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.
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.
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.
CSA is great, but there is nothing like food from your own back garden, or in this case, Mark Anderson’s garden. Mark gave us a big bag of guavas this weekend. Guavas in Florida are like zucchini in the Midwest, once they come, they really come. So we gorged ourselves on fresh guava and as the heady olor de la guayaba filled the house I decided to make jelly.
As many guava as you can get, washed and quartered.
Put the guava in a large non-reactive pot. No need to remove the skins, seeds, just cut them up and dump them in there. Add just enough water to barely cover the fruit. Bring to the boil and, on an active simmer, cook for 30 minutes covered, or until the fruit is very soft and the seeds and pulp are separating from the cascos, the shells. If you have a jelly bag and stand pour the cooked fruit into it over a bowl. If you don’t, then place a large sheet of cheese cloth over a large bowl. Pour the fruit into the center of the cheese cloth and tie the cloth closed with enough spare to tie the cheese cloth bag to a wooden spoon (or two) so that you can suspend it over the bowl. Let the juice drip from the bag. Do not press on the fruit pulp or stir it in any way. If you do, the jelly will be cloudy. Let it drip until the single drips are at least 30 seconds apart. This may take all afternoon, or you can leave it overnight. Discard the pulp in the compost.
OK, now we are ready to make the jelly. Measure the amount of juice you have. Pour it into the large non-reactive pot (having cleaned the pot.) Add the same amount of sugar to the pot. This being the US, I did it in cups. So, I got five cups of juice and added five cups of sugar. Also add one tablespoon of lime juice for each cup of juice. Bring the mixture to the boil stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Watch the pot, it can easily boil over. Turn the heat down until you can maintain a rolling boil. A white foam will form at the sides of the pot, skim as much of this off as you can and discard. This will improve the clarity of the jelly. If you have a kitchen thermometer set it to 225 degrees F. If you don’t, check the jelly in one of the two traditional ways; coat a wooden spoon in the jelly, hold the spoon horizontally, and watch it drip off. If the drips fall from one spot it is not ready, keep boiling until the drips fall from two spots. Or pour a small amount of jelly on to a saucer. Place the saucer in the freeze for 30 seconds. Push the jelly with your finger. If it wrinkles, it is ready. Once ready pour the jelly into jars. I store mine in the fridge.
Organic corn, non-GMO, is prone to attack from worms. This is not really a problem. The worms are not dangerous, they just like corn kernels as much as we do. When you take the husk from the corn you tend to see a trail of munched kernels. Just remove the worm if it is are still there and carry on. Frog Song must have had a bit of an infestation this week because our corn came pre-husked and trimmed. Even so there was an occasional missing kernel. So it was not the perfect corn cob, to be briefly boiled, slathered in butter and eaten. What to do?
Stripping the kernels from the cobs leaves you with a lovely pile of fresh, crunchy, kernels. There are a thousand ways to prepare corn kernels. One of my favorites is corn fritters. The sweetness of the butter and the creaminess of the eggs both amplify the same qualities of the corn.
Half a small onion, diced.
Corn kernels from about four cobs.
Two eggs, lightly beaten.
2 tbsps of butter.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Papalo for garnish.
Melt the butter in a skillet until it foams. Mix the corn into the eggs with the onion and seasoning. Place large tablespoonfuls of the mixture in the hot skillet. You will probably have room for four or five. Don’t crowd them. As the egg sets and you see the edges beginning to brown, turn them once and brown on the other side. About three minutes per side. Lift from the skillet and place in a warm serving dish. Continue with the remainder of the mixture until finished. Mine made seven fritters. Garnish with papalo, or parsley if you have either.
Lett’s talk a bit more about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO.) I am not opposed to GMO food. Humans have been genetically modifying food, both animal and vegetable, since the Neolithic agricultural revolution. I see no reason to stop now just because we are using new genetic techniques for doing so. We have seven billion people (and growing) on this planet to feed and we have to do so in a sustainable way that does not have too much of a negative impact upon the environment. If GMO crops can reduce the use of herbicides or pesticides, increase yields, or create varieties able to survive and thrive in what had been adverse temperature and moisture conditions; great. Go for it. I also think the health concerns about GMO foods are bogus.
I am less happy about proprietary control by corporations of GMO seeds
etc. In my day job, as an information professional, I am a proponent of open access (providing access to information at no cost of the end user and in ways that enable information to be used, reused, and modified at will.) I think we also need to be as open with seeds. So that farmers can collect seeds and sow them the next season, can modify them, and so that governments and others can create generic GMOs, as they can with generic drugs (that are no longer patented.) if we don’t do this, I worry that we give too much power to transnational agribusiness corporations.
With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let’s talk about watermelon.
