Steamy and Easy

Steamy and Easy
The once plentiful American lobster is now a delicacy that plays a starring role in this easy, one-pot clambake.

I like to celebrate the Fourth of July with a clambake on my deck or back yard. If it is a beautiful day, I transport it to the beach. Here is my one-pot mini clambake any one can do any time, summer or winter.
Did you know that the American lobster, Homarus americanus, was so plentiful in the Colonial times that when lobsters were washed up onto New England beaches by storms, they were harvested by basketfuls and used as fertilizer?

Today, we consider lobsters a delicacy. If we are adventurous enough, we can trap them ourselves, but for most it is easier to buy them at the local fish market. The price varies according to the time of year. During the summer months, they are more plentiful and less expensive because they come closer to shore and are easier to catch. They spend the winter months in deeper, safer water, protecting themselves from the waves and currents of winter storms.

Lobstermen have names for the different sizes of lobsters. Chicken lobsters are between 1 and 1 1/2 pounds, select are 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pounds and the jumbos are 3 pounds and up. Culls, which have only one claw, are usually available in all sizes. They are also less expensive per pound than chicken or select.

In choosing lobsters, look for the most active ones. The tail should curl under the body, not hang down, when the lobster is picked up.

Some consider the meat of the female, or hen, lobster finer than that of the male. To tell the difference, look at the two swimmerets nearest the solid shell on the lobster’s underside. The males are hard, sharp and bony, whereas the females are soft and feathery. The female may also have a row of coral (roe), which turns red when cooked and can be used for color in sauces or is good scrambled in eggs.

The notion that larger lobsters are tougher than small ones is widespread, but not true: It’s all in the cooking. Overcooked lobsters will be tough no matter what the size. So if you have an urge to impress your guest and display your culinary talents, buy the 10-pound lobster and do a fabulous presentation without fear of the meat being tough.

Cooking the feast

The most common cooking method for lobsters is boiling, but there are alternatives. When guest come from out of town to have dinner at my home, I usually make my mini clambake that is steamed in beer. I found steaming rather than boiling seals in the juices and the lobsters and food is much taster.

While the dinner cooks, I cover the table with newspapers, set the table with individual large Fiesta ware platters (the bright blue ones make a great contrast for the bright red lobster) and bright dishtowels for napkins. I also use red and white-checkered bibs for those who want them. Small dishes for melted butter and nutcrackers for cracking the lobster shells are essential, as is a large bowl for the lobster shells.

Part of the drama of a clambake is how it is presented. When I was writing my book “Food Photography and Styling,” I included a chapter on steam; I used this poster of a clambake to show how real steam is used in photography.

The star of this mini-clambake for four is the lobster, but I have found that the scene is sometimes stolen by the hot dog, which takes on the aromas of the ingredients around it and winds up with a surprising flavor – especially if it’s dunked in the butter. I tell my guests there is no elegant way to eat this meal: wear an old shirt and dig in.

Steamed Lobsters In Beer

2 pounds steamers*

4 small sweet potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

2 small onions, unpeeled

2 quarts beer

4 (1 to 1 1/2 pound lobsters

4 ears corn (remove silk, then put husks back on)

4 hot dogs

1 pound melted butter combined with 1 tablespoon lemon juice

You will need a large kettle with a rack that will hold the food 3 inches above the bottom of the pan, such as a preserving kettle. I use a stockpot with a few large rocks in the bottom. This is another way to keep the food above the liquid.

Put the rack upside down, so its surface is above the bottom of the pan. Place the potatoes and onions on the rack. Add 1 quart of beer; cover and bring to a boil. Steam for 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover, check to see how much beer has evaporated and add more beer or water if necessary. Be sure there is always at least 2 inches of liquid in the bottom of the pot.

Place the lobsters over the potatoes and the onions, then put the corn on top of the lobsters. Put the steamers into a cheesecloth bag and place on top of lobsters then add hotdogs. Cover and start timing the cooking from the moment steam escapes from under the cover. Cook 25 minutes. When the food is cooked, remove the ingredients with large tongs and arrange on individual platters. Serve with melted butter for dipping.

*I like steaming the steamers in beer separately and eating them while the lobsters are cooking. They are served with the broth and melted butter.

(Published: July 2, 2003)

Solitary Dining

Solitary dining
Meals so special you’ll be glad they’re yours alone

By JOHN F. CARAFOLI
CONTRIBUTING WRITER
This is a time of uncertainty and unrest for all of us. It makes me think of my career as a food stylist and how frivolous it seems given what is happening in the world today. How important is it to write about food amidst such turmoil? I started to fixate on these and other issues in my life and a feeling of anxiety swept over me.
It took me awhile to regroup and realize I cannot control life’s circumstances but I can change my perspective and attitude. We all need techniques for centering ourselves and feeling peaceful. Whether dealing with a stressful job, relationship, or family matters, it is important to distance oneself in order to gain a proper outlook. My release is to create a wonderful meal for myself. It centers me.

Here is how I make it happen. I bring out my colorful tablecloth, buy flowers and place them in a vase, light several candles, and turn on peaceful music. I always have staples in the freezer and refrigerator so I can easily make a special and quick dinner for one. When I shop for food, I pamper myself. I buy the best-quality meats and fish and the freshest vegetables. And I never forget a good glass of wine

A favorite simple pasta dish is my Chicken Ginger Stir-Fry. If I do not have all the vegetables in the recipe on hand I make substitutions like zucchini, or yellow squash, or even asparagus instead of the snow peas. I also like serving it over rice instead of pasta.

I save the more elaborate Rock Cornish Hen with Curried Fruit Stuffing for the weekend, usually Sunday. It’s always nice to spend a relaxing Sunday at home without a throng of hungry guests to feed. This hearty recipe fills the house with good cooking aromas. I serve it with a vegetable like asparagus, couscous tossed with a little butter, a crispy green salad and a slightly fruity white wine to complement the stuffing.

If I am not very hungry, I might make the simple but flavorful Carrot Orange Soup and have it with a piece of warm crusty bread and a fresh green salad.

Remember when making a meal for yourself, following the recipes and preparing the food can be a kind of meditation. If you are properly focused, the required level of concentration can transport you out of our chaotic world to a calmer, inner-world. Cooking is wonderful therapy.

Chicken Ginger Stir-Fry

3 quarts water

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 ounces farfalle (butterfly) pasta

2 tablespoon peanut oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 pound boned chicken breast, NOTE: chicken tenders work well in this dish.

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1/2 stalk celery, diced

1 scallion, thinly sliced

1 small red pepper, diced

1/4 pound snow peas

1/4 cup water chestnuts

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cashews

Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add the olive oil, salt and noodles. Cook until al dente (cooked so they are still slightly firm to the bite). Drain and keep warm.

Lightly pound chicken to a uniform thickness (about 3/8 inch) and cut into 1-by-2 inch pieces.

In a 10-inch non-stick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil over medium heat until hot. Add the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, than remove and discard. Add the chicken and stir-fry for 3 or 4 minutes, until opaque throughout. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Heat the remaining tablespoon peanut oil and stir-fry the ginger, celery, scallions and pepper for 2 minutes. Return chicken to pan, add snow peas, water chestnuts, and cashews. Stir-fry for 2 minutes.

In a cup combine water, cornstarch and tamari or soy sauce stir until smooth and add to the pan. Stir a minute or two until sauce thickens slightly. Serve over cooked noodles. Serves one

Carrot Soup With Orange

This recipe makes four servings. I would suggest making the whole recipe and freeze the rest in small containers for other meals.

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium onion, chopped

1/4 teaspoon cumin

4 to 6 medium carrots (about 1 pound), thinly sliced

1 teaspoon grated orange rind

2 1/2 cups chicken broth

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

Chives, chopped for garnish

4 tablespoons sour cream

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté the onions until they are translucent. Add cumin and cook 1 minute longer. Add carrots, orange rind, chicken broth, and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and then cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, until carrots are tender. Remove from heat.

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade or in a blender, puree the mixture in small batches until smooth. Put back in saucepan on low heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and serve with a dollop of sour cream. Garnish with chives.

Rock Cornish Hen With Curried Fruit Stuffing

1 Rock Cornish Hen

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 whole scallion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 cup peeled, diced apple

2 tablespoons currants

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 small Italian plum, peeled and diced

3 tablespoons pecans, finely chopped

1 cup apple cider plus 2 tablespoons

2 tablespoons melted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the scallion and the curry powder and cook for 2 minutes on medium heat. Next, add the apple, currants, lemon zest, tomatoes, pecans and 2 tablespoons cider. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring continuously, until flavors are well integrated. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Lightly salt and pepper the inside cavity of the hen. Loosely stuff the hen with the fruit mixture and skewer closed. Rub the hen with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the hen on a baking rack. Roast for about 45 to 50 minutes, basting alternately with the cider and melted butter every 10 minutes. Serve with pan juices as a sauce. Serves one.

John F. Carafoli, a food consultant, stylist and author of “Food Photography and Styling,” lives on the upper Cape. Carafoli’s Oxford Symposium paper is being published in the May issue of “Gastronomica, The Journal of Food and Culture.”

(Published: April 2, 2003)

Soaking the Senses

Many years ago, I was living in Chicago, immersed in a demanding, high-pressure job, and needed to get away to somewhere quiet and peaceful to replenish my mind, body and soul. A friend mentioned Rio Caliente, a spa in Mexico, describing it as a tranquil, special place.

Plates of Huervos Rancheros for breakfast
(John F. Carafoli photo)
That was all I needed to hear. I was on the next plane to Guadalajara. From the airport, I took a cab to the spa, which is about an hour away. As the cab driver turned left onto a dirt road filled with potholes, sending dust (and me) flying, I began wondering what I had gotten myself into. Too often my spontaneity and enthusiasm have landed me in hot water! This time, though, I had landed in hot water in a very good way.

Situated in the Primavera Valley 5,000 feet above sea level, gets its name from the superheated river flowing through the region. It emanates from the volcano known as Mount Tequila, looming in the distance. From my small room with two twin beds and a little fireplace, I could sense its majesty and power.

