July 29, 2013

Roast Rabbit and Pomegranate Risotto


I understand why American people become enamored of Italian culture. Although a reverence for local foods can be found in many places world-wide, the Mediterranean climate allows such traditions to shine through the variety of ingredients available year-round.

In Vermont, we cultivate beautiful vegetables, tend to winter-hardy fruit
trees, pasture healthy animals, and grow an impressive variety of grains. Because our growing season lasts five months at best, we do not have access to fresh foods all the time. As supplies dwindle during the cold months, so do I feel a growing desire to visit the warmer places where these foods grow year-round. 

Certain parts of California may reflect the Italian peninsula's growing season, but the scale on which food is raised does not compare to the small production to which Italy must adhere due to its mountainous geography.

With the Apennine mountains running a spine north-south and the Alps holding the northern part of the country, there are few places to cultivate anything on more than a handful of acres. Hence, even though the growing season here is luxurious, Italian food acquires a precious quality due to its small-scale production. Regional recipes are integral to the cultural paradigm. 

One of my childhood memories of is marked by the truckloads of blood oranges and clementines that make their way North from Sicily. Here in the Po River Valley, my father and I discovered an agritourism that raises rabbits and grows pomegranates, both of which get sent to other Italian provinces so that others may enjoy them. 

In honor of our local foods, we decided to make pomegranate risotto and roast rabbit with white wine and chestnuts. Risotto is a rice dish that hails from Italy and has myriads of regional variations. To make this beloved primo piatto, or first course, with the tangy crimson-seeded fruit that informs the length of Persephone's stay in the underworld, it is essential to remove the seeds from the fruit body, boil them briefly, and spin them through a sieve in order to catch the brilliant juice. This succus becomes the broth with which we cook the rice.

Rabbit meat is rich and lean, but can often profer a gamey flavor unless and retained water is removed first. We seared and rinsed the rabbit before placing it in a roasting pan with garlic and much of the rosemary and sage we collected when we visited the hill village Arqua Petrarca. These herbs, when minced, create a paste that can coat the rabbit and help it to retain its juices while roasting. We poured a quarter bottle of the whine wine made by one of my dad's university colleagues into the roasting pan and sent it on its way into the hot oven. 

Meanwhile, we sliced crescents along the rinds of chestnuts gleaned from Imperia, a nearby town on the ocean. We placed them on a baking sheet and roasted them until the nut meat began to escape from each sliced section. We wanted to peel them immediately, savor some of their sweetness as a prelude to our meal, but we had to allow them to cool. 

Instead, we sampled some of the rye bread we had baked with flour from my family's home town in the Dolomite mountains of Trentino alongside a few of the tangy, tiny black olives that my father picked and pickled in Pienza, Tuscany last year. Bread and olives can provide enough temporary respite to any hungry Italian. 

When we added the chestnuts to the rabbit, gave the risotto its final stir, poured bubbling glasses of Serprino Prosecco from the nearby Euganei Hills, and sat down to dinner, we were satisfied by the process before we ever ate one bite.

July 24, 2013

Basil and Blueberries

These two foods are perfect for summer and have powerful digestive and anti-oxidant qualities. Cook and be well!

Blueberry Basil Sauce

          

Rinse 2 cups fresh, organic blueberries.
Place in a stock pot with:
¼ cup water
pinch salt
1 Tablespoon almond butter

Cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add 1 Tablespoon honey, stir well, and remove from heat.
Place in a blender with:
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Blend at lowest speed for 2 minutes.

Preserve in jars in the freezer or enjoy with salmon, chicken, or white beans.

***
Blueberry Basil Millet



Soak 1 cup millet in cold water for 1 hour.
Drain through a fine-mesh strainer, rinse, and place in a stock pot with 2 1/2 cups water.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and add:

        1 teaspoon coconut oil
        1/2 teaspoon salt

Cook for 20 minutes, or until all the water is consumed when you separate the grains with a fork.

Meanwhile, rinse and remove 1 quart organic fresh blueberries and place in a mixing bowl.

Chop1 handful fresh basil, add to blueberries, and mix.
Add cooked millet to the mix, stir and enjoy!
Garnish with fresh, chopped scallions if you like.

***  
Green Bean and Egg Salad with Blueberry Sauce

You will need:                                
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cups green beans
½ teaspoon each: black pepper and sea salt
1 cup fresh basil

6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled

1 cup fresh, organic blueberries
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon sea salt

Rinse and remove ends from beans.
Heat olive oil in a skillet, add beans and cook, covered, for 5 minutes on medium heat. Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, hard-boil eggs for 6 minutes, run under cold water, and peel.
Chop each egg into quarters and place in a serving bowl.
Add beans to eggs.

Coarsely chop basil and add that to the beans and eggs, too.

To make the blueberry sauce, chop blackberries in half and place in a mixing bowl.
Add oil, vinegar, and spices.
Smash the mix with the back of a fork so that the berries secrete some of their juice.
Toss with eggs and beans and enjoy!

July 10, 2013

Cooling Summer Drinks

Try these cooling summer drinks to refresh you and make for good cocktail mixers, too!

Switchel
This amazing traditional beverage from Appalachian folk herbalists tastes like ginger beer and aids digestion.

You will need:
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon honey
2 cups water
¼ teaspoon fresh grated gingerroot or a pinch of dry ground ginger

Combine and stir until the honey dissolves. Serve cold as a sweet-tangy summertime drink. If you make this often, you can save yourself some time by making a honey-ginger syrup to keep in the fridge and use that instead of mixing up the ingredients each time.

***

Fruit Juice Shrub
Shrubs, also called "drinking vinegars," are relics of the colonial era. They are tangy, refreshing,and easy to make by mixing a fruity vinegar syrup mixed with water or seltzer.

You will need:
1 cup fresh fruit
1/2 cup fresh minced herbs
½ cup honey
1 cup apple cider vinegar

My favorite fruit and herb combinations are strawberry basil, apple mint, and blueberry rosemary.

Blend these together in a blender.

Combine and store in your refrigerator in a covered jar for 3 to 5 days until the flavors meld.
To make your shrub, combine 1 part concentrate with 3 or 4 parts cold water or unflavored seltzer.


July 5, 2013

Summer Cooking Techniques

Cook your vegetables in new and delicious ways this summer!


Soffritto 


Try it with green beans.
Sauté a chopped onion, 4 chopped tomatoes, and 2 minced garlic cloves in olive oil until very soft. Add 2 pounds green beans and simmer until just tender.



***

Braising with Lemon Juice

Using a vegetable peeler, cut ribbons from 1 zucchini and 1 summer squash.
Place in a deep skillet with 1 cup water and the juice of ½ lemon.

Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook for 5 minutes.
Place cooked zucchini and summer squash in a bowl and mix with 1/2 cup basil leaves, sliced thin, and a drizzle of olive oil. Mix well and season with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes, to taste.


***

Grilling

Try it with corn!
Fire up a charcoal or gas grill to medium-high. Peel back the husks and remove the silk of the corn, and then re-cover the ears with the husks and soak them in cold water for 10 minutes. Grill the ears for 15 minutes, turning so the husks don't burn. Pull back the husks and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the corn is lightly charred. Paint the ears creating a sheen with the mayo, squeeze some fresh lime juice on top

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