Archive for the ‘Slow Food’Category

At Smithtown Seafood, ‘local’ is measured in feet

Dried whole tilapia at Smithtown Seafood in Lexington, KY
Chef Ouita Michel, who calls Holly Hill Inn (www.hollyhillinn.com) in Midway, Kentucky, her home base, is completely on board with the vision of FoodChain (see previous post). She’s so on board that she opened the little takeout seafood restaurant inside the Bread Box called Smithtown Seafood (smithtownseafood.com) and installed the immensely talented Jonathan Sanning as her chef de cuisine. (That’s Jonathan below holding the fried fish.)

Jonathan Fanning, chef de cuisiine at Smithtown Seafood in Lexington, KY Ouita (as everyone in Lexington seems to call her because everyone in Lexington who cares about food knows her) studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, and took as her primary lesson the observation that the best French and Italian chefs create meals out of what they find around them. She’s inculcated that same respect for local products in Sanning, who is Kentucky trained but has the chops to cook anywhere and at any level. For the moment, he’s getting a kick out of working hard at Smithtown, and Lexingtonians are lucky that he does.

Smithtown Seafood is easily the chief customer for the tilapia being raised on the other side of the wall at FoodChain, and is also a big user of FoodChain’s herbs and lettuces. You order at the counter, and when your food is ready, you walk about 20 feet to the taproom of West Sixth Brewing, where, if you’re smart, you order a Lemongrass American Wheat to go with the fish dishes or an amber with the meat.

The fish excite us the most. Smithtown offers three variations of tilapia baskets using the FoodChain fish. The one shown above is Tilapia Singapore, a fried whole fish with sweet and spicy pickled vegetables and FoodChain microgreens. Another version pairs the fish with a tomatillo-serrano salsa verde and corn tortillas. And finally, there’s a basket of fried pieces battered in Weisenberger cornmeal, served with fries and hushpuppies (of course).

Smithtown Seafood fish tacos in crispy rice paper Sanning’s own palate skews Mexican, Southeast Asian, and West African—and he’s not afraid to mix them up. The Rockin’ Rice Paper Catfish Taco pictured here is a smart twist on the Baja fish taco with pieces of fried wild-caught saltwater catfish and Thai-style pickled vegetables and microgreens on puffy pieces of fried rice paper. The rice crisps are far better than a taco shell for holding everything together in your hand.

Another good way to enjoy Sanning’s signature acid-spice style is by ordering a side of one of his salads. The Nebbe Black-Eyed Pea Salad could be a vegetarian meal all by itself. Here’s the recipe:

NEBBE BLACK-EYED PEA SALAD


This adaptation of a spicy Senegalese bean salad is typical of Jonathan Sanning’s propensity for using an ingredient that’s traditional in Southern cuisine as the base for something light, bright, and completely contemporary.

Makes about 16 cups

Ingredients
1 lb. dry black-eyed peas
1/2 cup lime juice
1 cup minced parsley
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 habañero pepper, seeded and finely minced
1 cup light salad oil (olive, sunflower, canola, blended….)
10 green onions, thinly sliced (both white and green parts)
2 roasted red bell peppers, peeled and diced small
1 English cucumber, peeled and diced small
2 cups cherry tomatoes (quartered) or grape tomatoes (halved)

Directions
Cover black-eyed peas with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until tender (about 1 hour, less if pre-soaked). Leave the peas in the water and salt heavily—a real brine. Let sit for 2-3 minutes, then drain.

Combine lime juice, parsley, salt, pepper, and habañero in a food processor. Add oil and blend until smooth.

Combine black-eyed peas, green onions, red bell peppers, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes. Toss with lime and herb mixture. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, if necessary.

Why Parmigiano Reggiano is king

Wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano
The king of Italian cheeses is Parmigiano Reggiano, which is head and shoulders above the various imitators sold as “parmesan” in the U.S. and Canada.

2-cows I had always wondered why the D.O.P. product was so clearly superior, and a visit to Caseificio Poggioli (+39 059 783 155, http://poggiolicoopcasearia.it/en/) on the Via Montanara in Spilimberto outside Modena helped me understand. The new €6 million facility is a cooperative of four dairy farmers of Modena province and was built, partly with public financing, after the May 2012 earthquake that destroyed so many of the region’s cheese factories and aging warehouses. Yet to be tested by seismic events, the facility is equipped with state-of-the-art controls for the time-honored process of making Parmigiano Reggiano.

