28 August 2008

Smoky Pickled Okra

Our pickling and preserving adventures continue, this time with pickled okra. Okra alone is one of those dividing foods, one people wrinkle up their nose at, one whose funny prickles and strangely slimy pods aren't always easy to love. And, even if you (like me) love okra, whether stewed in tomato sauce or sliced and fried, pickled okra is a whole other ballpark. I like to think people who like pickled okra are a special small class all their own- and I love all of them.

Okra is a pod botanically from the hibiscus family, which make sense if you think it could potentially open up into a beautiful flower. Related to both mallow and cotton, it has an unusual texture that needs to be handled properly (flash fried, quick pickled, or picked young and slow stewed). This recipe for smoky pickled okra (or smokra) looked fun to try, especially with all the okra in D.C. farmer's markets. The spice actually works to mellow the strong vinegar element of the pickle, giving it a bit more heat and interest. I made a big batch, to give to all those special pickled okra people I love.

Smoky Pickled Okra
My one caveat here is that I wouldn't recommend canning these - the time in the hot water bath slightly cooks the okra, rendering them less crisp than desired. Adapted from No Recipes. Makes about 2 pint-size jars.

24 okra, about 6" long or the right size to fit in your jars
2 cups white vinegar
1 Tbl sea salt
1 Tbl paprika (preferably smoked, like pimenton)
1 tsp whole mustard seed
1 tsp whole pepper corns
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cumin
1 clove of garlic lightly smashed

1. Wash the okra and trim the prickly bits off the tops of the okra, do not slice the tops to expose the pods. Pack them into a glass jar standing up.

2. In a small non-reactive saucepan, bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil for a minute or until the salt is completely dissolved. Pour this mixture into the jar and add enough water to cover the tops of the okra (they’ll float so you’ll need to weigh them down with something). Secure the lid and allow the jar to come to room temperature.

3. Keep the jar in the fridge for about 4 days, then enjoy.

24 August 2008

White Nectarine and Cardamom Compote

Open my kitchen pantry and you'll see, stacked on the floor, three cases of different size Ball canning jars. Our kitchen has been awash in summer preserve and pickle-making process, with sticky jams and hot water baths and lots and lots of fruit. My friends wll probably tell you I've become mildy obsessed, if only because I have found a way to put those wonderful peak-season fruits and vegetables to good use. Bought too many peaches? Preserve them! Love those summer tomatoes? Can them! Berries going bad too quickly? Make jam!

For me, the excitement came with the white nectarines in the markets this year, the kind that are so good you eat them with juice running down your chin and sliced in breakfast cereal and in salads and for dessert. So infatuated was I with these white nectarines that I couldn't bear the thought that they would soon go out of season, which is where the preserving part comes in. But if you were never the home-ec type these preserves are just as wonderful to make without the whole canning process.

This isn't jam but a compote, so you get still a nice chunk of nectarine texture, but capturing in a sweet lemon and cardamom-tinted sauce. The technique for the compote is inspired by the French queen of jam-making Christine Farber: the fruit are marinated whole in a sugar mixture to draw out their juices, then cooked for a very short time so that their fresh clean flavor is preserved and not reduced into an overly-sweet jammy muddle.

The compote was so successful it inspired three more different batches of preserves, including jam and pickles, and resulted in those fats of canning jars on the floor of my pantry. I'll share more details on those soon, but in the meantime, do you preserve, and if so, what do you make?

White Nectarine and Cardamom Compote
This compote is different from jam in its fresh clean flavor and the addition of cardamom. It's excellent on buttermilk biscuits, mixed into oatmeal or granola, over pancakes, or topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert. Makes 4 small jars.

