Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category
Tuesday, July 17th, 2012
‚Ä¶and the people who grow them. Now that Massachusetts’ farmers’ markets are once again in full swing we welcome the return of award-winning heirloom tomatoes grown by Carl and Marie Hills of Kimball Fruit Farm,¬†in Pepperell, MA. A third-generation family farm, Kimball’s offers more than 60 varieties of heirlooms seven days a week at a dozen Metro-Boston locations, as well as at their own farm stand¬†on the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border.
Carl Hills with heirloom tomatoes at the Brookline Farmers Market
Why buy tomatoes grown and sold by local farmers?
American chef-writer Deborah Madison notes in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone that¬†“good tomatoes require conditions opposite to commercial needs — hand-picked, vine-ripened fruits grown from seeds that predict flavor rather than shipping capabilities‚Ä¶.” In The Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, James Beard offered this pithy summation:¬†‚ÄúWe find in our [super]markets the small, round, generally unripe ‚Äėcannon-ball‚Äô tomatoes, sold in plastic containers, which for my money are not worth buying….‚ÄĚ
Need yet another reason?
They have such evocative names.¬†Big Beef, Radiator Charlie,¬†Moneymaker, and¬†Mr. Stripey¬†are not mobsters in a graphic novel or thoroughbred horses, they’re tomatoes!
Heirloom tomatoes have colorful names; these Mortgage Lifters are from Kimball Fruit Farm
What exactly¬†is¬†an heirloom and how can you save your own seeds? ¬†
A¬†basic primer is offered at Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to save North America’s diverse, but endangered, garden heritage for future generations….” Seed Savers–and similar organizations–do this by building networks of people committed to collecting, conserving, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants, while also raising awareness of the value of genetic and cultural diversity. To learn how to save your own seeds–and more–visit the Saving Heirlooms page at the Seed Savers Exchange website.
A tri-color stack (recipe)
“One of many things we like to do with gorgeous heirlooms is to stack them. For example: We might place a yellow slice atop a red slice with a green slice on top–adding between each either a layer of¬†burrata or mozzarella cheese and then topping it off with a vinaigrette.” So replied Jules’ Owner-Chef Anita Baglaneas, when we asked for a quick and easy recipe for a hot summer night.
“Or, we may make a Greek-style heirloom-tomato salad–one with chopped olives and peppers and feta between the multi-colored layers, and then top this off with crumbles of feta, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and one of Jules’ feta-philo purses.”
Both approaches sound great, we said.
“These are just a couple of ways Jules capitalizes on summer’s bounty!” Anita exclaimed.
Photo Credits: Liz Muir
Thursday, June 14th, 2012
Adriatic Figs bounded by Mission Figs
“The fool looks for figs in winter,” said the 2nd-century Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.¬†But today, less than a week from the summer solstice, it’s not too soon to set our sights on figs.
California produces 98 percent of figs grown in the U.S., and the first California Mission Fig crop (which is harvested for fresh, rather than dried figs) matures in late June. A¬†second, longer fig season begins toward the end of summer and runs through the fall.¬†
A fascinating fruit
According to the Valley Fig Growers, a large cooperative in Fresno, California:
- Fig trees have no blossoms on their branches; instead, figs blossom inward (it’s the tiny blossom that forms¬†inside the fruit that produces the edible seeds)
- The dark purple figs known as ‘Mission’ figs are so named because¬†priests at Mission San Diego originally planted them in California in 1769
- Fig Newtons, which were introduced to the U.S. market in 1892, represent the nation’s first commercial fig product (In an April¬†New York Times¬†article reporting on the rebranding of ‘Fig Newtons’ as ‘Newtons,’ we learned that this cookie originated in a bakery in Cambridge, and was named for the city of Newton)
“Nothing beats a fresh fig!”
So asserts Jules’ Owner-Chef Anita Baglaneas, and she should know. Having grown up in a rural village on the Greek island of Samos in the eastern Aegean, Anita first-hand and early-on experienced the joys of plucking and eating figs fresh from the tree. “I knew at first touch if the fruit was ripe, because when it was, I barely had to touch the fig to make it drop into my hand!”
