Archive for the ‘fruit’Category

Italy #5 — Parmigiano-Reggiano for dessert

Parmigiano dessert plate 1 Leave it to the Italians to keep dessert simple. With its strong umami flavor (second only to Roquefort cheese in glutamate levels), Parmigiano-Reggiano makes everything around it taste better. Following the Italian example, we like to make a plate with a mix of nuts, dried fruit, and fresh fruit. This fall, for example, we paired chunks of a two-year-old buttery summer milk Parmigiano-Reggiano with lightly toasted walnuts, diced apple, and buttered slices of baguette.

Donnafugata passito The extra special touch on each plate was a small cluster of raisins that I brought home from Donnafugata’s vineyards on Pantelleria. The Zibbibo grape (Moscato di Alessandria) is one of the few things that grows on this windswept rock halfway between Sicily and Tunisia. (The other is capers.) The picked grapes are spread under muslin-topped hoops to dry from the heat and wind. Then the Rallo family presses the bunches to make Ben Ryé, an intense passito wine. When I visited the winery, Giacomo plucked a large bunch off the conveyor belt and handed it to me. “For the flight,” he said, but the grapes were so intense that I saved them for months – until the Legends from Europe presented us with all that delicious cheese.

31

12 2012

What to drink at the airport … in Kelowna

No, we didn’t take this photograph in the cute little Kelowna airport, located in the heart of the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. Once principally an orchard area (the peaches and cherries are incredible), the valley now boasts more than 150 wineries and an untold number of vineyards. It is emerging as one of the hottest new table wine region in the North American west as well as continuing its excellent production of Canada’s best-known ice wines.

We spent a few days touring and tasting and have to admit that it’s hard to beat the striking vistas from the hillside vineyard tasting rooms that overlook the chain of lakes in the Okanagan Valley. Looking down the long green rows to the blue water–and then across to the opposite bank where more vines climb the hills to the horizon is pretty special. The lakes help hold the heat and the high desert climate makes the region nearly perfect for growing grapes organically. We’ve seen few places in the world where organic viticulture (and agriculture in general) was the rule rather than the exception.

To our surprise, the Kelowna airport’s Skyway Cafe & Bar is a fine place for a final glass before boarding a flight, if only to get a last taste of an Okanagan wine in situ (assuming you skip the wine-in-a-box “Premium Red” and “Premium White”). The bar offers selections by the glass from some of the most respected vineyards in the region, including a Mission Hill Five Vineyards cabernet sauvignon-merlot blend and a pinot noir from Grey Monk.

Alas, the bar doesn’t pour any of the ice wines that first made the region’s reputation. So if you find yourself flying from Kelowna, make sure a bottle or two is in your checked bags. If you’re flying nonstop, there’s a wine shop by Gate 5.

26

08 2012

Six things to bring home from New Hampshire

In our last post, we mentioned six items we like to bring home from trips to Vermont. Since Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire has about the same number of entries from each state, it seems only fair to mention some of our favorite foods to bring back from the Granite State.

Flag Hill Winery & Distillery (297 North River Rd., Lee, N.H.; 603-659-2949; flaghill.com) doesn’t need our imprimatur to sell their immensely popular, often sweet wines made from berries and apples as well as first-generation French-American hybrid grapes. Our preference goes to products from the artisanal distillery. The barrel-aged apple brandy is a classic American applejack, and the neutral spirit, a vodka triple-distilled from apples, is smooth and sultry. It’s named for Revolutionary War hero General John Stark. Deeply chilled, it is excellent to sip neat.

Doug Erb’s family has operated Springvale Farm since the mid-20th century, but the dairy herd really rose to greatness in 2009 when Erb launched Landaff Creamery (546 Mill Brook Rd., Landaff, N.H.; 603-838-5560; landaffcreamery.com). We’re fond of his original Caerphilly style cheese, but the French-style, washed-rind tomme is even more evocative for its taste of terroir. Many stores sell the original Landaff, but we’ve only found the tomme at the farm.

The Littleton Grist Mill (18 Mill St., Littleton, N.H.; 603-259-3205; littletongristmillonline.com) started grinding flour and meal in 1798 and continued into the 1930s. Restored in the 1990s, it produces a prodigious variety of stone-ground flours from organic grains. We’re partial to the buckwheat flour to use in making pancakes and crepes.

We like bacon with our pancakes, and some of the most subtle New Hampshire bacon comes from the chambers of Fox Country Smoke House (164 Brier Bush Rd., Canterbury, N.H.; 603- 339-4409; foxcountrysmokehouse.com). Located on a backwoods road, the facility looks like something from the opening minutes of the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter. Many stores sell Fox Country bacon in sliced form, but we like to pick out our own packages of unsliced bacon, opting for smoky pieces with good streaking for the breakfast table, more lightly smoked extra-lean chunks for dicing into seasoning for risottos.