Over the next three days, I kept to myself, soaking in the 90-degree waters of the two pools filled from the underground volcanic effluents, feeling the restorative effects of beneficial minerals. Such sensuous soaking, combined with reading, massages, mud wraps and fresh local meals – like Black Bean Soup and Huervos Rancheros – restored me.

Ready for company

After several days, my antisocial tendencies had abated, and I was ready to rejoin people.I agreed to meet a few other guests for a hike in the arid, hilly landscape. In preparation, I gathered my clothing and sat by one of the pools, savoring the warm sun. When the group had gathered, I slipped on my pants, and felt something sharp bite my backside. I immediately took off the pants to see what it was, but nothing was visible so I put them back on. Then suddenly another bite, this one harder. I whipped off the pants, turning them up side down and shaking them vigorously until out fell a scorpion. I shouted, ”Oh my God, I have been stung by a scorpion!”

Mexican meltaway
Rio Caliente, literally “Hot River,” is one of dozens of spas scattered throughout Mexico. Some have natural hot springs and focus on the country’s long tradition of folk remedies – including relaxation and wholesome foods. Others offer a more traditional approach – though generally still more low-key than European spas. To visit several spots, search the Internet with keywords “Mexican spa vacations.”

Immediately I was surrounded by my hiking mates. One man produced a small bottle of a homeopathic rescue remedy for just such an emergency. After a few drops of that, we headed to the office to seek further treatment. This is how I met Alba Lydia Alvidrez, a striking dark-haired woman, wearing a bright red hat, gauchos and a colorful kerchief around her neck. She whisked me to the kitchen. In Spanish, she directed someone to fetch me a glass of milk and pulled a bulb of garlic from the shelf. ”Here,” she said. ”Eat the garlic and drink the milk. It is a natural antibiotic.” I stood there for a minute, then asked if I could at least mince it first. She laughed and said yes. After I downed several cloves of chopped garlic and a large glass of milk, Alba instructed me, ”Now go to the pool and stay quiet. If you were going to have a bad allergic reaction, it would have already taken place. You will be fine.”

I followed her advice, and also took an antihistamine.

Remembering Rio

In the 18 years since this incident, I have thought of it many times and about my otherwise cleansing and restorative visit to Rio Caliente. Scorpions aside, it was time to go back, In late February, I was off for a week at the spa with my partner, John Murelle.

I was glad to discover that my friend Alba Lydia Alvidrez is still there, running the kitchen. This time, I had the chance to get to know her better (no scorpion bites!) and to learn more about her culinary talents.

Alba learned to cook from her grandmother, who raised her as a child in Chihuahua, a town near the U.S. border.

”Growing up, I ate meat because we lived on a farm, and it was cattle country. All meats then were organic,” she told me. Alba first came to the spa 26 years ago to cook and help with the housing. She developed most of the vegetarian recipes that are served at the spa and supervises food preparation.

Light meal at night

A typical day at the spa, run for 30 years by Caroline Durston, begins with a hearty protein-heavy breakfast just after morning yoga and a swim in the pool. The most important meal of the day, breakfast at Rio Caliente consists of fruits, fresh yogurt, granola, and eggs with tortillas and sometimes beans. My favorite was Huevos Rancheros (eggs ranch-style,) a corn tortilla with refried beans and topped with fried eggs and hot sauce.

Lunch one day was delicious Chile Rellenos, cheese-filled, roasted poblano peppers in a spicy tomato sauce and served with White Rice with Corn and Sesame Seeds. There were always fresh greens, grown in the spa’s garden, tossed with tomatoes and sprouts, and a selection of healthful dressings.

Supper consisted of a light soup, mixed green salad, perhaps with lentil sprouts, bell peppers, beans, onions and grated carrots, and luscious rice pudding. At each meal, Alba mixed chilled drinks, such as Jamaica tea made from hibiscus flowers and fresh-squeezed lime juice. .

The activities in which we immersed ourselves were equally refreshing. After breakfast, we typically took a hike to one of the waterfalls, where 158-degree water spouted out of rocks in the hills – hot enough to cook an egg. Then, back to the spa, where a soak in the hot mineral waters was followed by a massage and lunch. The afternoon floated by as we rested by the pool with a good book, or indulged in a mud wrap or a steam in the natural underground steam room.

Each evening, after our light but satisfying meal, (if we could stay up past 8:30) we enjoyed a lecture or writing workshop.

Healthful habits

After a week of eating well-balanced vegetarian meals consisting of whole foods, no sugar, caffeine, or dairy products (with the exception of yogurt and a little skim milk) and no animal products, I could feel my whole system change. The cravings I had had at the beginning of the week were gone. My body felt light. I was calm, happy and at peace. Our bodies react favorably when treated carefully and well, healing themselves when given the chance.

Reminded of the need to care for one’s body and soul, I made the conscious decision to bring a little of Rio Caliente home with me. I have cut down on eating red meat, eat lighter meals at night (like a simple soup and salad), and have introduced more fiber into my diet. I try to eat organic and local foods. This revised way of eating, combined with yoga, frequent swimming and a daily reminder to keep things in perspective, is my recipe for a strong, healthy body and a peaceful soul.

(Published: April 26, 2006)

Savoring the Cape’s Harvest

When I was 7 years old, my first job was picking wild blueberries in mid-August. I would sell them to the owners (two sisters) of By Way Lunch, the local luncheonette. It was a real challenge for me at that young age because they would buy as many as I could pick. They used the berries to make wonderful homemade pies, muffins and cakes. I always seemed to arrive just as the muffins were coming out of the oven. The small amount of money I made was hidden in a special place until it was time to treat myself to the annual traveling carnival, the highlight of my summer. I knew that after the blueberry season and carnival were over, it would be fall and time to go back to school.

To this day, I still gather blueberries, though they are mostly high-bush. The wooded areas and secret patches I frequented as a child, have, sadly, all been claimed by construction; even the By Way Lunch no longer exists.

My need for harvesting the fruits from my homeland, however, has expanded beyond just blueberry picking. I now forage for wild mushrooms and have my own gardens with fresh tomatoes, herbs and garlic. Wild grapes, blackberries and raspberries grow in a small wooded area on my land where I can easily find them.

In the back yard is my grape arbor, laden with lots of purple Concord grapes. Every fall I make a conserve so I can prepare recipes like Grape Sorbet and Grape Soufflé (see recipe) in the winter months. My grandmother’s cement bench, a reminder of harvests from my past, sits under the grape arbor. When she was alive, the bench had a regal place under her crabapple tree next to the house. She would sit quietly and peel apples or clean vegetables from my grandfather’s garden before taking them into the house.

Looking to the locals

If I don’t have enough tomatoes from my own garden for preserving, I rely on local produce stands. When September rolls around, farm stands have an abundance of overripe tomatoes they sell by the bushel; perfect for preserving whole or making tomato sauces. I believe it is important to support our local farm stands and to take advantage of the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables during this very short season. First of all, it is the only time of year one can buy a tomato or vegetable without a sticker on it. Here are several other reasons why: 1. The produce is fresher, tastier and healthier. The better the ingredients used in a recipe the more satisfying the resulting food. 2. Most supermarkets import unripened produce from other regions or other hemispheres; by the time it gets to us the produce may look good but lacks most of its original, vibrant flavor. Not to mention the gross amount of fuel required in transporting it. 3. It connects us to the region and land where we live. 4. If we don’t support our local farmers, they will go out of business.

One farm stand I frequent is Crow Farm in East Sandwich. Owned by the Crowell family since 1916, it is one of the last big operational farms on Cape Cod. It is open from Mother’s Day until the day before Christmas. In the spring, I buy my tomato, cucumber, pepper and herb plants from them. As the seasons change from summer into fall, I benefit from their beautiful tree-ripened peaches, delicious corn and variety of apples, squashes and Brussels sprouts.

I look forward to stopping at Sheila Rich’s Farmstead on Route 6A in South Wellfleet when I am down Cape. Sheila grows herbs and cut flowers. Al, her husband, grows cranberries as he has all his life. He worked with his late father for decades. They have a cranberry museum showing how cranberries were separated in the past and how it is done today. Tours are free to the public.

John Carter of Green Hill Farm in Yarmouthport follows organic methods of farming. His farm has been in the family since 1639 and has gone through several transitions. Carter, a one-man operation, has been tilling the soil for the past twelve years. He sells produce, flowers and herbs to a few of the restaurants here on the Cape. The farm is open for business Wednesday and Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. through September 30th.

Gaspare “Gussie” Lunedei is another solo operation that I rely upon. His small stand in Sagamore sits on the side of his house. He remembers the old-world Italian community of years past and me as a child. Inevitably our discussions turn to food and recipes when I visit. The last time I was buying from Gussie he asked if I stuffed tomatoes like his mother did. I replied, “How was that?” He said, “With breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, Parmesan cheese and then she baked them. Oh, they were delicious!”

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Donna Foley of East Sandwich works at Crow Farm and makes this recipe for the holidays. “This is a very chunky chutney. I make it and serve it with most of my poultry dishes. I also like to use it on my turkey sandwiches. Sometimes I eat it right out of the bowl just because it is so good.”

Cranberry Chutney

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon white vinegar

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons orange zest

3/4 cups chopped peeled apples

1/2 cup raisins, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes then drained

2 (12-ounce) packages of cranberries

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds

In a medium saucepan combine the sugar, vinegar, ginger, orange juice, orange zest, apples and raisins. Bring to a boil, stir and cook until sugar has dissolved. Add the cranberries and almonds and cook until berries pop. About 10 to 15 minutes. Makes four cups

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Norma Medeiros of Forestdale, MA, who also works at Crow Farm, gave me this recipe. “I like mincemeat because it is something I had as a child. My mother made it for the holidays. She always made it with deer meat. I happened to come across this lighter version in an old cookbook that is not so sweet. Like fruitcakes, mincemeat is not something everyone likes or would make. But it is a wonderful way to use end of the season green tomatoes.”