3 - bales of hay Under the D.O.P. regulations, all the milk must come from herds within a prescribed geographic area in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Mantua on the right bank of the Po river, and Bologna on the left bank of the Reno river. The rolling plains between the rivers are covered in rich grasslands, and all the feed for the cattle, both green pasturage and stored hay, must also come from the region. The cattle are not allowed to eat silage because—unlike most other Italian grating cheeses, such as Grana Padano—Parmigiano Reggiano is not pasteurized.

4-fresh curd In many ways, the cheese production proceeds as it always has. Milk from the evening milking is placed in shallow steel trays overnight and is partially skimmed in the morning before being placed into copper-lined cauldrons with an inverted bell shape. It is topped with whole milk from the morning milking to bring the volume up to 1,100 liters. Rennet is added and the mixture is heated to promote coagulation of the proteins. The new equipment at Poggioli stirs the curd, allowing the factory to make a lot of cheese with very few cheesemakers. When the cheese reaches a texture determined by the cheesemaker, he or she will cut the curd in half. Each piece will be cradled in a linen cloth and lifted from the whey.

Fresh curd begins its transformation into Parmigiano Reggiano The bulbous masses go on a line to drain and be transported to another room, where each one is lifted into a plastic form. Each form has a band that imprints the place and date and numbers each wheel separately. After sitting in a seawater bath for about three weeks, the wheels are cleaned and dried and placed on wooden shelves to begin aging.

6-cutting By regulation the cheese must age for at least 12 months. In practice, Parmigiano Reggiano is rarely sold until it is at least 24-30 months old. At that stage, the cheese begins to develop protein crystals that give it a slight crunch. As it continues to age, the umami flavor becomes ever more pronounced. At 36 months, most wheels begin their decline as they become too dry.

From just four farms, Poggioli makes 18,000 wheels of cheese per year, which is a lot of sprinkles on top of pasta. The aging rooms contain more than 50,000 wheels at a time. The photo below shows just one row of one room of the warehouse. When the last earthquake hit, wheels went flying off the shelves. If another big one strikes, they should stay put, thanks to giant shock absorbers.

The cheeses from Poggioli are exquisite. You can buy them by the piece at the factory in sizes from half-kilo chunks to entire wheels. It’s also available at the public market in Modena.

aging Parmigiano Reggiano in Poggioli

15

04 2015

Why we are not foodies after all

Ever since the Atlantic Monthly published contributing editor B.R. Myers’ screed ”The Moral Crusade Against Foodies” in the March issue, insults and calumnies have been flying back and forth on the Web like mashed potatoes in a cafeteria food fight.

The gist of Myers’ argument is that to be a foodie is to be a glutton. When he insists that foodies have ”a littleness of soul,” he reminds us of the New Yorker who went deer hunting in Maine, shot a farmer’s cow, and pronounced that he preferred beef anyway. Myers picked some easy targets (Anthony Bourdain’s ”oafishness,” Michael Pollan’s ”sanctimony”) and knocked them over—but so what? Even Bourdain, Pollan, et al. should be pleased. Myers’ excoriation might even sell a few more books.

We actually feel a twinge of sorrow for Myers, a professor of international studies at Donseo University in Busan, South Korea, who has not a word of pleasure or joy to say about eating. Yet we would like to take his ”foodie” target off our backs, lest we too wind up like the farmer’s cow. (We like this metaphor precisely because Myers is a hardcore vegan who finds meat an abomination.)

A few years ago we collaborated on the book version of The Meaning of Food, the amazing PBS television series produced by Sue McLaughlin. We were attracted to the project because we shared her vision of what food means in human culture and relations. In the preface she wrote, ”Like all animals, we eat to survive. But as humans, we transform simple feeding into the ritual art of dining, creating customs and rites that turn out to be as crucial to our well-being as are proteins and carbohydrates.”

Food is culture, and that’s why we like to eat local as we travel. When we try to recreate some of those flavors at home, we’re honoring the people we met and the cultures we visited. It’s all about the experience. Being fluent in food matters doesn’t make us gluttons any more than being fluent in Korean makes Myers Korean, even if he does teach there. So if Myers gets to define ”foodie,” then we’ll happily go without the label.

And we guess we won’t ask him where to go for bulgoki in Busan.