4 cups sliced ripe white nectarines
1 1/2 cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons plus a little bit of zest
1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1. Peel and slice the nectarines. he nectarines should be ripe enough that you should be able to just pull the peel off with your fingers. If they are not that ripe, you can peel them by blaching them in boiling water for 1 minute, then shocking them in an ice water bath, and then slipping the skins off.
2. Place the nectarines in a bowl with the sugar and lemon juice/zest. Let nectarines marinate for 2 hours at room temperature, or up to overnight in the refrigerator.
3. If you will be canning your jam, prepare you hot water bath and disinfect your jars/lids now.
4. Strain the nectarines through a strainer, pouring the juices into a saucepan. Bring juices to simmer over medium heat. Boil, skimming off any foam, until the syrup becomes a jammy consistency (221F on a thermometer or test the jam on a plate in the freezer to see if it gels). Add the nectarines into the syrup and boil, skimming foam, for five more minutes. Add the cardamom.
5. Pack into jar and process in a hot water bath for 12 minutes, according to canning practices. Or merely let cool and store in the fridge for up to one month.

16 August 2008

Stalking Summer

Sometimes I feel like I'm stalking summer, never quite catching up. Only realizing the season's here when it screams it's heat at me, arriving at the market each week to find cherries slipping out of season, followed by apricots, okra, and even precious summer corn has its days numbered. It seems each week some produce bears the sign "last chance for the season," why didn't anyone tell me? Only when the shadows get a little longer, the sunsets a little earlier, do I realize summer won't last forever.

I like to go for walks on weeknights after dinner, Capitol Hill has small front yards but its residents do a lot with them. You can tell a lot about someone by their garden: tight perfectly mounded boxwoods, loosely flowing grasses, the people who grow tomatoes on the sidewalk by the curb. On summer nights, with the windows open, you can hear the soft clatter of forks against plates, the clink of glasses, the laughter of children as they splash in the bath. When it gets cold the windows will be shut and the light darker and my walks will be different.

But I'm getting ahead of myself because summer's not over yet, and I'm sure August will throw a few blazing days our way so we don't forget it. The little yellow squash I keep buying in the market remind me of my mother- I always preferred zucchini, while my mother, being Southern, loves yellow squash. These tiny squash are gorgeous, they're firm and don't have the flaccid quality that I dislike in some yellow squash, and I've been eating them chopped and sauteed, thinly sliced raw, and roasted whole. I spotted a recipe, by the immitable Dan Barber, for whole baby squash battered and fried with a sesame seed coating. One night I decided to treat my squash the same, working from memory and improvisation. They were wonderful, like a sesame-crunched squash french fry, but lighter and crunchier and delicious. A little chance to catch up with summer.

Sesame-Fried Yellow Squash
For an even more indulgent version, try wrapping the squash in bacon before dredging and frying it. The smallest squash are the best as they cook through quickly. Inspired by Dan Barber/Gourmet.

baby yellow squash or zucchini
1/2 cup flour with a pinch of salt and red pepper added
1 egg, beaten
1 cup sesame seeds
oil for frying

1. Place about 3 inches of oil in a deep pot and bring to 350F for frying. Meanwhile, place flour, egg, and sesame seeds in 3 shallow bowls.
2. Dredge squash in flour (shaking off excess), then in egg, then in sesame seeds to coat. Fry squash in batches until golden an crisp about 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels, serve immediately.

10 August 2008

Purple Basil and Pistachio Pesto

A recipe for pesto may not be anything new, but anyone who keeps an herb garden probably has basil coming out their ears by now, and it's time to cut it all back before it goes to seed. Sure, there's pistou or caprese salad, but really what do you do with all that basil but make pesto?

It's the time of year when nature is throwing produce at you so fast that all you can do is reach for those time-tested recipes, besides, you're probably too busy eating corn on the cob and tomatoes to really think about cooking something unless it screams for your attention. Like that giant bush of basil in the backyard. This year I grew purple basil, and I thought I'd mix things up with a good dose of pistachios instead of pine nuts (because that's what I had on hand). And then I really mixed things up and added some lemon zest. I know. The Heresy.

But tossed with pasta or smeared on a sandwich, it was an indiscretion well appreciated. And stay tuned, because I've got a recipe for all that seasonally abundant mint coming up soon.