“Of course, here in New England,” Anita continued, “it’s not so easy to find properly ripened figs. Too often–even at upscale markets and in pricey restaurants–figs that are offered up as ‘fresh’ and ‘ripe’ turn out to be disappointingly tasteless and hard. At Jules Catering, though, we never serve a fig before its time!”
How do you distinguish ripe from unripe?” we wondered.
“I’ll show you,” Anita replied.
The ripe Mission Fig on the left will have some give, when you squeeze it (not so its unripe partner)
Ripe vs. unripe figs
“If you have no choice but to purchase figs in tightly sealed packages that prevent you from ‘copping a feel,'” Anita laughed, “well, then Buyer Beware! Figs don’t ripen off the tree, so to make sure that you get what you pay for, you really need to get in there and very gently squeeze.”
What’s the best way to eat a ripe fig?
“Where I grew up, the custom was to peel figs,” Anita continued. “But when figs are ripe and the skin is tender, it’s absolutely delicious and okay to simply wash figs, cut them in half, and jump right in.”
Anita points to figs that are ripe and ready to eat
When Anita subsequently ate the ripe fig (below, left), we asked for her verdict.
“Ambrosia!” she exclaimed.
On the left, "ambrosia"; on the right, "may be salvaged by baking"
What can we do if the figs we have purchased are less than perfectly ripe?
In response to our query, Anita on-the-spot improvised the following recipe, which she said will “maximize juiciness and concentrate flavors.”¬†
Baked Fig Recipe–Dessert
12 ripe (or, if necessary, not quite ripe) figs
Yield: Serves: 4
- Preheat oven to 400¬į.
- With a sharp paring knife, halve the figs from top to bottom.
- On a rack in a shallow baking dish place the figs, cut-side up.
- Bake the figs for about 20 minutes or until they puff up and look juicy.
- Divide the figs into four shallow dessert dishes, add a healthy dollop of whipped cream, sprinkle with hazelnuts, and serve.¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†
Advance preparation: Figs can be baked several hours ahead.
Baked Fig Variations
“Baked figs are extraordinarily adaptable,” Anita explained. In the above recipe, “Greek yogurt can be substituted for whipped cream, walnut halves or slivered almonds can be substituted for hazelnuts, and of course the number of figs can be tweaked to meet your needs.”¬†
“Baked figs can also serve as a savory side to meat or foie gras,”
she continued. “Or, place a baked halved fig on a crusty¬†crostini
¬†with a slice of prosciutto,
¬†drizzle with vinaigrette
Are figs good for us?¬†
In moderation, you can’t go wrong!
For a more up-to-date take on the health benefits of figs, we turned to the¬†Agricultural Marketing Resource Center,¬†which notes that:
- 8 ounces of figs provide 30 percent of recommended daily fiber
- Figs are sufficiently high in calcium to promote bone density (eating 1/2 cup of figs offers the same amount of calcium as drinking 1/2 cup of milk)
- Figs lower both insulin and triglyceride levels
In the classic¬†On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,¬†food scientist¬†Harold McGee writes:¬†“Figs are remarkable for containing very large amounts of phenolic compounds, some of them antioxidants,” and, “certain phenolic compounds appear capable of helping us fight cancer by preventing oxidative damage to DNA-damaging chemicals, and by inhibiting the growth of already cancerous cells.”¬†
Enough about figs! What about fig leaves?
Queen Victoria, 1882
Size matters. At the website for London’s Victoria and Albert Museum we were amused to learn about a 19+-inch fig leaf created circa 1854 for Queen Victoria:
“The story goes¬†that on her first encounter with the cast of [Michelangelo’s] ‘David‘ at the Museum, Queen Victoria was so shocked by the nudity that a proportionally accurate fig leaf was commissioned. It was then¬†kept in readiness¬†for any royal visits, when it was hung on the figure using two strategically placed hooks.”
This 19-inch fig leaf was attached to Michelangelo's 'David' in advance of royal visits
Ripe vs. Unripe Figs (5 photos): Liz Muir
Syrup of Figs: e-vint.com
Queen Victoria and Fig Leaf: Wikimedia Commons
Monday, February 20th, 2012
John Trumbull miniature of Thomas Jefferson, 1788
While¬†George Washington described his manner of living as “plain,” and noted that those who expect more than “a glass of wine and a bit of mutton may be disappointed”–and while Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard reported that the President “never lost his taste of the things a growing farmer’s boy would like”–Thomas Jefferson, having lived four years in Paris as U.S. Minister to France (1785-1789), was a culinary adventurer and an influential gourmet.
