Archive for the ‘Garden’Category

Lincoln Inn emerges as Vermont’s gourmet destination

Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont
The Lincoln Inn in Woodstock is among the most European of the little inns in Vermont, and not just because chef Jevgenija Saromova hails from Latvia. She and innkeeper partner Mara Mehlman describe the property as a “restaurant with rooms.” That’s a model common in the European countryside, and often signals great dining. Think, for example, of Maison Troisgros, one of the pioneers of modern French cuisine.

Woodstock isn’t Roanne, of course, and Jevgenija Saromova (or Chef Saromova, as she prefers) isn’t Jean or Pierre Troisgros. Not yet, anyway. But she has impressive classical culinary credentials and a personal style unique in northern New England. She worked in top restaurants in Italy, France, and England before joining Mehlman in Vermont. The two women have applied the model of the French “auberge” to an 1875 farmhouse with six charming, carefully decorated rooms and green lawns that roll down to the Ottauquechee River.

Innkeeper Mara Mehlman of the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont A native Californian, Mara first dreamed of living in Vermont when she took a Vermont foliage bicycle tour. Years later, she purchased the property, thoroughly renovated the building, and re-opened the inn rooms in July 2014. It became a gastronomic destination when Chef Saromova arrived from England a few months later. The women clearly love Vermont—skiing in the winter, kayaking in the summer—but they have no intention of replicating traditional New England fare.

“We’re not about maple syrup and cheddar cheese,” says Mara. “This is fine dining.”

Chef Saromova explains. “I don’t like boring food plates,” she says. “I like to combine textures and flavors.”

Refined Dining

Chef Jevgenija Saromova of the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, VermontChef Saromova spent nearly two decades as a member or leader of a kitchen brigade, but she works alone in the Lincoln Inn kitchen. Every dish is created to her taste and executed precisely as she envisions it. In effect, every diner gets the personal attention of the master chef. During most of the year, the restaurant serves a four-course prix fixe dinner Thursday through Sunday, with a more casual tavern night on Wednesdays. During foliage season, nights for dinner increase and tavern night goes on hiatus. The four-course meals—$55 per person—are gourmet pleasures. The menu changes daily. True to Chef Saromova’s word, it’s anything but boring. The Inn at Woodstock and other area lodgings send their foodie guests here for the full-blown fine-dining experience—complete with an excellent and surprising wine list.

Paul Newman Dining Room at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont In addition to the main dining room tables, one party per evening can book the Chef’s Table for a seven- or twelve-course tasting menu. Some of the plates are variations of those on the four-course menu, while others include specialized or especially precious ingredients. The Chef’s Table is served in the Paul Newman dining room (left). Newman and his family used to vacation here and a previous owner enclosed a side porch as their private dining room. One diner at the table faces a photograph of Newman in his prime, and some ladies have been known to fantasize that they were having dinner with the actor. We enjoyed a seven-course meal that ranks as one of the most memorable we’ve eaten stateside in a long time. Each course demonstrated another aspect of the chef’s ability to exploit taste and texture combinations for yet another striking composition.

Gazpacho served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Chilled Gazpacho and Olive Tapenade Crostini

Chef Saromova grows her own kitchen garden in the river bottom land behind the inn. Despite this year’s drought, she had good crops of tomatoes. Her take on chilled gazpacho is especially sweet from both the tomatoes and the roasted red peppers. It also has just a hint of red onion. The saltiness of methodically hand-pitted ripe olives (Kalamata and Niçoise by the taste) in the tapenade brings out the fresh vegetable flavors, while the paper-thin crostini give visual interest to the composition of the dish and a satisfying crunch. The dish was reveille for the taste buds: Fall in and stand at attention.

Lobster served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Lobster and Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo

Butter-poached lobster tail is a classic of French haute cuisine. The technique demands a low temperature to keep the butter from browning. Lobster cooked this way is more tender than boiled or steamed. Orzo and chopped mild greens mixed with a judicious bit of mascarpone form a presentation base for the lobster meat. The sweetness of the cheese calls the lobster’s sweetness to the fore.

