Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In Case You Were Wondering. . . III

Fun fact to know and tell: Brussels sprouts grow on stalks.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Romanesco: My Old Best Friend

This could be construed as sort of cheating because I actually discovered this vegetable last year, but every time I'm picking one out at the Greenmarket some passerby asks me about it, so it's clear that not as many people as should be are on the romanesco train. Get on board people, it's an express to Thrillsville.

It's a cruciferous vegetable whose florets are dense like cauliflower with a flavor like milder broccoli, so it is incredibly versatile. But, most importantly, it is STUNNINGLY GORGEOUS.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Momentary Diversion

Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman had a joint book signing at the Union Square Barnes and Noble tonight, which you can, conveniently, watch here. Or not. I thought it was pretty meh really.The crowd was fawning, but Bourdain seemed rather bored at the end of a long book tour, yet Ruhlman still could barely get a word in. And they kept going on about Food Network stuff, and since I don't watch FN, I didn't know WTF they were talking about most of the time. But I'm a fiend for a signed copy and would have been there just to stand on line for the autographs, so the appearance was just icing anyway.

On first glance, I wouldn't have paid retail for Bourdain's No Reservations book on it's own merits. NB: I happily own, and periodically re-read, his entire non-fiction oeuvre. I won't say Bourdain has jumped the shark, but I will say I don't feel like a lot of care was put into this book. It appears to be a few pages of screen caps and behind the camera snapshots for each episode of the No Reservations tv show with a paragraph or two of introduction. Maybe there's more to it, but I feel like if they would just release all these episodes on DVD, I needn't have bothered really. Except I would have felt like kind of a douche bringing all his other books (except the Les Halles Cookbook, which is my favorite, which I forgot to pack, dammit!!!) for him to sign without ponying up for the new book.

On the other hand, by the time I got to the signing table I was almost 60 pages into Ruhlman's The Element's of Cooking and already knew I was going to need another copy--the one in my hands for the signed editions shelf, and another one to underline and take margin notes and spatter with grease. It's been rhapsodically reviewed ad nauseum already, so suffice it to say in
60 pages of clean, elegant prose, I've already absorbed at least five things I can use on a regular basis. Plus, fwiw, he seemed really nice. If you're reading this blog and aren't my mom or my boyfriend, you need a copy. Or two.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Puntarelle: My New Best Friend

When I was poking around the net to see if I could find nutritional information about my new best friend,


I found this picture on the Produce Hunter website:

And the Royal Rose Products site (Everything Radicchio!) describes it as a "cross between asparagus growing out of a fennel bulb covered by dandelion leaves", which describes the PH photo, but not so much what I brought home from Paffenroth's, though the leafy parts look plausibly similar. My brilliant deduction is that I got baby puntarelle.

(Incidentally, I found my new mission in life on the RRP site. I must find and consume Radicchio di Castelfranco.

Seriously, how gorgeous is that?)

Anyway, back to puntarelle, aka "Roman Wild Chicory", aaka "Remind Me Again Why I Don't Live in Rome"? As with most leafy greens, I thought a quick saute would tell the tale quickest. The bunch I got had small enough ribs I didn't bother to separate them from the leaves, I just put the lower pieces into the pan a couple of minutes before the top pieces. It didn't take long to cook, five, maybe seven minutes. I tried a piece--it was deliciously bitter, with a barely detectable sweet undertone. I tossed it with some sundried tomatoes, garlic, black pepper and Parmesan into some rice. The tomatoes brought out the sweetness while somehow highlighting the bitterness, and the garlic, pepper and cheese worked their usual magic.

Next I tried it in a quiche with mushrooms. Spectacular! I used Cook's Illustrated's new no fail pie crust, the one that uses vodka, and it was really easy to work with and turned out pretty perfect. Bonus: I got to play with my exciting new tart pan, which I now love a lot. The bitter puntarelle, earthy mushrooms, and creamy eggs were a menage a trois made in heaven.

You may notice my friend Carla, the professional photographer, came over and gave me a tutorial on my food pics. It's really amazing what having your camera on the right settings and screwing with the lights for over an hour will accomplish. THANKS CARLA!!!!

Everything I read about this stuff indicates that anchovy is its soul mate, so I hope to find it again, perhaps in its more mature state, and report back.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Merry Thanksgiving!

And a ginormous thanks to the folks over at Serious Eats, and D'Artagnan, for my big, beautiful FREE turkey!! I've never either a) won a contest in my life, or b) eaten an $80 turkey on Thanksgiving. Does that make it unfamiliar enough to count for entry on this blog? Ok, not really. But hey, they gave me a turkey. It's the least I can do to give them a shout out.

And it was a lovely bird. The first thing my friend Jason said when he walked in the door was, "Wow, nice bird. It looks fake." How sweet is that?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Celeriac: Not My Favorite

I hate to be judgemental. Generally if I don't care for a food item, I blame myself.

Which isn't too much of a burden as the only things I really can't bear are sweet potatoes and cantaloupe. Perfectly wonderful foodstuffs. High nutritional value. Low fat/ low calories / low whatever the bogeyman of the month is. Attractive color that contrasts nicely with leafy greens and beige-y starches. They're good guys. I respect them. But to me they smell like sickly sweet death room, and I can't bear to have them near my face. I try again about once a year on principal, but so far no progress.

And that brings us to today's item: celeriac, aka celery root.

My photographic attempts were unpublishable, but you can see it in all its copyrighted loveliness by clicking here.

I have to say I'm just not digging it. It tastes like celery. It acts like a fibrous potato. If you want mashed celery and gravy beside your turkey on Thanksgiving, help yourself. Hash browned celery with your eggs in the morning, it's all yours. I see it on lots of menus, and I'm sure great chefs can do great things with it, but I don't feel any burning curiosity to keep experimenting.

To end on a cheerier note, I've been playing with other things that I like enormously, so more positive posts anon!

Monday, November 12, 2007

For Those of You Keeping Score

I am, obviously, SOOO out of the National Blog Posting Month thing. Failing to blog on the very first day of the month was not an auspicious beginning, and I've missed days since.

Good luck and Godspeed to the other participants, but I realized I had no real idea why I was participating. I thought it might be fun to network with other bloggers in the forums, but in reality if I could make time to kvetch there, I could make time to post every day. Or cook more experiments with the mystery ingredient. Or play with my dog.

I thought it might be more motivating. But for what did I need more motivation? I love my blog! I love selecting the ingredients. I love talking to farmers at the Greenmarket, and trying to talk to shopkeepers in Chinatown. I love cooking. I love the suspense of whether or not sort-of-picky Corey will deem my experiments successful. I even kind of love the agony of trying to take pictures of my food--insofar as it contributes to the deep satisfaction when I actually manage to capture a recognizable image.

I'm plenty motivated. I am, after all, Consumed. But I'm also consumed by other things that don't pertain to this blog, and I'm not going to beat myself up about my lack of quotidian posting. But the point is I fibbed to you, gentle reader, and I am sorry about that, even if I'm not sorry about failing to post every day.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

In Case You Were Wondering. . . II

Cheddar cauliflower is named exclusively for its coloring. It also tastes just like the regular stuff.

