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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Last Bits

The October farmers' market.

Frost on the pumpkins.
Crisp cool breezes.
Damp fallen leaves.
Fresh Summer corn.

Fresh summer corn? Really? Yep.  Perched on a farm stand table, a lone basket of Shelby County sweet corn seemed oddly out of place surrounded by a sea of pumpkins, gourds, apples, and pears. Although I knew it wouldn't have that familiar you-could-almost-eat-it-raw fresh taste of the first summer corn, I couldn't resist its peculiarity and grabbed a few ears. The last of the summer corn.

October tomatoes. Right now, they're few and far between.  "That's the last of them. I'm not coming back next week." Those were chilling words to hear from a passionate tomato farmer, so I bagged a few handfuls of  Clark County Green Zebra, Yellow Pear, Black Cherry, Yellow Plum, and Dona cherry tomatoes. The last of the summer tomatoes.

In an attempt to perk up my market melancholy, I took the last bits of summer and bridged the seasons with a simple roasted corn and tomato soup.

A very simple soup.

After slicing the kernels from the cobs, I used the back of my knife to scrape the corn milk from the tiny honeycombed sockets and tumbled them onto a foil-lined sheet pan. I halved the larger tomatoes, left the smaller ones whole, and tossed them with the corn. Because I had a few vegetable stragglers (you know, the ones that got away or were hidden under other stuff?), I tossed a few Bourbon County peppers, Blue Moon Farm baby patty pan and yellow squash into the mix before tossing everything with olive oil, kosher salt, and cracked black pepper.

I slid the corn, tomatoes, and vegetables into a preheated 350 oven to roast for 30-35 minutes. When the tomatoes collapsed into the caramelized corn, I
pulled them from the oven and scooped them into a blender.  After adding 2 cups of vegetable stock, I pureed the slightly charred vegetables until smooth, strained them through a fine mesh strainer to get rid of the gritty pulp, and added the pureed/strained soup back to the pot. Working over a low flame to keep the soup warm, I seasoned it liberally and added the juice of 1/2 lemon for a hint of acidity.

After a glass of wine or two, I ladled the soup into large pasta bowls before finishing with chives and deep fried basil leaves.

The complex layers of flavor belied the simplicity of the soup. While the slight whisper of lemon countered the deep roasted sweetness of the tomatoes and charred richness of the corn, the fresh chives added a slight grassy punch under the fragile crunch of the fried basil. Delicately smooth, the starchy late season corn gave the soup body, the tomatoes kept it light, and Michael's decadent buttery grilled cheese sandwiches (for sopping) gave it soul. Perfect.

The last bits of summer.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Simple little ballotines.

Ballotine.  A hot or cold dish based on meat, poultry, game birds or fish in aspic.  The flesh is boned, stuffed, rolled, and tied up with string, usually wrapped in muslin (cheesecloth) - sometimes in the skin- then braised or poached ( galantine). 
                                                 -Larousse Gastronomique
I hadn't boned out a chicken in ages. Fussy. Boring, even. Bones add flavor, right? Why get rid of them? Well, I got a wild hair and sharpened my boning knife. For some ridiculous reason, I thought deboning quail would be much easier than deboning a small chicken. Yep, that's what I thought.

Galantine or ballotine? Or both?

Tucked under partridges, sweetbreads, guinea fowl, and duck breasts, I found four farm raised quail at Chritchfield Meats. Game on for a weekend project.

Day 1.
Using a very sharp boning knife, I removed the neck portions from the quail and carefully cut around the tiny wishbones before pulling them out. After clipping the wings at the shoulder sockets, I pulled the wing joints from the meat and sliced along the backbone to remove the meat from the spine and rib bones, keeping the carcass intact. I could have deboned the tiny legs.  I didn't. Nope. I snipped them off at the sockets, removed the cartilage, and tossed them into a pot with the other bones for stock.

Before moving forward, I covered the quail bones with cold water, added a handful of whole black peppercorns, a bay leaf, and sliced purple cipollini onions (skins on). I brought the stock to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, skimmed the scum without stirring, and let it bubble away for 1 1/2 hours until it reduced to 3/4 cup.After straining the small batch stock through a damp cheesecloth-lined colander, I cooled it in an ice bath and slid into the refrigerator to chill.

