I’m not a fan of cherry pie (too sweet). How un-American is that? You can practically hear George Washington grumbling as he rolls over in his grave. Oh wait, George Washington chopped down the cherry tree, at least apocryphally. Maybe he wasn’t a fan of cherry pie either. Maybe if George had enjoyed a Cherry Goat Cheese Clafoutis once in awhile the father of the United States might have been depicted by contemporary artists looking as if he were actually pleased about it. Clafoutis can cheer anyone up. As a student without much money in the French-speaking part of Switzerland I would sometimes treat myself to a slice of a beautiful clafoutis displayed in a pastry shop window. It was one of those dependable, not terribly expensive indulgences that made me feel comforted and sophisticated at the same time. With one foot in the tart world and another in the cake world, a medium that tasted a bit like crêpes and felt like custard, how could it not brighten my day?
We’re obsessing over peeled tomatoes. Jody has even made a convert of me, Mr. No-Fuss-No-Muss. Tomato and Burrata Salad with Basil, Olives and Capers might well have begun Peeled Tomato… By the end of the summer you’ll either be slipping tomatoes out of their skins quicker than a fast-change artist in a costume shop. . . or you’ll be reading another food blog that doesn’t ask so much of you. But if you do, you’ll miss the supple sensation that is a tomato without its skin, as well as a remarkable esthetic experience. I, for one, had no idea how ordinary tomatoes metamorphosed into the Betty Grables of the garden without their skins. They’re gorgeous.
And nothing makes it worth the effort – trifling as it is – of removing a few tomato skins than pairing the tomatoes with burrata, the really hot cousin of bufala mozzarella.
Our summertime preferences for sweets run to the light and refreshing, as versus the dense and sensual. I want to rise from the table and feel as though I’ve beaten the heat and humidity, not stoked the furnace, which makes Chili-Ginger Granita with Watermelon and Pistachios the ideal dessert after a meal of grilled lamb and eggplant, or just a treat to dull the edge of a blistering afternoon.
If you’re unfamiliar with granita, think of it as the crunchy version of sorbet. Granita’s gravelly texture would seem to make it the coarse country cousin of sorbet, yet somehow it manages a rude elegance, like handmade orecchiette, that sorbet can’t quite touch. Aside from the fact that sorbet often contains egg white, and granita does not, the primary distinction between the two is that sorbet is made in an ice cream machine. The machine churns as the sorbet mixture freezes, breaking the ice crystals into smaller and smaller pieces, resulting in a dense, even texture. Granita predates the ice cream machine. The basic method begins with a frozen block of fruit flavored ice, then scraping it apart with a fork. Surprisingly, this is quite easy. A subtler approach is to stir up the granita a few times during the process of freezing, then scraping this somewhat looser product after it has frozen completely. We tried both. Both work. The freezer interruptus method results in finer crystals. Your call.
There comes a time when every cyclist reaches into a jersey back pocket, extracts a pro-biotic hyper-nutrient choco-green exfoliant chia protein bar and instead of ripping away the wrapping like the savage carbo-craving road shark she is, she freezes. Tongue, stomach and heart revolt. A chilly voice in her head announces the rebel demands: We don’t want to eat an energy bar. Ever. Again. Last year, reflecting on the long PanMass Challenge ride she’d just finished, Jody said to me, “I am sick of f_______ energy bars! I can’t stand it! Next year I’m going to make my own.” Fortunately, she reconsidered. And that’s why you’re being treated to Bicycling Spring Rolls this week.
If the word ‘turnips” doesn’t make your heart go pitter-patter there’s a good chance you’re suffering from the after-effects of Araac Syndrome (Ate Rutabagas As A Child). Let’s face it, rutabagas are to gastronomic pleasure what Miss Hannigan is to social work. Not to worry. We have the cure for what ails you: Stir-Fried Hakurei Turnips with Dried Shrimp, Chiles, Garlic and Lime.
Curried Cod in Parchment was one of our earliest blog posts. After fantasizing about visiting Patmos, we thought it might be time to revisit the technique – with Shrimp in a Pouch with Lemon Mayonnaise.
This isn’t a fancy-pants recipe – it’s a remedy for the usual put-something-in-a-pan-then-put-something-else-in-a-pan-now-put-something-else-in-a-pan rut. You can finish everything before the first half-hour of All Things Considered ends, and that includes whipping up a batch of homemade mayonnaise (the house record for non-professionals is about 2 minutes). With luck the radio will be playing a story about Congressional budget negotiations while you devein the shrimp. You can sublimate your feelings, whichever side of the fence you’re on, into the pointed end of a sharp knife. Pause to pour yourself a glass of albariño. You deserve it – you’re almost done making dinner.
Something discordant this way comes. It happens in every kitchen, if you cook together long enough. Jody and I did a Dagwood and Blondie over today’s post, Risotto with Kale Pesto, made in a pressure cooker. My willingness to fudge things a bit for a weeknight dinner versus the cruel exactitude of a restaurant chef. As Jody not so delicately summed up our contretemps: “You’re the photographer. [Ouch!] I’m the chef, and my reputation is on the line.” Guess who got the broom in the back of the head?
After the complexities of the Blue Zone, we thought some simple pressure-cooker* recipes would make a welcome change of pace. Fennel-Carrot Soup with Ginger is the first of 4 or 5 PC posts (vote with your comments!). If you don’t own a pressure cooker, no worries, all of the recipes work the old-fashioned way; they just take a little longer.
We’re back on course to the next Blue Zone* – the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica! Casado – the married man’s lunch is our take on a Nicoyan central meal of the day, protein and salad along with a foundation of black beans and rice seasoned with a particular Costa Rican twist.
The Nicoya Peninisula is a 80-mile long thumb of land that juts into the Pacific from the northwest corner of Costa Rica. Among a certain type of backpacking tourist the peninsula is famous for its many beaches which ring the coastline. But the Blue Zone of the Nicoya Penisula does not include the coast – it is the interior, home of large national parks, still quite rural, and with many inhabitants living traditional lifestyles either as independent farmers or as sedentary agricultural workers finding employment on larger farms, and raising corn, beans, and other vegetables (including two forms of taro) in their own family plots. Until recently the Nicoya Peninsula was relatively isolated, reachable only by ferry until 2003, which saw the opening of the Taiwan Friendship Bridge.
At first glance the Nicoyan diet may not seem that remarkable–rice, beans and tortillas–along with a lot of fruit. But at 60 a Costa Rican man has about twice the chance of reaching 90 as one from the U.S., and this from a country whose medical budget is about 15% of that of the U.S. Nicoyans are some of the healthiest, most long-lived people on the planent. Say hello to Casado – beans and rice with all the fixings.
If you tuned in last week, then you know our posts this month are inspired by Dan Buettner’s work on the Blue Zones,* specific regions of the world where people lead exceptionally long, active lives. But why live to 100 if you have to eat gruel to do it. Thankfully the cuisine of the Blue Zones is both simply and tasty. Last week we spotlighted a Sardinian Fava Bean and Almond Soup. This week our featured performer is a simple dish of Sautéed Taro and Greens, both staples of the Greek island of Ikaria. By coincidence or culinary karma BBC Radio broadcasted yet another story this morning on those frisky long-lived Ikarians. So get with the program! We’re all Ikarians on this bus.