Watermelon is one of those iconic American foods and the ones we have got from Frog Song Organics every week have been delicious. Often the ones I have bought in the store have been too large and lacking in flavor. You grow bored of their wateriness and the rest rots in the fridge. Not these ones. They aren’t too big and the flavor is sweet, fruity and refreshing. Still, there is a limit to how many watermelon slices you can eat. So here are some others things we have done with them.
Watermelon, Green Bean, and Feta Salad
This was inspired by a recent recipe in the New York Times, which, in an epic librarian fail, I cannot find. Anyway.
A good amount of watermelon, cubed.
8 oz of green beans (we used yard long beans from the garden, but regular green beans would work as well) cut into 2 inch lengths.
2 oz of feta cheese, crumbled.
Sliced almonds (the NYT used pistachios, but I prefer almonds.)
Good olive oil and a little lemon juice.
Very little salt and enough pepper to taste.
With a bowl of iced water to hand, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the beans for 2 to 3 minutes until they turn bright green. Strain the beans and immediately plunge into the iced water. They turn and remain a gorgeous vibrant green that complements the red water melon beautifully. Set aside. Add the cubed watermelon to the salad bowl. Strain the beans and add them. Gently toss with oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Crumble the feta on top and sprinkle with almonds. Serve chilled.
Place two large tumblers filled with ice in the freezer.
In a cocktail shaker add 4 oz of reposada tequila, 1 oz of triple sec, the juice of half a lime, and the cup of watermelon juice. Add a dash of Angostura bitters. Shake. Strain into the tumblers and garnish with a small wedge of watermelon. Some like a salt rim. I don’t.
This recipe is a variation on one Sam introduced me to from John Currence’s Pickles, Pigs, and Whiskey. Strangely, because I have never made watermelon rind pickles before, I peeled the dark green skin from the rind. The recipe doesn’t call for it, but it tastes good. Maybe next time I will try it with the skin.
As you use the watermelon throughout the week, retain the rinds, peel them, or not, and cut them into strips (half an inch by two inches.) place in a bowl of water with a good handful of salt in the fridge. You should end up with about 4 cups of watermelon rinds.
2 cups of sugar.
1 and 1/2 cups of vinegar (Currence calls for Apple cider, I just use distilled.)
2 tsp of mustard seeds.
1 and 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes.
6 lemon slices.
1 tsp whole cloves.
1 cinnamon stick, crushed.
1 tsp black peppercorns.
Mix the sugar, vinegar, mustard seeds, pepper flakes, and 1 cup of water in a large non-reactive pot. Once simmering, lower the heat. Tie the lemon slices, cloves, cinnamon, and peppercorns in a coffee filter or cheese clothe and place in the pot with developing the syrup. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add the strained watermelon rind and bring back to the boil. Remove the spice packet. Ladle the mixture into quart jars, so that the syrup covers the rind. Fill to just below the neck of the jars. Screw on the lids and store in the refrigerator. Let them mature for a week. Currence says they last for 6 to 8 months, but mine get eaten long before that!
These are sweet and sour and pretty spicy, so adjust the spices according to your taste.
Yet another thing I had never heard of. I regard myself as a reasonably knowledgeable gardener and eater, but that is now twice in four weeks that the folks at Frog Song
have stumped me. First with papalo and now with this sweet pepper. This was not in the CSA box this week, we just picked it up at the market.
John assured us that this was a sweet pepper. But come on! Look at them, they look just like a red hot pepper, maybe an Anaheim or a fresh arbol. So, somewhat dubious, we brought them home. I nibbled the end of one, no heat. So I sliced one and ate a seed. Most of the heat of a pepper is in the pith and the seeds, not the flesh. Still no heat. So this is what we did with them.
Sausage with mushrooms, peppers, and onions
2 mild Italian sausages (Wholefoods or The Meat House have good ones.)
2 red onions, sliced radially (stem to root.)
1 clove of garlic, chopped.
8 oz crimini mushrooms, quartered.
8 oz Nardello peppers, cut in half with the pith and seeds removed.
1 tbsp olive oil. More if necessary.
1/2 cup of red wine.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Brown the sausage in the oil in a skillet. Remove, slice, and set aside.
Sauté the onions in the same pan until beginning to brown. Remove and set aside. Add the peppers to the pan, try and keep as much of the skins on the skillet bottom as possible so that the skins brown and blister. Add the onions back in and the garlic until they are thoroughly cooked through. Add salt and pepper. Remove everything and set aside. Add the mushrooms and sausage to the pan. Add the thyme. You may need to add a little more oil. Cook covered until the mushrooms are cooked. Add the wine and reduce. Then put back the peppers and onions and cook until the favors meld. Not long. At this point you can leave the dish on a warm stove top, or simmering, covered until you are ready to serve. Correct the seasoning, serve in a large serving dish with a splash of balsamic vinegar. It is great with crusty bread and a green salad.
Jimmy Nardello peppers came from Italy in the 19th century. Jimmy Nardello donated them to the Seed Savers Exchange. They are a lovely Italian frying pepper.