We got a bunch of Thai basil in the pick box this week. I like Thai basil, but you don’t need a lot of it. So what to do with a rapidly wilting bunch? I am told you can freeze it, but I also saw a mention of basil syrup.
Thai Basil Syrup
1 bunch of Thai basil, roughly chopped (stems, leaves, flower heads, and all.)
1/2 cup sugar.
1/2 cup water.
Mix the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, dump in the basil, stir, and leave covered overnight. Next morning, strain the syrup through a sieve into a bowl. Place in sealed container and store in the fridge.
It tastes like sweet liquorice, with an intense anise flavor, and lovely deep dark brown color. I can imagine using it in cocktails where simple syrup is called for but the anise might add another dimension, or in asian dishes that call for sugar.
After two weeks of Sand Pears in the pick box and me on my own, I decided to preserve them. Sand Pears are also known as Le Conte pears, after the guy who brought them to Georgia and cultivated them, John Eatton Le Conte Jr. His father was the Le Conte who wrote a fascinating, if not entirely accurate, government report on his exploration of the St John’s River and eastern Florida that he undertook in the Spring of 1822.
Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, and honey to a boil. Peal the pears, cut them in halves or quarters and remove the seeds and stem. Distribute the ginger, lemon and cloves evenly between four canning jars (I ended up with two 500ml and two 250ml jars.) add the pears to the jars packing, but not squashing them. Pour in the pickling liquid and tap to remove the bubbles. Close with lids and boil in a water bath for ten minutes and keep for a week before eating. If you prepare the jars and lids correctly, and the seals are tight you can store these outside the fridge.
We got some lovely arugula in our pick box last week and I enjoyed it in lots of different ways. It is perfect in a cheese sandwich with a thick slice of Cotswold cheese ( a Double Gloucester with chives) on whole wheat bread. Also in a salad, which explains the title of this post. I enjoy eating locally produced food. Especially vegetables that depend on freshness, like salads. I also enjoy it because it means I take notice of the local seasons, which in Florida means mangos in the summer and strawberries in the winter.
Back to that salad. The arugula was local, as was the lightly poached Lake Meadow egg broken on top which adds to the dressing as the yoke runs through the leaves. But the olive oil came all the way from Spain and Balsamic vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese from specific areas of Northern Italy. How to resolve this contradiction? I think that local is not the most important thing. There is some research (yeah, sorry. That is behind a firewall. If you are not a Rollins person, please don’t pay for it. Use your local library’s ILL service to get it sent to you) to indicate that local production can be less efficient and have a larger carbon footprint than more extensive systems of food distribution. As the authors conclude, “the concept of food miles, as typically used, is of little value per se and that it is the carbon emission per unit of produce over the transport chain that really matters.” But I would also add the carbon emissions and environmental impact of production, as well as transportation. So then, why buy local? I do it for the impact on our communities ( I like to have small farms producing interesting and flavorful food in the area and am prepared to pay more for the food they produce.) I like the variety of produce they make available, I like the seasonality of the food, and most of all I enjoy the flavor and freshness.
But that doesn’t work all the time. When it comes to certain foods; wine, spirits, coffee, tea, cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and I am sure you can think of others, I am going to choose the one I prefer, wherever it comes from. There are some good cheeses in Florida, two reasonable whiskeys (here and here)and there is at least some olive oil.
But the best of those products come from places that use the word “local” in another sense. Parmigiano Reggiano means Parma and Reggiano cheese. It is produced in those local areas, from the milk of cows grazing in those areas, and produced by skilled artisans who know their craft, with gee nations of experience to build on, and a local market with high expectations. The food reflects what the French call terroir. I enjoy eating in both senses of the word local.
Previously, I had taken the whole Seminole Pumpkin, quartered it, removed the seeds and stringy stuff from the center (by the way, clean, salt, and roast the seeds for 15 minutes. They are a delicious snack.) Wrap each quarter in tin foil and place on a baking tray in an oven at 350 degrees F. for one hour. Check with a fork or skewer to make sure the pumpkin is soft all the way through. Remove from the oven and let cool. Scrape the flesh from the skin and mash (no need to purée at this point. Freeze what you don’t need immediately.
