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Roasted Pepper Salad

One of the first dishes I ever learned to make is still one of my favorites. Giuliano Bugialli’s insalata di  peperoni e capperi, pepper salad with capers. The recipe comes from Bugialli’s Foods of Italy, which was published in 1984, yet remains contemporary, filled with classic regional recipes and gorgeous photographs by John Dominis. It’s a book I’ve enjoyed sitting with, reading and looking, and standing over, checking instructions. My copy opens to the pepper salad dish, and as I flip through the pages, I see how much I learned from Foods of Italy, how many  techniques I use years later.

 

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The colorful salad of silky, sweet bell peppers, tangy capers and fresh mint and basil, can be an hors d’oeuvre, a side-dish, an addition to a sandwich. It goes well with anything.

The first step is grilling the peppers. My most recent version of this dish expanded beyond bell peppers, and included some spicy long peppers from Sport Hill Farm.

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If you’re roasting the peppers inside, under the broiler, here’s an excellent technique I learned from Bugialli’s recipe: place a pan of water on a rack below the peppers.

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The steam protects the flesh of the peppers. Without over-charring, the skin starts to separate from the flesh.  This picture shows poblanos. I use Giuliano Bugialli’s roasting technique when I make chiles rellenos. But that is another, more complicated story.

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Roasted pepper and caper salad is one of my favorite dishes, and yet I can’t find a picture I’ve taken of it. Probably because it’s such an essential part of the fall repertoire.

 

 

Wine & Spirits Master Class

IMAG1408Non-branded education is an appealing concept in this age of perpetual marketing. That was one of the first things that struck me at a demonstration of Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET)’s “Masterclass” tasting for members of the wine and spirits media.

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WSET provides four levels of qualifications in wines and spirits, and now has introduced qualifications for sake. The programs are offered to beginners and professionals in 70 countries, including London, Hong Kong, and New York City.

WSET’s goal has been to codify the language — standardize it so that professionals can communicate in purer terms. This “Systematic Approach to Tasting,” based on sight, smell, and taste, breaks away from scoring systems that drive sales.

 

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Since I began writing a drinks column for Moffly Media, (Greenwich, Stamford, Darien-New Canaan, Westport and Fairfield Living Magazines), I realized how many descriptions of wines, beers and spirits come straight from the company websites.

“It’s an immense challenge to avoid brand influence,” says Allen Katz Director of Spirits Education and Mixology for Southern-Glazers Wine & Spirits and head distiller/co-founder of New York Distilling Company regarding spirits criticism.

To learn more about WSET courses and find a local Approved Program Provider, visit the website at www.WSETglobal.com

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Best Tomato Season Ever

This long, warm summery fall has extended tomato season in our little garden. Last year, we harvested only green tomatoes. This year, we’ve had the best harvest ever, growing this heirloom variety for first time.

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I don’t know their official name. My husband grew them from seeds he saved from an heirloom tomato we bought from Sport Hill Farm the previous summer.  They’re multi-colored, showing shades of yellow, orange, pale green, blushed with red. They grow to be over a pound.  The sweet flavor takes well to quick sauces filled with fresh herbs.  They also slice up beautifully as a side dish for dinner, or for sandwiches.

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For a size comparison, here’s one of our Peachy Giants (which is what I’ve named them because when I chop up a quart to freeze, they look a lot like the quarts of frozen peaches)  with tomatoes we got at the Black Rock Farmers Market.

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Of course, those tomatoes were delicious too. Juicy and ripe.

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Sliced, sprinkled with salt, drizzled with olive oil, and scattered with fresh herbs, basil, chives, fresh mint, or edible nasturtium flowers, which are still blooming vigorously this October.

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With julienned basil. Or with big pieces of torn basil. (We grew several heathy basil  plants from ailing  stalks from a container of basil bought from the supermarket.)

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There’s nothing like eating tomatoes grown from seed in your own kitchen. Seedlings that faced erratic hot and cold spring weather. That kept growing despite birds pecking, squirrels digging, and the damn groundhog nibbling. They grew to be six feet tall. The big tomatoes nestled against cages made from thick privet stems cut from crazy hedges.

Tomatoes still ripening on the counter. Green tomatoes hanging on in the garden.  I have a feeling these guys are going to make great fried green tomatoes. And green tomato relish.

 

Peach Tart

Homemade Peach Tart | ElizabethKeyserStart with beautiful peaches. These were grown in New York State, and sold at Sport Hill Farm in Easton, CT. At home, they ripened.