And despite it's highly photogenic color contrast,

I didn't have a much easier time

getting a halfway decent photo of it

than the purple. Because I suck. You've seen the evidence. There's no denying it. Happily, my extremely talented friend Carla is going to come over later in the week and give me a private lesson on Lighting and Shooting Close Ups of Things That are Sitting Still.

I used to be a good student. Maybe this will help.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Fun New Feature

Check out the Foodie Blogroll in the right hand column. I haven't had a chance to peruse all the sights, but I've nosed around enough to know that there's a lot of good stuff to be found. Enjoy--then y'all come back!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Meanwhile, back at Spaghetti Squash . . .

Now that the spaghetti squash has been steamed and cooled off, it's starting to look more interesting.

steamed spaghetti squash
Let's take a closer look, shall we?

spaghetti squash interior
The writhing nest of strands I expected upon opening the squash magically appear at the teasing of a fork, and only after the brute has been cooked. Now we're back to the fun!

I sampled a few strands and was pleased with the slightly al dente texture and (as that squashy/sweet potatoey flavor isn't my very favorite) the faint flavor of squash. If I had cooked it a few minutes less so the strands were crunchier, I think they would have made a fantastic base for a Thai style salad. I can't imagine how foul it would be topped with Ragu and green box cheese.

As it was, my first thought was "Hmm, it's almost the texture of shredded potatoes. Latkes!!" I sliced some onions paper thin and tossed them with the squash strands, one lightly beaten egg, and a pinch of salt. In the minute it took me to throw this together, I had some oil preheating in a pan over medium high heat. I dropped the mixture by the heaping spoonful into the oil and flattened it into patty shape with the back of the spoon. I would guess about 4 minutes per side, but using the "keep peeking till it's an appealing golden brown" method is all I can attest to. And voila!

spaghetti squash

They were . . . interesting. The never developed that crunchy crust you expect with a latke, and really came out more like a regular pancake than a potato pancake. The squash turned creamy, and even though the croquettes were about half an inch thick, the onion became so sweet that they were equally good eaten with a garlic pepper sauce and the aforementioned commercial maple syrup, of which we will never speak again. Weird, right?!

Corey actually consented to try a bite. He didn't make throw up noises, but I was shooting higher.

I used the rest of the squash in an 'interpretation' of quesadillas. I smeared a soft taco size flour tortilla with the garlic pepper sauce (sorry, this bottle doesn't have a website. You could use salsa, or whatever savory moist thing you like), put it face up on a griddle, spread spag squash strands evenly, added roasted tomato slices, topped with thinly slices of smoked Gouda, and capped the whole mess with another flour tortilla. Peek till golden, flip, peek, remove from heat, cut in quarters, consume. Repeat all. None of which I got a photo of, but they looked exactly like all other quesadillas ever.

Again Corey, my dear good sport, consented to a bite.

Then he finished the entire slice.

Then he voluntarily took and finished another slice.

Then he said "That was good."

By far this was the absolute height of my culinary non-career so far. And it gave me hope that perhaps, one day, I might breach his asparagus barricade.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Another Word About Maple Sugar,

A couple quick follow ups to last night's post. First, I had just taken a loaf of No-Knead Bread (arguably the greatest gift to mankind since fire, except double the amount of salt) out of the oven when I started writing. When I was describing the spiced seeds and went to see if the maple sugar package listed a website, the bread had cooled enough to slice. You see where this is heading. OMG--so delicious!!! Then I had another slice adding cinnamon--even more delicious. Maple sugar RULES!!

Second, after I got the website, I actually visited it for the first time. I knew the Greenmarket's "producers only" restriction, and I knew their packaging says "Vermont maple sugar", but I had never done the math. The Deep Mountain Maple people actually travel 350 miles, each way, to bless New York with their deliciousness every Saturday. I am profoundly shamed by the bottle of commercial syrup in my fridge. It won't happen again.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

At Last! The Spaghetti Squash.

Remember the spaghetti squash? Yeah, it's been sitting on my shelf this whole time.

spaghetti squash whole

When Corey and I had only been dating a couple months, I started to make asparagus for dinner one night. "Asparagus makes me vomit", he says. "Good, more for me", I say. "God, dramatic much?", I think. I go about my business lightly steaming the spears and the next thing I know, he's flung the bedroom window open and is hanging out making retching noises over the fire escape. So now I only have asparagus when he's not around.

And I took him seriously when he said he hated spaghetti squash almost as much as asparagus. The problem is that we've since moved in together, and around that same time he took a new job that requires a lot less travel than the old one, so it was a long time till I was alone long enough to cook the bloody thing. Fortunately, winter squashes have a long shelf life.

Finally one day last week, Corey had a conference in NJ, and Max was sick, so I had to work from home. First I cut the squash in half lengthwise. Somehow it's butter yellow skin had left me with the subconscious expectation that it would be relatively easy to slice, an impression that its unrotted weeks patiently awaiting use hadn't dispelled. I can be thick too.

spaghetti squash halved

As you can see from this sad, butchered specimen, it was as fun the cut as any pumpkin. And I was surprised to see that raw it looks pretty much like any other winter squash. I guess maybe I was hoping for the strands to come bursting out like one of those joke peanut cans filled with springy snakes. Not so much. Ok, so far spaghetti squash? Not nearly as exciting as my fevered childhood imagination had promised, but I would soldier on.

I scraped out the guts and set them aside then placed one half face down in a covered steamer basket over boiling water. While it was steaming, I separated the seeds from the guts and swirled them around a sieve under running water till the sliminess was considerably reduced. I spread the seeds on a few layers of paper towels to dry, then lifted the lid and poked the now very sweaty squash half with a knife. It went in with only moderate resistance, so I figured it was time to swap out the halves (this was the larger half, after about 15 minutes of steaming).

I set the cooked half to the side, face up, to cool and preheated the oven to 325. I blotted the rest of the water from the seeds and scraped them off the paper towels into a small bowl. I sprayed them with a little Trader Joe's aerosol olive oil, the sprinkled on some cayenne pepper, this maple sugar, and kosher salt, stirred till the seeds were evenly coated, spread them more or less evenly on a foil lined tray, and popped them into the oven. By this time a little over 10 minutes had elapsed, so I checked the other squash half and it was done.

I really can't say how long the seeds were in the oven. I cleaned up the mess-so-far. I prepped some other stuff. I piddled on the computer. After the first 40 minutes or so, I checked on them periodically, and after they started looking brown I checked on them more frequently, taste testing, or really texture testing, them every ten minutes until they were entirely crunchy and delicious without any lingering fiberousness in the hull or stickiness in the nut. An hour and a half? Two hours? Till they were done.

spiced spaghetti squash seeds

The seed itself was, to my taste, not significantly different from a pumpkin seed. The spicy sweet salty combination of spices was completely addictive and made me wish spaghetti squash had as many seeds as pumpkin does.

By the time we had devoured all the seeds, the meat was cooled off and ready to play with.

To be continued . . .

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Remembrance of Apples Past

Maybe it's not exactly my madeleine, but the sight of this homely little apple almost brought me to tears at the Greenmarket last Saturday.

At the far end of their one acre garden, my grandparents had a small orchard. One peach and one pear tree, neither of which ever did much, and about eight or so apple trees which produced an incredible number of these knobby, spotty little gobs. I can't count the hours I spent down in "the bottom" in an uneasy truce with the bees, leaving them to the sickly sweet rotting apple mush in peace, so long as they let me go about my Easter egg hunt for good apples unmolested. I can't even guess how many five gallon buckets of the things my grandmother and I carried back up to the house over the years, where we'd spread out newspapers and peel and quarter them till it felt like the paring knives were embedded in our fingers.

