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Past Supper #18 – Use-Up-All-Those-Herbs Trinity

herb based dinner

It’s rather nice having to deal with good problems. Like the one of getting way too big boxes filled with way too many herbs from various farmer friends, and this at a weekly basis. So last night I used the one batch of pesto I had prepared – no basil, but chervil, mint, lemon balm and dill – on bruschetta. I pepped up a salad with all my beautiful garlic chive. And I infused the baked potatoes with potent rosemary. Oh boy, what a supper. – And now our fridge is ready for new arrivals.

Past Supper #17 – Looks like Christmas

pork tenderloin with cranberry gravy, couscous and salad

It was a regular Sunday night in early December – just one day after Chlouser (Santa Day) – but dinner reminded, flavor and color wise, of Christmas. We had pork tenderloin, first pan seared and then finished to juicy on low temperature in the oven, with a rich, deep, wonderful cranberry gravy. Couscous to soak it all up. And a literally brilliant salad of Romaine lettuce, red onions, boiled eggs, peppery yellow, orange and red Nasturtiums and pomegranate seeds, in a creamy red pepper dressing. Gorgeous!

salad with edible fowers and pomegranate seeds

My “I Love You All” Papaya Salad

Papaya salad on an Asian dressing

Blame it on the rain. – We were all set up at the market, us vendors, ready for the customers. But it was unusually grey and wet and unfriendly on that specific morning, and the clients very obviously were not in a rush. So we had time to walk between each others booths, and chat. And of course we talked (mostly) food. My friend from San Salvador told me about a meal a Chinese neighbor had fixed for her – a Thai version of green Papaya salad with chicken. She gave one of the green – not quite ripe – Papayas her neighbor is growing in Matlacha to me. I was fascinated and kept on tinkering about what I would be transforming my green gift into.

Later that day, my son came home from his farm job with a box of longish, yellow, beautifully glowing peppers I had never seen before. A little research made clear that they were Aji Amarillo. From Peru. – One more tempting country and cuisine. One that ignited my plan: I was going to make  salad of Floridian products that have their roots in South- and Central America, and an Asian style dressing. An ode to all of my international food and market friends.

unripe papaya

open papaya, with  seeds

Julienning the Papaya on a mandolin makes for a good crunch. I used Aji Amarillo, Serrano and Red Bell peppers, simply because I had those on hand. One can adjust the varieties to desire, creating a more or less spicy salad. I also added red and yellow Cherry Tomatoes, which turned out to be vibrant eye catchers. For more green speckles (besides the fine strips of Serrano), i put in fresh, chopped Cilantro and some green onions. Basil would work very well also, as would the addition of cooked green beans. By using sesame oil, lime juice, soy sauce and cooking rice wine, I kept the dressing simple yet tasty. This salad can be served as a light appetizer, a refreshing side dish or, complemented by fresh, grilled or dried shrimp, some cooked chicken, seared Tofu and a handful of toasted peanuts or cashews, as a healthy main dish.

Oh, and it works as a cooling meal on a sweltering hot day just as well as for a brightening and soothing bite on a rainy one. So no blaming here.

ingredients for papaya salad

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Carpe Diem #6 – On a (Black) Mission

Fresh figs

When nature gives you abundance, take it. Use the product – that for a limited time is seemingly everywhere -, enjoy it, mix it up, play with it. And just before you get tired, preserve it. – I did this with lemons, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, mangoes, beans, peppers, peaches and several herbs so far this year. And now with Black Mission Figs.