Green Tomato Mincemeat

1 quart green tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped (about 10 tomatoes)

1/2 tablespoon salt

1 orange

1 1/2 quarts apples, (about 6 medium apples) cored, peeled and roughly chopped

1/2 pound seedless raisins

1 1/4 cup finely chopped suet (about 3 ounces)*

2 cups brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup white cider vinegar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Sprinkle salt over the tomatoes, and let stand 1 hour. Drain then cover tomatoes with boiling water. Let stand 5 minutes. Drain again. Grate zest of the orange and chop remaining orange. In a medium saucepan, mix all ingredients together and bring to a boil. Simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it does not stick to the pan. Place in jars and process to preserve following instructions in any good cookbook. It may also be refrigerated up to six weeks or frozen for future use. Makes about 4 pints.

* Butter may be substituted for the suet.

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I serve this stuffed eggplant with a salad and a fruity white wine. It makes a delicious and attractive main course or it can be served as a vegetable side dish. If you use fresh eggplant there is no need to presoak in salted water. Plain yogurt on the side goes well with the aromatic spices in this dish.

Stuffed Eggplant

1 large eggplant

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup minced shallots

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons currants

1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

3/4 cup diced red pepper

1 cup chickpeas

1/2 cup chicken broth, homemade or low sodium

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lay the eggplant on its side and slice off about 1/4 inch across (lengthwise), leaving a cavity. Dice the portions you just removed and set aside. Scoop out the pulp with a spoon, leaving a wall of eggplant about 1/2 inch thick all around. Roughly chop the pulp and set aside. Pour a little of the lemon juice in the eggplant shell and the remainder over the diced and chopped eggplant pieces. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic, curry powder and cinnamon; cook 3 to 5 minutes until shallots are translucent, making sure garlic does not burn. Next, add the currants, oregano, thyme, red pepper, chickpeas and 1 cup of the diced eggplant; mix well and remove from heat. Place the eggplant shell on a lightly greased, shallow 8 by 2 by 8-inch baking dish and fill the shell with the vegetable mixture. Pour chicken broth over eggplant and add 1/2 cup water to baking dish. Cover loosely with a piece of foil. Bake 1 hour. Serves 4.

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Wild grapes abound all over New England, including Cape Cod, and have a delicious rich flavor. They are much smaller than grapes sold in stores and make marvelous jam, jelly or juice. And they are free! I developed this recipe using wild grapes, but Concord grapes may also be used.

Chilled Wild Grape Soufflé

1 1/2 quarts wild or Concord grapes (if the grapes are large you will only need 1 quart.)

3/4 cup sugar (or to taste)

1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

2 tablespoons cold water

6 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1 cup heavy cream

Sour cream

Wash and peel the grapes, separating the skins from the insides; the skins should slip off easily. (This may seem like a lot of work, but it is worth it.) In a saucepan cook the insides of the grapes until they turn into juice, about 10 minutes. You should have roughly 2 cups of juice. Then put them through a sieve or strainer to remove the seeds. Discard the seeds. Add the grape skins and 3/4 cup of sugar to the juice. Return the pan to the stove and cook the mixture until the liquid has reduced to 1 cup, about 1/2 hour. Add the gelatin to the cold water in a small pan, heat until the gelatin is dissolved, and add to the grape mixture. Remove the grape mixture from the heat and let it cool thoroughly. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar. Towards the end of the beating, add the confectioners’ sugar. Whip the heavy cream. Put the grape mixture into a large bowl and fold in one third of the egg whites. Then fold in the remaining egg whites. Fold the whipped cream into the grape-egg mixture. Make a collar of paper, lightly coated with vegetable oil, so it stands 2 inches above the rim. Or use individual dishes. Pour the mixture into the dish. Chill for at least 4 to 5 hours. Serve with a dab of sour cream.

Blueberry Apple Crisp

Filling

5 cups blueberries

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1 cup diced peeled apples

Topping

1/2 cup light brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/4 pound butter

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

For the filling: In a small bowl, combine the blueberries, sugar, lemon rind and apples. Mix well and place in a well-buttered 8 by 8 by 2-inch pan.

For the topping: In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, pecans, oats, and rub in the butter with your fingers until it resembles course crumbs. Spread evenly over the blueberry mixture. Bake for 45 minutes or until the crust is brown. Serves 6.

John Carafoli, cooking expert and food stylist based on the Upper Cape, will answer readers’ food questions in his monthly column that appears the first Wednesday of each month. Send inquiries to “Cooking With Carafoli,” care of, Cape Cod Times Food Editor Gwenn Friss, 319 Main St., Hyannis, MA 02601, or e-mail to gfriss@capecodonline.com. Tips and information are also available at his Web site, www.carafoli.com.

(Published: September 3, 2003)

Recipe for Recovery

No one looks forward to surgery. As a healthy, active person I have always dreaded it, particularly the thought of being incapacitated for any length of time. For years I had pain and some limited function in my left knee, but through yoga, swimming, acupuncture and a few unconventional methods I was able to stabilize and maintain the situation. A year ago, I resolved to schedule elective surgery for a partial knee replacement, and set out on a thorough preparation process.

A food columnist takes the unusual step of preparing his post-surgery meals and toting them to the hospital in a cooler.

I began by researching current methods and practitioners, which led me to Dr. Richard Scott, a well-known orthopedic surgeon who practices out of New England Baptist Hospital in Boston. After meeting him, I felt I was in good hands, not only with him but with his supportive staff, as well as the hospital and its facilities. I spent considerable time planning for my pre- and post-op nutrition and care. Many patients don’t realize that by resolving to take control of their own well-being and nutrition before and after surgery, they can greatly enhance their overall sense of psychological and physical well-being, and speed recovery time.

I chose the timing of my surgery with care. (Obviously this is not always an option.) I selected a time when I had finished my seasonal food-styling assignments and could count on there being little work in the weeks ahead. And since I am one of those people who dreads and tries to escape the holidays, scheduling surgery just before Christmas was perfect.

Making ready
The day before I checked into the hospital, I prepared several foods I knew were nutritious, satisfying and comforting – just what I’d want to eat post-surgery. The morning I left for the hospital, I packed and organized a small cooler of homemade goodies, including sliced boiled chicken, a container of garlic soup made from the broth of the chicken, applesauce, and a container of Greek yogurt (I ate the yogurt after the antibiotics were removed from my regime). These were some of my favorite foods, designed to buoy my body and spirits. The process of preparing them also helped keep my mind off the coming surgery. Despite all my careful deliberation, emotional preparation and thorough planning, I was still anxious about what was to come.

After an early-morning check-in and preparation for surgery, Scott worked his magic. Several hours later, I awoke to find myself in the recovery room. I looked up to see a pretty smiling face. It was Maria Herbert, my registered nurse in the operating room, whom I had gotten to know several years ago and who had introduced me to Scott. ”John, you’ve got your ‘uni’ (compartmental knee replacement),” she told me. ”The operation went extremely well. Doctor Scott said you were a perfect candidate.”

I was relieved to hear this, given my trepidation going into surgery. With the operation successfully completed, it was my turn to take control of my recovery, with the help of several wonderful caregivers over the next five days.

Healthy, but hungry
As is often the case post-surgery, I was not allowed to eat or drink anything for what seemed like eternity, with the exception of small cups of ice. After a couple of hours, the physical trainer came to see me. It was time to move. I was given a walker and shuffled around the room for five minutes. Then back to bed and onto the CPM (controlled passive movement) machine, a device that moves the leg rhythmically up and down, exercising the knee at varying angles. No time wasted here!

That night I didn’t sleep – one doesn’t sleep much in the hospital. The next morning, exhausted and weak after not eating for 36 hours, I was served the classic liquid diet – Jell-O, a small carton of apple-cranberry juice, and hot water with a Lipton tea bag. Not much nutrition here, I decided, so I immediately traded the Lipton for green tea I had brought with me. The nurse asked how was I doing following the anesthesia. I told her I had an upset stomach, but it was due to all the sugar in the liquid diet. I asked for a few crackers, which were allowed.

Late the next day, after having not slept or eaten anything substantial, it was time to exercise with the physical therapist again. When I tried lifting myself out of bed my body reacted as it usually does when it lacks fuel: I broke out in a sweat and felt I was about to pass out. Several doctors and nurses ran to my bed. A few hours later, after I’d rested and tests had been taken, I called the nurse and said, ”I need to eat!” I needed protein, and I figured if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

She looked at me hard, then told me, ”I usually don’t allow this, but you seem to know what your body needs. Here’s the menu.”

Within 45 minutes I was eating scrambled eggs and sausage and drinking more of my green tea. Already I was feeling better.

A few hours later, my partner, John Murelle, came to visit. He removed the garlic soup from the cooler and heated it in the microwave down the hall. When he brought it to me the aroma permeated the room with the heavenly scent of chicken soup and garlic – sustenance for a starving man! For the next four days I proceeded to eat small, light portions, mostly protein, such as the slices of my boiled chicken, as well as the applesauce and yogurt I had brought along, supplemented with mixed baby green salads from the hospital menu. I consumed great quantities of fluid and avoided sugar and starches, which worked for me. On the next-to-last night, as a treat, John delivered dinner from one of Boston’s top restaurants – grilled wild salmon, green beans and a tasty Mediterranean salad.

Alone, not lonely
I began writing this article on Christmas Eve, propped up in bed and listening to my favorite CDs. Even though I was alone in the room on a night when most people gather with their families in celebration, I experienced no loneliness or sadness. It seemed a perfect time to reflect upon my situation. My room, sunny and bright during the day, had large windows facing west. I could see the Blue Hills ski runs in Milton capped with snow. Each evening I watched the sun set, admiring three beautiful flower arrangements, which special friends had sent, perched on the windowsill. I was receiving the best of care from the hospital’s dedicated nurses and staff, I was loved by my friends, and my spirits were high. I was feeling joy and peace during a journey that was, and continues to be, traumatic and difficult.