Once a year, she would make apple butter out of them, cooking them down in the crock pot with sugar, cinnamon candies, cinnamon oil, and who knows what else (she never did write down a recipe) for hours and hours and hours and then can it in Ball jars. Any commercial apple butter producer would have done very well to acquire my grandmother's recipe, if there was one.

More often she would make apple sauce or just can the quarters whole. Frequently she would slice them and fry them with butter and sugar until soft and we'd eat them with fresh hot biscuits.

I had never seen this kind of apple anywhere else, and presumed I never would again. I also presume that few outside of my immediate family have any knowledge of them, which is why I though it was appropriate to include them here. They're available from the Seriously Good Bacon folks (I think they're actually called Violet Hill Farm or something, but the bacon sign is much more prominent) at Union Square, where they just call them wild apples. I don't know what else to call them, so that will do.

Friday, November 2, 2007

I Can't Beleive Me

I am pathetic. I signed on to post every day for National Blog Posting Month (thinking it would be both fun and motivating). We're one day into November, and I'm already a day behind. Lo. Ser.

I do have several excellent excuses involving serial out of town guests and a big fundraising event at work, but whatever. From henceforth, a new post ever day in November.

Except tonight, because I have a ticket to see Cymbeline at Lincoln Center. Or, more precisely, to be mesmerized by Michael Cerveris while the rest of the play happens around his incomparable genius. Food can wait.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Purslane: Hot and Steamy

Everything I read indicated that purslane becomes decidedly mucilaginous when cooked. Since I don't particularly enjoy the texture of okra (except deep fried, natch), I wasn't all that excited about this phase of the experiment. But given the nutritional advantages, and my duty to my readers, I was willing to give it a try.

I sauteed a small handful with garlic in olive oil, and it didn't turn slimy at all--and I swear I didn't leave it in the fridge till it was all dried out this time. Really! It was just nicely chewy, and had taken on a distinct citrusy flavor. It would definitely work as the main component in a side dish, particularly with fish.

Next, in the fine, age-old tradition of clean out the fridge recipes, I chopped some up and sauteed it with chopped red pepper, onion, white and crimini mushrooms, and garlic. While I was doing this, I baked some eggplants, then added the pulp, stuffed the skins, topped with cheese and breadcrumbs and baked. It was delicious, but there was so much going on I couldn't really pick out the purslane. Good news for anyone who doesn't care for citrus flavor, but would like to reap the health benefits.

My last purslane experiment was my favorite. I started with a basic risotto recipe, then added chopped purslane with the final addition of liquid. I had some roasted paste tomatoes leftover in the fridge, so I chopped a few and added them with the shaved Parmesan at the end, there was plenty of residual heat in the rice to heat the tomatoes through by the time we ate even though they were cold going in. Topped with more grated Parm and several vigorous grinds of black pepper, it was absolutely scrumptious, with a pleasant brightness. I would like to try it again with the addition of mushrooms to see how their earthiness balances with the acidity of the tomatoes and purslane.

purslane and tomato risotto

But it was delish as it was, and priiittty!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Purslane: Raw and Uncut

So, as I was saying. Purslane. It can take over your lawn in a matter of months, and it could be the savior of starving nations. It's got a lot on its plate.


The batches I got had a fairly generic herbaceous flavor eaten raw. The texture is a sort of meaty crunch, much like sunflower sprouts. (If you don't know sunflower sprouts, go find out immediately. They are the best things ever. They have that nutty sunflower seed flavor, but in the form of a healthier cool, crisp green. They are fantastic in salads, on sandwiches, and just plain for snacky munching. I wish I had some right now.) The next closest thing would be mung bean sprouts.

Its texture and nutritional boost is a great mitzvah to green salads, and in place of lettuce as a sandwich topping, but it's not so yummy I would just snack on it on its own.

I saw several recipes on line pairing it with cucumbers, so I thought I'd try it in the salad my dad's mother used to make for just about every meal all summer long. One or two cucumbers per person, peeled if they need it (she used Kirby's, I use either Kirby's or Persian's, which are like miniature English cukes--seedless, thin skinned, and very regularly shaped so you can get perfectly round, quarter sized slices). Put thinly sliced cukes in a bowl--with thinly sliced onions if you like--and sprinkle two pinches sugar, two shakes or grinds of pepper, and one pinch of salt per cuke over them, then shake some vinegar over it all. Don't drown them, just enough that they're in a good puddle of it. You can use whatever kind of vinegar you prefer. She always used white or apple cider. I've been preferring rice wine lately, but it's variable. Red wine and balsamic also taste good, but they look pretty hideous. Give it a stir and let it sit, at least an hour if you can, stirring every now and then as you think of it. It's a sliding scale--the longer you let them sit, the veggies get more limp, but also absorb more flavor. Every point on that scale--from fresh cucumbers with a slick patina of vinegar, to fully developed pickles (in the fridge a few days later) is scrumptious in its own way. Do experiment. I substituted purslane leaves for the optional onions, let it stew for about two hours, till the purslane just started to wilt, and it was perfectly delicious.

Purslane flecked cucumber salad was such a success, I thought I'd try it in another favorite recipe--egg salad. My egg salad comprises boiled eggs, heavily salted minced onions (the salt leaves the flavor while drawing out the harshness of the raw onion--make this first and let it sit while you put the rest of the salad together and it will be a revelation, I promise), and finely diced celery; dressed with a lot of mayo, a little mustard, a little salt and a lot of pepper. Sometimes if I'm feeling frisky I might stir some capers in, but that's rare, as frisky isn't usually the emotion that inspires one to make egg salad. This time I substituted purslane leaves for the celery. I thought I would miss the crunchy, but the the chewycrisp made up for it. And I really liked the faint grassy flavor it added.

After all this enjoyment of raw purslane, I couldn't wait to see how it cooked.

Yes, I'm leaving you hanging again. This time I'm not just stopping to adhere to Andrea Strong's advice about frequent posting. Now, it's self preservation. Corey's mother was in town from SoCal this weekend. Over the last two days we've dined, gloriously, at Morandi, Perilla, The Spotted Pig, and John's of Bleeker Street. At the moment, I feel inspired to fast for a few days, so I need to husband my posts. I'm self aware enough to know there is an 85% chance I'll be starving by tomorrow morning, but in case not, cooked purslane tomorrow!

Friday, October 19, 2007

In Case You Were Wondering. . .

Purple cauliflower is really




incredibly difficult to photograph to look like anything other than a big pile of poo. Those are the good ones, the finest result of at least half an hour of trying. I think the thing that I've learned most forcefully since I started this blog (in addition to the certainty that someone is bound to tell you an unfamilliar leafy green is "just like spinach", though so far none of them have been in the least) is that food stylist is a hard freaking job. You people are magicians, I doff my hat.

Oh, also if you've been wondering, it's just like regular cauliflower, except in my experience the heads are not quite so dense, and therefor easier to break into smaller florettes. And unlike other purple produce (for instance bell peppers, or a certain bean which shall remain nameless), purple cauliflower maintains it's color beautifully through cooking, so really peps up an otherwise bland presentation.