Sea bass and scallop served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Sea Bass and Seared Scallops

Neither sea bass nor scallops strike any diner as unusual, but Chef Saromova’s approach to serving them together as a fish course speaks volumes about her classical training and her command of technique. The sea bass—striped bass, in this case, rather than more conventional farmed sea bass—is roasted in a persillade. Traditionally, persillade is a chopped parsley and garlic preparation that most chefs use throughout a meal. This version was light on the garlic and included enough mustard and breadcrumbs that it sealed in juices of this sometimes dry fish. The scallop was perfectly seared—just barely cooked through. For contrast, the sea bass came with stewed black-eyed peas. The legumes emphasize the meatiness of the fish. The scallop sat on a pasta-like salad of thin strips of cucumber and white radish lightly dressed with champagne vinegar—sharp flavors that highlight the scallop’s delicacy.

beet and goat cheese salad served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Beet, Goat Cheese, Granita Salad

The photo above doesn’t really do justice to this inventive salad where so many things were happening on the plate. The slices of red and yellow beet (left side) were sweet and delicious. They paired nicely with fresh lettuce leaves and a slice of soft goat cheese. The pomegranate-orange granita, however, elevated everything with a tart punch. The pickled cherry was, well, the cherry on top. The “dust” on the plate was dehydrated beet that had been pulverized in a blender. It was a pretty touch. The salad completely refreshed our palates before the meat courses began.

Filet and escargot served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Filet Mignon, Ravioli, and Escargot/Oyster Fricasee

This dish is an embarrassment of riches. Fortunately, each of the premium ingredients was restricted to a small portion. The raviolo atop the small piece of perfectly cooked, perfectly salted filet mignon was filled with an explosive mix of truffle and foie gras—pretty much an orgy of umami. Surprisingly, the oyster shell filled with a fricassee of escargot and oyster was equally dark, savory, and garlicky. Even more surprising, the snails were juicy and tender. (Face it—snails are usually rubbery.) The sweet potato purée provided a contrast of smooth and sweet to chewy and meaty. It was a brilliant dish.

Lamb two ways served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Lamb Chop and Smoked Lamb Breast

Lamb two ways is another Escoffier classic, but Chef Saromova’s variant is pure Vermont country. The lamb chop here is cut from a roasted rack. It was perfect. The second lamb dish was the breast—or brisket. She boned, rolled, and tied it up with string. After brining it for 20 hours, she cold-smoked with cherry chips for two hours, and braised it six hours until it was falling apart. As if the meats weren’t unctuous enough, Chef Saromova served them with figs poached in port wine. The little “berries” are actually balsamic glaze mixed with agar-agar and olive oil, then frozen so that they form little beads of explosive flavor. It’s just proof that such touches predate so-called molecular cuisine.

Chocolate delice served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Chocolate and Fruit

Chef Saromova clearly favors creamy desserts. The chocolate delice—essentially a chocolate terrine with cookie crumb base and chocolate icing—is the ostensible star of this plate. The “bars” are a champagne and strawberry terrine. The flavor favors the wine over the fruit. By contrast, the strawberry sorbet tastes more intensely of strawberry than most fresh strawberries do. Capping it all off, the sweetened vanilla yogurt has a skin that makes it explode in the mouth.

Coffee, anyone?

Lincoln Inn & Restaurant at the Covered Bridge, 2709 W. Woodstock Rd., Woodstock, VT 05091; 802-457-7052;

Lexington’s FoodChain redefines ‘local’

microgreens growing at FoodChain in Lexington
A Saturday afternoon tour at FoodChain ( in Lexington’s Bread Box complex might change the way you look at “local” food. At the very least, it can give you a peek into a somewhat promising food future where excess building space is converted into a living factory to produce vegetables and protein—or, more specifically, salad and microgreens and big plump tilapia.

The brainchild of Rebecca Self, native Lexingtonian, MIT graduate, and spouse of Ben Self (see last post on West Sixth Brewing), FoodChain is a demonstration project of an “aquaponics” farm. The growing techniques are a hybrid of aquaculture and hydroponics, which have complementary strengths and weaknesses. Aquaculture is generally used to grow fish or crustaceans in closed tanks or ponds. Most cheap frozen tiger shrimp, for example, are farmed this way in Southeast Asia. So is a lot of cheap tilapia from China. Hydroponics is most widely used in cold climates to grow vegetables indoors under lights on a soilless medium. A lot of microgreens, baby lettuces and spinach are produced this way.

