Wednesday, July 29, 2009

a boiled dinner party

There are some traditions that make me feel like an outsider in my own land. Cue....the boiled dinner.

We are on vacation up here in Fannin County, Georgia, nestled below the Blue Ridge mountains in our cabin on the river. When the sun sinks below a certain point on the horizon, everyone's mind turns to the night's feast. Cooking for 10-11 people is no mean feat, so we've all been sharing the duties. This particular night we enjoyed a meal that has deep roots in American culture- the boil. There's the New England boiled dinner, the crawfish boil of Louisiana, and then the shrimp boil.

It basically consists of throwing corn, potatoes, onions, and shrimp into boiling water, staggering their drop times so that everything comes out perfectly. For our meal, we added polish and andouille sausage, and I threw together some coleslaw. I admire this as a cultural phenomenon. I admire it as a way to avoid dirty dishes while feeding multitudes. But I couldn't stop part of me from thinking of about a dozen yummier ways to prepare each ingredient. But then I did, because the atmosphere was so jovial and breezy, with nothing to do but dig in and watch the river float by.

Friday, July 24, 2009

piment d'espelette

Fall is least in my mind. I don't know what that means for you, but for me it means deliciously painful pangs of desire to travel. I still had one special momento from my September trip to my favorite grocery store in the world: a jar of Espelette pepper puree. As often happens, I'd been saving it for a special occasion, but since I hope to go back in a couple months I decided to make a regular old lunch a trip down memory lane.
Piment d'Espelette is a unique pepper from the French Pays Basque that is a culinary legend. It's a beautiful, longish red pepper with a perfectly piquant bite. It has been a culinary specialty of the village of Espelette since it found its way to France in the 1500s. It has the same AOC protections as champagne, as well as a festival in its honor in late October. The most celebrated appearance of the Espelette pepper is in piperade, a pepper stew of sorts. But it is included in chocolates, hams, as decoration, dried and ground into powder...just about every way you can imagine. The puree I brought home was so beautifully bright and amazingly tasty...perfect on my eggplant sandwiches and even more perfect slathered on some bread with a hard sheep's milk cheese. It's definitely earned permanent place in my return suitcase.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

the staple salsa

It's the height of summer, and if you are growing your own tomatoes and have more than two plants, chances are you've got more than you know what to do with. Allow me to present....the best salsa ever! It's easy, requiring merely a bit of broiling in the oven and a food processor. Seriously, I no longer search for new incarnations--this is the condiment equivalent of a soulmate.

It's exactly what you hope to taste every time you try a new salsa. It boasts a deep, layered flavor profile, thanks to the roasted vegetables and hint of cider vinegar. When I make it, I find the full amount of jalapeños to be a bit much (and I love spice). I still like to use three jalapeños, though, because the pepper/onion/garlic mixture saves beautifully in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, making it easy to make a bastardized version with just raw tomatoes.

roasted jalapeño salsa

about 10 medium tomatoes
3 jalapeños, stemmed
half a white onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cider vinegar

Broil tomatoes and jalapeños about 6 minutes, until darkly roasted. Flip and roast another 6 or so minutes.
Turn oven to 425. Roast onion slices and garlic on a bakin sheet, stirring every couple minutes, until brown and wilted, about 15 minutes.
Pulse the jalapeños, onion, and garlic, until moderately finely chopped. Scoop into bowl. Coarsely puree the tomatoes and their juices. Combine the tomatoes with about half the pepper mixture, the salt, and the vinegar. If needed, add water to thin. Taste, and if desired add more pepper/onion.

-adapted from Gourmet