03

03 2011

Cooking with Comté

If you’ve ever eaten a croque monsieur in a cafe anywhere in France (my absolute favorite is served at the News Cafe in Paris at 78 rue d’Assas across from Jardin du Luxembourg), chances are you’ve eaten Comté cheese. The firm and nutty Comté is the largest selling hard cheese in France. I’d always figured that only a big factory could turn out enough Comté to satisfy the appetites of the fromage-loving French, but it turns out that Comté is still made pretty much the same way that it’s been made for about a thousand years–that is, small-scale and personal.

And the whole process is open to the public: from brown-and-white Montbéliarde cows grazing in buttercup-laden meadows, to milk delivery and early morning cheese-making in the cooperative dairies that are town social centers, to row upon row of wheels of cheese aging peacefully on spruce shelves.

Sandwiched between Burgundy and Switzerland, Franche-Comté is less than three hours from Paris by train. Yet it’s far enough off the beaten path to make an amusing Slow Foodie tour visiting some of the 3,000 family farms, 170 fruitières (as the cheese dairies are called), and 20 affineurs (aging facilities) squeezed into an area about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. The cheese industry’s La Maison du Comté (www.maison-du-comte.com) in the tidy town of Poligny explains the whole process and provides a map to find farms, dairies, and affineurs that welcome visitors. They’re marked with a green and white sign of ”Les routes du Comté.”

It’s no surprise that locals eat Comté several times a day, often starting with a few slices on a baguette for breakfast. The cheese also melts with just the right consistency for fondue. All the locals are Comté boosters but they still debate the merits of young (up to 8 months of aging) Comté vs. cheese that has mellowed for a full year. This being France, they are all preoccupied with food in general. One pleasure of spending a few days in the region is the chance to visit some of the rustic inns where Michelin-starred chefs offer complete tasting menus for the price of a main dish in Paris.

One of my favorites was Le Bon Accueil (www.le-bon-accueil.fr) in Malbuisson. Chef-owner Marc Faivre has held a Michelin star for a decade and grows much of his produce on the grounds. Of course he uses Comté, including in amazing little cheese crackers (sables) that he sets out casually on the table with the appetizer course. ”It’s just equal parts butter, flour, and cheese,” his wife Catherine shrugged when I practically begged for the recipe. No seasonings, no herbs.

Comté tastes so good by itself that it really doesn’t need other flavors to enhance it. That’s certainly true with the local quiche. ”It’s just like quiche Lorraine but without the ham,” everyone says. I think the best versions are made with crème fraiche.

David and I have been working on the Comté recipes, and have decided that the cheese is going to brighten our holiday: the sables for New Year’s Eve with sparkling wine, and the tarte for New Year’s Day brunch.

SABLES DE FROMAGE COMTÉ

The proportions to make these addictive little crackers isn’t quite equal parts flour, butter, and cheese. We played around with several similar recipes until we came up with this version, which uses a little cream to form the dough. It is a pretty good approximation of Marc Faivre’s recipe. A food processor speeds up the creation of these crackers and allows you to make the dough without warming it with your hands. As a result, it’s ready to bake sooner.


Ingredients

1 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
5 Tablespoons butter cut in 1/4” cubes (pea-sized)
4 oz. Comté cheese, grated
5 Tablespoons heavy cream

Directions

1. Place flour, salt, and pepper in bowl of food processor. Pulse briefly to mix.

2. Add pea-sized pieces of butter and pulse several times until mixture is like coarse sand.

3. Add grated cheese and pulse perhaps a dozen times briefly to blend. With food processor running, dribble cream in feed tube until dough just comes together.

4. Remove dough to counter, divide in half, and roll each half into a log about 1 1/2” in diameter and about 4 1/2” long. Wrap in wax paper and place in freezer while pre-heating oven to 350F.

5. Work quickly to slice dough into 1/4” rounds. Place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper or Silpat sheet, leaving about 1/2” between crackers.

6. Bake 12 minutes, or until edges are brown and centers are firm. Remove and cool on wire rack.

Makes 3 dozen

TARTE AU COMTÉ

Crème fraiche can be tricky to find in American grocery stores. We make a good substitute by mixing equal amounts of whipping cream and Greek-style yogurt that contains live cultures, and letting the mixture sit on the counter for several hours until it thickens. Refrigerate any that remains after making the recipe, and use within three days.

Ingredients

1 cup crème fraiche
1 extra large egg
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup (packed) shredded aged Comté
Partially pre-cooked 9” pie or tart shell

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Beat together crème fraiche, egg, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

3. Sprinkle Comté cheese over bottom of pie shell. Top with crème fraiche mixture. Bake 40-45 minutes until crust is golden and filling puffs up and browns

4. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

30

12 2010