I progressed much more quickly than expected. On the third day I stopped taking pain medication and the IVs were removed. On the fifth day, Christmas Day, I was released from the hospital, whereupon I came home and cooked a splendid dinner of free-range chicken and roasted vegetables. Afterward John and I sat by the fireplace and opened cards and gifts. It was a happy day, thanks to the care of excellent practitioners and the love of friends, helped along by careful preparation. The journey continues with rehab and home-care help, but I feel confident that the worst is behind me, and the best yet to come.

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If this recipe seems too much for you, it may be scaled down. Have your butcher cut the hen in half, then wrap it and freeze it for use at another time.

Chicken Soup

One whole free-range chicken*

1 large onion, peeled and left whole

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 2 or 3 pieces

1 large celery stalk, cut into 2 or 3 pieces

6 parsley sprigs

1 bay leaf

6 to 8 white peppercorns

*For a richer stock, you can add 2 to 3 pounds of chicken wings or legs to the pot.

Remove the neck and innards from the cavity of the chicken. Rinse the chicken under cold running water and wrap in cheesecloth. Place the chicken in a pot so it fits snugly along with all the other ingredients; add the neck, giblets, and (if desired) liver. Add cold water, enough to cover the ingredients, about 2 quarts. Bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to very low and skim off any foam that rises to the surface. If this step is not done the broth will become bitter. During the first half-hour of cooking, check frequently and adjust the heat to prevent vigorous boiling, which causes the ingredients to disintegrate and makes the soup muddy. Cook, partly covered, at a simmer for at least 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (Sometimes I leave it longer to extract more flavor, but for most purposes 1 to 1 1/2 hours is enough.)

Remove the chicken. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth; let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, covered, until the congealed fat can be lifted off, then freeze in pint or quart containers for future use. Makes about 2 quarts.

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Here is a thrifty way of using good leftover bread. The simplest version consists of just fried bread and garlic, with water for the liquid. Nowadays, I’ve evolved a slightly richer version using chicken broth and topping it off with grated Parmesan cheese.

Remember to allow time for the bread to get good and stale before you embark on this soup.

Garlic Soup

Half a long loaf of robust-textured Italian bread (use about 6 to 8 inches of the loaf), cut into 1-inch chunks

1/4 cup olive oil

4 to 6 garlic cloves, chopped

6 cups homemade chicken broth, heated

Salt and pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 tablespoon per person)

Let the bread dry out at room temperature until it is rock hard. Heat the oil in a deep, heavy skillet over medium heat; it should be hot but not fiercely hot. Add the bread and brown in the hot oil, turning frequently, until lightly browned on both sides. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until just lightly browned but not burnt.

Pour the broth over the bread and garlic and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and let simmer until the bread falls apart, about 10 to 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with grated cheese.

Serves 6 as first course.

(Published: January 11, 2006)

Picture-Perfect

Picture-perfect
Make your holiday parties and treats sparkle, using the finishing touches the professionals do

In addition to writing my monthly column, “Cooking with Carafoli,” and developing recipes for a wide range of clients, I also work as a food stylist.
Many people ask me what this means. It’s an exciting and creative (but also very demanding) career focused on preparing picture-perfect foods for photography.

As a food stylist, I work with large companies and advertising agencies to select, make and design products to be photographed. The goal of a food stylist working with a photographer is to make the subject appealing, appetizing and natural looking.

The scrumptious glazed donut with a steaming cup of coffee or a frosty, tempting soft drink you see on billboards all have been carefully styled by a food stylist, as has that perfect swirl of whipped cream depicted on the dessert package.

Sometimes there’s action, too, which can require many takes before we get it just right. I have poured countless cups of coffee until we have captured the perfect splash of the rich liquid as it encounters the rim of a large paper coffee cup. I have squeezed dozens of tangy lemons until we achieve the one faultless drop caught by the camera at precisely the right moment.

The delectable plates of food you see in magazines also have been carefully styled to tempt you, the consumer. This takes an artistic eye, a well-rounded knowledge of food, and thinking fast on one’s feet.

Many people assume that the food depicted in commercials and magazines is artificial. It’s not. In order to abide by truth in advertising, we must use the client’s real product. For me, the biggest challenge is making even the most unappetizing food look tempting and mouthwatering. It’s also a constant challenge to come up with fresh and original ways of presenting food.

Looking good at home

Although my focus is primarily on professional food styling, there is much the home cook can do to present food attractively. It isn’t complicated to serve food in an appetizing and creative way, like pictures in the magazines. All you need to know are a few simple cooking and preparation techniques. Add a nice table setting, including a few special plates, to create the ambiance.

You’ll find holiday recipes here that you, the home cook, can prepare to surprise family and friends. I’ve offered suggestions on how to style and present picture-perfect food. Enjoy!

Tip: Hors d’oeuvres and appetizers are both intended to take the edge off diners’ hunger and excite the appetite for the next course. Serve one or the other, not both. You don’t want your guests to feel full before the main course is presented.

Styling and presentation suggestions for Salmon and Chilled Citron Vodka

Start off with hors d’oeuvres to greet your guests. I do this every Christmas before dinner. In front of my couch I place a small white marble table set with salad plates, cloth napkins and a few votive candles to help create an intimate mood. I bring out gravlax, artfully arranged on a white platter sprinkled with dill, garnished with lemon wedges and a small tray of toast points. I pass around several crocks of accouterments to top the salmon: sour cream sprinkled with a few chopped chives for contrast, chopped egg, and minced scallions.

Chilled glasses are brought out last, with the homemade citron vodka encased in a beautiful block of decorative ice. (See photo and recipe.) You may buy citron vodka but the taste of homemade is amazingly different. Once you learn how to make your own flavored vodka, you will never buy a commercial brand again. You can prepare this recipe using lime or orange as well.

Citron Vodka

1 750 ml bottle of good quality vodka

Zest of one lemon. (The zest is the outermost skin of the lemon, which has been removed with a vegetable peeler. Make sure no white is used.)

1/4 teaspoon superfine sugar

Add the lemon zest and sugar to the vodka. Shake it and place it in a cool place. It will be ready in two to three days. Any unused vodka can be placed in the freezer.

* * *
For an exciting and original holiday presentation, try the following decorative ice block. You will need:

An empty, clean one-quart milk carton, top removed

An assortment of greens and colorful flowers (for example, roses, sprigs of evergreens like spruce, juniper with berries, holly with berries, or bittersweet. Or create your own mix.)

Place the vodka in the carton. Arrange the flowers or greens around the bottle, fill with cold water and set upright in the freezer overnight. When ready to serve, remove the ice from carton to reveal a beautiful and unique block of colorful ice. Place on a plate. Pour vodka into chilled glasses. Serve with salmon.

* * *
Styling and presentation suggestions for Polenta with Gorgonzola Sauce

When I teach classes in plating and presentation, I use this appetizer to illustrate one of the big challenges for presenting a totally monochromatic dish. You will need a dish that will contrast the white sauce with the light yellow polenta. One way to do this is to spoon the sauce on the plate, arranging one or two small (less than three inches) pieces of polenta on the sauce. A garnish of flat-leaf parsley placed on the polenta adds color or mince the parsley and sprinkle it around the dish. Doing this will break up the whiteness of the sauce.

Polenta with Gorgonzola Sauce

Polenta

1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal

2 cups cold water

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups water for boiling

In a bowl combine the cornmeal, cold water and salt; mix and set aside. In a large pot bring the water to a boil. Add the oil and stir in the cornmeal. With an electric or hand beater, beat the cornmeal until it thickens (about 3 to 4 minutes). This will keep the polenta smooth and free of lumps. Cook it over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for 20 to 30 minutes. Cover the pot and leave it on the heat for 3 minutes more without stirring. Shake the pot a little. This will allow some steam to get under the polenta so it will detach itself from the bottom of the pot easily. Lightly oil an 8-by-10-inch sheet pan, turn out the polenta and spread it evenly over the pan. Cover with a lightly oiled piece of waxed paper (this can be done the day before). The polenta should be allowed to set and become firm enough to cut with a 3-inch cookie cutter. Be creative, the cookie cutter could be scalloped or you may cut the polenta into triangles.

Gorgonzola Sauce

4 ounces gorgonzola, dolce (sweet)

1/2 cup milk

3 tablespoons butter

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

In a saucepan, combine all the ingredients and turn heat to low. With a wooden spoon mash the gorgonzola and stir to incorporate it into the milk and butter. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes until sauce has a dense, creamy consistency. Makes one cup.

* * *
Styling and presentation suggestion for Vegetable Pate

This multi-colored pate makes a wonderful tasty appetizer any time, but is especially nice for the holidays. Because it is so colorful, a simple white or clear glass serving plate makes the best contrast. Spread the red pepper sauce evenly on the bottom of the dish. Arrange the pate on top. As a garnish, use something that is in the recipe, such as carrot curls and a few baby spinach leaves placed on the side of the dish.

Three-Layer Vegetable Pate with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Butter a 2-quart loaf pan and line with wax paper buttered on both sides.

Carrot Layer

1 pound carrots, chopped

2 eggs

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Steam or boil the carrots until very tender. Drain thoroughly and puree in a food processor or blender along with the eggs, cream, honey, coriander, salt and pepper until very smooth. Remove and place in a bowl. Stir in the bread crumbs, then spoon into the loaf pan and smooth over the top.

Leek layer

5 large leeks

2 tablespoons butter

2 eggs

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

1/4 cup heavy cream

l/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Cut off the roots and all but 1 inch of the top green part of the leeks. Split each one lengthwise almost all the way through to the other side. Open each leek and rinse thoroughly under cold running water to rid it of all dirt. Melt the butter in a large skillet and sauté the leeks for 10 to 12 minutes until tender. Cool slightly.

Beat the eggs in a medium-sized bowl; add the leeks, breadcrumbs, cream, salt and pepper, and mix well. Spoon this mixture over the carrot layer, smoothing the top.