Some of this we gleaned from¬†The Presidents’ Cookbook¬†by¬†Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks, now out of print, but cited at¬†The Food Timeline, a fascinating resource created by food editor and librarian¬†Lynne Olver.
Keen for fine cuisine
Even before his years abroad, Jefferson was a dedicated foodie.¬†Dining at Monticello, a richly illustrated book¬†edited by Damon Lee Fowler¬†and published by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, notes that just prior to his diplomatic appointment Jefferson sent for a French chef in Annapolis, to train one of his slaves. Then, when Jefferson knew he would be moving to Paris, he instead decided to bring 19-year-old slave¬†James Hemings¬†with him, to study “the art of cookery.” Hennings’ first mentor was the caterer who provided Jefferson’s meals. This was followed by “workshops” with a pastry chef and other training. Before long, Hennings had taken charge of Jefferson’s kitchen on the Champs-Elysees, and he served as Jefferson’s chef from 1787 to 1796.
Our “Pasta President” and his imported macaroni machine
Upon his return to Virginia Jefferson wrote to his valet, still in Paris, to “bring a stock of macaroni, Parmesan cheese, figs of Marseilles…raisins, almonds, mustard…vinegar, oil and anchovies.” In fact Jefferson was so fond of macaroni, he subsequently ordered a pasta-making machine from Naples, which–after a circuitous journey via Paris and Philadelphia–eventually found its way to Monticello.
Jefferson’s meticulous notes on the macaroni machine, which can be found with his papers in the The Library of Congress read, in part, as follows:
“The best maccaroni in Italy is made with a particular sort of flour called Semola, in Naples: but in almost every shop a different sort of flour is commonly used; for, provided the flour be of a good quality, & not ground extremely fine, it will always do very well. a paste is made with flour, water & less yeast than is used for making bread. this paste is then put, by little at a time, vir. about 5. or 6. tb each time into a round iron box ABC. the under part of which is perforated with holes, through which the paste, when pressed by the screw DEF….”
Just below, Jefferson’s wonderfully illustrated notes appear in their entirety:
Thomas Jefferson's notes on a pasta-making machine are in The Library of Congress
Also in The Library of Congress, is a macaroni recipe written in Jefferson’s own hand:
Thomas Jefferson’s “Maccaroni” Recipe
6 eggs. yolks & whites.
2 wine glasses of milk
2 tb of flour
a [?] salt
work them together without water, and very well.
roll it then with a roller to a paper thickness
cut it into small peices which roll again with the hand into long slips, & then cut them to a proper length.
put them into warm water a quarter of an hour.
dress them as maccaroni.
but if they are intended for soups they are to be put in the soup & not into warm water
Since Thomas Jefferson’s time, macaroni and cheese has been associated with America, and the first recipe appeared in 1824 in The Virginia Housewife, a cookbook written by Jefferson’s cousin¬†Mary Randolph. (We applaud the book’s¬†epigraph: “Method is the Soul of Management”!)
Macaroni and cheese at Jules
Curious to learn how Jules’ very own French Chef, Jean-Claude Banderier, approaches macaroni and cheese, we asked him to weigh in.
Jean-Claude Banderier says "the mac and cheese we prepare at Jules is a time-honored American dish."
“We prepare a classic B√©chamel¬†with heavy cream, half-and-half, milk,¬†and three types of cheese: White Cheddar, Parmesan, and Pecorino Romano. For additional flavor we boil a whole onion that has been pierced with cloves, and then we blend this into the mix.”
This approach, we subsequently learned, is basically how¬†Auguste Escoffier¬†outlined his recipe for¬†B√©chamel¬†presented in¬†Le R√©pertoire de La Cuisine: “White¬†roux¬†moistened with milk, salt, onion stuck with¬†clove, cook for 20 minutes.”
And the topping?
“Dry panko bread crumbs mixed with butter and sprinkled with paprika forms a crispy crust when the elbow macaroni and cheese is baked,” Jean-Claude explained.