I like mine roasted with caper butter.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Purslane: Pernicious Weed or Ultimate Superfood?

Wait for it.

It's BOTH! What is regarded as an invasive weed by some (one website claims it to be the seventh most pervasive weed worldwide, though I have been unable to substantiate that from other sources) is hailed elsewhere as an easy-to-cultivate, low-calorie source of high levels of several important nutrients, including more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other land-based edible.

Here is a very informative article from local NYC naturalist and foraging fanatic "Wildman" Steve Brill on how to identify purslane in the wild, or if your thing is to gather in the more traditional NYC way, you can simply trade one thin dollar for a good sized bunch at the Paffenroth Garden stand--which has become my go-to purveyor of freaky greens.

Whether purchased or collected, purslane is going to be filthy (ref. above photo--which isn't nearly as bad as usual, don't you think?). I suggest washing just a couple of stems at a time under running water for a little longer than you think they'll need, then visually inspect them to make sure you got all the dirt. Basically, wash them like leeks.

Since they're succulents (like aloe, cactus, and jade plants) I thought the salad spinner would probably bruise them, so I just spread them out on a towel as best I could and ran some errands. If you're in a hurry, very gently whipping them against something absorbent--as a pixie might beat a rug--would probably do the trick.

Now the purslane is clean and dry, it's time to play!

And on that note, I'm going to leave you hanging. Last night I took a food blogging seminar at ICE with Andrea Strong (omg!!) and she made a sensible case for frequent posting. I was concerned about the . . . expansiveness of my weekly posts going into the seminar, so the logical resolution is for me to shut up now and save telling you what I did with my clean, dry purslane for another day. Like maybe tomorrow.

Oh, except a bit more about the class. Unfortunately, the day of our married-to-the-Internet seminar, ICE lost its Internet connection. Fortunately, Andrea (omg!!) and her web designer Harvey Kreisworth were so knowledgeable, engaging, and generous (believe me, they let us pick their brains like they were the paramedics in Return of the Living Dead--it was awesome) that I really felt like I got my money's worth anyway.

Then BONUS! This afternoon I got an e-mail from Kristin James, program manager of the recreational division of ICE, apologizing for the Internet problems and offering to let me either take Andrea's seminar again for free, or apply the full credit to another class--my choice. Seriously, class is the word for that move. And I am SO looking forward to my comped knife skills!!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Consumed Exclusive: Italian Heirloom Eggplant Expose!!

When last I saw Stokes Farm's Italian Heirloom Eggplant of Unknown Proper Name, I was picking out the last four edible looking ones from a dozen or so stragglers at what, I presumed at 11 am on a Saturday, was the tail end of their season.

Not so. Another whole bin of magnificent specimens greeted me this Saturday. A got a different woman at checkout this time, so I thought I'd ask again if they had a more specific name. She looked blank, but asked a guy (if I were friendlier or chattier or something, I guess I could supply names for these nice people, but we all work with what God gave us.), who had the goods.
"Bitter Balls". (I instinctively went with the wide eyes, forward head tilt thing; but don't be ashamed to snicker.)

I felt like Woodward and/or Bernstein! The Goods! The Dirt! The Dish! I had it!

But it was after I took a whim to not rest on those majestic laurels and Googled "bitter ball" eggplant, and subsequently "orange eggplant" that I got the real scoop. From web pages like this and this and this, I eventually came to the conclusion that IHEOUPN isn't Italian at all, but African. Although the photo on this site looks even more like the ones I have (or would if the Brazilians would let them ripen all the way) so maybe Afro-Brazilian. How festive!

I hope you're ok with this startling revelation.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Kale and Cress and Eggs--Oh My!

Going to the Greenmarket this time of year always inspires a certain ambivalence of feeling in me. Ordinarily, by the second week of October I'm saddened by the recent finale of tomato season, but amped up at the expected debut of Romanesco broccoli; energized by the need for a sweater, but enervated by the thought of months of chilly dark just around the corner. This year, I've been thrilled that tomatoes are still abundant, but annoyed--and mildly alarmed--that it's still So. Freaking. Hot.

No matter. This week I embraced two new-to-me varieties of something I consider a fall veggie with a visit to the International House of Kale. Red Russian Kale is flatter then regular kale, with jagged edges that make it look a lot like crazily overgrown dandelion leaves (which I didn't get a decent picture of because I'm a terrible photographer and they were all too blurry to use, so thank you to Amy Albert for not suing me for lifting the following from the Fine Cooking website) .

Nice Amy's Red Russian Kale

It doesn't take as long to cook as regular kale, but is incredibly pungent. It would, I think, overwhelm most dishes, and be a bit much on its own. I parboiled it, then did a rough chop before a quick saute with some garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil. I served it piled on toast that had been spread with a garlicky cranberry bean puree, then topped each toast with a grind of fresh pepper and a splash of red wine vinegar.

Black Tuscan Kale (not too-terrible picture below) was as relatively quick cooking as the Red Russian, but not nearly so strongly flavored. Ultimately, the most interesting thing about it was how hypnotically beautiful the wash water was dancing and beading over its alligator skin surface. Yes, I spent almost half an hour washing one more or less already clean bunch of greens. No, I wasn't high.

Pretty Pretty Tuscan Black Kale

Another thing I ran into this week that I hadn't noticed before that bears just a quick mention is Upland Cress.

Upland Cress--the dainty horseradish

The sign (at Paffenroth's, natch) indicated that it was like a slightly spicier watercress, and could be used interchangeably. I disagree. It's not so much spici-er as spicy-different. It tastes just like horseradish. It added a nice little pep to a salad, but I usually eat watercress as a tea sandwich on heavily buttered white bread, and this stuff was NOT working for me in that capacity. Maybe as part of a zakuski spread to go with chilled vodka instead of a tea tray. Hmmm, now that I think about it, I just might have more to say about Upland Cress, later, after all.

Finally this week, I could no longer resist the quail eggs. They were $3 a dozen. I had $3 left in my pocket. It seemed like kismet, no? In the interest of full disclosure, I have prepared quail eggs before, but I don't think it counts. I bought a can of hard boiled ones at a Chinese market because they were so cute and, not really having any other idea what to do with them, made itsy bitsy deviled eggs out of them for a party. A bit twee perhaps, but I liked them. But I've never started with raw ones, so they still fall under the rubric of this experiment.

N.B.: They are tiny. One recipe for a quail egg omelet gave the equivalency of five quail eggs to one hen egg. That seems about right.

Quail egg vs. hen egg
Second note: Priiiiiitty! As it turns out, "brown speckled" covers a rather wide range.

Quail Egg variety

Be aware that tiny literally translates to pain in the ass to crack without breaking the yolk. It's important to know what you're getting yourself into. I'm here to help.

The ideal way to crack a quail egg without breaking the yolk would be to have big, sharp acrylic nails put on just your thumbs. Presuming you won't be using enough quail eggs in your daily life to make that a feasible option, I suggest employing a paring knife. Tap a seam down one side of the egg, breaking the shell but not penetrating the membrane. Go back along the seam with the (well sharpened) tip of your knife to open up the membrane. Thumbs on wither side of the seam, pull halves apart.

