Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Savoring Summer

Ready and Set for Pickling
Meandering through the back roads of Rhode Island today, time-traveling back in history to the days of homesteading and into old colonial farmsteads, showing their well-worn years and maintained through several generations still tilling the land. Cows languidly lying beneath the oak trees in the late September sun. Goats continually eating their weight in grass and brush, clearing the land. Black sheep scattering through a wind-kissed field next to the tall stalks of corn ready to be harvested from now into the early Autumn. The same feeling I get when traveling through Tuscany with my friends Pat, Wende and Judy Witts-Francini on our food tours. A lazy day spent exploring and laughing with friends that I've known now and in lives past.
Stopping at a farm with my friend Katie to buy some ears of "popping" corn that will be dry in time for a late night snack on Thanksgiving night around the table with a game of cards amongst friends. The farmer proudly displaying a photo taken from the air of their corn maze in the shape of a large and looming, yet friendly enough cow. Taking the road further we come into a town that "feel's just right". You know the feeling. A place that you know has been waiting for you to discover it, patiently by the side of that road. North Scituate. We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant, or coffee shop, or meeting place. A spot right out of a movie set, The Village Bean. Waitresses cracking their dry New England wit with the regulars who lean patiently against the counter, glancing at us "newcomers" eating our turkey sandwiches. Then, back down the road again to my friend Doreen at Pezza Farms for a half bushel of tomatoes for my upcoming "You Say Tomato, I Say Tomatl" class at the Grange. I can never resist the freshness of her produce. A few pounds of hot cherry peppers destined to be made into gifts of jam to spread on cream cheese, to glaze a chicken or pork tenderloin. But today, a quick recipe for some pickled tomatoes to peck on before dinner or to add to my martini, in lieu of the usual olive. Very simple. Very good.
Tomatoes packed in their jars

Pickled Tomatoes

2½ pints Grape Tomatoes
8 Pepperoncini Peppers, jarred
4 Dill sprigs, fresh; stemmed
4 Garlic cloves, gently smashed
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 Cup Cider Vinegar
1¼ Cups Water
2½ Tbl. Kosher Salt
1 Tbl. Sugar

Combine peppercorns, tomatoes, pepperoncini, dill, and garlic in a sterilized 2 quart glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Bring vinegar, salt, sugar, and 1¼ cups water to a boil in a saucepan; stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Pour vinegar mixture over tomatoes to ½” from the top and wipe rim clean.
Seal jar and let it cool completely. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
Alternately – Process the jars, lids and rings in boiling water fully covered for 20 minutes. Remove and dry upside-down on clean dish towels. Add the tomatoes to the jars, fill with the liquid to ½” from the top, wipe rim clean for a perfect seal and top with lids. Screw on rings tightly and place in a large pot covered with water by at least 1”. Bring water to a boil and process for 10 minutes from the minute it begins to boil. Remove carefully back onto a rack and let cool for 24 hours without touching them. They’ll keep for several months this way unrefrigerated in your cupboard.

A gift for myself and my friends

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Late Summer Picnic for One

Oh don't let that title mislead you or conjure up feelings of sorrow for your dear author. A picnic, whether shared with friends, a canine pal or just by myself affords me the purest and simplest of pleasures that I can ever imagine. Something spontaneous. Impromptu. Such a magical, carefree word that is, Impromptu. What's in the cupboard? What's in the refrigerator? What kind of a feast can I produce with what is on hand? Simplicity is best, I think. Taking advantage of what the current season has to offer. Naturally, tomatoes of all colors come to mind. Some sharp, salty and piquant cheese to balance the sweet acidity of the fruit, along with the bitterness of some homemade oil cured olives. Remembrances of a lesson about olive-making taught to me by my Grandmother so many years ago in the scary basement of her house. That magical and mysterious, dusty gallon jar sitting on an old, wooden shelf by the washing machine. One trip they were green, swimming in a brine. The next, they were darker remnants of their former verdant selves. Still another trip and they were shriveled and coated in olive oil with red pepper flakes heaped in her blue and white plate, sitting on the dining room table being picked at by eager fingers.
As a boy, I was told to try everything at least once. "You never have to have it again if you don't like it.", was the familiar mantra that still rings to this day from my Mother's lips. That saying has led me far in life, especially now that I cook and teach people how to cook and experience the beauty of the process. It was also a way of her training my mind to be open to new things in this life. Try it all. See it all. Feel it all. Experience it all. Isn't that really the grand lesson to learn from the word "Life"? I think at times we travel down the same worn out food path that our eyes never look up and see the wonder that is given and surrounds us. For me, food always offers something new to experience. To see. To feel. To smell. To taste. And, even to hear. The snap of a green bean. That crunch of an apple.
Here in New England, Fall is on its way. There's something in the air. My mind is beginning to think of warming, comfort food. Roast chickens with crackled skin, braised beef in Chianti, root vegetables caramelized in the oven over high heat to bring out their natural sweetness and goodness. I assure you that I'll include more recipes with sustenance. More beef, more chicken, and more of the pleasures that our local waters in Rhode Island provide for us. Honest flavors. Simplicity and warmth. Something to take on a picnic under the shedding, multi-colored leaves with a loved one or friends.

Or maybe, just maybe you might want to indulge yourself on a luxurious, unapologetic picnic for one.