20 September 2007

From the Garden to the Dinner Table

I live most my life with no desire to grow things—I don’t even have a potted plant. But that doesn’t mean I don’t experience some pleasure from the good earth. There’s something life affirming and grounding about picking fruits and vegetables from a garden that even the urban girl that I am is not unmoved. Even if the garden I’m referring to isn’t mine and I gave no sweat in producing its bounty—it’s my dad’s garden—I still gladly take from it and I am thankfully for it.

One evening's reaping:

Bunches of herbs—mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, basil, and oregano
Bucket of tomatoes, many varieties, all shapes, sizes, and colors
One large cucumber
Three small eggplants
Three small ears of corn
And a quart of blackberries from a bush that grows wild on the edge of the garden

Picking stuff is fun, but it’s in the kitchen were the real fun begins for me as cooking becomes creation when I look at all I’ve gathered and decide what to make.

The cucumbers become a salad; the corn and tomato combine into another; the eggplant goes into a vegetable stew with more tomatoes and a squash plucked earlier; and the blackberries make a dessert. Mashed Potatoes around out my dinner menu with lamb as the entrée; and herbs get used wherever they can.

The cucumber salad was inspired by Jamie Oliver, from his third cookbook, Happy Days with the Naked Chef. I made my own dressing with ginger, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, and pepper; and omitted the cilantro with the cucumbers, but I’m giving his recipe in full as a reference.

The corn and tomato salad was my doing, although I’m sure it’s been done before. Boiled corn was cut from their ears and tossed with fresh (mostly) cherry tomatoes; chopped mint and basil also got thrown in. The dressing was your basic balsamic vinaigrette: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, touch of fresh lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

My mashed potatoes are nothing special, although I prefer a combination of milk and buttermilk verse other creams—sour cream, heavy cream etc…. I also like to use white pepper for cosmetic reasons, but grabbed the pepper grinder by force of habit so I had to live the black specks.

The lamb recipe came from the September issue of Bon Appetite and its article on Gordon Ramsey. I used it as guide, following the directions but substituting ingredients as I wished. The herbs on the crust for the lamb became sage, rosemary, mint, and thyme. The recipe specified English mustard, but I used French mustard instead because it was in the fridge—a Brit might reel at this switch, but I’m not British.

But regardless of my lack of addition to its details, I would say this recipe is winner—and a keeper for me. The crust was very flavorful and seasoned the lamb perfectly. This was my first time making lamb. On the whole I think it turned out well; and although I would have liked the meat to be a little pinker than it was, it was still wonderfully tender with a texture like butter.

I was going off of memory of Tyler’s Ultimate Ratatouille for my stew. Some people can make amazing ratatouille: I’m not one of those people. Ratatouille is supposed to be a wonderful stew where the flavors meld together, evoking warmth and comfort—yes I saw “the rat movie.” But mine don’t seem to workout that way and invariably fall in that no man’s land of mush that’s midway between a stew and soup. It happened again here. And while the end result passes as food, it won’t make anyone breakdown in tears, recalling their childhood.

My ratatouille was a garden “dump”: yellow squash; purple and white eggplants; tomatoes of all kinds; and herbs by the palms-full. But unfortunately, I once again cooked it ‘til it was a pulpy mess.

I would call this a cobbler, but the recipe says it’s a grunt. Whatever, it’s still good; but how can you go wrong with any warm dessert topped with ice cream.

In the end, it's all still about getting food on the table, but it's nice when you can go out to your backyard and pick it, too.


Japanese Cucumber Salad with Ginger, Cilantro, Mint and Rice Wine Vinegar Dressing

Serves 4

Wash 3 cucumbers and finely slice along their length with a mandolin or one of cheap old potato peelers. Place the strips on a plate and spread them out. Sprinkle with some ripped-up fresh mint and cilantro and drizzle generously with ginger and rice wine vinegar dressing

Ginger and Rice Wine Vinegar

6 tablespoons of olive oil
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large thumb-size piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 stick of lemongrass, outer leaves removed, inner ones finely chopped
sea salt, ground black pepper, and a little soy sauce

Mixed everything in a bowl and seasoned to taste

Cheese and Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

6 Servings

2 ¼ cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crust-less sourdough bread
1 ¼ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
6 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 ½ tablespoon olive oil, divided

3 1 ¾ to 2-lbs racks of lamb, most fat trimmed
3 tablespoon prepared English mustard

Combine first 5 ingredients in processor. Blend until herbs are finely chopped. Transfer crumb mixture to bowl; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1 ½ tablespoons oil over; toss to coat.

Using sharp knife, make diagonal cuts in fat side of 1 lamb rack, spacing lines 1-inch apart. Make cuts in opposite direction, forming diamond pattern. Repeat with remaining lamb rack. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper. Place 1 lamb rack, scored side down, in skillet. Cook until golden, about 5 minutes; transfer to work surface. Repeat with remaining lamb racks. Spread scored side of each rack with 1-tablespoon mustard, than coat with 1/3 of crumb mixture, pressing to adhere. Place on rimmed baking sheet.

Preheat over to 425˚F. Roast lamb until golden and thermometer inserted into center of lamb registers 135˚F for medium-rare, about 40 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Cut racks into chops.

The Ultimate Ratatouille

1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound smallish Italian eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound zucchini, cut crosswise into 1-inch sections
3 anchovy fillets, finely minced
2 onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Leaves from 1/2 bunch fresh basil, coarsely chopped
Leaves from 4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 pints cherry tomatoes
1 dried chile
Splash balsamic vinegar

Line a large platter with paper towels. Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the eggplant, season generously with salt and pepper, and let that cook down for 10 to 12 minutes, until the eggplant is nice and soft and wilted. Move the eggplant out of the pan and onto the platter to drain. Next stop, zucchini: cook it the same way in 1/4 cup oil, then add it to the platter with the eggplant.

Add another 1/4 cup olive oil to the pan, then the anchovies, onions, garlic and herbs. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the onions get nice and caramelized. Add the tomatoes and cook that down for 10 to 12 minutes, until pulpy. Return the eggplant and zucchini to the pan, crack open the chile, and add that, too. Season with salt and pepper and let the ratatouille cook slowly for about 20 minutes, until the mixture is soft, mushy and juicy; you want all the flavors to come together. Stir in the vinegar and let cool to room temperature.

Blueberry Molasses Grunt

Serves 6 to 8

3 cups ripe blueberries, picked over, or frozen blueberries, thawed
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons unsulphured molasses

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons could unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ whole milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Butter a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan.

Step 2: To make the filling: Place the berries in the pie pan. Whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl and sprinkle over the berries. Drizzle with lemon juice and molasses.

Step 3: Bake for 7 minutes, or until the berries begin to release their juices. Remove the pan from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 425˚F.

Step 4: To make the topping: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives used scissors-fashion until the butter resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the milk and egg with a fork just until well combined. Drop the dough by the tablespoonful over the center of the berries: it won’t cover them completely.

Step 5: Bake for 20 minutes, or until the berries are bubbling and the topping is browned. Serve hot, warm, or cold.

Labels: , , , , ,


Anonymous unhipla said...

holy moly, this looks delicious. just ring me next time you plan to do this and i will bring whatever ingredients you need.... :)

9/25/2007 2:07 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home