Yes, it is time consuming to shell fresh chestnuts. There, I said it. But if it’s not difficult – provided you blanch the chestnuts and peel them while still warm.
Besides chestnuts are a treat, made all the rarer because the trees take a long time to grow and bear fruit; the nuts must be harvested almost daily to avoid chestnut-eating worms. In fact, best if you can put a cloth on the ground, shake branches with a long pole and move away fast to avoid the rain of thorny shells. Thick gloves and stout boots are helpful too.
As well, true American chestnuts are a rarity. Once a mighty tree that provided rot-resistant timber & fence wood; fire wood through coppicing; tannins to tan leather; abundant flowering for honey bees; fresh nuts for humans, pigs, and wild life; and dry nuts and flour for winter food, chestnut trees may have constituted as much as 25% of the Eastern North American forest. Alas an imported blight practically wiped out them in the 20th century. Some remain west of the Rockies and a few specimens in rare pockets in the East. They generally don’t live long, and the most promising trees (in terms of disease resistance) have been crossed and back-crossed with the immune Chinese chestnuts through the efforts of organizations such as The American Chestnut Foundation and the American Chestnut Cooperators’ Foundation.
So local chestnuts, whether cultivated or foraged are likely to be the Chinese or even Japanese chestnuts, or hybrids. Chikapin chestnuts (another native that grows on a small tree) are really tiny – so ignored by people. The large chestnuts sold in the store are imported from Europe.
By the way, when buying or collecting chestnuts, carefully inspect them for tiny holes. They are the sign that the nuts are inhabited. Discard them. I collect fresh chestnut, and as I soon as I get home, I dump them in water and discard the ones that float, on the theory that the flesh has been eaten or has started to rot.
Chestnuts are versatile, used with equal success in desserts and in savory dishes, as the lovely recipe below.
Chestnut and Onion Braisée Read more
Leeks, beautiful leeks….
Leeks, one of my favorite cold weather vegetables, are the stars of many slow-cooked comfort dishes. They are however often used in combination with other vegetables, where they silkiness and mellowness have a supporting role: think soup, especially leek & potatoes. But they are superb as the main vegetable as in leek tart or as in this recipe, slow-cooked with plenty of butter and finished with fresh tangy goat cheese.
Do choose healthy thick specimens with the longest possible shaft – the white part. I can’t help laughing when I see thick leeks in the store – with a puny 2 or 3 inches of white and all leaves!!!! Good leeks have long sturdy stems: that’s the part you want. Sure the blue/green leaves are perfectly edibles: treat them like any strong-flavored greens – myself, I like to cook them with kale. But for this recipe (as with most recipes you are likely to find), the shaft, not the leaves, are what you want. That’s where the mellowness is. If you grow leeks, look for varieties which naturally grow a long stem. Also hill them up throughout summer and fall
Leeks are in season now until late winter. They are biennial, meaning they go to flower (and produce seeds) their second year. So, in early spring, the leeks planted the prior year, start to develop a woody core – they are making a flowering stem. And it is woody – fine to flavor soup, but way too hard to chew. Beware of March leeks!
The spread can be prepared several days ahead and gently reheated before putting it on freshly toasted crostini. In winter, I like using lard to crisp the crostini – lard rendered from the fat of a pastured pig, not hydrogenated. Feel free to use extra-virgin olive oil if you prefer.
Leeks & Goat Cheese Crostini Read more
Blackberries are producing madly. They have been loving this more temperature summer. Me too! And so they have rewarded us with beaucoup berries since mid-July. For a few weeks in fact they were producing along the Saturn flat peach. ahhh…
Loads just got bagged and tossed in the freezer. Lots got turned into jam, some mixed with blueberries. New to me this year was blackberry gastrique, an awful name if there ever was one: just hearing it makes me want to reach for the bottle of crème de menthe. But it is a homemade competitor to flavored balsamic vinegar — a syrupy blackberry vinegar akin to shrub that I like to drizzle on hard cheese, add to sparkling water, use for vinaigrette, baste ribs or chicken on the grill. I had heard of gastrique before but dismissed it , unjustly based on its name. I came across this video from Sherri Brooks Vinton and realized it was akin to shrub. I made it and I am hooked. I have since made Peach ginger gastrique and there is a tomato one in the works.
And then I have been having fun with sherbet using honey from our hives. This version came by accident: I wanted to make sherbet with buttermilk (something similar to this blueberry sherbet) but there was none in the fridge. There was however sour cream, so that is what I used. Instead of my usual vodka (used to prevent the sherbet from becoming too icy) I splashed in some crème de cassis. Wow! I was really pleased with the depth of flavors and the mouthful – it is, in fact, one of my favorite sherbet. Don’t sweat the proportions too much: let your taste buds guide you. I was reakky measuring when I was making it.
So without more ado, 2 recipes: Blackberry Gastrique and Blackberry Honey Sherbet. Read more
Greens, Herbs & Edible Flowers
A wonderful spring for salad!
Tom Thumb Lettuce, Red Sail Lettuce, Red and Green Oak Leaf lettuce, Lamb’s Quarter, Johnny-jump-ups and other violas, lemon balm, monarda leaves, anise hyssop leaves, arugula flowers, mustard flowers, chive blossoms, Bachelor’s Button petals, dill, purple basil, thyme blossoms, cilantro blossoms, dried cherry tomatoes (from last year’s harvest – marinated in olive oil)… and the ones that make the plate “pop”: Shirley poppy petals.