Tiny also translates to pain in the ass to peel when boiled. Your only hope is to follow these directions explicitly. This is actually the best way to peel any boiled egg, but for larger eggs it just makes thing easier, whereas for quail it's crucial if you don't want a thimbleful of mush.

1. You must have prepared an ice bath--not cold water, actual ice in water--sitting near the pot you're boiling your eggs in. When they have been in as long as you want (depending on how hard you want the yolk) scoop them out of the hot water and immediately submerge in the ice water. Swirl around in the ice for a couple of minutes until the eggs cool off noticeably. This both stops (or at least retards) the cooking process and causes the egg flesh to shrink away from the shell resulting in easier peeling.

2. Once the eggs are cool enough to handle comfortably, smash the fat end, where the air bubble is, hard enough to crack the shell but not so hard as to damage the egg. Cracking the egg at the air bubble end will allow you to break through the membrane without mutilating the egg itself.

Another challenge I encountered with these little cuties was how exactly to cook them. I found lots of recipes on the net using boiled quail eggs, but only one reference to how long one should boil them. Given that I don't care for eating Superballs, I disregarded that advice--to boil them for seven minutes. Much trial and error revealed that it is best to put eggs in cold water over medium high heat, bring water just to a boil, then turn off the heat.

For soft but not runny yolks, remove eggs to ice bath immediately.

For still translucent but fairly firm yolks, leave, covered, in hot water for 1 minute.

For quite firm yolks, leave, covered, in hot water for two minutes.

Any longer then two minutes, the yolks might still be fine but the whites will turn rubbery.

Frying was equally. . .interesting. Over easy wasn't that hard to get right, just be extra careful when flipping, but you really have to go with the super-cute sunny side up presentation for Barbie eggs, right? Ok, so. . .

Fried Quail Eggs Trial and Error
Ok, clockwise from top left:

1. Fugly chewy. The yolk was a good consistency, but broken. And the whites were rubbery.

2. Yucky slime. The whites were good, but the yolk was barely warm.

At this point it occurred to me that a mold of some sort might be useful. And I was right, it confined everything enough that the yolk and the white at least had a fighting chance of being ready at the same time. Of course the flower shape provides continuity for The Curse of the Twee Quail Egg, but it was all I had small enough, and I think it's cute anyway. So there.

3. Much better, but I missed the target with the yolk, so it's all cockeyed.

4. Yahtzee! Perhaps not Thomas Keller perfection, but the white is just done, and the yolk is just oozy without being really messy. Perfect enough for me!

Oh, how do they taste? A lot like eggs. But really rich, eggy eggs. In fact, they stand up for themselves quite well to Amy's Prosciutto and Black Pepper Bread--
a pairing to which even the best hen eggs bring nothing but texture.

So, overall, I would have to say that, a little like our new puppy, quail eggs are a bit of work, but cute and nummylicious enough to make it worth the effort.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

We now resume our regularly scheduled programming.

Yet another great thing about the Greenmarket is that it's probably the best place in the City to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger without their thinking you are

a) insane and possibly dangerous,

b) running a con, or

c) sexually available.

So when the woman next to me at Paffenroth Gardens told the guy bagging her stuff that the stinging nettles were also hers, I just had to ask. As it happened, she was captain of the Stinging Nettle Cheerleading Squad, so she was a good person to ask.

"Oh it's fantastic. You cook it just like spinach and it's loaded with nutrients. It strengthens your hair and nails, it boosts the immune system, it's a blood and liver cleaner, . . ." She went on about its virtues for a while, but honestly she had me at liver cleaner (Cheers!). Besides, stinging nettles. It just sounds so delightfully Hogwartian.

And as it turned out, they are definitely from Advanced Herbology.

itchy stinging nettles--yum!

I want to be very clear on this point, so in case you can't make out the sign hastily snapped with my cell phone camera, the highlighted bit reads, Be careful when handling - can cause ITCHING.

Hungry yet?


At least two really important factors distinguish stinging nettles from spinach:

a) A tidy bundle purchased at an urban farmer's market stand can, in fact, cause itching. Running into a patch of them in the wild could, conceivably, result in modest blood loss.

b) They contain little moisture and retain less, so should therefore be prepared as quickly as possible after harvesting. After three days in the fridge, they were heading closer toward dried herb than leafy green.

Regarding a, use gloves when handling raw nettles. Seriously.

Regarding b, well, yeah. That was kind of a shame. Sauteeing and steaming were just ghastly--the worlds thinnest show leather. The scary spiny bits had cooked down (away?) so it was no longer dangerous, but tough and weirdly fishy smelling--like spirulina. Dis. Gus. Ting. Corey, my puppy daddy, physically recoiled when I shoved it under his nose.

But, thanks to Julia Child, all was not lost. I've recently discovered that it's rather useful to keep some of her potage parmentier base (the slurry of potatoes and leeks, before the cream is added) in the fridge. Mine isn't religiously adherent to hers, I use Vegeta instead of salt and a bit less water, but still. Delightful on it's own--once the cream is added, of course--it's also handy for absorbing any extra crisper items that might be on the train for Funkytown. Particularly those few too many mushrooms I always end up with. And now those dried out nettles.

Coupla pints of potage, coupla hands full of nettle leaves, simmer 10 minutes, hit it with the immersion blender (sorry again, Mrs. Child), and add cream. Hmm, still a little fishy. No! I can make this work, goddamit!

Actually, after a bit of tinkering, it wasn't that hard. Big knob of butter, tad more cream, several vigorous turns of the pepper grinder, and--crucially--a big splash of white wine vinegar. And just like that, magically delicious!

Stinging Nettle Soup

Blast from the Past: After several weeks of non-appearance on their part, I got what seem to be the four very last Italian Heirloom Eggplant of Undetermined Proper Name of the season from Stokes Farm last week. As I suspected last time, stuffing them was the way to go. The skins are inedibly tough, but a stunning color, so perfect for presentation.

I pricked their circumference with a skewer just below the stem then baked them whole. In retrospect, 15 - 20 minutes would have been plenty, but I was keeping one eyeball on several things I was cooking at once and the other eyeball on a rather sprightly puppy, so these specimens were perhaps a moment or two past ideal, though I don't think you could tell it by the finished dish.

melted eggplant

After they cooled a bit, I cut off the stem end at the perforations and used a demitasse spoon to scrape out the meat. If you do this carefully, you can get out every last molecule of edible matter and have a perfect skin to stuff. I pulsed the eggplant pulp with some fresh bread crumbs, and dried basil and savory in the Cuisinart till gooey then stirred in two chopped leftover fried green tomato slices. Then I stuffed the skins and put them back in the oven long enough to boil, drain, and toss spaghetti with homemade pesto, about 12 minutes. Voila.

final eggplant presentation

Finally, if I may, I'd like to give a well deserved shout out to my fantastically talented friend Carla. Actors, singers, executive directors, and all other performing artists--your attention please. If she can present a spastic, squirmy 11 week old as this noble beast,

Good Boy Max!

just imagine what she could do with your headshot.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bloggus Interruptus

We interrupt the regularly scheduled blog post for this important announcement.

(And I'm really sorry too, because it was going to be a good one. The star was going to be stinging nettle, and Heirloom Italian Eggplant of Unknown Proper Name was going to make a special return appearance. Julia Child's name was to have been evoked. We hope to have that for you by Friday. Or possibly Saturday, as the stinging nettles resting on the stove right now deserved to have been attended to a couple of days ago, so I might try to get back to Paffenroth's stand Saturday morning for a fresher batch to cook off before opining, though my results thus far are not entirely disappointing.)