Even with the great salumerias of Boston’s North End, we finding ourselves stopping in Manchester, N.H., so we can shop at Angela’s Pasta and Cheese Shop (815 Chestnut St., Manchester, N.H.; 603-625-9544; angelaspastaandcheese.com). The homemade sauces are Italian-American heaven, but what suckers us in every time are the handmade gnocchi that we buy from the freezer case. These are the best frozen gnocchi we have ever found.

If we’re anywhere in the upper Connecticut River Valley, we make sure we visit the Robie Farm & Store (25 Rte. 10, Piermont, N.H.; 603-272-4872; www.robiefarm.com). The honor-system store has organic beef and sausages from the family’s own cattle and pigs. They also sell raw milk, cream, and a couple of farmhouse cheeses. The Italian-style alpine Toma (also available smoked) has a rich creaminess that conjures up the valley’s green pastures when you bite into a piece and close your eyes.

29

06 2012

Watermelon steak from José Andrés

When we first tasted this at Cayman Cookout on Grand Cayman Island in the middle of January, it was hard to think about watermelon. But José Andrés was thinking nothing but—demonstrating eight recipes for watermelon in an hour-long session. Andrés is perhaps the best ambassador of Spanish cooking to America. His Washington, D.C., restaurants include Jaleo, Zaytinya, Oyamel, Café Atlantico, and minibar by José Andrés. His grand Bazaar at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills has taken Los Angeles by storm.

We always think of watermelon as the most juvenile of summer fruits, but José showed just how sophisticated it can be. The preparation that stuck with us was his version of bistec de sandia, or watermelon steak. As every calorie-counter knows, watermelon is actually light and insubstantial (and low in calories), but grilled melon seems hearty enough to proudly wear the Spanish title bistec. The recipe depends on having wonderfully ripe watermelon and equally ripe heirloom tomatoes.

We’ve made a few departures from José’s original recipe. On Grand Cayman, he dressed the plate with microgreens. In the height of watermelon and tomato season here in New England, it’s too hot for tender greens to survive in our garden. So we use a chiffonade of Batavia lettuce, one of the few varieties that holds in the heat. José also cut his watermelon slices into palm-sized tournedos–almost like a filet mignon. Since there are just two of us and the best local watermelons are small, round ”icebox” varieties bred for New England gardens, we like to take two cross-section slices out of the middle of the melon. That way each ”steak” tends to fill a 10-inch luncheon plate.

GRILLED WATERMELON STEAK WITH TOMATO SALSA

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 ripe heirloom tomatoes
pinch sea salt
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
2 cross-section slices of watermelon, 2 inches thick
Spanish olive oil to coat pan
3 leaves Batavia or Romaine lettuce, cut in fine chiffonade
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
2 pinches of Maldon or other finishing salt

Directions

1. Dip tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove, peel, and core. Cut tomatoes into 1/2-inch dice and toss with sea salt, sherry vinegar, and 2 teaspoons olive oil. Reserve.

2. Trim green skin from watermelon slices but leave about half the white rind intact. (It helps to keep the grilled steaks from falling apart.)

3. Grease grill or large skillet with olive oil and heat until it barely begins to smoke. Add one slice of watermelon and grill until lightly caramelized, about two minutes. Turn over and grill other side. Repeat for second slice.

4. Put slice of grilled melon on plate and spoon on tomato mixture. Place lettuce chiffonade on side. Sprinkle melon with chopped pistachios and a little finishing salt.

19

08 2011

Roman holiday

With a chance to spend a week in Rome, we decided to book an apartment so we could live more like Romans than transients. A recommendation in the guidebook Pauline Frommer’s Italy led us to Worldwide Accommodations, where we found an apartment in Trastevere, the 13th century neighborhood across the Tiber from the Jewish Ghetto and the ruins of ancient Rome. Overlooked by the 19th and 20th century modernization of the centro storico, most of Trastevere remains a colorful and intimate place stretched out between the Gothic churches of Santa Cecilia and Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Adding to that neighborly feeling, our landlady Carla Conti welcomed us with a simple tube cake that became breakfast for the week when we topped pieces with sliced fresh strawberries and blood orange segments that we purchased at the morning market in Piazza San Cosimato. When we left, she even gave us the recipe (see below).

We enjoyed the cozy apartment with a spacious bedroom, a modern bath, a pleasant sitting room, and a compact but functional kitchen. The neighborhood was so full of good trattorie and osterie that we never did get around to cooking dinner, but we did make breakfast. More to come on some of our favorite restaurants and recipes for typical Roman dishes.

