Distant inspiration

Posted by Anita on 12.19.10 3:24 PM

Hungry Mother always seemed like the kind of place we’d enjoy: local and sustainable sourcing, Southern-inspired food, and a great cocktail list. It’s been on our short list of places to try for years, and on a recent trip to Boston, we finally made it there.

It’s easy to win hearts and minds with menu items like pimento cheese, bourbon-braised pork shoulder, and cheddar grits with house-made tasso, not to mention winning cocktails like the No. 43 (rye, tawny port, maple syrup, and bitters). But amid all of these decadent treats was a salad that sounded so tame that I actually felt a little boring for ordering it.

The buttermilk-chive dressing was what pushed me over the edge, luring me away from other options. That, I suppose, and the pecans, which I love but can’t get locally here in Northern California. What I hadn’t expected was that the farro — a humble, wheat-like grain — would be the star of the show, bringing a nutty depth to the dish that made it substantial enough to stand up to the rich main courses that followed.

I woke up the next morning dreaming about this salad, knowing I wanted to recreate it when we got home. I realized that with a few adjustments — walnuts for pecans, wheatberries for farro — I could make it entirely from locally sourced ingredients, making it a perfect candidate for our first Dark Days Eat Local Challenge meal of the winter.

Don’t be put off by the little ingredient-prep recipes that go into this dish; none are particularly difficult or time-consuming, and all of the parts can be stored for future use. And be sure that you’re picking through and using tender frisée leaves, as more-mature ones are unpleasantly grassy and spiky.

Autumn Salad with Wheatberries
- inspired by Hungry Mother; serves 2

6 cups loosely packed tender frisée leaves
3 to 4T buttermilk dressing
1/2 cup cooked wheatberries
roasted beet wedges equal to 1 large beet (or 2 to 3 small beets)
1 watermelon radish (or 3 to 5 small radishes), sliced thinly and cut into quarter-rounds
6 to 8 sweet-savory walnut halves

Toss all ingredients together, and serve on chilled shallow bowls or rimmed plates.

- Roasted Beets
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Scrub the beets and trim off tops and tails. Place in a baking dish about as deep as the beets are tall, and add 1/4 inch of water. Cover tightly with foil and bake until the beets are barely tender through (run a toothpick or cake tester through the center), about 45 minutes for large beets, 20 to 30 minutes for smaller ones. Remove from the oven and let sit, covered, for 5 more minutes. Uncover the beets, rub off the skin, and trim the tops and tails again. Cut into wedges and season to taste with salt. If not using within an hour or so, toss with a bit of olive oil; they will keep a few days in the fridge if well covered.

- Cooked Wheatberries
For the 1/2 cup cooked wheatberries the salad requires, you’ll need 1/4 cup uncooked. However, it’s hard to cook less than 1 cup at a time. Leftovers freeze well, and they make a great base for grain salads, or in place of cooked rice in soups.

Soak the wheatberries overnight, or for at least a few hours. Bring the berries to a boil in a large saucepan of salted water. Reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook until tender but not blown out, about 2 hours. (Depending on freshness, wheat variety, and soaking time, this can take as little as 45 minutes or up to 3 hours.) When cooked, drain the berries and set aside.

- Buttermilk-Green Garlic Dressing
1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp Champagne vinegar (or white-wine vinegar)
1 stalk green garlic, minced, or 1T minced chives
coarse-ground black pepper, to taste
salt, to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

- Sweet-Savory Walnuts or Pecans
adapted from Epicurious

2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika
1T egg white
1 cup walnut or pecan halves (about 1/4 pound)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a rimmed cookie sheet, or line it with parchment.

Whisk together sugar, salt, and paprika in a small bowl. Whisk egg white in a medium bowl until frothy, then stir in nuts, mixing until evenly coated with egg white. Add sugar mixture and toss to coat.

Spread the nuts in the pan in a single layer. Bake, stirring once or twice, until dry and well toasted, about 20 minutes. Loosen nuts from pan, then cool completely.

Farmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:

Massa Organics, Hamilton City: wheatberries
Star Route
, Bolinas: frisée
Mariquita Farm
, Watsonville: beets, watermelon radish
Glashoff, Fairfield: walnuts
Clover Organic, Petaluma: buttermilk, yogurt
Eatwell Farm, Dixon: Pastured eggs (for mayo)
Bariani, Sacramento: olive oil
Katz, Napa: Champagne vinegar
Knoll Farms, Brentwood: green garlic
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: sea salt
Range Brothers, Capay Valley: pork chop

Exemptions: sugar, peppercorns

Boston, Dark Days challenge, locavore, recipes


’Tis the (ginger) season

Posted by Anita on 12.10.10 1:48 PM

This month’s final CanJam theme — dried fruit — had me kicking the walls. I don’t really enjoy the texture of dried fruit, and given that it’s already preserved, it seems redundant to can it.

But our hostess, Tigress, set naysayers’ minds at easy, allowing that even a small amount of the featured ingredient was acceptable. With that in mind, I went back through the files to find a way to preserve a seasonal fresh ingredient with just a touch of dried-fruit flavor.

While looking through recipes for last month’s pome-fest, my runner-up candidate sounded so good that I put it aside, knowing I’d want to make it some other time. Calling for both dried currants and candied ginger, it definitely fits the bill for this month’s CanJam.

If you, like me, can’t get enough of ginger’s piquant flair, you’ll be happy to see that this recipe calls for ginger in three forms — fresh, candied, and ground — for a triple dose of sweet heat. The original recipe-writer calls this preserve a chutney, which it technically is, given the onions and vinegar. But the resulting texture is more like a savory compote or chunky pear-applesauce hybrid than the sticky, almost-chewy texture most of us associate with chutney. It’s delicious, of course (just look at that ingredients list… how could it not be?), but I felt a name-change was in order.

If your pears are thin-skinned and relatively free of blemishes, you may want to leave them unpeeled, to give the preserve a more rustic texture and color. If you prefer a smoother, lighter-colored preserve, do peel them. Note too that I’ve halved the original recipe’s quantities, so doubling the quantities below to make a 6-jar batch should be trouble-free.

Savory Triple-Ginger Pear Preserves
- adapted from Chow Times

3 cups peeled (if desired), cored, and diced pears, mixed varieties
1/2 cup peeled, cored, and diced tart apple
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup minced candied ginger
1/4 cup seedless sultanas or dried currants
5oz apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup raw sugar or light brown sugar
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/2 T grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp ground dried ginger

Prepare canner, lids, and three 8-oz jars according to the usual method; keep jars hot until needed.

In a medium saucepan, heat all ingredients except pears, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the pears and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat again to medium-low and simmer until the desired consistency is reached, about 30 minutes depending on simmering speed, stirring occasionally at first but more often as you come closer to the end. The mixture is ready when it easily holds together and no excess liquid appears when parted with a spoon.

Using a stainless-steel canning funnel, ladle preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles using a plastic knife or chopstick, and readjust headspace as needed. Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp cloth and center the hot lids on jars. Screw band to fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely submerged. Bring to a boil and process covered for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid; wait 5 minutes, then remove jars. Cool thoroughly, check for seals, and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

CanJam, locavore, preserving & infusing, recipes