So produce withers in the fridge and the stove lies mostly fallow. What could have lead to such a dire circumstance?

Meet Max. King of Cute. Liege of Levity. Prince of Pug-naciousness. And Appropriator of Attention. He's been keeping me and my puppy daddy pretty occupied of late.

Until my next substantive post, enjoy this evidentiary video of those electrically anomalous black dragon tongue beans. (And don't think I've forgotten the spaghetti squash cliffhanger. We will catch up with that over the next week as well.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fear and Loathing at the Greenmarket: Bad Craziness with Dragon Tongues

So the craziest thing happened on the way to this week's post.

I was absolutely walking on clouds with little birdies tweeting around my head after weeks of travel, weddings, guests in from out of town, etc. to get to wallow wholeheartedly in the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturday morning, knowing I was actually going to be home and have time to enjoy playing around with stuff I found there.

I was ready to wax poetic about the perfect cusp-of-fall day--a refreshing new briskness in the air, corn and tomatoes still at their peak but winter squashes and new apples starting to appear--a veritable paradise on urban earth. And I surely would have held forth with lengthy treatments of numerous products I, once again, couldn't help but bring home, despite my new Stop Eating So Much Already, Dammit! campaign.

I was excited to get into pornographically detailed descriptions of my highly successful experiments with zucchini blossoms,

zucchini squash blossoms: a study in sepia

which I had eaten for the first and only time on our aforementioned trip to Rome this summer, but had never prepared myself. I couldn't wait to yammer about my super exciting discovery about them (1), and show off my cool new cast iron tortilla press in the context of talking about the faaaabulous squash blossom quesadillas I made--and ate so fast I didn't even get a picture (2). So much for the campaign.

I very likely would have employed the adjective 'unctuous' in describing the risotto I made with the remaining blossoms (3). Thank heaven we were all spared that.

I also bought a spaghetti squash--a big thing for me. There would have been a charming story of contrasts, how I used to long for such a whimsical, exotic prize when amusing myself by pouring over Burpee's catalogues while visiting my grandparents, whereas my dear SigOth was being taught to hate them by a mother who insisted on dressing them as if they were actually pasta. Possibly, there would have followed a tale of triumph wherein I devised a recipe that won him back over (or a tale of woe wherein I discovered that they are actually as nasty as he claims). Alas, we know not yet, as various circumstances (not the least of which my being a bachelorette this week and having to consume everything I cooked by myself) leave the controversial squash unmolested on the counter at date of writing.

But all of that was thrown aside (and thank God too, given how long this has turned out already!!) by the Curse of the Black Dragon.

No, seriously.

I gave my very last $3 to the lady at Berried Treasures (No, seriously.) for half a pound of bewitching purple-black string beans.

Black Dragons, Dragon Tongues, random beans.

"What are these called?"

"Black Dragons. Or Dragon Tongues. Or Something. They turn green when you cook ‘em."

Well, how's that for a whole emotional roller coaster in a few succinct lines? What could be more exciting sounding than Black Dragons? Unless it's Dragon Tongues? But what could be more deflating than they turn green when you cook them? In the face of the blackberry bean disappointment, I took it as a challenge to see if I could manage to cook them while retaining the color that is clearly the only reason anyone would pay a premium for them in the first place.

**Spoiler Alert**

In a word, no. But stick with me, ‘cause we're getting to the crazy.

Ok, so I haven't read McGee (or I probably wouldn't have felt the need to embark on this little adventure at all, but whatever), but I don't imagine I can do anything about regulating temperature or acidity to keep them from turning green while being cooked in hot liquid, so I decide to try the microwave. While snapping them into one inch lengths, I can't help but be a tad discouraged by the fact that these babies are clearly bright green in cross section. Oh well, what the heck.

I put them in a little deli container with only clinging rinse water for moisture, just set the lid on top to let steam escape, and set the micro for one minute. After about three seconds I hear BiiiiZZZIRT. Crackle. You know--that sound right before Colin Clive starts screaming It's Alive! It's Alive!? Exactly. I whirl back around and the little deli container is--I swear on my half empty pack of Frank Sinatra’s unfiltered Camels--Filled. With. Lightening. I dive for it and yank the door handle open--a choice I probably wouldn't have made had I been thinking at all.

Wow. Ok. Weird! I examine the little deli container. It looks like all 80 other little deli containers under the counter. But who knows, maybe in this age of enhanced security, perhaps this one has some kind of invisible anti-shoplifting metal wires embedded in it. That the TSA confiscated my cannoli at airport security because the cream qualified as a liquid is a far stranger true story than the possibility of an anti-theft wonton soup tub, right?

So I dump the beans into a bowl I know for a fact has been in the microwave without incident a million times. I put the bowl in the microwave. I hit start. BiiiiZZZIRT. Crackle. Lightening shoots out the top of the bowl. This time I prudently hit the stop button. And back away slowly. And mix a Tanqueray and tonic.

I've kept the rest of the beans that didn't go into the machine. I'm going to try to reproduce my results and post video. Because typing it now, it sounds too far-fetched, even to myself.

Much later, when I was able to talk myself into opening the door, I got an interesting visual of how microwaves impact food. Mostly the beans were still purple black, but they were covered sporadically with some rather leperous looking green spots--presumably where the waves hit and cooked the beans. I count it as a battle lost in the War on Green-turning.

At this point I was feeling gin brave, figuring I'd already contracted heirloom bean related radiation sickness if I was going to, and proceeded with the next step in my experiment as previously planned. I dumped a bunch of vinegar on them to see if they would stay purple when pickled--which would have been so great from an alliterative marketing standpoint if nothing else. Again, no. Though by the next morning they had leached a charming lavender hue into the vinegar, which I think would make simply darling Easter eggs.


1. While eating stuffed fried blossoms--at the very restaurant on the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere from which diners watch hippies getting a beat down from the cops in Fellini's Roma--I thought "Slimeylicious! I bet these would be AWESOME in quesadillas!" After picking up some blossoms from (I knew I should have written it down, or remembered it by now since I shop there every time I go to the market, but that really nice guy on the park side of the west side of the market who always has those cute bitsy baby potatoes? And the stunningly gorgeous wreaths and garlands at Christmas time? Sweet Mountain Something? Sweet Something Mountain?) the market, I did a little Google when I got home. I was semi stunned and satisfyingly validated to discover that far from being an Italian monopoly, zucchini blossoms are like kudzu in Mexico, and putting them in quesadillas is pretty much a no brainer to millions of people. Score one for my palate!

2. RE: Tortilla Press: Get one NOW! Easy to use and store, fun, cheap, more delicious and healthy tortillas, etc. etc. Quesadillas: blossoms aren't intensely flavored, so don't be stingy. At least two, torn apart, per quesadilla. A few very thinly sliced crimini mushrooms nicely underscore the flavor of the blossoms. Paper thin slices of red onion, separated, contrast beautifully. Nonstick or cast iron griddle, do not grease.