Homemade pizza is one of the simple pleasures of life. Make dough. Let rise (as many as 4 or 5 days in the fridge if needed). Roll out dough. Spread toppings. Put in a very hot oven. Open a bottle of beer or pour a glass of wine. Patient 10 minutes. Enjoy.
PS – use a pizza stone: it will immensely increase the quality of your pizza. One word: perfect crust!
PPS – neither tomato nor pepperoni necessary (although sometimes they have their use!)
I admit to loving a good granola, generally over plain yogurt. But many I have purchased and tried are simply not to my taste, either too sweet or with too many added overpowering flavors — sometimes, both! Also they often contain too many dry fruit that are not up to par.
The solution? make your own.
Remarkably simple as it turns out with about 5 minutes of active time, and of course, fresher and exactly as I like it. And – it never hurts – cheaper than store bought. Since I generally have on hand all the ingredient for it, it only takes just a little over an hour to make a batch: 5 minutes to mix, 30 minutes to bake, 30 minute to cool… and it’s the best granola you can ever have. Perfectly crunchy, lightly sweetened with the complex flavor of good honey, and utterly delicious!
Lard crostini, with spicy Swiss chard & fresh farm cheese
It got down to 5F (-15C) last week and the high for a few days reached low 20sF ( -4 to 66 C) — cold by our standards, especially with no protective snow covering. especially after the mild fall and winter to date. And yet! yet, how is the Swiss chard doing in its rustic cold frame (the one made with reclaimed storm windows)? Good enough to pick from.
It was even a late planted Swiss chard (that was started in the fall, sat too long in their containers and where finally transplanted in the cold frame in late October (see how it looked back then)
Newly transplanted Swiss chard back in November
But today? today after a really cold week? A very pretty bouquet!
Pretty good looking Swiss chard for January 29, after a long week of a very cold spell
It founds it way into a split pea, sausage and Swiss chard soup – a riff off the classic Tuscan cannelloni, sausage & kale soup (although when I made it, I was not conscious of the riff… this is how one cook after all when cooking without recipes – from memory or from unconscious influences).
I don’t like raw Swiss chard (I never use its baby leaves in salad for example), but I like it a lot cooked. It’s very versatile for one:
- quick wilted in the frying pan with lots of chopped garlic, then thrown into a soup, with pasta or served as a side vegetable;
- blanched, refreshed and squeezed dried, they can be tossed with a bean salad, with pasta, into a tart or quiche, in a gratin or on top of crostini.
I don’t really like the ones with all the brighter colors either. They might be pretty raw, but they don’t look so appetizing cooked (the red ones bleed all over!), their texture is rougher, sometimes vaguely unpleasant. I prefer green Swiss chard, and I am always on the look-out for new cultivars to try in the garden.I also really like the ones with a very thick stems – I use them as a separate vegetable. They are perfect in a garlicky cream-based gratin with a sprinkling of hard cheese and bread crumbs.
The recipe below is ideal for a quick lunch or appetizer as you can prepare the Swiss chard (and the cheese if using homemade) well ahead and refrigerate it – bring back to room temperature before using. All that’s needed is to toast the bread, before topping it with cheese and the greens.
Lard Crostini With Fresh Farm Cheese & Spicy Swiss Chard Read more
I love parsnip. Don’t you?
I don’t grow parsnips (not that I have not meant too…): mostly it’s because I run out of garden-bed space when I would need to direct-seed it. And parsnip holds on its real estate for a long time as it requires a long growing season — so do I grow parsnips? or do I grow a crop of lettuce? followed by bean? followed again by fall & winter greens? oh, and did I mention voles?
So until I have a special parsnip growing box like Deirdre Armstrong ( who has a “parsnip palace” built out of corrugated metal, hog panels and a few feet of compost), I will buy parsnips. They are fairly easy to find, inexpensive and like carrots, keep well in the fridge. A creamed-colored sturdy and homey root, parsnips look like white carrots (to which they are related). Their natural sweetness makes them a favorite for roasting (chunks roasted by themselves or mixed with other root vegetables) or for cream dishes (slices layered in a potato gratin or mashed with potatoes).
Parsnip particularly shines in soup. I offer here the “rich” version with chicken broth and cream. Water can be used and cream omitted for a leaner (but still flavorful) soup (that then becomes vegetarian or vegan). The soup freezes beautifully, so don’t hesitate to make a big batch.
Parsnip Soup Read more
Photo by Molly Peterson (http://www.mollympeterson.com/) for FoodShed Magazine
Those who have read my blog for a while know of the fondness I have for quince – that almost forgotten fruit. Most of the cultivars grown in our area (and they aren’t that many, although they do exist) need to be cooked to bring out their surprisingly floral aroma.That’s probably why it has fallen out of favor: you can’t just bite into it. I have read though that there are cultivars tasty enough for that. But the quince we get here, you have to cook. And how well you will be rewarded.
It is lovely mixed with apples. But if you cannot find quince, use a good home-made or store- bought apple sauce, preferably unsweetened. Virginia allspice (also called spicebush) is a native understory shrub (Lindera benzoin) whose berries ripen to vermillion in late summer and early fall and taste very similar to the true tropical allspice, with a more peppery bite. I collect the berries in the fall and freeze them until needed. Omit them or use allspice if you do not have access to them.
Yes, the tart shell takes some planning. But the crust won’t be soggy!
I prefer to mix apples for a variety of texture and taste, and prefer to avoid apples that remain really firm when cooked.
Recipe for the Quince & Apple Tart with Virginia All-Spice on the FoodShed magazine web site
Prior entries on quince:
– a compendium of recipes from other blogs
– a non-exhaustive list of what to do with quince + quince ice-cream recipe