Snipping cilantro at FoodChain in Lexington KY Both practices have significant shortcomings. Aquaculture produces a lot of waste that has to be cleaned from the water before it makes the fish or shrimp sick. Hydroponics requires a lot of nutrients to be added to the water that the plants grow in. To grossly simplify, aquaponics uses the plants to scrub the waste from the fish tanks, and the “waste” provides the nutrients to grow the plants. The details, of course, require considerable ingenuity and fine tuning.

The system at FoodChain circulates about 7,000 gallons of water through the growing trays and the fish tanks. Weekly harvest is about 35 pounds of lettuce and herbs as well as seven large trays of microgreens. About 15 pounds of full-grown tilapia—10-20 fish—are harvested from the tanks each Friday as well.

tilapia swim in TV aquarium at FoodChain in Lexington KY The plants are grown under lights (FoodChain uses Inda-Gro induction lighting, which draws less electricity than conventional grow lamps) and some minerals are added to the water for proper plant and fish nutrition. FoodChain is experimenting with feeding spent grain from West Sixth Brewing to the fish.

Becca Self is a bit of a visionary, as the aquaponics project is just Phase I of an envisioned three phases for FoodChain. Phase II is projected to grow mushrooms in the basement using the brewery’s spent grain as a substrate while simultaneously expanding to raised beds and hoop houses to grow food on the 20,000 square feet of flat roof over Bread Box. Phase III will be a kitchen incubator, with cooking stations to do small-batch processing. Tours are offered on Saturdays at 1 p.m. at a charge of $10 for adults, $5 for children. See the web site for details.

In the meantime, Lexington restaurants are gobbling up the greens and the tilapia are stars of the plate at adjacent Smithtown Seafood. (The future is now!)


08 2015

Watermelon gazpacho around the world

Miradoro viewIt’s finally watermelon season in our part of the world, which gives us an excuse to resurrect a recipe we received too late to try last fall. It was for a fantastic watermelon gazpacho we ate at Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley wine region of British Columbia.

During this summer’s research for the Frommer’s Easy Guide to Madrid & Barcelona, we were surprised to find watermelon gazpacho on almost all the best menus in both cities. So now that we’re home writing and local icebox watermelons are at the farmers’ markets, we tried the Miradoro recipe from executive chef Jeff Van Geest. It is terrific. Here it is, tweaked for our small watermelons. (It tastes just as good without the incredible vineyard view.) For other recipes from Van Geest, click here.


Make about 6 cups
watermelon gazpacho
1 small or 1/2 large watermelon, seeds removed
1 small to medium red onion
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch mint (a fistful)
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley (also a fistful)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1. Roughly chop the watermelon, and finely chop garlic, onion, mint, and parsley.
2. Add olive oil and vinegar and toss. Refrigerate overnight for flavors to meld.
3. Pulse in a food processor or with immersion blender until gazpacho is desired texture. (Van Geest makes his version very smooth.)
4. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


08 2013

Cherry tomatoes and the Killer Tomato cocktail

The last tomatoes hanging in the garden are assorted cherry types–some Sweet 100s, some Sungolds, and mostly some mongrel crosses that volunteered last spring. During our August visit to the Okanagan Valley, we had many good inspirations for using tomatoes (see the last three posts). But only mixologist Gerry Jobe at RauDZ Restaurant in Kelowna turned turned tomatoes into a terrific mixed drink.

RauDZ (a great locavore restaurant that’s a collaboration between Rod Butters and Audrey Surrao) focuses on local-grown food whenever possible, which means that Kelowna tomato guru Milan Djordjevich of Stoney Paradise Farm brings in boxes and boxes of Sungold tomatoes. When chef Butters challenged Jobe to make an Okanagan Bloody Mary, he created the Killer Tomato.

It’s fairly simple. Here are the ingredients:

4 muddled Sungold cherry tomatoes
0.25 ounce balsamic vinegar
1 oz. vodka
1 oz. Cointreau
3 ounces of lemonade

Jobe muddles the Sungold tomatoes, adds a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, an ounce of local Spirit Bear vodka, an ounce of Cointreau, and three ounces of lemonade. He shakes over ice and double strains into a coupe rimmed with crushed Szechuan peppercorns and gray salt.

It’s a real wake-up for the appetite.


