Prosciutto and Melon, Like a Virgin

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By Kerri Conan 

Umpteen years ago my girlfriends and I ran with a bunch of guys in San Francisco we called “The O’s.” Nando. Carlo. Enzo. Veniero. Claudio. Paulo. Antonio. You get the drift. 

The O’s weren’t Italian-Americans; they were fellows who visited from Italy and stayed for a while. We met them while waiting tables, and we shared the common language of food and fun. On our days off we rode up to Napa on their motorcycles to taste wine or eat oysters at Tomales Bay. We’d pack a picnic and rent boats at San Pablo reservoir to swim and sunbathe. On foggy days we gathered at one of their flats and they would cook for us. The O’s turned me on to proscuitto and melon. 

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Posted in Italian, Recipes

Crazy Cukes

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By Kerri Conan 

These are the best field cucumbers ever. Fighting words to be sure. But after growing lemon, Armenian, bush champion, sweet marketmore, and Mideast prolific Sean and I know what we like. And this summer we’re high on Poona Kheera

The pulp-to-flesh ratio is not too important to us, since we remove the seeds before eating anyway. Overall crispness is way more valuable. And any cuke that keeps cranking all summer long—despite the heat, the beetles, and the threat of disease—will be our BCF. The Poona (which comes from India) fires on all cylinders: You can eat them when they’re pickler-size or when they grow to over a pound. The flavor is clean and slightly sweet (like limestone spring water) and the texture is super crunchy. So they’re a lot like eating melons. 

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Posted in Produce

No More Foreign Oil!

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By Kerri Conan 

This time of year, Kansas is usually lousy with sunflowers. Precisely what you’d expect from “the sunflower state.” Several small-headed varieties grow from ditches and cracks in the pavement, while fields of commodity plants—with their massive faces and sturdy stalks—bow in the wind like a battalion of chorus lines. Here in the eastern part of the state, where the weather has been strange even for tornado alley, we’re not getting many blooms this year. Fortunately, our co-op in Lawrence started carrying local sunflower oil this summer: So everything is coming up golden in the kitchen. 

Bainter is the producer, from the small town of Hoxie. Maybe I’m stretching the standard “local” radius a bit. But in this case—since single-source cooking oil is a rare foodstuff in America—I’m counting 333 miles across my beloved state as nearby. Bainter oil isn’t cold pressed, but claims to be refined without chemical solvents. I believe it. The slightly cloudy color is the shade of melted butter, with a moderately assertive balance of grassy, floral, and nutty flavors. The viscosity doesn’t turn your mouth furry. And to my pleasant surprise the oil doesn’t smoke, burn, or go bitter when super-heated. If you have to ask about the price, you can afford it. This is the Midwest after all. Check out the company website. (And while you’re there, feel free to add a piece of Bainter’s patented hydraulic farm equipment to your shopping cart.) 

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Posted in American

Fridge Pickles, Your Way

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By Kerri Conan 

Not to be confused with my shortcut brined-in-the-skillet version that ran on this page a couple weeks back. These are two quick refrigerated pickles backed by bona fides. The first comes from the book mentioned in that piece, my precious Quick Pickles. And then after the jump are Mark’s favorite kosher pickles, lifted verbatim from both the old and the new editions of How to Cook Everything. Another—totally different—winner. 

As long as you don’t mess with the proportions in the brine, the flavors and ingredients are totally customizable. 

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Posted in Produce

The Last Blackberry

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By Kerri Conan 

The garden has been behaving so strangely this year that we actually ate the last blackberry before the first tomato. Let me tell you: plucking that final berry was a big bummer. 

I usually roll with the ebb and flow of the seasons and never get too attached to any one crop. But without tomatoes to pick up the slack a juiciness vacuum suddenly loomed large. I looked down at the handful of motley berries in my colander and made one last pass through the patch, lifting branches, looking for one more that might have eluded my glance. Funny how wacky weather makes you pay more attention to every bite. 