2 cups of baked pumpkin flesh, mashed.
1/2 cup of good reggiano cheese, grated.
Pinch of fresh grated nutmeg.
Salt to taste.
Place the pumpkin flesh in a jelly bag or cheese cloth and let one quarter cup of liquid drain from it. Take this liquid and reduce it until it is a lovely golden syrup and reincorporate into the pumpkin. Mix in the cheese, nutmeg and salt to taste. Let it rest while you make the pasta.
Dump the flour on a clean counter. Make a well in the middle large enough to hold the eggs. Crack both eggs in the well. Using a fork, gradually stir the eggs into the flour, slowly beating them, until the eggs are incorporated. This methods let’s you push aside any extra flour, or add a little more if necessary. Then use your hands to work the mixture until you have rough dough. Wash your hands. Scrape up any dough attached to the counter. Then knead the dough for eight minutes, until it is a silky but stiff ball. It can be stored for a couple of hours wrapped in plastic wrap, but do not refrigerate it. I am assuming you have a pasta machine, if not go and but one. Rolling pasta by hand with a pin is a pain.
At this point you are going to want to have your filling ready, so see above.
Divide the dough into four quarters and roll into balls. To make the tortelli sheets, pass each ball through the machine from the widest setting to the thinnest, processing one ball at a time from beginning to end. Your sheet should be about five inches wide. It will be a few feet long. Once you have a sheet ready, lay it out flat. I find a large kitchen table with a table cloth works well. Starting at one end place a small tablespoon full of filling exactly in the center of the sheet about an inch from the end (you may need to trim off the irregular end of the sheet.) place the next spoonful of filling 2 1/2 inches from the first. Carry on until you have reached about one third or 2/5ths of the way down the sheet. Take up the other end of the sheet and bring it up to an inch before the last spoonful of filling. Carefully drape the sheet over the filling, letting the sheet fall naturally over one filling and into the valley between it and the next, carry on until you reach the end of the sheet and fillings. Then careful seal the two sheets together around each spoonful of filling, ensuring that there are no air pockets, but also being very careful not to tear the sheets. Press the rest of the sheets together, again, avoiding air pockets. Finally cut away the pasta so that each tortelli has about an inch of pasta around the filling, they will be about three inches square. Store the spare pasta in the fridge, it is great in soups, or with a ragu. Place the finished tortelli on a baking tray covered in parchment paper with a sprinkling of flour. Cover with more parchment paper.
You can prepare these tortelli with a ragu, but I think that is gilding the lily. A simple butter sauce makes them shine.
5 tbsp of unsalted butter.
1 dozen fresh sage leaves, whole.
1/2 cup of good Reggiano cheese, grated.
Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Add the sage leaves, cook gently for one minute. Salt to taste. Remove from heat but keep warm
Bringing it All Together
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt it generously. Gently place the tortelli in the water and boil for two minutes. You may need to cook the tortelli in stages. Remove with a slotted spoon, making sure you bring as little water with you as possible. Place the tortelli in warmed individual pasta bowls. Add the butter and sage sauce, and top with the cheese. Serve immediately with a rich white wine, or a light red.
This week we got sweet potato vines, green onions, roselle, lemon basil, arugula, and sand pears from Frog Song Organics. So stay tuned for recipes.
I have to admit, I have lost track, but I think next week, Saturday the 30th, is their last pick up box for the summer. Anyway, I will definitely be signing up for their Fall CSA which begins on October 25th and runs for 12 weeks.
We got a small bag of roselle in the pick box this week. Just a few ounces, not really enough to make a batch of sorrel or roselle jam. But we have a lot of pomegranates from the garden and, although we love to just eat them out of hand, they were piling up. The only problem with our pomegranates is that they are not the bright red that you see in the store. The seeds are more often clear or a rosy pink. So I mixed the pomegranates and the roselle, which have a fabulous red color, and made this gorgeous crimson jelly.
Pomegranate and Roselle Jelly
As many pomegranates as you can muster (I used eight.)
8 ozs of roselle.
Juice of one lemon.
Remove the calyces from the seed pods of the roselle. Place the seed pods in a large non-reactive pot and set the calyces aside. Add just enough water to cover. Boil for 30 minutes. Add more water as necessary. These boiled seed pods contain the pectin that will ultimately set the jelly. In the meantime, Remove all the seeds from the pomegranate.