Purple Basil and Pistachio Pesto

1 large clove garlic, any green center removed
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup packed purple basil leaves
3 heaping tablespoons roughly-chopped pistachios
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
about half a lemon's worth of fresh lemon zest
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. In a mortar and pestle, or food processor with the motor running, puree the garlic and salt. Gradually add the basil and then the pistachios, crushing or processing everything into a rough paste. Grate the lemon zest into the bowl. Pour in the cheese and finally enough oil to bring the pesto to the consistency of heavy cream. To store, pack into a jar and top with a small level of olive oil- this prevents the pesto from discolouring.

08 August 2008

Favorite Food-Related Podcasts

Whether you're a public radio junkie or a commuter like myself, you may be familiar with podcasting. Here are a few of my favorite food/cooking related podcasts.

The Splendid Table
Not only is it full of advice, interviews, and information but nothing can make a dish sound as luscious as the sound of Lynne Rosetto Casper's voice. They've got a great new cookbook out and good recipes on their website too.

NPR's Kitchen Window
Ironically, this radio's cooking column used to be text-only, but now the Baltimore-based Bonny Wolf hosts an accompanying podcast every other Wednesday.

The Leonard Lopate Show
This wonderful daily talk show covers a range of topics from politics to books to art and science, but he does great features with chefs and authors (there was a good one on barbeque recently) and Ruth Reichl stops by at least once a month.

Selected Shorts
This podcast is here for two reasons- first, this show in which actors read short stories is a fabulous thing to listen to when you're making a slow-simmering sauce on a Sunday afternoon. Second, they've got at least two shows with food-related stories by the likes of Jhumpa Lahiri and John Updike.

Also: NPR's Hidden Kitchens, KCRW's Good Food (especially for their farmers market report if you're in L.A.), BBC's Food Programme, Gardenfork, Chow's Food Popdcast Picks.

All podcasts available via iTunes. I often set mine up so that they don't download automatically but I can pick and choose the programmes I want.

03 August 2008

Browned Butter Scotch Pie

Ok everyone, repeat after me, browned butter scotch pie. A little slower now: Browned. Butter. Scotch. Pie.

Oh yes, this is not your average butterscotch pie, but one dressed up with browned butter and a splash of real Scotch and crowned with a fluffy meringue topping.

Browned butter has been in vogue of late, and if you haven't met, it's about time you got acquainted. Browned butter takes on a nutty deep flavor completely different than regular butter, and best of all the deep flavor means you don't have to use as much butter to get maximum oomph out of it. I've written this recipe with an indulgent four tablespoons, but if you're watching things in the calorie arena, I think three tablespoons would do just fine.

A hint of Scotch spikes the pie, and if you're like me with little liquor collection to speak of, then it pays to have a good friend who happens to live nearby and can exbound upon the merits of single and double malts for a good half hour. Yes, I hope you all have such neighbors.

I made my crust with half whole wheat flour because I like the nubbly toastiness it brings to the pie, almost cookie-like as it crumbles. And even though the pie has deep assertive flavors of butter, Scotch, and wheat, it's nice and light enough for summer, when something cool and creamy is always welcome.

Browned Butter Scotch Meringue Pie

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon Scotch, or 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch salt
1 (9 inch) pie crust, baked and cooled
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons granulated sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Combine brown sugar and cornstarch in a bowl. Beat in the egg yolks until the mixture is thick and forms ribbons when drizzled from a whisk.
3. In saucepan, heat the milk until steaming but not boiling. Add about a quarter of the milk to the egg mixture and stir to combine. Add the egg mixture back into the saucepan and stir to combine.
4. Place the pan on medium/low heat and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Remove from heat and add the Scotch/vanilla and salt.
5. Let the pudding cool to room temperature, while it is cooling make the brown butter. Place the butter in a saucepan and let melt, watch carefully as the butter browns and releases a nutty aroma, making sure it doesn't burn. Remove pan from the heat and let the brown butter cool slightly. then whisk the brown butter into the pudding. Pour the pudding into the prepared pie crust and place in the refrigerator while you make the meringue.
6. With a mixer, beat egg whites with vanilla and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until stiff and glossy peaks form and all sugar is dissolved.
7. Spread meringue over slightly warm filling, spreading to edge of crust.
8. Bake pie at 350° for 12 to 15 minutes, or until meringue is golden. Cool for 10-15 minutes. Store in the fridge, loosely covered.