Cooking with Almost Nothing

Photo by Emily Stephenson

I’m cooking in a vacation rental this week, and I only brought my knife with me, which means the tools in “my” kitchen reflect the generosity of the owner and the cooking inclinations of previous tenants. I’ve found one pot, some bowls, a couple skillets, a wooden spoon, a can opener, and a colander. But I can still do almost all the summer cooking I want.

I left the tools to chance, but I knew there would be no ingredients in the house. I packed the pantry items that seemed summer-appropriate, and I stopped on the way to pick up everything I thought I might need. In truth, I think I could have gotten away with salt, pepper, olive oil, and vinegar, but I brought a bit more.

Summer is the best time for pared-down cooking. You don’t want to apply much heat to anything because it’s so ripe and full of flavor. I’d happily eat tomato sandwiches and salads and grilled vegetables (if I had a grill) through September.

Inspired by a really great noodle salad we tested a few weeks ago, fish sauce was one of the things I brought, as well as buying tofu and rice noodles. A cold noodle salad is perfect summer fare.

I knew it was going to be a time investment, but I didn’t have anything else better to do, so I started by julienning lots cucumber and carrots (knife). I didn’t do it perfectly as you can see, but, hey, I’m on vacation. I boiled water (one pot) to steep the rice noodles, then drained them (colander). I cubed tofu, chopped cilantro, and minced onion (knife). I whisked together lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and salt until it tasted good (fork), then I tossed everything together.

It was a great summer dinner that required just four basic tools, and felt like much more than the sum of its parts.

– Emily Stephenson

Posted in Behind The Scenes, Produce

Fun with Frenching

Photos by Kerri Conan

Friday night, one glass of wine into firing the grill for steak with a pile of farmers’-market string beans in the sink, I decided to kill some time Frenching.

The plan was to stir-fry the beans in olive oil with lots of garlic and shallots until droopy, then add tomato wedges, cover, and let them stew just long enough to release some juice but not their skins. Off heat, I’d stir in a handful of basil leaves from the back yard, adjust the seasoning, and serve at room temperature. Splitting the beans lengthwise—like fancy canned and frozen green beans—would help the pods soften and absorb flavor, and I liked the idea of getting random bites with baby seeds.

My ad hoc by-hand technique varied: For straight beans, I lined the business side of the knife on top and pushed down with conviction, pretending not to care when the odd end slipped free of the hack. If they were curved, I used the seam on the bean as a guide to run the tip of the blade from the middle outward in both directions, turning each between strokes. I’m pretty fast with a knife and like the practice but apparently you can also lay them horizontally in the feed tube of a food processor and let the slicing disk do the work.

Whatever your method or recipe, try Frenching at least once this season. There’s a reason why they’re cut that way for green bean casserole. This quick braise had all the freshness you want from summer vegetables, without the squeaky stick-to-your-teeth chalkiness of lightly cooked green beans. Instead their exposed insides provided a silky counterpoint to the crisp skins. And the leftovers can become anything from a three-bean salad or toast topper to a rich frittata.

– Kerri Conan

Posted in Behind The Scenes, Produce

Apricot Madness

Apricots

Photo by Mark Bittman

It wouldn’t be right to say that I went to California last week to look for apricots—I had a lot to take care of—but that definitely played a part. Since some time around 15 years ago, when David Karp—not the Tumblr one, the fruit-whisperer one—met me at the Santa Monica farmers’ market and introduced me to real apricots, I have been, well, interested. (NOT obsessed.) Continue reading

Posted in Behind The Scenes, Produce

Foraging for Dinner

Milkweed

Photos by Mark Bittman

These are unopened milkweed flowers; I began to eat them while first learning how to forage in central Vermont in the 70s. (How’d I learn? Euell Gibbons , of course.) The season is very short—just a couple of days for each plant, spread out over a period of maybe a week or two in any given location—so you have to be lucky to find them. Once the buds start to open up, they’re done. But when they’re tight and broccoli-like, as these are, they’re sweet, and cook instantly. I parboil them for a minute or two before incorporating them into other things. (Sometimes, I’m lucky enough to gather a big mess, and then I parboil them and toss them with vinaigrette or melted butter.) Continue reading

Posted in Behind The Scenes, Produce, Slow Food

An Afternoon of Apples

Photo by Pam Hoenig

It started with applesauce. Could I make a batch from apples cooked on the grill? Maybe the idea was too forced. Or maybe the results would be amazing. Easy enough to try, right? I cored and sliced an apple into rings, and put them on the grill. They were soft and tasty in five minutes. But do the apples need to be cut first? Continue reading

Posted in Behind The Scenes, Produce

Mushrooms Upon Mushrooms

Photo by Grant Cornett for the New York Times

Photo by Grant Cornett for the New York Times

Say ‘‘mushroom mille-feuille’’ to most veteran cooks and eaters, and they will most likely picture a golden mound of puff pastry filled with wild mushrooms in cream and herbs — a fine dish, if old-fashioned and increasingly rare.

This is nothing like that.

Read the rest of this column and get the recipe here.

Posted in Produce, Recipes

The Roots of Organic Farming

Visiting the farm at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was a personal high point of this series, though I couldn’t say exactly why. It could well have been because there’s an experimental blueberry plot there, and when I went in the spring, it was raining, and the green leaves were sparkling and the wet berries were offset perfectly, and here was this glistening working farm on an otherwise more-or-less normal college campus, which just happened to be on a hill above the Pacific.

Or it could have been because the Santa Cruz campus has a series of beautiful, renowned, well-run gardens and farms, unlike on any other campus in the country.

Read the rest of this article here.

What’s the Buzz About Wild Bees?

Among all the pollinators, honeybees get the most publicity, deservedly, because of the problems around their survival. Claire Kremen’s research at the University of California, Berkeley, looks at diverse pollinators — not just bees, but also birds, moths and many insects — and the issues affecting them as emblematic of the broader problems of the food system. Pollinators are critical to global food production and about 75 percent of crop species depend on them to produce food that is more abundant and nutritious than it would otherwise be.

Monoculture — a single crop in an open field that may measure many hundreds of acres — increasingly depends on importing thousands of hives (by truck, usually) for the pollination of crops, especially in places like California. For example, the state produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds, which has concentrated the need for bees way beyond the capacity of native pollinators.

Focusing on a single crop reduces the biodiversity pollinators need to survive, and the timetable they best work on. It’s also a risky endeavor to rely on one species, especially when there are diseases, management problems and the inherent risks of transportation. Yet the large single-crop farms require the large apiaries to get the job done.

Read the rest of this article here.