The fun part. I covered a large cutting board with plastic wrap, overlapped 2 thinly sliced pieces of pancetta
on the plastic wrap, positioned the boned out quail (skin side down) on top the plastic wrap, smeared finely ground chicken over the meat, and finished with steamed baby kale. After seasoning the filling with salt and cracked black pepper, I used the plastic wrap like a sushi roller and rolled the stuffed quail into cylinders, tying up the ends to form tight seals.

I brought 6 cups of water to a rolling boil, reduced it a gentle simmer, lowered the quail parcels into the water, weighed them down with a small plate to keep them submerged, and poached them for 20 minutes. When they  were cooked through, I scooped them from the poaching liquid, let them cool, and refrigerated them overnight.

Day 2.
Busy work.
Beets, onions, and potatoes. I drizzled unpeeled golden beets and peeled purple cipollini onions with olive oil, sealed them in aluminum foil, and roasted them for an hour. While the beets/onions roasted, I filled two small stock pots with cold water, filled one with peeled Bourbon County pink-fleshed Mountain Rose new potatoes and filled the other pot with peeled Casey County purple sweet potatoes. After boiling the potatoes until they were fork tender, I pureed them in batches (separately) with butter and cream.

I pulled the congealed quail demi-glace from the refrigerator, warmed it gently over a low flame and added blanched pearl onions. When the demi started to bubble, I tossed a few quartered fresh mission figs into the stock to poach for a few seconds. When the figs softened, I pulled the sauce from the heat and set it aside.

First and foremost, I poured myself a two-fisted pilsner of cheap chardonnay.
After breaking the seal on the wrapped quail rolls, I sauteed them in a combination of olive oil and unsalted butter to crisp the poached pancetta. When the bacon caramelized, I slid the ballotines into 350 degree oven to warm through.

I pulled the roasted beets and onions from the oven, slipped the skins from the beets and drizzled them with olive oil. After slicing the ballotines into half inch rounds, I nestled them over ribbons of the potato purees and brushed them with the fig-infused quail jus. I tumbled the roasted beets to the side before finishing with snipped chives, micro sunflower shoots, sliced fresh figs, and julienned red pears.

Alrighty, then. Meat and potatoes.  For such innocent looking food, there was a lot going on.  The deep earthy sweetness of the roasted beets countered the sexy brash freshness of the figs and pears. Soft beets. Wet figs. Crisp pears. Naughty. Although they seemed like polar opposites, they complimented the salty richness of the ballotines and the slight bitterness of the microgreens. While the baby kale got lost in the twice-cooked shuffle, it wasn't missed. Perched on top of the dueling potato purees, plumped with finely ground chicken, encased with bacony pancetta, and napped with subtle quail jus, the quail ballotines were incredible. Tender. Moist. Firm. Rich.

Tiny birds.
Big flavor.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Double Squashed

So, how on earth did I leave the market with an unlikely combination of clunky acorn squash, summer
heirloom tomatoes, Asian pears, feathery oyster mushrooms, and delicate late season squash blossoms? It's that crazy time of year at the farmers' market when the growing seasons seem to bleed into each other. Bins of summer tomatoes, baby yellow squash, herbs, and watercress happily line up on tables next to pumpkins, gourds, butternut squash, apples, and pears. Tomatoes and pumpkins. Is it summer or fall? Season straddling taunting confusion. It's a lot to take in. Mix and match.

Acorn Squash Ravioli with Other Stuff.
Butternut squash ravioli with sage and brown butter is the typical go-to winter squash-filled ravioli preparation. Sometimes, hazelnuts are thrown in for crunch.  It's a classic pairing because it works and is downright perfect. Well, I'm a sucker for acorn squash when it hits the market, so I changed things up a bit.