3. No excuse, but in explanation, I would have only used such purple prose out of sincere shock that the risotto turned out so beautifully under. . .difficult circumstances. I urge you to not attempt a dish that requires near constant attention while also attending your Resident Evil 4 addiction. You will do Leon, your food, and your nerves no favors.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bottarga: Yeah, but really good gourmet cat food.

"You know what that is?"

"Um, I think so."

I've ordered the only remotely interesting sounding thing on the predictably predictable menu at the touristy place our quartet ended up in near the Colosseum. Spaghetti alla Bottarga, translated for our English speaking convenience as "spaghetti with fish eggs". The hairy eyeball the waitress is giving me telegraphs that she's been burned before. Clearly she doesn't think the kind of people who show up for dinner at the ungodly hour of 5 pm will appreciate whatever this is. I'm doubting there will be anything to appreciate about anyplace in Rome that's actually open for service at said hour, so we're kind of even.

"Wait, I show you."

I had been anticipating some kind of roe, but with all this buildup, I'm starting to think something really interesting might be about to happen. I'm pretty fish-ignorant, so maybe there's a crazy Mediterranean fish with sparkling blue eggs, or exploding eggs, or blood eggs. Not so much. She comes back with a diner-style sugar jar and shakes some of what looks like tan salt all over my plate.

"Taste. See if you like." This lady is taking no chances.

A little let down, I run my finger through the grains and have a lick. Salty, definitely, but also. . .I don't want to say fishy because of the negative connotations, so let's say oceany. Now, let's be clear, I probably would have stuck by my order at that point if she had sprinkled fish scales on my plate because I felt challenged. Happily, it was magically delicious so I could say "Si, grazie!" with complete sincerity, before going back to lick my plate clean. She still looked suspicious, but she took the order.

Spaghetti alla Bottarga was just that, spaghetti, olive oil, a sprinkling of bottarga, and the shaker on the side in case you wanted more. Our waitress only seemed to relax once I used the shaker, and seemed positively friendly once she saw that I Could. Not. Stop. Eating. I'm not going to lie, it smells a bit like cat food, but this stuff is just addictive, purified essence of umami.

After an exhaustive search through what felt like every grocery store in Trastevere, I finally found a jar to bring home in the refrigerated section of a specialty food store on a side street off San Giovanni a Ripa (heading toward the piazza, take a left at the bar with the GINORMOUS gintonicas. Anyone who has had occasion to stay in this neighborhood with family members and retains their sanity will surely know the place I mean.) It's a good store to know about if you're going to spend an extended time in Rome, as it's the only one I saw that had such exotic items as soy sauce and Thai curry paste, and I suppose Italian food must get tiresome. Eventually.

Yummy bottarga from Sardinia, via Trastevere

I was entirely unsurprised to discover that it's a Sardinian product. Back in the salad days when I didn't have such tedious concerns as making a living (read: college) I spent a couple of months on an archaeological dig on Sardinia. Consistently astonishingly good food--of the rustic, robust, and hearty variety. I've had a predilection for all things Sardinian ever since.

As it turns out, I didn't need to work so very hard to import/smuggle (Is it meat? Is it fresh? Even if it's legal, will the customs agent know that? Please God, just don't open my bag!) my possibly contraband fish eggs into the US after all, since several varieties are available for order on Amazon (though I'm glad I did as it was about half price in Rome). I've also heard rumors it's for sale retail here in NYC, but I'll have to do the legwork on that and get back to you.

It also turns out that I did not experience the "essence of umami", as this granulated stuff is supposed to be kind of crap and what you really want is the compressed whole roe. Though mine is the superior muggine (gray mullet) variety, better than the common tonno (tuna). I liked the granular perfectly well, thank you very much, but can't wait to try the 'good stuff' when I'm feeling flush.

So anyway, after playing around with it for a couple of months (a little goes a long way), I've determined:
  • It's fantastic on long skinny pastas, but strangely disgusting on short fat pastas. Like two bites of penne, scrape it into the trash, get out the delivery menu file disgusting.
  • It's good with eggs.
  • It's good with tomatoes.
  • It's just too much with Parmesan or Romano.
  • I wasn't really feeling it on chard, but wouldn't rule it out with some other greens. Maybe something more bitter? Or raw?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Labor Day Special: Husk Cherries and Blackberry Beans

So here's the kind of miraculous thing. I'm shambling around Union Square Greenmarket on Labor Day Monday in that particularly listless fugue state brought on by an over-active "vacation", mixed with a touch of jet lag, and gently kissed by a soupcon of too many gin and tonics, trying in vain to pass the hell out already on the return flight. In short, I was definitely more in the head space to lay in bed and order in Thai food than walk to get stuff I would have to process myself.

But just a couple of minutes poking around the few stalls that were there (who knew local farmers were such commies as to actually take Labor Day off?!), the old synapses were firing and Holy Crap! was I hungry!

Even more miraculous, on a holiday when there were 10 or fewer stalls set up, I still came across 2 items that were both extremely photogenic and almost entirely unknown to me.

Gleaming piles of organic produce initially beckoned me over to Norwich Meadows Farm's stand. Among the multitude of varieties of heirloom tomatoes and eggplants, I spied one of those products I've seen but never asked about. HUSK CHERRIES! the sign screams.

I pick up one of the darling wee tomatillo-looking things and the guy doing the restocking is immediately at my side. "That one's no good. You want this one."

Honestly, the miniature Japanese paper lanterns all piled together were so pretty and dainty it took some coaching on his part before I was able to see the differences between good ones and bad ones.

husk cherries, ground cherries, gooseberries, with husk

husk cherries, ground cherries, gooseberries, without husk

I think these somewhat more clinical photos (the colors are way more vivid than you will see in real life) will cut you to the chase. The green ones are underripe. Still edible, but rather tart. The pinkish-beige ones are good to go. The grey ones are over. Not just overripe, but covered with mold. And while I'm ok with some molds--cheese for instance--if the guy selling it says don't go there, guess where I'm not going?

I get them home and do a quick Google. Husk Cherries are also known as ground cherries or cape gooseberries. The extremely nice man at Norwich Meadows recommended just eating them out of hand or adding them to a salad. Very logical, given their delightful texture--juicy flesh held together by skin substantial enough to have a peppy little snap, but not so thick that it sets my teeth on edge like grapes do.

Their flavor is strangely complex, almost befuddling. Smoky grape, melon, apple, fresh hay+cherry, and, weirdly, buttered toast are some of the thoughts I had while trying to suss out what these things taste like.

I think they would be a good addition to a raw salsa intended to go with fish or a reduction to go over game (duck!), in fruit tarts, or preserved and spread on toast. I also suspect they would do well dried as a snack, or a substitute in any recipe calling for dried figs. I really couldn't say though, as I ate every last one, and actually turned the bag inside out to make absolutely positive there were no more hiding in the seams. The verdict: odd, but addictive. I hope they have more next week.

Next I was absolutely beguiled by the blackberry beans from Race Farm, Blairsville, NJ. Just stunning beans, sexier than Padma's Scar (is that a band name yet?), pure white with somewhat lurid splashes of crimson.

I have to confess, to me, beans are kind of beans. They're fresh or dried, eaten shelled or in the pod, but other than that they can be used to a certain extent interchangeably. That's of course an exaggeration, written mostly to justify my primary interest in the Blackberry Beans: would they retain their color through cooking? Well, in a word, no. Less than five minutes at a simmer they were a uniform dull grey. I had been trying to stay pure, cooking them in salt water only, but as soon as I saw the crimson splotches fade, I said to hell with it and dived for the Really Good Bacon.

