THE predicament I found myself in was also an opportunity, and not unlike the puzzle that faces C.S.A. participants each week: I had a pile of vegetables and I had to figure out what to do with it. (A C.S.A. — for community supported agriculture — is a scheme in which participants share in a farmer’s risk and bounty, putting money down upfront and getting a periodic share of the crop in
I was in western Wales at Blaencamel, a 50-acre farm owned by Peter Segger and Anne Evans, friends of my friend Patrick. The couple began growing food organically nearly 40 years ago, and work 15 acres in vegetables plus an astonishing acre of greenhouses. I’d offered to cook dinner, not knowing exactly what that meant. And in the shed that housed the little honor-system shop on the farm (on Dec. 1, mind you), I was overwhelmed by all those greenhouses produced. All I needed to do was choose and cook.
As usual, I began with no idea of what would eventually wind up on the table. But I did have my standard plan: I’d choose what seemed most appealing and figure out what to do with it when we got to the kitchen.
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WITH all due respect to tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and all the other vegetables we’ve enjoyed for the last few months, the champions of the moment are beets, turnips and radishes. For gardeners and farmers in all but the coldest climates, they’re still going strong, which means that for careful shoppers, the highest-quality stuff is still easy to find.
But, aah, you say, the same is true of our semi-hardy greens, like kale, collards and chard. And certainly that’s true. But if you have turnips and radishes, you almost don’t need kale and collards (they’re all in the same family). And if you have beets, you almost don’t need chard (beets are chard are grown primarily for their roots; chard is beets grown for its greens).
Incredibly — though not surprisingly, since there are no surprises here — the beets, turnips and radishes give you greens to use in salads or for cooking, as well as roots you can eat raw or cooked. (There are other vegetables, notably kohlrabi, that meet this description too, but only gardeners are going to find them with their greens.)
There is nothing new or unusual about mashed squash or about mashed vegetables on toast. (What’s new is that the toast is now frequently called crostini, but that’s not exactly revolutionary.) Still, there is such a broad range of foods that can be served on toasted bread that it’s not surprising some of these will come as revelations.
This squash-and-toast combination is served by Dan Kluger, the executive chef at ABC Kitchen. Something about it drives me wild: the squash is creamy but chunky, rather than puréed. There is a lot of complex sweetness, but acidity as well, and it’s lean as well as fatty. (It doesn’t take a detective to see the layer of ricotta underneath the squash.)
Put it on a nicely toasted piece of bread and you have a real winner. But it also occurred to me that the mashed squash alone would make a terrific Thanksgiving side dish.
So I asked Dan’s boss, my friend Jean-Georges Vongerichten, to show me how to put it together.
I would not have figured the dish out myself, which made this a rewarding experience. Jean-Georges peeled the squash: almost any winter squash will yield to a sharp knife and some patience, though as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, thin-skinned varieties like delicata are easier to peel or can be left unpeeled entirely. He cut the squash in half, took out the seeds and sliced it into not-quite-random pieces, mostly about 1/4-inch thick. These he roasted with oil until they were tender enough to mash; by that time, a few had blackish, caramelized ends.
To cut to the chase: next, he confited onion slices with both maple syrup and apple cider vinegar. Veteran cooks will immediately get the idea: Cook the onions awhile, until they’re dark and soft, then add the two liquids and continue to cook until they’re jammy. The process could take as long as an hour, depending on the heat, your attentiveness and the water content of the onions. But it isn’t difficult.
At that point, the two preparations are simply mashed together. If you serve them in a bowl at Thanksgiving, you will be serving something on a, er, higher level than mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows. Otherwise, lightly toast some good bread in olive oil, spread it with a light, fresh cheese and top with the squash. Do not forget the mint; it’s not the same without it.
As more varieties and better qualities of brown rice become increasingly common, it’s growing clear that you can do pretty much anything you want with this less processed version of the world’s second-most-popular grain. (You guessed it: corn is numero uno.)
This includes making risotto. Real, creamy, tender risotto. There is really only one adjustment to make, and that is to parboil the rice so that the risotto-making process takes about the same amount of time — 20 minutes or so — that it does with white rice.
As you normally would, choose short- or medium-grain brown rice, which is crucially important because these are the varieties that emit enough starch to make the final product creamy. One could argue, and some will, that you should begin with Italian varieties like Arborio. But good Spanish, Japanese and, yes, American short- and medium-grain rices give equally good results.
There is the potluck, but there is also collective cooking. And given a willing helper or two, it can turn a fairly standard weeknight meal into a rocking party. The pace is not necessarily relaxed, but it’s fun.
I had such an experience last week, on the East Side. Two new friends (really complete strangers — I was doing this as a charity auction prize) and I met at 4:30 at the 86th Street Fairway, with barely a plan; we just knew we were supposed to feed seven people at 7:30. I had some ideas, like buy all the vegetables that look good and figure out how to cook them later, and the others had some food preferences: one person didn’t eat meat and another didn’t eat fish. So we decided meat and fish and vegetables and dessert. Starters, I’ll confess, were olives and bread. But hey, you can’t cook everything.
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NOT long ago, edamame — the young, green, mostly still-in-the-pod soybeans — were exotic: new, fresh and unusual. A little treat to begin a meal at a Japanese restaurant; the equivalent of olives, or even bread and olive oil.
Incredibly, for almost everyone I know, that is the way they remain. Yet tucked in the freezer case of most supermarkets, at least here in the Northeast, edamame is as common as peas and carrots, sold in 12-ounce or 1-pound plastic bags and sold cheap.
So cheap that for four or five bucks you can buy a pound of organic edamame, and for considerably less than that, a pound of nonorganic. Since I figure you’re getting a quarter-pound or less when you order them at a restaurant, and paying (no doubt) up to seven bucks per serving, this alone should be an incentive to buy a bag.
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By Meghan Gourley
Ubiquitous as it is, it’s easy to forget the subtle side of corn. Chowder—here with cheddar and scallions—reminds us that summer’s favorite crop is versatile. The key to this chowder is finding the freshest summer corn you can, and shaving it off the cob like a pro: spare nothing. Get as close to the cob with the blade of your knife as you can. Work slowly and carefully, and don’t waste anything—the meatiness of the kernels is what makes this soup so hearty. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.
By Alaina Sullivan
Aside from color, a roasted bell pepper bears little resemblance to its raw counterpart. After a stint in the oven, the skin becomes charred and wrinkly, sagging around the flesh it once held so tautly. The molten inside easily sheds its blistered skin – emerging incomparably more succulent and sweet than the raw version. The transformation is magical and delicious, and can easily be achieved in the oven, under the broiler, or over an open flame. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.