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Posted in Farming, Produce

Shiso Fine

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by Kerri Conan 

There are a lot of things we could do with the purple shiso in our herb garden. My husband Sean and I have tried several: like marinate the leaves whole in a sesame-soy concoction, shred a few into salads and stir-fries, and scrunch several into a jar of carrot pickles. Other ideas we have yet to explore: shiso pesto, tempura, or tea. 

But we usually enjoy these sturdy leaves plain, to transport food from plate to mouth, as if you were eating with castanets. (Is this how shiso is often used in Japan? I’ve never been, but whenever the leaves are used to garnish my sushi, it never goes to waste.) 

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Posted in Farming, Produce

Cilantro Growers Unite!

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by Kerri Conan 

Maybe all summer long, gentle costal breezes caress the lush foliage on your cilantro plant. Perhaps you’ve never seen the stalk suddenly shoot up a tuft of flowers and spindly leaves, signaling it’s decided to go to seed. If so, congratulations. For the rest of us—who cuss this natural phenomena and the so-called “slow-bolt” varieties it rode in on—the shock of having a carefully cultivated plant rendered useless literally overnight is enough to make you put parsley in your salsa. 

But I say: Embrace the bolt. Grow as much cilantro as the garden will accommodate, savor the leaves for the five minutes they appear in June, and when the flowers bud out, start eating those. When they turn to green seeds, eat those, too. (Their flavor is a perfect blend of the soapy notes from the leaves and the sharp citrus flavors in the seeds; I crush them a bit with the side of a knife then use them the same way I’d use both.) Then at the end of summer, after the plant has been ravaged by heat, insects, disease, and your renaissance appetite, pick through and pluck (or thresh) off the dried, brown coriander seeds to sustain you through winter. 

There. Problem solved. Now who’s with me?

Posted in Farming

Quick Pickles, the Wrong Way

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by Kerri Conan 

Or call them skillet pickles. Whatever: They’re the perfect antidote to full-on canning or refrigerator-cured vegetables, since there’s no work involved and you don’t need a bushel of produce. 

Start with trimmed whole or sliced vegetables (in this case green beans but I later made a batch with beets) and a hot skillet filmed with olive oil. Add some aromatics (the first garlic from the garden for the first; the other got a mixture of sesame and grape seed oils with scallions). When the seasoning just starts to sputter, toss in the veg. Move them around in the pan a bit so the color brightens evenly, then stir in a splash each of water and vinegar (I used sherry v. for the beans and rice v. for the beets, but your call). If you’re worried about ratios, figure 1 part each of oil, water, vinegar. But you only need enough to douse the vegetables, not submerge them.  

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Posted in Produce, Recipes

Rolling the Dice with Potluck

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By Kerri Conan 

Groupcook isn’t for everyone, but me, I’m a potluck gamer. And now, as folks eager to show off dig deep into their gardens and larders, the odds of finding something interesting around a summertime Kansas buffet table are better than even. 

These bring-a-dish throw-downs provide a chance for folks to strut their best stuff, but I wouldn’t call them competitive. Instead they create a community table, with a rare glimpse into other people’s kitchens, and an opportunity to bulk up your recipe box. I also appreciate potlucks for the chance to pop food you never make yourself into your pie hole every now and then. 

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Posted in Slow Food

The Last Luncheon

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By Kerri Conan 

When house guests first arrive the kitchen is filled with promise. I’ve shopped, baked, and gardened. The over-stuffed pantry is mapped in my mind, and select jars of homemade canned treats have been moved to the fridge to chill along with the wine. 

These preparations—which undoubtedly include advance menu planning via email—are a lot more fun than changing the sheets and scrubbing the bathrooms. But their thrill is just as fleeting. Before you know it, the suitcases are lined up by the door and we’re all gathered around the table for the farewell meal.  Continue reading

Posted in American