Posts Tagged ‘FMC’
Another week, another semi-illicit Farmers’ Market Challenge pick-up. For this week’s secret ingredient, Joe sidled up to the table where I was having dinner with Mr. T and some friends to hand me a white plastic bag full of unruly green snakes–garlic scapes–before melting back into the crowd. It’s all very exciting, you see, particularly since I’d never cooked with garlic scapes before. Uncharacteristically, I didn’t do any research at all, merely took a look and a nibble and decided what I wanted to do. They look very Asian-y, and while I’d not eaten them either, I though the garlic scapes would make for a lovely fried rice.
Raw, the scapes were quite bracingly garlic-y. Cooked, they took on a vegetal sweetness, but retained a powerful garlic flavor as well–much to my surprise. They also had a pleasingly substantial crunchy-tender texture that provided a nice contrast to the rice and chewy sausage. All in all, this was a winner. The scapes definitely were front and center in this dish, but everything else came together behind them to make a tasty, coherent dish that wasn’t overpoweringly garlic-y. Or scape-y, for that matter. I’d be happy to serve this to anyone’s po-po or nai-nai, should they come to dinner.
They are weird. Gnarly. Twisty. Medusa-y in their serpentine way. Piled high on tables at farmers markets this time of year, they resemble the base of the Well of the Souls. I’ve always been intrigued by them and I think they are a fine FMC for this week. Look for our creations…tomorrow.
This week’s Farmer’s Market Challenge made for a marked departure from the last few thorny vegetable problems we’ve faced. Rather than having to work out what to do with some esoteric and impossible bit of produce, we had to decide what to do with one of the kitchen’s unsung workhorse heros: leeks. In this case, the difficulty stemmed from the embarrasment of choices the leeks presented. Braised them gently? Vichyssoise, potage Parmentier (aka HOT vichyssoise), cock-a-leekie soup? Leek and potato fritters? A gratin? Something Welsh?
In retrospect, I really should have gone with my initial instinct and developed a cream-free braised leek recipe that would’ve brought their sweet, subtle flavor to the fore. That, or rise to Maria’s challenge to make a savory leek muffin. But, dammit, I wanted dumplings and dumplings are what I made.
I trotted on down to the Farmers’ Market like a good little French housewife last Sunday morning in search of petite bebe turnips and carrots destined for JOOOLIA’s Navarin Printanier that I was making that evening. Clearly, the market is the place to be. Not only did I manage to find the profligate baby vegetables I needed, I also bumped into a good percentage of my address book out hunting for ramps and other early spring goodies.
Joe, a regular denizen of the market, had cased the joint far more thoroughly than I and was all set to throw down our latest challenge to the tune of blood sorrel. Naturally game, I accepted and found myself holding a bag of slightly alien-looking red-veined leaves. Though their appearance suggests small, delicate beet greens, their stridently acidic flavor identifies them very much as sorrel. This lemony bite is due to oaxalic acid–poisonous in large quantities, but harmless in small amounts. Fortunately, I only had about 10 oz of the stuff, so I felt fairly confident that I’d not be able to kill anyone with it.
Knowing that Lacinato kale is one of Joe’s very favorite green things ever–having heard him bang on about it incessantly and having been served it in several lovely meals at his table–I kind of thought he’d go and do something unexpected with it. Turns out I was right.
How fortunate, then, that I also cooked against type, embracing kale’s humble Tuscan roots and making that cornerstone of Italy’s cucina povera, ribollita. I’d recently been served a version of it at a local Italian restaurant that shall remain nameless, primarily because the soup was thin, wan, and the beans were crunchy. CRUNCHY. Also, tragic. Ribollita is SUPPOSED to be a lush, thick mix of beans, old bread, kale, etc.
Getting into the spirit of the thing, I pretty much winged it based on what was at hand–i.e., at home or at the market on the way home–rather than finding an ur-recipe from some scion of Italian cuisine… Marcella, Lidia, and all those other grande dames (or the Italian equivalent) will have to wait for another day.
In any event! According to Wikipedia, that inscrutable arbiter of all internet knowledge, the only things a ribollita HAS to have are: beans, kale, and old bread. No problem! Thus, for my first batch I went with a mild bacon rather than pancetta but I did manage to unearth a Parmesan rind from the bowels of the refrigerator, because I am nothing if not a thrifty European housewife. I mean, REALLY.
In subsequent forays, however, I’ve swapped in nubbins of spicy Spanish chorizo (cured, not fresh–that’d be Mexican chorizo…) and I’ve not looked back. With more flavor, (slightly) less grease, and a much more appealing texture when cooked, the chorizo wins hands down.
I suppose I should not have been surprised to see the richly textured green leaves of Lacinato, or dinosaur, kale when I opened my latest brown bag o’ mystery from the farmers’ market. It is not only a superfood du jour, it is also a favorite of Joe’s. It’s also–despite the current heatwave–a little early to expect much else from our local farmers. This formerly neglected member of the brassica family has of late leapt to centerstage as foodies turn more to local, seasonal produce.
First and foremost, it’s a tasty, sturdy green that offers an earthy, verdant flavor even during the depths of winter when green can be hard to come by. Kale’s also sturdier than spinach–baby or otherwise–and is thus far more rewarding to cook with; it will cook down, but a pound of sauteed kale will net you a few side servings where the same amount of spinach will have to be served by the thimbleful. It’s much touted nutritional value–packing massive amounts of antioxidant vitamins and phytonutrients per calorie–also adds to kale’s appeal.
Unsurprisingly, the blogosphere has been abuzz with kale-related postings–so much ink has been spilled on kale “chips” alone that it counts as meme in and of itself. Given the intense heat of kale’s spotlight, it will be interesting to see what we both come up with for Challenge Kale. Not chips, for sure, and we’ve already done it with pasta. So, check back in soon; we’ll be posting our two odes to kale in the next day or so.
So, after the cardoon challenge (*FAIL*), and the sunchoke challenge (*toot*), I was so relieved to open Joe’s bag to see an array of mushrooms. And not, you know, tree bark or bee larvae or clods of dirt or something. These were lovely specimens too… cremini, oyster, chanterelle, and a few others I couldn’t identify. Trusting Joe and his vendor, I proceeded to think about what to do with my little pile of treasure. Since they were so lovely, I really wanted to keep the mushrooms themselves front and center. It was also a weeknight, so I didn’t want to spend forever messing around with them either.
Rummaging through the cupboards, I came across some stone ground cornmeal that got me in the mind to do a soft, creamy polenta topped with simply sauteed mushrooms. Easy, quick, and delicious. Sold. I only added a few things to the mushrooms to keep the spotlight on them; the shallot, wine, and parsley are all very much supporting players. Technique is important here, if not at all difficult. Start with a big pan that will hold your shrooms with plenty of breathing room so they actually saute and don’t steam defeatedly in their own juices. Preheat the pan and use high heat; the mushrooms can take it. They should squeak when you toss them, and pick up some good golden brown color. Then, drop the heat and carry on with the shallot and everything else at a more relaxed temperature. And, because, I’ve never met a lily that couldn’t be gilded just a little, hit ’em at the end with a drizzle of truffle oil to tie everything together. A restrained dusting of parmesan could also be a nice finish. Mr. T gave this little supper an enthusiastic thumbs up.