09 2012

Bowties with tomato trimmings

We’re in the midst of the tomato and basil harvest–lots of Costoluto Genovese tomatoes and lots of Genovese basil. Most nights that means slicing up some fresh mozzarella cheese and enjoying giant plates of insalata caprese.

But what do you do with the tomato shoulders and irregular bits left over when you make a pretty plate of caprese? We took a little inspiration from Sicily and added lemon and ground pistachio nuts for a solid pasta plate that takes full advantage of the harvest.


Serves 2 as main dish, 4 as pasta course


2 cups farfalle (bowties)
1 1/2 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, grated
grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup pistachio nutmeats, coarsely ground
1/3 cup chopped basil leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
extra Parmigiano Reggiano for the table


1. Heat 4 quarts salted water to a boil. Add farfalle and cook al dente (about 10 minutes).

2. While pasta is cooking, carry out other steps. Place chopped tomatoes in sieve and toss with salt. Let drain over bowl, reserving liquid.

3. In heavy-duty skillet, heat olive oil until smoking hot. Remove from heat and add grated garlic and grated lemon zest. Stir until lightly browned.

4. Place skillet back on medium heat and add lemon juice. Cook until reduced by half. Add juice that has drained from tomatoes and reduce by half, stirring frequently to emulsify and get creamy texture.

5. When pasta is done, add to juice mixture in skillet. Add ground pistachios and stir well. Add chopped basil and stir well, cooking about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in grated cheese.

Serve with additional cheese for the table.


08 2012

Gordon Ramsay in the Powerscourt kitchen

Superchef Gordon Ramsay has 19 restaurants in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Qatar, and the U.S., but only one in Ireland. It’s at the plush Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt outside Dublin, where I visited in the spring when Ramsay was on hand to mark the restaurant’s re-launch.

I have to admit I didn’t know what to expect from the flamboyant TV personality. But Ramsay was on his best behavior and only let an occasional profanity slip, and always with a wink. Perhaps the gracious setting had a mellowing effect, or perhaps the broadcast persona is just that. At any rate, the Powerscourt Estate is truly magical. It was established in 1169 as one of the grand medieval properties forming a defensive ring around Dublin. (See ”The Eyes Have It” in this fall’s Fashion Forum.) The woodlands seem positively Druidic. The 200-room resort, which opened in 2007, was the most expensive hotel project in the history of Ireland, and it reflects the Georgian architecture of the estate’s manor house. Current general manager Massimiliano Zanardi lives for good food and wine and the chance to share both. It is no coincidence that not long after Max arrived, the Gordon Ramsay restaurant changed its focus from formal dining on classical cuisine to relaxed dining on farm-to-fork dishes. Hence the re-launch in May.

Like many of the Gordon Ramsay Holdings operations, the menu is developed by Ramsay and implemented by a chef de cuisine–in this case a super-talented Peter Byrne, whose previous gig lasted more than seven years at Chapter One, the Michelin-starred restaurant at the Dublin Writers Museum. Byrne knows the farmers and the shepherds and the foragers of the County Wicklow countryside. Thus the restaurant serves lamb raised less than 20 minutes from the hotel, the vegetables come from an organic farm a 10-minute walk away, and some herbs and mushrooms are foraged on the Powerscourt estate itself.

”I’m from Dublin,” Byrne told me, ”born and raised on the flavors of the Republic. My main goal is to keep the food fairly simple and focus on the natural flavors.” It’s a radical idea in a country that has always had wonderful bounty and seemed intent on spoiling it by overcooking or over-fancying the dishes.

Veteran showman that he is, Ramsay couldn’t resist giving some cooking lessons for the attendees at the re-launch dinner. He certainly made it all seem a lot easier than on an episode of Hell’s Kitchen. I was particularly taken with the ease–and great taste–of his simple dish of scallops with spring vegetables. The West Cork sea scallops were so big and meaty that he cut them in half so they would cook in the 3 1/2 to 4 minutes required for a normal sea scallop.

Here’s my adaptation of that recipe:


Serves 2 as an appetizer or lunch

This is adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe for West Cork scallops that he prepared for the re-launch of Gordon Ramsay at Powerscourt earlier this year. He used fresh spring peas and mushrooms, but with a few substitutions, I found that I can make the dish all year. I use frozen baby peas, for example, and dried morel mushrooms rehydrated in vegetable stock. Ramsay serves the dish with broad beans, but baby limas are a good North American substitute. Pea tendrils, fortunately, are available year-round, though watercress makes a fine substitute.

