apparently having been nixed by someone behind the scenes at Forest Hills.

Next we visited the grave of Maria Parloa (1843-1909), one of the most popular cooking teachers and cookbook authors of the 19th Century, and co-founder of the Boston Cooking School. At Maria’s grave, a basket of mini Hershey’s chocolate bars had been set out, in honor of the chocolate cookbook that Maria authored (although it was for the Walter Baker cocoa company, rather than Hershey’s).

We then made a pilgrimage to the gravestone of Ruby Foo (1904-1950), the owner of Ruby Foo’s Den, one of the first resturants to offer Chinese food to Bostonians.  Considering the state of Chinese cuisine in the Boston area today (one word: dismal), I was quite curious about what types of dishes Ruby Foo might have served to her customers in the 30s and 40s.  Crab Rangoon could not possibly have been one of them, since that peculiarly un-Chinese concoction was actually invented at Trader Vic’s in San Francisco in the late 1950s. Mr. Sammarco informed us that Ruby’s restaurant was quite popular with the local Jewish population, not least of all because they were banned from dining in many other local restaurants at the time.  Could this be one of the reasons for the enduring love that many Jewish people still have today for Chinese food? Or is it that Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas Day? At this stop we were offered fortune cookies, another American Chinese food invention (this is fodder for an entirely separate post, so I’ll refrain from commenting further).

We then wandered through the beautifully-landscaped grounds to the plot of S. S. Pierce (1807-1881), the proprietor of a fine-foods emporium that once stood in Copley Square (1887-1958). While munching on cookies, Mr. Sammarco described how Pierce imported upscale foods from around the world and had them delivered to well-to-do Back Bay families by horse-drawn livery coach (Today, Back Bay residents like yours truly use “old lady” wheelie carts to haul their groceries from Shaw’s and Trader Joe’s to their brownstones. Not quite as elegant).

Our final stop was at the plot of the Pfaff family, whose once well-known brewery was at Roxbury Crossing. We learned about the Pfaff brewery and the almost two dozen others that used to stand along Stony Brook from Roxbury to Jamaica Plain. The clear water from Stony Brook (now dry) was used to produce German-style lager beers. By this point, Mr. Sammarco’s assistants had somehow managed to sneak some real ale into the tour, and we enjoyed it on the steps of the Egyptian-style Pfaff Mausoleum.

I had a great time on this tour and learned a great deal – Mr. Sammarco is a vast treasure-trove of historical knowledge and clearly has a soft spot in his heart for anything related to food and dining. I wished I could have spoken to him longer and asked him some questions, particularly about the mysterious Ruby Foo.  I guess I’ll have to do some research of my own!

When the tour ended I took the opportunity to visit my grandparents, Eugene and Lena St. Onge, in the newer section of the cemetery. My French-Canadian grandfather was a chef, and my grandmother told me that they met when she and a girlfriend saw him slicing turkey in the window of a restaurant in Cape Cod one day.  He was tall and handsome, and my grandmother’s girlfriend said to her, “I bet you can’t make him!” and she retorted, “I bet you I can!” and the rest, as they say, is history…