I split 2 large Silas Farm striped acorn squash in half before scooping out the seeds and piercing the skins.
After drizzling them with olive oil, I roasted them cut side down for 45 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven until they were fork tender. When the squishy squash halves cooled down, I pureed the soft cooked flesh with a pinch of nutmeg, salt, pepper, and 1 cup of parmigiano reggiano.

I could sleep under sheets of pasta. Soft, puffy, and warm. Stuff it, quilt it, and call it a duvet. While the squash roasted in the oven, I threw together a fairly basic pasta dough.  I sifted 2 cups 00 flour into a very large bowl before adding 3 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk, salt, and 1 tablespoon olive oil.  After gradually pulling the flour into the eggs with my fingertips until it was combined, I added a splash of water to loosen it up before kneading the dough for 15 minutes, wrapping it in plastic wrap, and setting it aside for an hour to rest.

While it's messy work, I adore rolling pasta. Using a bench scraper, I cut the wedge of dough into 4 equal portions. After dusting the dough with flour, I passed it through the roller 2 or 3 times on the lowest setting to knead it and prepare it for the big stretch. When the dough felt right, I rolled it out, changing the settings for thinner sheets after each pass.  When I reached the next to last setting, I dusted the sheets with flour and set them aside. Typically, when I make angel hair pasta or fettucini, I allow the pasta to dry somewhat before cutting it into ribbons. However, when filling raviolis, it's easier to seal the edges when the dough is still pliable.

I dotted the pasta sheets with 1 tablespoon of the pureed acorn squash, painted the edges with egg wash,
and topped the filling with another pasta sheet. After pressing out the air, I sealed the edges, used a fluted ravioli stamp to cut the pasta, dusted them with flour, and slid them into the refrigerator to chill.

The Other Stuff.
Stuffed squash blossoms. Squash blossoms are a rarity at our farmers' market. A few vendors have told me that they're just too labor intensive to harvest.  On top of that, only the male blossoms can be harvested to allow the squash to keep producing. Who knew? When I came across a few baby squash blossoms from Blue Moon Farm, I squealed a small  internal squeal. They were gorgeous. It seemed so weird to see them in October. I felt like I was cheating.

I carefully clipped the pistels from inside the blossoms, stuffed the blossoms with whipped goat cheese, twisted the ends to enclose the filling, and set them aside. After preheating the deep fryer to 350 degrees, I whisked rice flour and soda water together until it was the consistency of a loose crepe/tempura batter. When the oil reached 350 degrees, I dipped the stuffed blossoms into the batter, briefly deep fried them, removed them to drain on a dish towel, and sprinkled them with sea salt.

Brown butter. In lieu of the more traditional sage butter, I opted for a fresh rosemary brown butter. Sage is fabulous with butternut squash, but I prefer rosemary with acorn squash. I killed two birds with one stone. I melted 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a small cast iron skillet before adding a few fresh rosemary sprigs and sliced Blue Moon Farm oyster mushrooms. When the butter foamed, receded, and started to brown, I splashed it with
white balsamic vinegar for a hint of acidity and pulled the skillet from the heat.

Note. It takes approximately 1 1/2 glasses of wine for water to boil.

I brought a huge stock pot of water to a rolling boil, doused it with kosher salt, and dropped the raviolis into the hot bath. Within minutes, they bobbed to the top and were finished cooking.  Using a spider, I scooped them out of the water, patted them dry, and slid them onto serving plates. After drizzling the raviolis with the rosemary brown butter, I tumbled the sauteed oyster mushrooms and fried stuffed squash blossoms to the side before finishing with fresh rosemary.

For such ordinary looking ravioli, there was a lot going on. The natural sweetness of the pureed acorn
squash was tempered by the salty parmigiano-reggiano cheese and the piney fresh rosemary. When sliced, the filling oozed from the pasta like yellow ocher pudding and mixed with the nutty brown butter, creating a bonus sauce for the airy pasta. Win. While the sauteed oyster mushrooms added soft earthiness, the goat cheese stuffed squash blossoms countered with tangy crunch. Light. Crisp. Rich.

Acorn squash ravioli. Stuffed squash blossoms. Sauteed oyster mushrooms.
Fall and summer...on a plate.

Go figure.