Spinach layer

3 (10-ounce) packages of fresh spinach

2 eggs

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Remove stems from spinach leaves. Rinse leaves several times in cold water to remove dirt. Place the spinach in a large pot with 1/4 cup of water and cook a few minutes until wilted Drain in a colander and let sit until cool enough to handle. Squeeze the spinach in your hands until all of the water is removed Place spinach in a food processor or blender along with the eggs, cream, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and puree until smooth. Spoon this mixture over the leek mixture and smooth the top.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the top of the pate with a sheet of buttered waxed paper, covered with a sheet of foil. Place the loaf in a larger baking pan, and pour enough hot water to reach halfway up the sites of the loaf. Bake for 1 1/2 hour or until a knife inserted in the center of the pate comes out clean

Remove the loaf pan from the water bath, peel away the foil and wax paper. Cool on a wire rack for 1 hour.

To unmold, place a large platter over the pate and invert quickly. Remove the loaf pan, and then peel away the waxed paper. Let sit for 20 minutes at room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours (or up to 24 hours) before serving.

Red pepper puree

4 tablespoons butter

5 large red peppers, seeded and sliced

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 cup water

1/4 cup vinegar

2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the red peppers and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the water; cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until water evaporates. Transfer to a blender and add the vinegar and tamari or soy; puree until smooth. Makes about l 1/2 cups.

To serve: Spoon several spoonfuls of the pepper puree on to a small serving plate. Slice the pate into 3/4 inch-thick slices, arranging them on top of the puree.

For more information on styling, check out my book “Food Photography and Styling” and my web site www.carafoli.com.

John Carafoli, cooking expert and food stylist based on the Upper Cape, will answer readers’ food questions in his column that appears the first Wednesday of each month. Send inquiries to “Cooking With Carafoli,” care of, Cape Cod Times Food Editor Gwenn Friss, 319 Main St., Hyannis, MA 02601, or e-mail to gfriss@capecodonline.com.

(Published: December 3, 2003)

Double Boiler Makes Perfect Polenta

It was one of those blustery wintry days on Cape Cod. The weather was nasty, and I felt like having a substantial, stick-to-your-ribs dinner, which to me means comfort food. I walked into the kitchen and spotted a box of cornmeal.

Then I looked into the refrigerator and saw that I had a variety of mushrooms and a bunch of broccoli rabe. Dinner started to take shape – soft polenta, instead of the firm one I usually make, perhaps topped with a winter tomato sauce.

I started to think about various possibilities. I could sauté the broccoli rabe with garlic, olive oil and a dash of red pepper and do something similar with the mushrooms. Then I could spoon the polenta into a bowl and top it first with the rabe, then with the mushrooms, and add a little grated Parmesan cheese. I also had a small wedge of imported Gorgonzola. Maybe that could be served on the side. In Italy, Gorgonzola is traditionally served with most polenta dishes. And a nice simple green salad drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar seasoned with a little salt and pepper would go well with this meal, I thought.

OK, this all sounded good, but where was this vegetarian meal going? Where was my protein? I thought for a minute of something I had read about how polenta and beans nourished peasants and laborers in the 18th century. I went to the cupboard and found a can of Roman beans. I decided to be creative and incorporate them into the polenta. Perfect!

I sat down to this satisfying meal with a nice glass of 1997 Barbera d’ Alba – a great match for what was now a well-balanced vegetarian dinner.

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I have found the best way to cook polenta (We’ll call it version one) is in a double boiler. You only have to stir this version a few times and it frees you to proceed with the rest of your meal. I use a 10-inch copper bowl and place it over a 10-inch pan that is 5 ½ inches deep. Bring the water in the bottom of the double boiler to a boil, add all the ingredients below, and when it starts to cook, stir it intermittently with a wooden spoon. While it is cooking, you can prepare the rest of the meal. The polenta is ready in about 15 to 20 minutes. Another way to cook polenta is shown below in version two.

Basic Polenta

1 cup yellow cornmeal

2 cups cold water

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups water

1 (15.5 ounce) can Roman beans*

Version two:

In a bowl, combine the cornmeal, two cups cold water and salt; mix and set aside. In a large pot, bring the additional four cups of water to a boil. Add the oil and stir in the cornmeal mixture. With an electric or hand beater, beat the cornmeal until it starts to thicken (about 3 to 4 minutes). This will keep the polenta smooth and free of lumps. Then cook it over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about 20 minutes. Cover the pot and leave it on the heat for 3 minutes more without stirring. Shake the pot a little. This will allow some steam to get under the polenta so it will detach itself from the bottom of the pot easily.

* For both versions, stir in the beans the last 5 minutes of cooking.

To serve, place a heaping spoonful of soft polenta on four plates and divide the mushrooms equally over the polenta, top with the broccoli rabe, then the mushrooms, a wedge of creamy imported Gorgonzola cheese and garnish with Parmesan cheese.

You will have leftover polenta that can be fried in the morning and topped with a fried egg and Parmesan cheese. This makes a hearty breakfast.

You can also prepare and substitute dandelion green, escarole or mustard greens in this rabe recipe. This makes a great side dish for any meal.

Sauteed Broccoli Rabe

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup vegetable broth

1 bunch broccoli rabe, washed and chopped

Dash of red pepper flakes to taste

Salt and fresh ground pepper

Combine the oil and garlic in a large skillet and cook for 2 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe, broth and pepper flakes and simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 18 minutes or until broccoli is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4.

This dish is delicious made with any variety of mushrooms. Be creative. Here I used shiitake, crimini and portabella.

Sauteed Mushrooms

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced (discard stems)

4 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced

1 portabella mushroom, sliced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 teaspoon fresh marjoram

2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup vegetable broth

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Sauté the garlic in the olive oil and butter for 1 minute, then add the mushrooms, thyme and white wine. Cook on high heat until liquid evaporates and the mushrooms start to brown – about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the broth to deglaze the pan. Cook until liquid evaporates. Makes 4 servings.

(Published: February 1, 2006)

Pasta Permutations

Pasta permutations
You can make dozens of noodle dishes with a few basic recipes and lots of variations

Most Americans view pasta as being fattening. This is because Americans overfeed themselves and guests, serving large portions, pulling away from the table stuffed and uncomfortable. The secret of serving pasta dishes, as I learned from my many trips to Italy, is to serve small portions and serve it as a first course.
Pasta, like rice, can be the base or vehicle for almost any kind of sauce or mixture imaginable. The pasta itself may be interesting – made of rye or artichoke flour instead of wheat; flavored and colored with vegetable puree or herbs; shaped into a myriad of forms. But whatever the pasta, it is the topping that makes the dish.

Pasta absorbs and is enhanced by what it is matched with. In “The Food of Italy” (Vintage, 1977) Waverly Root writes, “In France, a sauce is an adornment, even a disguise, added to a dish more to less as an afterthought. In Italy, it is the dish, its soul, its raison d’être, the element which gives it character and flavor.”

It is important to match the sauce with the shapes of pasta. Marcella Hazan writes in “The Classic Italian Cookbook” (Knopf 1977): Although all macaroni pasta is made from the same, identical dough, the end result is determined by the shape and size. Spaghetti is probably the most successful vehicle for the greatest variety of sauces.

“The thin spaghetti (Spaghettini) is best for seafood sauces and for any sauce whose principle fat is oil. Regular spaghetti is ideal for butter-based white sauces or tomato sauces. The one sauce that somehow doesn’t work well with spaghetti is meat sauce. With meat sauces you ought to choose a substantial, stubby cut of pasta, such as rigatoni. Try it also with shells (conchiglie); their openings is will trap little bits of meat. Fusilli and rotelle are splendid with dense spicy cream and meat sauces which cling deliciously to all their twists and curls.”

Because of pasta’s versatility, it’s easy to come up with a tasty pasta dish at will. With a few basic sauces, you can mix and match vegetables, meats, fish and poultry in endless combinations. Here is my approach to using what I call “foundation recipes” to create an endless variety of pasta dishes.

In another feature, I gave a variation of my versatile “Marinara Sauce”. For those who do not remember, here it is again in another context. Make the sauce ahead of time, and refrigerate for up to a week, or freeze.

When you are ready to prepare a meal you might sauté shrimp in a little olive oil or butter, minced garlic, a few fresh herbs and a splash of dry white wine, add some of the marinara sauce and toss with warm buttered linguine. You could also do a variation with the white sauce, or for a simpler meal, you can just toss the sautéed shrimp into the pasta sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and serve.

Following are three simple sauces that can be combined with your favorite foods to make delicious pasta toppings.

Marinara Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups finely chopped onion

1/2 cup finely chopped carrot

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups chicken stock (or substitute clam juice it you are using it for seafood)

1/2 cup fresh minced parsley

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil

2 tablespoons fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled

1 teaspoon minced sage or 1/2 teaspoon dried, crumbled

1 bay leaf

1 (28 ounce) can peeled crushed tomatoes with puree

Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat; add the onions, carrots, and celery and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes; do not burn the garlic. Add the white wine and chicken broth, stir, blend in parsley, basil, oregano, sage, bay leaf, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes until sauce is thickened, stirring occasionally. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

Variations:

Mussels’ marinara: Add mussels to the sauce; cover and steam till mussels open. Lobster pieces may also be cooked in the sauce.

Poach your favorite fish in the sauce.

Sauté chicken, veal, pork or sausage; add sauce to make a cacciatore.

Add cooked eggplant with small pieces of mozzarella. Place under a broiler a few minutes to melt cheese before serving.

Dissolve anchovies into the sauce and add black olives.

Cook your favorite meatball recipe in the sauce.

Sauté pork chops in a little olive oil and a rosemary sprig, deglaze the pan with red wine, add in the red and asparagus tips; cook until tender and serve over warm pasta.

Cook cauliflower in the sauce.

Lightly sauté squid in a little butter and olive oil, fresh thyme and garlic; add to the red sauce and serve over linguine.