CARLA CONTI’S HEALTHY ROMAN CAKE
Carla makes this simple cake as a welcome gift for renters in her Trastevere apartment. Her version comes out as a large, slender ring. Since that kind of pan is hard to find in the U.S., we decided to cut the recipe in half and use a small (6.5 inch) Bundt pan. Like most cakes and pastries, this one works best if you weigh the ingredients rather than relying on volume measurements. Because it uses vegetable oil and yogurt, Carla calls it a ”healthy” cake – but she often drizzles it with chocolate fondant to make a more decadent dessert.

Ingredients

115 grams white flour
8 grams baking powder
2 small eggs
125 grams superfine sugar
60 grams vegetable oil
75 grams yogurt (plain or fruit)

Directions

1. Heat oven to 350F. Grease and flour small Bundt pan.

2. Sift together flour and baking powder. Set aside.

3. In medium bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Beat in sugar, a little at a time to make sure it dissolves. With mixer running, add vegetable oil and beat until mixture takes on consistency of soft mayonnaise.

4. Add alternating portions of flour mixture and yogurt, beating well after each addition. Pour mixture into Bundt pan. Bake 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean.

5. Cool on rack for five minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely. Slice and serve with fresh berries.

19

04 2011

Black pepper, red wine, and strawberries

The conjunction of strawberry season with this series of blogs about French cooking takes us back to our first introduction to lightened French cuisine, which was not in France at all but in the second largest French-speaking city in the world, Montreal. Les Halles opened in 1971 as a grand Escoffier-like townhouse palace of dining in a city best known to that point for its great baked beans with salt pork. When Dominique Crevoisier took over as chef in the early 1980s, he skillfully blended the haute with the nouvelle to create magical meals that didn’t give the patrons gout. He gave us the best idea of what to do with leftover red wine: Turn it into a peppered syrup to serve on strawberries! He added his own touch by tossing the berries with grated lime zest, which is a surprising complement to the black pepper. Alas, Les Halles closed five years ago, but the dining revolution launched by Les Halles has made Montreal one of the great restaurant cities of North America. And every strawberry season Crevoisier’s red wine-black pepper syrup lives on.

RED WINE-BLACK PEPPER SYRUP

Ingredients

2 cups intense red wine (cabernet sauvignon, syrah, etc.)
2 Tablespoons black peppercorns
1/4 cup sugar

Directions

1. Combine ingredients in large skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until reduced to 1/3 cup of syrup.

2. Strain to remove peppercorns.

3. Cool and serve with sliced strawberries tossed with lime zest and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

30

06 2010

Summer’s bequest: blueberry bread pudding

Please forgive the shameless plug, but the second edition of our locavore book, Food Lovers’ Guide to Massachusetts, has just been published by Globe Pequot Press. We love researching the farmstands, restaurants, bakeries, fishmongers, chocolatiers, and cheesemakers that are featured in the book. Food people are some of the nicest and most generous folk in the world, and they remind us that we don’t have to go to exotic locales for wonderful tastes. We are already at work on the next edition.

Of all the great places in the book, Tower Hill Botanic Garden (11 French Drive, Boylston, MA 01505, 508-869-6111, www.towerhillbg.org), home base of the Worcester County Horticultural Society, is one of the best places to learn about New England heirloom apples. The society maintains one of the most comprehensive collections of New England heirloom apple trees in its orchard and even sells scions for grafting in the spring.

Ironically, the delicious recipe that Cecile Collier, chef at the botanic garden’s Twigs Cafe, shared with us for Food Lovers is for blueberry bread pudding. Craving a little taste of summer, we made one this week with our last cup of frozen berries.

With apologies to Massachusetts, we confess to being Maine wild blueberry chauvinists. David grew up in coastal Maine, and spent many backbreaking summer days raking wild blueberries for the local cannery. We’re both convinced that the flavor of one tiny wild blueberry is greater than the flavor of a half dozen larger cultivated berries. So during the brief season from late July into mid-August, we drive up to Maine and buy them from enterprising pickers who sell along the side of Route 1. What we can’t eat immediately, we save by spreading them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freezing. Within an hour they’re ready for heavy-duty freezer bags. When we pulled them out six months later for this recipe, they were as tasty as they were in August.

Blueberry Bread Pudding

Ingredients

4 eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
7 to 8 slices of stale bread, crusts removed
1 cup blueberries
Nutmeg to taste

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine and blend eggs, half-and-half, milk, 3/4 cup sugar, and vanilla.

2. Tear up bread and mix with blueberries. Place in a 9-by-5-inch bread pan. Pour egg mixture over bread and berries in pan. Sprinkle with nutmeg and 2 tablespoons sugar.

3. Place loaf pan into a larger baking pan that has been filled halfway with hot water. Bake for 60-75 minutes, until pudding is set and top is browned.

4. Serve pudding warm, pairing each dish with a small sidecar of vanilla ice cream.

Serves 4.

20

02 2010