After 30 mins remove the seedpods from the water and compost them. Add the pomegranate seeds and the roselle calyces to the pot and add enough water to almost cover. Gently boil, covered, for one hour.
Scoop the mixture into a jelly bag (or make your own from cheesecloth and a couple of wooden spoons) over a large bowl and leave to drain for a few hours or overnight. Do not press on the mixture. Compost the seeds and pulp and measure the juice. Pour the juice into the clean pot and add an equal amount of sugar (or slightly less if you prefer a sharper taste.) Add the juice of one lemon. Boil until the mixture reaches 225 degrees F. Skim off the foam for a clearer jelly. Pour into clean jars. My eight pomegranates made four small jars. So this is not a recipe to make with store bought pomegranates! Way too expensive.
I had no idea one could eat sweet potato vines until earlier this year. Like every good European gardener I knew that every part of the regular potato above the ground was poisonous and just assumed the same was true of the sweet potatoes. How wrong I was!
When we got sweet potato vines in the pick box this week I immediately thought about a Chinese stir fry but I also wondered whether they were eaten in Africa as well.
We tried Frog Song’s vines in a stir fry from Katie Cannon. We had them with brown rice and Fuchsia Dunlop’s Pock Marked Mother Chen’s Bean Curd (Ma Po Dou Fu, sounds better in Chinese doesn’t it, but delicious in any language) and her Steamed Eggplant with Chile Sauce that I mentioned in an earlier post. But I have to say, the addition of the fish sauce did not make this a Bethany favorite. Just a bit too pungent. Next time I will stir fry them in a hot and garlicky sauce.
Getting the vines from Frog Song made me look at the vines in my own garden, which at this time of year are rapidly taking over. So I send Bethany out to bring back a laundry basket full of vine clippings (I kid you not) and began preparing a version of this recipe. I couldn’t get goat, so I used lamb, find a nice fatty cut. I also didn’t pound the leaves, just cut them and I didn’t cook the leaves for so long. No need to boil them to death, they will meld in the stew nicely enough. Finally, I just used a few fried anchovies instead of making a fish stock. Also, note in the recipe at Shepherd’s Song the cooked leaves are “set aside” and, as far as I can tell, never make it back into the stew!
1 half cup of peanut butter (I used Smucker’s Natural Chunky. Use one with nothing but peanuts.)
Salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to boiling. In the meantime, brown the lamb chops in the oil until nicely browned on both sides. Remove from the skillet and place in the bottom of a casserole. Add the diced onion, the anchovies, garlic, and eggplant to the remaining oil and brown. Grind one chili and add it to the onions. Add the spring onions. Place the chopped sweet potato leaves in the boiling water and cook until bright green. Remove from the water and place in the casserole on top of the meat. Then place the browned onion mixture on top of that. Season the whole thing generously with salt and pepper. Add the second chili, whole. Add enough of the water from the vines to almost, but not quite cover the meat and vegetables. Mix the peanut butter with another half a cup of the cooking water and add that to the casserole. Cover and bake in the oven for approximately one hour. Remove the casserole from the oven. Fish around in the stew to remove the chops. The meat should easily fall away from the the bone and remaining fat. Return the meat to the stew, stir and adjust the seasoning.
Serve over brown rice. We drank a Californian Pinot Noir with it, but you could choose a more full bodied red.
Since we had papalo in this week’s CSA I wanted to try a cemita. When I was investigating papalo a few weeks ago, cemitas seemed to come up again and again as the quintessential way to use the herb. Cemita seems to refer to the sesame roll and to the sandwich and there also seem to all kinds of recipes for the sandwich. This is the one I used tonight. The Guajillo peppers that I got from Penzeys were a revelation. So smoky and fruity. They really made the pork. Papalo really works in this sandwich. Its citrus and medicinal brightness really lift the sandwich.
This is going to sound crazy but the biggest revelation was the avocado. I love The big Florida (Mexican) avocados. They have a far lower fat content than the Haas. The recipe instructs you to mash the avocado in the shell. Why had I never thought of this before? Genius! No washing up, no mess.