Basic White or Bechamel Sauce

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium shallots, minced

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups hot (scalded) milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Pinch fresh grated nutmeg

1/4 cup heavy cream

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a saucepan over low heat. Add the shallots: cook until translucent but not brown. Blend in the flour and cook for about 2 minutes, it will bubble. Do not let it burn.

Remove from heat; slowly whisk in the hot milk a little at a time, then add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Return to heat; bring to a boil for 1 minute. Lower heat. Slowly add cream, stirring constantly until thick and smooth. If you want a thinner sauce stir in a little milk. Remove from heat. Makes about 2 1/4 cups.

Variations:

Add gorgonzola cheese to the sauce with prosciutto and peas.

Melt four cheeses into the sauce (mozzarella, gruyere, fontina and provolone) and serve over a colored pasta.

Add a mixture of sautéed vegetables, like red, green and yellow peppers, celery, carrots and onions.

Add cooked minced clams and parsley.

Add fresh sautéed mushrooms.

Stir in chicken, broccoli, garlic and walnuts; good with rigatoni.

Garlic And Oil Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste

Put olive oil into a small saucepan; add garlic and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until garlic starts to brown, barely golden. Do not burn garlic. Stir in parsley, pepper and salt. Continue cooking for 1 minute. Serve over warm, thin spaghetti with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serves two.

Variations:

Add anchovies and capers to the sauce.

Combine garlic and oil sauce with some of the marinara sauce; add a dash of crushed red pepper to taste.

Add sautéed escarole, dandelion greens or spinach to the sauce; top with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Add sliced roasted red peppers and roasted pine to the sauce and toss into linguine.

Add artichokes hearts and roasted colorful peppers.

(Published: November 5, 2003)

Paella Pan Cooks up Vacation

For six months, I had been staring at a paella pan hanging alongside the cast-iron pans I wrote about in my last article. I acquired this unique pan on a long-ago photo shoot involving a recipe for paella, but had never used it since. Now was the time, I decided, to either do something with the pan or get rid of it.

Seafood is nestled in this paella served at a Barcelona restaurant.
(Photo courtesy of John Carafoli)
In looking over my many cookbooks, I came across ”The Catalan Country Kitchen: Food and Wine From the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Seacoast of Barcelona” by Marimar Torres, president of the Torres Vineyard and Winery. in California. Among the many paella recipes I found there, I chose the seafood version, which I made and served to a small group of friends one wintry evening. Intrigued by the delicious and unusual but straightforward recipe, I returned to the book the next day, becoming absorbed by the ingredients and the cuisine of Barcelona and the surrounding area, realizing there was a whole new culinary world out there I knew little about.

Later that same day, I was embroiled in making travel reservations to Mexico, where for the past nine years my partner and I have escaped to enjoy the warm sun and food as a winter respite. This year things weren’t falling into place. Frustrated, I finally picked up the phone and called an airline agent.

”What is the fare to Rome? Budapest? Even Barcelona?”

”Well, we do have availability to Barcelona,” she told me.

”What about a frequent flyer seat?” I asked.

”Yes, we can accommodate you.”

Bingo! Two seats booked for March 4.

Excited by the confluence of events, I wrote to Ms. Torres in California telling her how much I liked her book, and mentioning that I was headed to Barcelona and would appreciate a few restaurant recommendations. An answer followed almost immediately. ”I will put you in contact with someone who can help you,” Torres wrote.

A day later, I received an e-mail from a representative of her family’s vineyard, The Torres Winery, located just outside of Barcelona. In addition to a list of suggested restaurants, the note included an invitation for an escorted tour of the winery, followed by dinner. Gratefully I accepted.

Bags packed, passports in hand, we were off. Landing in a strange country with only a few hours of fitful sleep is jarring to the system. At 8:30 a.m. Barcelona time we dropped our bags at the hotel and, anxious to adjust quickly to local time, headed to the nearest coffee bar for a quick café con leche (espresso with steamed milk). Revived, we set off in search of one of the recommended restaurants, L’Olive, not far from our hotel. When we arrived, a staff member greeted us warmly and handed us a menu. The delicious-sounding entrees, along with the inviting and stylish dining room and the aromas coming from the open kitchen, assured us of an excellent meal. We made a reservation for lunch, realizing that we wouldn’t be seated for several hours. Lunch doesn’t start in Barcelona until 2:30 or 3 p.m. Over the next several days we sampled many of the other recommended restaurants My friend Claudia Roden, author of ”Arabesque: Tastes of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon,” also had recommended one of her favorites, La Clara, which we were looking forward to trying, particularly since Ms. Roden’s forthcoming book focuses on the cuisine of Spain. We went twice.

Finally the day of our Torres Winery tour arrived. At 10 a.m. a sleek gray Mercedes arrived at the hotel to take us an hour outside Barcelona to the winery. We were greeted warmly by Miguel Torres Jr., nephew of Marimar Torres and Marc Perello Colomer, our gracious host.

The tour was fascinating not only because of the family’s long history in wine-making (the winery has been in the same family since the 1800s) – demonstrated vividly in the excellent museum – but because of the winery’s emphasis on ecologically sound production processes and techniques, such as minimizing use of pesticides and weed killers.

The tour finale was a superb lunch at Mas Rabell, their restaurant in a 14th-century farmhouse. Three wine glasses had been set before us for the first course along with a printed menu. Our host Marc poured white wines in each glass, describing each, as we sampled them along with delicate angel hair pasta in a red fish stock made of saffron and sweet red pepper, tossed with pieces of squid.

No sooner had we finished the outstanding first course and wines than four more glasses appeared before us, these containing the best of the Torres full-bodied reds, which accompanied a delicate second course of monkfish with white beans in a Romesco sauce (see recipe.)

The meal ended with the typical Catalan dessert, Crema Catalana, a rich version of the classic French crème brûlée, served with Torres’ wonderful muscat dessert wine, Aqa D’Or. Dessert was followed by espresso and a choice of several after-dinner drinks including Torres Orange Liqueur and (my favorite) Torres Brandy.

After this sumptuous meal, I met Sergio Millet Corbera, the chef behind the magic. At 4 p.m., after a three-hour lunch, we were whisked back to our hotel in the Mercedes, where we took a brief siesta – the perfect ending to a perfect day in the country.

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Here is the delicious traditional sauce – a perfect match with seafood – that I was introduced to in Spain. The authentic peppers in this dish are Noras or Spanish whole dried peppers. I found them in a specialty store in New York; they may be difficult to find on the Cape. You may use any dried mild pepper. Here I am suggesting ancho chilies.

Monkfish With White Beans and Romesco Sauce

2 dried ancho chili peppers

1 head of garlic

3 to 4 Roma tomatoes

1/4 cup chopped onions

1/3 cup total toasted almonds and hazelnuts

2 (1-inch) slices of baguette, cut into cubes

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 to 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the Romesco sauce: Place the chilies in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, turn off heat, cover and steep for about 20 to 30 minutes. When cool, remove stems and seeds, reserve liquid. Set aside.

To roast the garlic and tomatoes, place under a broiler or in the oven until charred on all sides, turning frequently. Remove skin from the tomatoes, peel the garlic cloves and squeeze out the pulp. Set aside. Toast the bread cubes in the oven or put a little oil in a pan and sauté until lightly browned.

Heat a little olive oil in a sauté pan and cook the onions until lightly brown.

In a blender or food processor, puree the chili peppers, garlic, tomatoes, almonds and hazelnuts, bread and paprika. Add about 2 to 3 tablespoons of the liquid from the peppers if sauce becomes too thick. While the blender or food processor is running, add the olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper. Turn off machine and adjust for seasoning.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

For the beans and fish:

1 (15-ounce) can white beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup fresh clam juice or fish stock

1 pound monkfish or halibut

Heat the beans and fish stock in a large skillet and simmer 10 to 15 minutes.

Dredge the fish with flour and pan fry the fish quickly on both sides just until light brown (do not cook completely).

Stir the Romesco sauce into the beans. Add the fish and finish cooking the fish in the mixture.

Serves 4.

Wine suggestion: Fransola, Torres Winery, Spain

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This recipe came from Marimar Torres’ book. The special flavors come from taking the time to make the flavor base, sofregit and the picada. The rest will fall together easily and you will have a true taste of the Spanish paella.

When I tested this recipe, I added more shellfish; instead of scallops I added lobster meat. I also used Bomba rice from Spain.

Shellfish Paella

For the sofregit (the flavored base used in most Catalan cooking)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 pound red onions, minced (about 2 cups)

1/1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

For the picada (a paste of various ingredients)

2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, minced

1/2 teaspoon powdered saffron OR 2 grams saffron threads

3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper, or to taste

For the rice and shellfish:

8 to 10 cherrystone clams, scrubbed

8 to 10 small mussels, scrubbed

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound squid, cleaned, bodies cut into rings and tentacles left whole

3/4 cups short-grain rice (see note)

2 cups fish stock or clam juice (homemade)

8 large prawns in their shells

1/4 pound large scallops

Note: You can use any short-grain rice but the best rice is Bomba. It swells up four times its size and absorbs more of the flavors.

To prepare the sofregit:

Heat the oil in a 12-inch paella pan or large skillet. Add onions and sauté slowly over low heat, stirring from time to time, until onions are brown and almost caramelized; it will take 45 minutes to 1 hour (add small amounts of water if necessary, so onions don’t burn). Add tomatoes and increase heat to medium; cook until dry.

To prepare the picada:

In a food processor, finely grind all ingredients. Set aside.

Prepare the clams and mussels:

In a large pot, bring about 1 cup of water to a boil. Steam clams and mussels on a rack over boiling water until they open, 4 to 5 minutes for the mussels and 5 to 10 minutes for clams. Set them aside, discard any that do not open. Strain broth through a fine-mesh strainer and reserve.

To cook the rice and shellfish:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium skillet, heat oil; add squid rings and tentacles. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring. Add sautéed squid and their juices to the paella pan or skillet with sofriget. Stir in rice and picada.