This small, dark and very versatile variety is my personal favorite one, and recently it came in bounty and striking beauty. We ate the fruit straight out of the crate, cut in half and topped with a dollop of fresh goat cheese, or with a sliver of a good blue cheese. We added it to leafy salads. We put a generous amount of goat cheese between two halfs of a fig, wrapped the whole thing with some thinly sliced jamón (or Italian prosciutto, for those who prefer) and let it get crisp under the broiler. We smuggled slices of figs onto pizzas, hidden under speck and arugula (an adaption of a flat bread we once ate at one of Todd English’s restaurants). We pounded pork tenderloin as flat as possible, smeared enough St.Agour – an über creamy blue cheese from southern France – on it and added quarters of little Black Missions. We rolled the beast up, using toothpicks to keep its shape intact, while it was first browned in the pan and then finished in the oven. We did not prepare but talk about the possibility of serving pork chops accompanied by a rich, thick Aceto Balsamico & fig sauce. We also did not bake the fig tart we had made last year.

fresh figs and blue cheese

But we did realize that it was time to move on to the preserving stage. And we knew exactly how we would turn our little friends into immortal, eternally tasty figs: By soaking them, very simply, in brandy. We had been gifted, two or three years ago, with a few jars of such drunken figs by a friend. We ate them with ice cream, with Crème Pâtissière and in delicate muffins (and, one here and there, just off the spoon). My favorite application though was in cheese: We cut a Buffalo Camembert in half horizontally (works best with when done with unscented floss), put the brandied fig slices on the bottom part, and put the top back on again. We let the cheese rest in the fridge overnight, in order to let the flavors mingle. One can do this with any kind of Brie (especially triple cream one), a regular cow Camembert or a fresh goat cheese. Any soft cheese, really. The experience was heavenly, and it could easily replace a sweet dessert.

cheese is filled with brandied figs

Preparing brandied figs is simple and quick: All one needs are cleaned, fresh figs*, a good quality brandy and Mason jars. If you want to preserve the figs whole, poke them with a fork all around. In case you prefer smaller pieces, slice the fruits. Fill a Mason jar with the fruits until about 2 inches from the top. Pack the figs tight, but don’t squish them. Pour the brandy in the jars so that all fruits are completely covered. Close the jar and turn upside down in order to get rid of any air pockets. Make sure the fruits still are completely covered. Let stand in the dark 4-6 weeks before enjoying.

(*Dry figs can be used if desired. They will result in a much sweeter flavor and more dense texture, especially around the edges.)

jars of figs in brandy

West goes East

sauteer broccoli with asian flavors

While browsing the farmers market recently, the piled up bunches of Broccoli Raab looked like flower bouquets to me. There was nothing spectacular about them, no shiny colors or bold contrasts. But something intriguing, something very calming and attractive. Of course, some went home with me. Where they lasted for a while, without having been appointed a specific use or occasion. Not yet.

It was a small heap of seaweed salad on my plate one night, that suddenly changed this situation. Sesame oil, asian flavors, that was what I wanted to pair my Broccoli Raab with. Take this staple of the Mediterranean – especially southern Italy, Portugal and areas of north western Spain – east, marry its lovely bitterness with the clean, nutty nuances of sesame. Eureka!

broccoli rabe, bunch

The wilted Broccoli Raab, as I had decided to prepare it, can be served hot, right out of the pan, luke warm, or, for those who prefer it, cold. It can substitute a salad, stand as a side dish of any kind of protein, or even run the show on its own, maybe accompanied by some eggs, bread or a hunk of cheese (or tofu, for that matter). Left overs can be added to a soup, stuffed into a sandwich, chopped into scrambled eggs or an omelet. Rice noodles, anyone? Some bits of this green would look and taste very good in there…

Broccoli Raab, aka Broccoli Rabe or Rapini, belongs to the mustard family and, narrowed down further, is part of the turnip species. (Meaning that, except for the similar look of their florets, Broccoli Rabe and Broccoli are not related with each other.) Even though a lot of people only use the leaves and the buds, also the stems are edible and deliciously bitter and peppery. They just need a bit more time in the pan.

Simply sautéing Broccoli Raab is the easiest, quickest, healthiest and probably most satisfying way to prepare this vegetable. No need to look for more sophisticated techniques here. – Rather use your creativity when defining the character you want to give your flower bouquet, and choosing the matching ingredients.

edible stems of broccoli rabe

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