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They were so ripe, it was easy to slip off their skins, without using boiling water.

Then I made a crust.

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Ground up almonds with a little sugar in the food processor, then added flour. Half almonds/half all purpose white flour.

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Add butter and pulse.

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Add water, and press dough into tart pan and refrigerate.

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Back to the peaches.

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Slice the juicy ripe peaches, and arrange slices in tart pan, top with butter and bake.

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It looks like this when you take it out of the oven.

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To make it glisten, heat up apricot jam with some lemon juice. Sieve it, and brush the glaze over the top of the tart. But I didn’t use apricot jam. In the very back of the refrigerator, my husband discovered the last of last year’s peach jam. A most delicious peach jam. See those big pieces of peach in the pan?

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And here is the peach-glazed peach pie.

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It was a very fresh-tasting peach pie, with a cookie-like crust.

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A couple days later, I made peach tartlets.

Peach season is over, but I have quarts of peaches waiting in the freezer. Peach jam coming up next.

 

Chef’s Tasting Menu at Olea

IMAG1793When guests visit for days, I often take them for a jaunt to New Haven. It’s about a half-hour drive from Fairfield, and offers the Yale University Art Galleries. New Haven also has great restaurants. I’m adding another to my list. The owners of Olea, a Spanish-Mediterranean restaurant, invited me to experience the chef’s tasting menu.

Olea has a calming, contemporary atmosphere, that looks upscale, but soon transformed into a buzz. In the site of the former Ibiza, Olea shares a heritage with that acclaimed Spanish restaurant; the new chef/co-owner is the former chef of Ibiza, and worked at Meigas and Meson Galicia in Norwalk with chef Luis Bollo, when it was the best Spanish restaurant in the Northeast.

Olea is now assuming that mantle.  The Mediterranean food reveals classic technique, with fun molecular gastronomy touches of foams and soils, bound in a love of craft and of cooking for restaurant guests.

The meal began with a sampling of three tapas on a rectangular plate. A clear glass of pureed orange-hued gazpacho balanced sweetness and acidity (a quality in many of the dishes to follow). A codfish croquette rested in a drop of aoli. The crisp exterior gave way to a soft, creamy blend of fish and béchamel. A tiny toast, fresh silvery marinated anchovy perched on pureed avocado and cilantro. Crunch, soft, fresh, rich avocado, and briny sea.

The first course was topped with “air” — Aji Amarillo air. The chef transformed the yellow Peruvian pepper into a foamy essence of sweet heat. Mexican-style ceviche, in sweet, tomato sauce, was flecked with precise pieces of mango and red onion, among tender shrimp, little scallops, a slice of octopus, and a mussel.

The second dish spread a series of textures across the plate: rich, moist duck confit and strands of duck prosciutto, against juicy, pickled beets, whisper thin rounds of peppery radish, and crisp plantain chips, gently lassoed by balsamic vinaigrette.

Next, Mediterranean sea bass.

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The filet balanced on green snow peas and rounds of rich soft sweet potato, topped with earthy micro greens and Kalamata olive “soil.”

The final course, suckling pig, rolled in crisp skin, on a mini potato gratin, enriched with cream and parmesan, topped with brunoised Granny Smith apples.

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Romero is that rare chef who excels at both savory and desserts, and the dessert menu is tempting with housemade ice creams like honey-rosemary and passion fruit, and multi-part desserts like the Sweet Forest, pistachio sponge cake, lime meringue, grapefruit and coconut ice cream.

After the chef’s menu, however, we needed a light dessert. A bowl of fruit that treated each piece like a jewel, mandolin thin apple and a slice of coconut, pared strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, kiwi, orange supreme, in a puddle of tropical coconut sauce. On the side of the plate, croutons of orange cake, and dried coconut.

 

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Given the level of creativity, cooking, and service, Olea is reasonably priced. The chef’s menu is $66 (with $35 for wine pairing). A summer three-course meal is $34. Olea also offers a range of experiences, tapas at the bar, where the bartender is likely to suggest his newest concoction, and shake up an icy, smoky mescal- cucumber martini. A diaphanous serpentine curtain sections off part of the room for group dining.

The restaurant partners are about to open a second restaurant, Kala, in North Haven next month. In the meantime, I’m stopping into Olea for the Sweet Forest dessert.

Olea 39 High Street, New Haven, (203) 780-8925

Bringing Something to the Party

What to bring to a summer party? I got beautiful carrots and beets from the Black Rock Farmer’s Market. The beets came from Sport Hill Farm.