Measure reserved broth and add enough fish or clam juice to equal 2 cups. Bring to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add to the paella pan or skillet and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes; gently move rice around so it cooks evenly throughout. Add prawns and scallops, pushing them down into rice so they are covered with broth.

Transfer paella pan or skillet (with heatproof handle) to 350-degree oven and cook another 10 minutes, or until rice is slightly underdone. Remover pan or skillet from oven, and arrange mussels and clams on top. Cover pan or skillet with a cloth and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Serve immediately, garnish with lemon wedges. Serves 4

Wine suggestion: A Marimar Estate Chardonnay Crema

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This is the traditional Spanish dessert proudly served all over Spain. It is a very rich dessert. I reduced the portions to make two instead of four servings.

Catalana

2 cups milk

1 cinnamon stick

6 strips of lemon zest

3/4 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons milk

6 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

Combine the milk, cinnamon stick and lemon zest in a medium-size saucepan and bring almost to a simmer over low heat. Cook the mixture 10 minutes. Do not allow to boil. Remove from heat and cool at room temperature.

In a small bowl dissolve the cornstarch with milk and set aside.

With an electric beater or whisk, beat the egg yolks with the sugar and dissolved cornstarch in a medium bowl until well combined.

Remove the lemon zest and cinnamon stick from the cooled milk and gently pour it into the beaten egg yolk and sugar mixture; whisk until well combined.

Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth into the saucepan and gently bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring steadily just until mixture thickens, about 8 to 10 minutes. Note: Do not boil or the custard will curdle.

Immediately divide the mixture into 4½-cup individual ramekins; let cool at room temperature, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate 6 hours.

To serve remove plastic wrap and sprinkle each custard with a teaspoon of sugar in a thin layer and place under a preheated broiler to brown the sugar.

Makes 4 servings.

Dessert wine recommended: Aqa D’Or

(Published: April 18, 2007)

Keeping it on the Cape

As a child growing up on Cape Cod, “organic” and “local” were one and the same. We bought free-range chickens and fresh farm eggs from Joe Rigazio’s farm on the other side of the bridge.

Bill Atwood Jr., owner and chef of the Red Pheasant Inn in Dennis, chooses organic lettuces for his restaurant at the Seaweed & Codfish Herb & Flower Farm in West Dennis with farm owner Veronica Worthington.
(Staff photo by Kevin Mingora)
Most people had their own vegetable gardens in the back yard, free of pesticides and chemicals. I picked blueberries in the woods and sold them for carnival money. (Half the berries went into my bucket, half went into my mouth.) These were the ways of Sagamore’s Italian village by the bridge, now extinct except for a few older women who still remember the good old days, and the fresh produce we enjoyed.

Today ”organic” is a different story. With the exception of what is grown locally (and intentionally without pesticides) during the Cape’s short growing summer season, organic produce is flown in from faraway places, and we pay dearly for that transport. I say, let’s go local again. Many supermarkets import unripened produce from other regions or other hemispheres. By the time it reaches us, the produce may look good but it lacks most of its original, vibrant flavor and often has lost substantial nutrients en route. Plus, the amount of fuel required to transport produce adds to its cost, and wastes precious fuel. Buying locally connects us to the region where we live, bolstering the Cape’s economy and supporting our community. Buying local ensures that the money we spend goes directly to the farmers, helping them stay in business.

In researching this article, I talked to chefs and other people involved in the Cape’s food scene. I realized I am not alone. There is a movement toward changing our eating habits, reflected by a strong interest in local organic farming, an awareness of high-quality foods and having local ingredients served in restaurants, and a thrust to educate the public – mostly through leading by example. The ”slow food” movement that started in Europe also stresses this.

Edible Cape Cod
I began by interviewing Diane and Doug Langeland of Cummaquid. The Langelands’ passion for exploring, discovering and sharing the best of Cape Cod comes through clearly in their magazine, Edible Cape Cod, which they started in summer 2004.

Buying locally
Here are some places to buy Cape and islands produce:

The Seaweed & Codfish Herb and Flower Garden, 89 Fisk St., West Dennis, or at the Mid-Cape Farmers’ Market, starting June 14

Cape Cod Organic Farm, 4035 Main St. (Route 6A), Cummaquid

Buzzards Bay Farmers’ Market, Main Street, Bourne, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays

Mid-Cape Farmers Market 500 Main St. Hyannis 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays, starting June 14

Nantucket Farmers’ Market Main & Federal streets 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily

Orleans Farmers’ Market, Old Colony Way in Orleans Center, 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays, starting May 21

Woods Hole Farmers’ Market, Water Street (at old fire station), 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays, starting June 17

Andrews Farmstand, 394 Old Meetinghouse Rd, East Falmouth. Bay End Farm (Saturdays only), 400 Head of the Bay Road, Buzzards Bay

Checkerberry Farm, 46 Tar Kiln Road, Orleans

Cloverfield Farm, 133 Cloverfield Way, Hatchville

Cricket Hill Farm, 69 Sandwich Road, East Falmouth

Crow Farm, 192 Route 6A, Sandwich

Elsie Mello’s Farmstand 42 Old Barnstable Road, East Falmouth

Fran’s Farm, Route 6A, Brewster

Green Hill Farm, 38 Church St., Yarmouthport

Hart Farm Nursery, 21 Upper County Road, Dennisport

Hillside Farms, Route 6A, Truro

Kelly Farm, 50 Marston Lane (at Route 6A), Cummaquid

Log Cabin Farm, Route 6A, Eastham

Matt’s Organic Garden, 40 Upper County Road, Dennisport

Tisbury Peachtree Circle Farm, 881 Palmer Ave., Falmouth

Pleasant Lake Farm Stand, 2 Birch Drive, Harwich

Rich’s Fruits & Vegetables, Route 6A, Wellfleet

Romiza’s Farm, 236 Carriage Shop Road, East Falmouth

Rose’s Farm, 271 Trotting Park Road, Teaticket

Satucket Farmstand, 76 Harwich Road (just of Route 6A,) Brewster

Teixeira’s Farm, 159 Fresh Pond Road, East Falmouth

Tobey Farm, 352 Main St., (Route 6A) Dennis

Webster Collins Farm, 1009 County Road Cataumet Martha’s Vineyard

West Tisbury Farmers’ Market, Grange Hall, 2:39 toi 5:30 p.m., Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays

Whippoorwill Farm, Old County Road, West Tisbury

Allen Farm, 421 South Road, Chilmark

Middle Road Farm, 9 Middle Road, Chilmark

Morning Glory Farm, 290 West Tisbury Road, Edgartown

Murphy Blueberry Farm, State Road, Chilmark

Native Earth Teaching Farm, 94 North Road, Chilmark

Nip ‘n Tuck Farm, State Road, West Tisbury

Northern Pines Farm, Northern Pines Road, off Lambert’s Cove Road, Vineyard Haven

North Tabor Farm, 4 North Tabor Farm Road, Chilmark

Norton Farm, off Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road, Oak Bluffs

Thompson Farm, Northern Pines Road (off Lambert’s Cove Road), Vineyard Haven

Their mission is to bring together the community’s farmers, fishermen, food artisans and chefs with consumers like you and me. In talking with the Langelands, I was struck by how these two people are doing what they love, and it shows. Their knowledge, responsiveness and involvement in all aspects of growing, publicizing and distributing local and organic foods on Cape Cod is extremely exciting – both to them and to many of us.

”To me, it’s extremely important to know where our food comes from,” Doug says. ”I prefer to eat a non-organic fresh peach from our area rather than an organic one grown in California.”

He went on to say, ”Bringing sustainability to the local organic food industry is only going to happen if people think it is a good thing. The food has to be delicious and tasty, but it has to work from an economic standpoint as well. The consumer has to demand – and be willing to pay a little bit more for – food that is local and high quality.

”Eric Janson at The Wicked Oyster (in Wellfleet) knows that local greens are substantially more expensive, but when he comes out of his kitchen and hears people raving about their salads, it gives him an indication that people are aware of the quality he is serving. Knowing this, he can price it a little differently and he can buy more and more of it.”

In December, the Langelands and Restaurant 902 Main in South Yarmouth hosted a meeting to bring together local farmers and chefs. Out of that meeting came the region’s ”Farmers & Chefs Collaborative.”

”The ultimate goal of the collaborative is to help develop best practices for farmers and chefs to work together in order to increase the use of local produce on Cape menus,” the Langelands write on their Web site, www.ediblecapecod.com.

Edible Cape Cod is affiliated with Edible Communities Inc., a member-driven organization with 16 food newsletters across the nation, from California to Maine. Published quarterly on the Cape, the magazine’s annual circulation is about 40,000, the Langelands estimate. The magazine is free and available through advertisers, specialty food stores, visitors’ centers, and farmers’ markets. Edible Cape Cod is also available by paid subscription for $28 per year.

”We don’t write reviews, and we don’t consider ourselves ‘experts.’ We come at it from the role of the passionate home cook,” Diane says. ”We write about people who make and sell food: the farmers, fishermen and artisans. We want our publication to be the definitive resource of information about where to find fresh local foods.”

Talking to chefs
When I interviewed several Cape chefs, I asked each to give me a recipe using local and organic products, in which the flavor of the food comes through rather than being camouflaged with spices, overpowering sauces or other ingredients. A salad of fresh greens need only be dressed with a good olive oil, a splash of your favorite vinegar and a dash of salt and pepper. A fresh piece of fish is best when sautéed quickly, drizzled with a little melted lemon butter and garnished with a few capers.

Chef Gilbert Pepin, owner with wife Kolleen of Restaurant 902 Main, provided an excellent example of ”less is more” with his simple, light and healthful spring recipe, ”Baked Native Haddock with Asparagus and Greens.”