Pea purée
1 tsp butter
2 scallions, sliced thin
1 cup tender young peas
vegetable stock

To make the pea purée, sweat scallions in butter until soft, add peas, a little vegetable stock and simmer until the vegetables are tender (3-4 minutes). Purée in a blender until smooth, then set aside and keep warm.

1 cup baby lima beans
vegetable stock
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup morel mushrooms
1 teaspoon butter
1 cup pea tendrils

Steam baby limas in vegetable stock until tender (5-7 minutes). Set aside and keep warm.

Heat oil in small sauté pan. Add morels and sauté a few minutes. Add butter and a little vegetable stock to keep moist. Set aside and keep warm.

10 scallops (for two plates)
salt and white pepper
vegetable oil

Season the scallops on both sides with salt and white pepper. Place a non-stick pan on medium high heat. Once hot, add 1 teaspoon of oil and the scallops. Let the scallops caramelize for a couple of minutes on the first side. Turn them over, add a knob of butter to the pan and finish cooking the scallops in the butter foam for 1-2 minutes.

To assemble the dish, place a spoon of pea purée in the middle of the plate, place the scallops, lima beans, and morels around and garnish with the pea shoots.


11 2011

Mountain View Grand’s tomato-cilantro cooler

Every cook has a different way to cope with the end of tomato season. In June, Brian Aspell was lured away from the Equinox in Vermont to bring his brand of culinary passion to the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield, N.H. He was still getting his feet under him when we visited in August, but on very short notice he managed to whip together a chef’s tasting menu that swept us away. It was a harbinger of great things to come at this grande dame of the White Mountains. (The fall menus will be pure Aspell.) The opening salvo of the dinner was an amuse-bouche of a New England gazpacho. Aspell served our portions in tall shot glasses, but on a warm day we could eat a whole bowl for lunch. He was kind enough to give us the recipe, and while we haven’t had a chance yet to make it with our Costoluto Genovese tomatoes, we thought we should pass along the recipe for all those gardeners with a great harvest.



4 cups, seeded, diced, overripe Brandywine tomatoes
2 cups, seeded, peeled, diced cucumber
6 large shallots, minced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 serrano peppers, seeded and minced
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup minced scallions
3 cups V-8 juice
1/8 cup aged sherry wine vinegar (if necessary to adjust seasoning)
10 drops of Tabasco sauce
Juice of 2 limes
2 teaspoons finely chopped cilantro
1 1/2 cups uniformly diced yellow bell peppers
kosher salt and white pepper to taste


In a blender combine the tomato, cucumber, shallots, garlic, serrano peppers, olive oil, scallions, V-8 juice, sherry vinegar, Tabasco, and lime juice. Puree for 30 seconds or long enough to achieve a slightly thickened juice.

Fold in the cilantro, bell peppers and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate overnight and serve.

From Brian Aspell, executive chef of the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield, N.H.


09 2011

Buried in tomatoes? It’s time for tomato jam on burgers

When we were working earlier this summer on a New England burger roundup for the Boston Globe (see Sample articles), we had no idea that we would discover a partial solution to the late-August glut of tomatoes. When we dug into the basic hamburger served at Christie’s in Newport–the casual restaurant of the luxurious Hotel and Marina Forty 1º North–we just knew that chef Kim Lambrechts’ tomato jam was the perfect complement to the rich beef burger. With a little cajoling, we found out how it’s made.


Chef Kim Lambrechts is the director of all food and beverage operations at Hotel and Marina Forty 1º North in Newport–including the casual restaurant, Christie’s. He serves this brilliant ketchup substitute on beef burgers. We find it captures summer in a jar. We pressure-can ours, but the jam is acidic enough to be preserved with the boiling-water method.

Makes 1 1/2 cups


5 large red vine-ripened tomatoes (about 2 1/2 lb.)
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 sprig of fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


1. Place the tomatoes in boiling water for 15 seconds; remove them quickly and place in bath of ice water. Once they have cooled, remove the core and skins and chop flesh roughly.

2. Heat sauté pan over medium flame. Add olive oil, shallot & ginger, and sauté for a few minutes until shallots are soft.

3. Add remainder of ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook until liquid is largely evaporated, yielding a consistency like kechup. Let cool and reserve for use.