Finally, because we have no doubt that both Jean-Claude Banderier and Thomas Jefferson would be fascinated by an article we recently read in The New York Times, we post a link here: ¬†Pasta Inspires Scientists to Use Their Noodle.
Wikimedia Commons: Miniature of Thomas Jefferson and macaroni
The Library of Congress: Thomas Jefferson’s pasta machine notes
Liz Muir: Photo of Jean-Claude Banderier
Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
We love our bubbly, but when recently celebrating New Year’s Eve in Athens, our drink of choice was the Tears of Chios Cocktail served in the Roof Garden Bar atop the historic Hotel Grande Bretagne on Syntagma Square.
Hotel Grande Bretagne Roof Garden Bar with Acropolis view
At first sip we knew we were onto something special, but we were puzzled….
The cocktail menu itemized ingredients, but what accounted for that¬†that elusive taste?
Was it the Skinos mastiha?
The Tears of Chios cocktail we sipped in Athens also featured muddled mint and grapes
In Greek,¬†mastiha¬†(pronounced MAHS-teeh-hah) is an aromatic resin harvested from a shrub in the pistachio family¬†that grows on the island of¬†Chios¬†in the northeast Aegean. When the bark of this shrub is slashed, globules of sap form the mastic ‘tears’ used by the makers of Skinos¬†mastiha.¬†In her encyclopedic journey of a book¬†The Glorious Foods of Greece,¬†Diane Kochilas¬†writes that “in a way, the trees have to ‘cry’ for mastic to be harvested.”
Mastic 'tears' and shrub
Kochilas goes on to explain that in cooking, “the rock-hard, somewhat sticky crystals have to be pounded to a fine dust, usually with a bit of sugar, to keep them from sticking to the mortar and pestle or spice grinder.”
Anthropologist-author-cook Susanna Hoffmann also waxes poetic (without being “sappy”) on the topic of mastic resin. In¬†The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking, she writes: “I place small open jars of the sap in my kitchen to scent the atmosphere…. Mastic tastes like lush piney vanilla. It smells like the perfume Shalimar, but with a conifer tinge. It is irresistible.”
Which brings us back to our¬†cocktail, because when mastiha is mixed into a refreshing beverage, “irresistable” says it all.
Made in Chios, available in U.S.
When we returned to Boston we placed¬†Skinos Mastiha
¬†at the top of our shopping list because we knew that even without
an Acropolis view Tears of Chios would taste pretty great. But the key ingredient wasn’t available! At least not at first try, when we stopped by our neighborhood store.
Greek tragedy? Not at all, thanks to the hugely helpful Jeff Dolin, a buyer at¬†Blanchard’s Liquors
, in Allston.¬†On our behalf Jeff initiated some online research, placed a special order, stocked his shelves, and…voila!
A variation substitutes muddled pomegranate seeds for grapes
Tears of Chios Cocktail Recipe
2 ounces Skinos mastiha
2 ounces vodka
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 ounce agave (diluted 50/50 with water)
muddled grapes¬†or¬†pomegranate seeds and mint
- Dilute agave syrup by adding an equal part of boiled water. Stir.
- Muddle grapes or pomegranate seeds and mint leaves in a cocktail shaker.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and ice and shake.
- Serve on the rocks in a double Old Fashioned rocks glass.
- Garnish with bamboo skewer through a grape and mint leave, or–if you’re making the pomegranate variation–just the mint
Yield: Serves 2
Anita Baglaneas, Owner-Chef of Jules Catering, adapted this recipe from a cocktail menu at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens, Greece
Not just for cocktails
In case you were wondering… The Greek origin of the word ‘masticate’¬†derives from¬†mastichan¬†(to gnash the teeth), which is related to¬†masasthai¬†(to chew). If you’re looking for something¬†tangible¬†to chew on and you happen to find yourself in Manhattan, head down to the Lower East Side and stop in the¬†mastihashop New York, where you can¬†purchase mastic chewing gum and other¬†mastiha¬†products from the island of Chios. And if you’re inclined to delve further, two books that features¬†mastiha¬†recipes are¬†Mastiha Cuisine Cookbook¬†and¬†The Greek Vegetarian.
Mastic ‘tears’ and shrub: Wikimedia Commons
All other photos: Liz Muir¬†