The Pepins, who offer seasonal, local, organic cuisine, take it a step further when it comes to ensuring a steady supply of the best produce available. Working with local growers, Gilbert selects seeds from catalogs that the farmers plant so he can serve the selected produce at 902 Main the following season.”The farmers are very willing to work with me,” Gilbert says. ”We choose baby vegetables like beets, carrots and beans, as well as a variety of unusual and tasty greens.”

Salad days
A few nights ago, I had dinner at 902 Main and was served a delicious salad of assorted greens Gilbert purchased from Veronica Worthington, owner of the Seaweed & Codfish Herb & Flower Farm in West Dennis. The salad was topped with a small wedge of a creamy Vermont goat cheese and a sprinkling of caramelized walnuts, and was tossed with a simple dressing that let the flavors of the fresh greens come through.

I had to meet the person who grew these unique lettuces. The next day I was off to see Worthington. I was escorted into the greenhouse where she grows everything from seed. ”I grow all winter,” she tells me. ”This is how I supply the restaurants. Chefs like Pepin will call and say, ‘Whatever you have, I’ll take it!”’

She keeps lists of what has been seeded so she knows what will be available when. ”The only things I grow are things I personally like to eat. They are all heirloom, unusual, colorful and tasty. If I don’t like something, I get rid of it. I don’t have enough land here to grow things I don’t like.”

Outside the greenhouse is a small lettuce garden filled with an array of beautiful greens.

”Are those the greens that were in the salad last night at 902 Main?”

”Yes,” she replies, as she cuts and describes three beautiful heads of unusual lettuce. ”This one is from Italy, called Cappuccino. This one is also an Italian, called Lolla bionda. But this is my favorite and the seed seller calls it, ‘Merveille de Quatre Saison.’ The original strain is direct from France and has not been polluted by other seed providers. All are European-certified organic,” she said as she hands them to me to take home.

Bill Atwood, chef/owner of The Red Pheasant Inn in Dennis, cooks with fresh herbs, strawberries and raspberries from his garden. His wife, Denise, also has a prolific English flower garden that contributes to creative menus in season.

”I like the freshness of herbs picked outside my door,” she says. ”I create a honey lavender glaze for an organic salmon, or a lavender beurre blanc, and when the nasturtiums overrun the garden, I bake them with native oysters. The peppery flavor of the flowers complements this simple oyster appetizer.”

When I talk to Michael Pirini, chef at Abbicci’s dramatic reconstructed space in Yarmouthport, set to open early next month, he shares a recipe for oysters on the half shell using Barnstable Seafarms Oysters, topped with lemon-and-chive-infused oil and fresh chive blossoms. All herb blossoms are edible and are wonderful mixed into salads. Besides adding flavor, they are beautiful. Once you’ve tried these recipes, I think you’ll agree that ”fresh and local” is the way to go

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”For this dish I use Chatham day boat haddock (caught and brought to shore each day) and Tim Friary’s organic asparagus, arugula and fresh herbs. It is the perfect spring treat, accenting the fresh flavors of what can be found on the Cape,” says Gilbert Pepin, chef/owner of Restaurant 902 Main.

Baked Native Haddock with Asparagus and Local Greens

2 pounds select local haddock, cut into 4 pieces

1 pound asparagus, cleaned with ends cut off

1 pound organic arugula

For the dressing:

2 shallots, minced

Juice of 4 lemons

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and white pepper

5 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme, reserving a few sprigs for garnish

2 scallions, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a baking dish large enough to hold the haddock with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Coat fish with a little oil, season with salt and white pepper, then place in baking dish. Bake about 12 to 15 minutes until fish flakes with a fork.

Meanwhile, steam asparagus and make the dressing.

In a small jar with a cover, add the shallots, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh thyme leaves, salt and pepper to taste; shake vigorously until well combined.

To assemble the plate:

In a large bowl, toss the arugula with half of the dressing then divide evenly between four plates. Place several stalks of asparagus over the greens, place fish across the asparagus and garnish with the scallions and a sprig of thyme. Makes 4 servings.

Wine suggestion: A crisp, light, dry Trimbach Pinot Gris.

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”This is a great springtime dish as the chive blossoms are in season and growing in our gardens and the oysters from the Barnstable Seafarms are still at their peak. Any number of herbs could be substituted for the chives, such as basil in the summer and watercress in the fall. I believe the most important factor in a recipe such as this is the freshness of all the ingredients,” says Michael Pirini, chef at Abbicci.

Oysters on the Half Shell with Lemon- & Chive-infused Olive Oil

24 Barnstable Seafarms oysters

2 lemons

1 small bunch of chives, snipped finely

1 shallot – peeled and sliced

1 anchovy

4 chive blossoms

3/4 cup high-quality Italian extra-virgin olive oil

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Crushed ice

Grate the lemon skins with a fine grater and squeeze the juice from both lemons. Place the grated skins and juice in a blender with the anchovy, shallot, chives & extra-virgin olive oil. Puree on high until the oil is emulsified. It should turn to a bright green color. Season with pepper. Don’t add salt as the oysters already have a naturally briny flavor.

Place crushed ice on a platter that can be garnished with lemon slices and radicchio leaves. Open each oyster by holding it in a folded towel and carefully inserting an oyster knife into the hinged part of the shell while twisting. When the shell pops open, scrape the top and bottom shells, being careful not to puncture the oyster. Leave the oyster on the bottom shell and place directly on the ice. Spoon infused oil over each oyster and sprinkle with picked chive blossoms.

Wine suggestion: A dry Prosecco or a Vemaccia di San Gimignano from Tuscany.

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”This dish lets the flavor of the fish and the brightness of the herbs shine. I substitute other fish and use different herbs but the key is the incredibly fresh herbs. The recipe is simple, but I found it is important to chop the herbs at the last minute and then heat the vinaigrette just until it is barely warm so that it doesn’t break,” says Doug Langeland of Edible Cape Cod.

Grilled Striped Bass with Warm Herb Vinaigrette

1 small shallot, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 pounds striped bass in one or two fillets, preferably with skin

1 tablespoon EACH fresh tarragon, parsley, chives and chervil

Preheat gas grill or prepare a charcoal fire. Place shallot, mustard, vinegars, salt and pepper in a small bowl and stir briefly. Whisk in olive oil in stream to create an emulsion. Taste for seasoning and set aside. Clean and oil grate on grill. Lightly oil fish and grill skin side down with grill cover closed for about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove fish and hold while you warm the vinaigrette. Chop fresh herbs at the last minute and stir into vinaigrette. Immediately put dressing in a small sauce pan. Heat gently over medium-low heat for just about 2 minutes to barely warm it. Don’t heat too long or dressing will break apart. Remove from heat. Arrange fish on a serving plate, sprinkle with salt and drizzle with warm vinaigrette.

Wine suggestion: Un-oaked chardonnay would provide body to highlight the fish in this dish while also being light and crisp enough to avoid getting in the way of the fresh flavors of the herbs.

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”Fluke, also known as summer flounder, is caught in Nantucket Sound and waters around the Cape … It is a firmer filet than other flat fish, and I like pairing it up with Tim Friary of Cape Cod Organic Farm’s native asparagus and peppery baby arugula, and simply dressed with a fresh herb vinaigrette made with my 8-year-old balsamic vinegar,” says David Kelly, chef at The Naked Oyster in Hyannis.

Sautéed Day Boat Fluke

2 pounds skinless boneless fluke fillets (1/4 pound per person)

4 tablespoons olive oil or clarified butter

1 pound asparagus, grilled

1/2 pound baby arugula

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

2 shallots minced

2 tablespoons fresh chopped herbs: basil, thyme, chives and parsley

Dredge the fish in a little flour, shaking shacking off excess. Heat a large sauté pan with oil or butter and once the pan is hot, add the fillets, a few at a time. Cook two minutes on one side until lightly browned, turn over and cook for another two to three minutes until lightly done. Transfer to a platter and keep warm.

To assemble:

Put the arugula in a saucepan, add 1 ounce vinaigrette, place pan over heat, tossing arugula until lightly wilted and warm.

Place a bed of arugula on each of four plates, top with grilled asparagus and top with fillets and drizzle with vinaigrette. Serves 4.

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”This is a wonderful sauce to serve over any white fish like striped bass. It also works with lobster and shrimp. For the most flavor, I recommend picking the lavender early in the day just before the buds are fully open,” says Bill Atwood, chef/owner of The Red Pheasant Inn in Dennis.

Lavender Beurre Blanc

8 to 12 lavender sprigs

2 tablespoons chopped shallots

2 tablespoons white wine

Juice from 2 or 3 oranges and zest of one

1 small bay leaf

8 ounces unsalted butter, cut into cubes

2 ounces heavy cream

3 to 4 crushed black peppercorns

Pick the lavender flowers off of four sprigs and set aside to use with finished sauce.

In a small sauté pan, heat the orange juice with the zest over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes until zest is softened and juice has reduced to half.

In a small non-reactive sauce pot, add remaining orange juice, vinegar, white wine and remaining lavender sprigs, shallots, peppercorns and bay leaf; reduce until 2 to 3 ounces of liquid remains. Add cream and reduce slightly; lower heat to very low and gradually add cubes of butter, stirring or whisking constantly until all the butter is incorporated into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, then strain through a fine sieve to remove shallots and whole sprigs. Whisk in the reduced orange juice with the zest and lavender flowers. Makes about 1 cup.

Grilled Local Asparagus, Organic Arugula, Spring Onion, and Aged Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 pound asparagus, washed and ends cut off

1 bunch spring onions, sliced

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1/2 pound arugula, washed and dried

1 bunch basil

To make vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon grainy mustard

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots

4 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar

6 ounces extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

To make vinaigrette, mix together mustard, shallots, and vinegar in a small pot. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat gas or charcoal grill to medium heat. Lightly coat spring onions and asparagus with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill onions quickly, about one minute, and remove.

Grill asparagus, about three minutes. During this time, dice onions and add to vinaigrette.

Heat vinaigrette slightly, and carefully toss with arugula, just enough to coat greens. Place on plate and set warm asparagus on top and garnish with basil leaves.

(Published: May 24, 2006)