08 2011

Stuffed tomatoes from Roman pizzerias

Like many Roman visitors (and many Romans, for that matter), we took advantage of the city’s many pizzerias for quick meals or snacks. Once our Zone 6 garden swings into production around mid-July, we hope to revisit the subject of Roman pizza for the myriad of vegetable versions.

But it was in the pizzerias that we stumbled onto another quintessentially Roman dish: stuffed tomatoes on a bed of roasted potatoes. Tomatoes stuffed with rice are a standard dish in a lot of parts of Italy, but Rome was the first place where we had seen them served with a big batch of potatoes. The simplicity of the single combined dish appealed to us, as it clearly does to many Romans getting an inexpensive casual meal. It took only a little experimentation at home to come up with a viable recipe for this starchier, heartier version of stuffed tomatoes.


When served with potatoes, the tomatoes are relatively unseasoned. But if you want to serve the stuffed tomatoes alone as a first course, leave out the eggs and add three finely chopped anchovy fillets and a 1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to the mixture before stuffing.


3 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, cut in 3/4-inch dice
1/4 cup olive oil
6 large tomatoes, ideally with stems intact
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
1 cup water
2/3 cup Arborio rice
1/4 lb. ground veal or pork
large bunch flat parsley, finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten


Combine potatoes and olive oil and spread evenly in roasting pan. Roast in 350F oven for 25 minutes.

Cut 2-inch diameter cap from tops of tomatoes. Scoop out pulp, seeds, and jelly and place in strainer, add 1/2 teaspoon salt, and let drain to separate juices. Reserve juices and reserve cap.

Add remaining salt to water, add rice and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

In frying pan, crumble ground meat and cook over medium heat until browned. Add reserved tomato juices and fistful of parsley. Stirring regularly, continue cooking until liquid is mostly reduced.

Mix meat mixture with rice, remaining parsley, and eggs. Stuff mixture into tomatoes and set caps on top. Place tomatoes on top of potatoes in roasting pan, raise oven to 425F and continue roasting for 30 minutes.


05 2011

Deciphering the traditions for sofrito

There must be as many recipes for sofrito as there are cooks in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, and even Catalunya. But the mixture is to Latin cooking what the classic mirepoix of onions, carrots and celery is to French. It’s the underlying mother flavor of the cuisines.

When I asked around the garden, I got very different answers about ingredients. Jamaicans seemed to favor a lot of green sweet pepper, and some suggested ham. Some people add tomato, some don’t. But everyone felt that the sweet ají dulce peppers were critical for an authentic sofrito. If they were not available, you could substitute an equal amount of chopped bell pepper. Some folks use only cilantro (or cilantrillo, as some call it), while others insist on also using culantro, the Caribbean herb with flat leaves about the size and shape of a finger. The flavor is similar to cilantro, but is much more intense.

Back in the kitchen, I made a sofrito that used the ingredients that seemed to cut across the various cuisines, though I confess I was probably more influenced by Puerto Rican sofrito than any other version. When I tasted the sauce that came out of the food processor, I was initially disappointed. It was harsh and the flavors did not marry.

But then I tried cooking with it. Seasoned with just a bit of salt and some sugar (the tomatoes were not that sweet), the mixture came together into a sauce of complex, layered flavors when heated. After all, I told myself, you wouldn’t eat raw mirepoix either, right?

Seasoned and lightly sauteed, this sofrito makes a terrific sauce for chicken or fish. It’s shown here on a small swordfish steak brushed with olive oil and cooked by indirect heat for five minutes total in a Weber charcoal grill.

Following the directions of Daisy Martinez of the Daisy Cooks! show on PBS, I froze the rest of the raw sofrito in half-cup batches to use in soups and stews this fall.


In the best of all worlds, I would have added culantro, but I did not grow any this year and I could not find it at local ethnic markets. Hence, this recipe has a lot of cilantro.


1 medium yellow onion cut in large pieces
1 very large or two medium cubanelle peppers, seeded and chopped
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large bunch cilantro, washed
10 Cayman peppers, stemmed and roughly chopped
3 large plum-type tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped


Place onion and pepper pieces in bowl of food processor and process until roughly chopped. Add remaining ingredients, one by one, and process until smooth but not paste-like.


09 2010