Twenty minutes later, oh yeah. The beans melted to creaminess itself and oozed the bacon and salt they had absorbed at a really fundamentally delish level. Nummy eaten too hot out of the cooking pot, niiice blended into faux hummus. Oh! I wish I had these beans to go with the mohea a couple of weeks ago!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Dispatch from Vacation: Italian Heirloom Eggplants

I think since a humble eggplant took out a Top Chef contender in the Identify the Ingredient Quickfire Challenge, it can qualify as unusual enough for its own entry. Plus, I'm on vaycay, and it's the only thing I have a photo of, so, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Italian Heirloom Eggplant of Unknown Proper Name!

Italian Heirloom Eggplant from Stokes Farm, Union Square Greenmarket

(A little aside here for me to say that since this was snapped my SigOth, the Boy Genius of all things technological, has shown me how to take proper close-up photos that are neither blurry nor blown out by the flash. Much hotter food porn money shots starting next post. Promise.)

When I first saw them, I thought they were the same as the blaze orange colored Turkish eggplants I had bought from a stand at the Abingdon Square Greenmarket a few weeks ago, but the woman (Stokes Farm again) said that they were heirloom Italian. I looked again and realized that the Turkish had been quite round and smooth, whereas these were the shape of smallish pears with vertical ridges. When I cut them open, the flesh was dense for an eggplant, and very white with barely discernible seeds.

Since I was trying to wrap some things up for work and pack while tidying up to make the apartment presentable for our fish-sitter, I just halved and cut them into 1/2 inch slices to toss into a big ratatouille-like stew I made to use up all the gorgeous veggies I couldn't resist buying at Union Square even though I knew I was leaving town and couldn't possibly eat them all. I am helpless in the face of itty bitty baby squash and big busty August tomatoes. Completely, utterly without help.

As it turned out, that was far from the ideal use for this variety. By the time the other veggies were done, the flesh had completely melted into the stew, leaving behind nothing but surprisingly tough strips of skin. Plus, it didn't take advantage of the spectacular presentation potential of that flame colored skin. If they still have them when I get home, I'll try stuffing them and report back.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tall, Dark, and Leafy: Mohea, the Mystery Green

Mohea leaf structure detail

Meet Mohea. He's new to the City. A little mysterious, a little prickly, but if you'll give him a chance, he just might grow on you.

So no sooner than I commit to starting this blog about exploring unfamiliar ingredients, then suddenly there's nothing I'm not familiar with at the Union Square Greenmarket this week. Baby fennel (so yawn). Heirloom tomatoes (I love you, but even Cherokee Black isn't exactly virgin territory any more). Wild arugula. (Oh, Eff! You! wild arugula. Two days and you're a puddle of brown ooze in the bottom of the crisper drawer. Every. Effing. Time. Nevermore shall I be lured in by your false promise of peppery crunchy green goodness. You filthy scumbag.)

But then, just as I'm resigning myself to schlepping to Canal Street for a can of Squid Beak with Spiny Herb to guarantee that SPLASH! opening every New York venture must guarantee, I spy something at the Stokes Farm tent that looks like in any other setting it would be the target of an herbicidal highway crew.

"What IS that?"

"Mohea." A word she had clearly had more occasion to read than say aloud. In the Middle East and North Africa, it's used like spinach or any other leafy green, she tells me.

Um-kay. I have to rely on her say-so, as Google reveals fuckall about "mohea", except that it's Tongan for 'good night', and apparently has some significance in the regional folklore of one of those flyover states.

Moeha: the World's Tallest Leafy Green

So the first thing you notice about our new friend is that he's a tall, gangly drink of water. Like four feet tall.

The next thing that pops out at you are these orange-yellow strands that frill out where the stems meet the stalks. If you're at all high strung, you might first notice these leggy/antennae looking tendrils with a girly squeal and an instinctive recoil. Possibly followed by a nervous giggle. Whatever.

The last really distinctive thing about mohea in it's raw state is that its leaves areMohea Not Insect Legs detail kind of . . .furry. It's not as prickly as, say, radish greens (which, I found out after a loo-oo-oot of cookbook surfing, are not poisonous. What? You've never heard of rhubarb? It could happen. Thanks Deborah Madison!), so I didn't really notice it as I was stripping the leaves off the stalks. But it became very apparent in the salad spinner when I had to spin and drain like five times to get the suffering things even remotely dry.

Oh, really last thing. Raw, it tastes like yard clippings smell. So in that way it's not that much like spinach. No raw salads in mohea's future. Not so big a deal. I'm just saying.

Ok, big pile of clean, dry-ish mystery greens, let's go!

I'm a transplant from the South, so I hear leafy greens, I think pork fat. (Ok, so I hear ice cream I think pork fat. Hush up your mouth!) I hack a few lardons off the slab of bacon from the Seriously Good Bacon guy at the Union Square Greenmarket I keep around for emergencies, and render it over medium low heat till I have crunchy munchy pork islands floating in a shallow sea of glimmering liquid pig lipid--insert Homer drool here.

mohea cooking porkadelic styleI toss in about half of the mohea leaves, stir that around for 30 seconds or so, then toss in a couple of cupped handsful of water to help it wilt, a good pinch of salt, and few shakes of red pepper flakes. I would have thrown in some fresh garlic, but I'm out, and going to California for a week soon, so am trying to thin out the pantry. Sue me.

Plate it up with a sprinkle of plain old white vinegar on top, and I think I can safely say, YUM! Ok, so it possibly could really have been grass clippings and turned out pretty ok with this never-fail, makes-shoe-leather-fit-for-a-king, soul-style prep. But no, really. YUM! Honestly, extra yum!!

When my excitement passed, I realized that perhaps, just perhaps, my porkalicious preparation was not the most culturally sensitive for an ingredient reportedly native to the Middle East and/or North Africa, so I wipe out the pan and start over.

Olive oil, more red pepper flakes, more unfulfilled desire for fresh garlic (actually, in the best of all possible worlds, I would rather have had some harissa, but did I mention I'm going out of town?), add mohea, splash of water, pinch of salt, followed by a small assload of Zatar seasoning.
mohea cooking politically and culturally correct style

Also yum, but in more of a delish-basis-ingredient-for-another-recipe than a lick-the-plate-for-it's-own-virtues result. (If you want to hang with this blog, you need to embrace my hyphen-o-philia from the get-go--um-kay?) I immediately wanted this version to be cuddling up with some chick peas over basmati rice. So much so that I'm going to put it in the freezer so I can try that when I get back home. Holla back later.

I get why they explained mohea as being just like any other leafy green, because he seems to cook more or less like other leafy greens, from collards to spinach. The really exciting thing about my new friend, (the thing that makes it worth my braving hitting every single other shopper at the Greenmarket in the kisser with with his tall, awkward stalks when simple, pretty, cheerleader-ish rainbow chard is perfectly available), is that he responded like a champ to two raw-ther divergent treatments.

The other memorable thing is his fa-ha-habulous texture--meaty, and almost chewy. Mohea's texture is less virtuous and more sensuous than other greens. And that, as I think somebody said, is a . . .nice change.