My friend Red Bee Marina, who was hosting a little gathering in her garden, suggested coleslaw, but the carrots were too cute to shred.

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The brine was one cup of apple cider vinegar, one cup of warm water, salt, pepper, onions, ginger, herbs from the garden–lemon balm, thyme, marjoram, chives–and a little honey.

Beets

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Because it’s summer and I didn’t want the house to get too hot, I boiled the beets. (Roasting in the oven is my preferred method.) After they were tender, I slipped off the skins, sliced the beets, and put them in brine.The carrots and beets rested in the brine, in the fridge, from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., till we left the house. I repacked them in Ball jars for travel.

After a glass of prosecco, everyone went to Marina and Vic’s garden, and picked greens for pesto.  I picked mint and chamomile flowers. Before serving the pickled vegetables, I sprinkled the herbs on the dishes.

Our hosts served lobster, which we dipped in melted butter, and squirted with lemon. I was rather messy. Apologies to those who were splashed.IMAG1767

And corn on the cob.

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We ate outside, dogs at our feet, chickens locked up safe, bees buzzing around the red and yellow hives on the sunny hill.

What to Forage Now: Dandelion Leaves and Wild Onions

My basic theory of gardening is that plants want to grow. And if they want to grow — if they spring up on their own and we can eat them, don’t interfere. That means dandelions in the yard and vegetable garden (they grow strongest in the sun). Wild onions have shot up everywhere too.

I’m very much against poisoning them.  Pulling up “weeds” is the most effective way of dealing with them (despite what you’ll read on the internet about vinegar solutions). Dandelions aren’t “weeds” to me. Picking and eating dandelions in the early spring is an ancient ritual. They are filled with minerals and vitamins, and are good for the liver.

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Cleaning the April pickings, dandelion leaves, parsley and wild onions.

Dandelion leaves can be bitter. The are less bitter when small and the flowers haven’t bloomed. Large leaves from blooming dandelions can be cooked to mellow their flavor and make them tender.

Dandelions don’t have poisonous lookalikes, according to Wildman Steve Brill, an expert forager who leads tours in New York and Connecticut. Chicory looks like dandelion and is edible, so if you’re foraging, you’ll probably pick up both.

To counter the bitterness of a wild dandelion and chicory salad, I give it a hearty dressing, an emulsion of olive oil, lemon juice, mashed garlic, and salt. Then add chunks of rich, creamy avocado and slices of crisp, sweet red bell pepper.

You can also subdue a dandelion with a dressings of hot bacon fat, apple cider vinegar, then top with lardons and garlic-rubbed croutons. Avocado works in this salad too.

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To cook, first gather as many as you can. A big bowl of leaves will reduce when cooked.  Wash them — you’ll probably have to soak them in water twice. (I use it to water the seedlings on the back porch.)

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Add the greens. When the water returns to a boil, let them cook for a minute. This step removes the bitterness. Remove from water and place in a bowl of cold water.

In a large frying pan, simmer garlic or wild garlic cloves in olive oil until it smells good, but doesn’t brown. Add blanched dandelion greens.  Saute them in the oil, add fresh water, salt, and more olive oil, and bring to simmer. Partially cover and cook for ten minutes or so until the leaves do not resist to the bite. Serve in a bowl with some of the water, drizzle on more olive oil to taste. The water the greens simmer in tastes delicious. I’m certain it’s good for you.

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Another classic  Italian recipe, which Lidia Bastianich told me about, pairs cooked dandelions on top of pureed fava beans. It’s made with dried favas, which are actually less time consuming to work with than fresh.   It’s a dish from Puglia, and the pleasing contrast of sharp greens and rich beans, is eaten in alternating bites, with good country bread.

Giuliano Bugialli has a recipe for dandelions with favas in his book Foods of Italy.  My photojournalist friends will note that John Dominis shot the gorgeous photos. He gave a copy to my mother and inscribed it. I learned to cook from Foods of Italy, and I return to the recipes.

That reminds me of another one of my favorite dishes, which I call Beans Over Greens. Cooked dried beans (white beans or chickpeas), sautéed in garlic, scallions and parsley (which is also flourishing in my garden right now.)  I usually serve this over arugula. It could also be served with a super-early green like mache or ackersalat.

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Mache or ackersalat must be planted in the fall for an early spring crop.

But ackersalat seeds must be planted the previous fall.  Meanwhile, the arugula seedlings have sprouted, and the leaves will be ready to eat in a few weeks.

In the meantime, I’ll eat dandelions.