Saturday, September 21, 2013

Verjus (Green Juice) – September 21, 2013

I love to discover old food ways that preserve food that would be wasted.  It is even better to learn that young farmers are bringing them back.  This happened about a month ago when I first learned about Verjus.  This is the French word, but the same product is used even more extensively in other countries like Syria.  It is basically the product of squeezing the unripe grapes when harvesting grapes for wine.  This practice used to be very common but, now, most of these grapes would simply be left to rot.

The benefit of Verjus is that it can be used in recipes in place of wine vinegars, but it has a more subtle less sour taste that allows the other ingredients to really show through.  I ordered a bottle on and tried it in lots of vinaigrettes and other recipes, but I really hit the target when I bought beautiful Japanese eggplants at the farmer’s market and make Chez Panisse Eggplant Caviar.  Trust me, this is a simple way to really impress your family or guests.  The key is to use really great fresh ingredients and let them shine!

Eggplant Caviar on Toasted Bread

2 Japanese eggplant which was easier to chop (or one large globe eggplant)
1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt and pepper to taste
Really good olive oil (I use Oliva Bella)
2 finely chopped shallots
White Balsamic Vinegar
Verjus Blanc
1 minced clove garlic
¼ c. chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Peel eggplant and cut in slices or chunks.  Place on baking dish with tomatoes and toss with oil, salt and pepper.  Sprinkle a couple T. water over it all, cover with foil and bake 30-40 minutes until vegetables are soft. 

While the vegetables are baking, soak the shallots and garlic in half white Balsamic vinegar and half Verjus.  Mash the vegetables, drain the shallots and garlic and add.  Cool and add more oil if needed.

When ready to serve, add parsley and serve at room temperature on bagette toasted with a little olive oil.

One Year Ago - Caprese and Orange Basil Salad

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Saving Up Squash – September 15, 2013

All Southerners know you must lock your car up in the summer or a neighbor or co-worker might fill up your trunk with their squash bounty.  We don’t grow squash but this year we had a volunteer butternut squash plant that must have resulted from the seeds being left in our mulch.  I do buy squash at the Farmer’s Market.  We really enjoy the baby ones that are great for pan frying with cherry tomatoes or pickling whole with the same sour pickle recipe I shared in this blog last year for okra, beans and carrots as well as baby squash. 

This week, I decided to get a little more adventurous thanks to Paul Virant’s beautiful book, The Preservation Kitchen.  I started with Pickled and Spiced Summer Squash.  I had beautiful Zephyr Squash, the half yellow half light green Summer squash popular at the market.  Here is all you do:

Pickled and Spiced Summer Squash

8 c. squash cut in ¼ inch slices
2 T. salt
2 ½ c. Champagne vinegar
1 ¼ c. water
½ c. white wine
¼ c. sugar
1 T. sweet curry powder
2 tsp. smoked paprika

Mix squash and salt and sit in colander to drain for an hour.  Meanwhile, boil remaining ingredients.  Divide squash into 5 pint jars and pour brine over before sealing 10 minutes.  Now the interesting part...when ready to eat, you can open and serve as a pickle with a cheese board, but you can also make a great room temperature salad which is easy for parties.  Simply grill 1 pound squash and cut in similar size to those in your pickles.  Add to a drained jar of pickled squash with 1/3 c. feta cheese.  Add salt, pepper, fresh parsley and olive oil and pickle juice to taste (just a little of each).
If you don’t like the idea of canning but you tired of ratatouille, you can also try curried Summer squash.  It is perfect as the temperatures drop.

Curried Squash Soup

3 T. vegetable oil
2 chopped Summer squash
1 chopped onion
1 tsp. curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste
4 c. chicken broth

Saute squash, onion and curry in oil 8-10 minutes until soft.  Add broth and bring to boil.  Reduce and simmer 25-30 minutes.  Puree in blender and serve topped with sour cream, cilantro and/or pepper.

So, you may not be tired of butternut squash yet and it saves for several weeks in the vegetable drawer, but my plant produced more than we were interested in eating during the summer.  Butternut squash always make me think of autumn and Thanksgiving, so I liked the idea of making something I could just pull out and enjoy during the holiday.

Butternut Squash Aigre-Doux

2 ¼ lb. butternut squash (quartered, seeded and sliced in ¼ inch slices)
½ sliced Vidalia onion
2 ½ c. sherry
1 ¾ c. maple syrup
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
¾ c. sherry vinegar

Add all ingredients except vinegar to a pot and bring to boil.  Lower heat and simmer 15 minutes.  Drain squash and onions and pack in jars.  Add the vinegar to the brine and simmer.  Pour this over squash in jars and seal in boiling water 10 minutes. 

When you are ready to eat, just pour the entire contents of a pint jar into a pan with 2 T. butter and heat.  Just before serving, add a bit of nutmeg.

One Year Ago - Moroccan Winter Squash and Moroccan Eggplant and Chickpeas

Friday, September 6, 2013

Sunday Supper – September 6, 2013

My mother died when I was 15 and my brother and I were raised in part from that point on my our neighbors, the Zitos.  This amazing family had four kids of their own and we were always welcome for any meal.  This was never as exciting as Sunday.  Mama Zito made a pot of sugo – a tomato based sauce that cooked all day and that might include sausage, meatballs, boiled eggs and other wonders.  But, she always made boxed pasta.

I have made pasta on my own and it is a great way to make fabulous use of nothing more than flour and a little oil, egg, water and salt.  However, after moving to Louisville, I discovered Lotsa Pasta and did not feel the need to make my own pasta again.

And, then came the August Bon Appetit magazine where I saw photos of these beautiful handmade pastas and I realized they were made with a wooden tool I had at home but had never known how to use.  I decided to experiment.  I had a great time and a couple great pasta meals.  I highly recommend getting back to the basics.  I used simple homegrown tomatoes roasted in the oven with homegrown garlic, fabulous olive oil, salt pepper and some fresh herbs.  And, don’t forget the Parmesan!

Basic Pasta
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp salt
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. olive oil
I T. water

In a medium sized bowl, combine flour and  salt.  Make a well in the center and add egg, mix.  Stir in water and oil and let sit about one hour.  Knead dough on a floured surface about 3-4 minutes.  Roll to desired thinness (really thin) and cut in strips.  I actually cut into circles with a small lid and then pressed into the wooden tool I have that created the wavy pattern on each circle.  I then wet both ends and pressed together to create half circles with centers to catch the sauce.

One Year Ago – Sauteed Beet Greens and Baked Beets