A Summer Shandy

I never developed a taste for red wine; I blame it on the migraines. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy myself a tasty beverage when we were in Spain, the land of Rioja. When in Madrid, I fell in love with clara con limon, or simply, clara. Otherwise called a shandy, it’s light beer mixed with a citrusy soda, poured over ice.

I hadn’t really thought about clara since we got back from our trip. But when Rich came home from a bachelor party this past weekend with a leftover case of Narragansett, it all came back to me.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler: Pour half a can of macro-American lager (‘Gansett, PBR, even Amstel Light, etc) into a glass with three ice cubes, then top it with an equal amount of lemon-lime soda. We used a lemon Italian soda from Whole Foods, but some recipes call for plain old 7-Up.

The only tricky part is the ice: sometimes Rich forgets the recipe and we have empty trays in the freezer. Ahem.

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The Great (E)scape

In the past week, I have found myself in no fewer than four conversations with people scratching their heads as to what to do with some of the contents of their weekly CSAs. Things like strawberries and arugula are pretty much no-brainers – in fact, a salad of just those two things is quite lovely – but alien-looking kohlrabi and twisty garlic scapes seem to stump most folks, myself included.

I have yet to receive kohlrabi in my own box, but two weeks in a row I’ve gotten bunches of scapes, the green shoots that grow out from the heads of some types of garlic. Otherwise known as green garlic,  baby garlic, or garlic flowers, among other aliases, they’re much milder than garlic cloves.

Based on my conversations, the default blueprint for garlic-scaping is a pesto recipe, via a Washington Post blog. I’m here to report, first and foremost, that said recipe is very tasty indeed. Tossed with pasta, it makes a very nice dinner and a very portable lunch. But when Scapes: Round Two arrived in the CSA box, I felt the need to branch out. I am happy to report a new development in scape-ology, and I owe it all to Rich.

No, he didn’t come up with the recipe, but he offered up the inspiration. When I told him that we were having yet another dinner featuring red leaf lettuce salad, he asked if we could pick up garlic bread at the supermarket. (We were actually headed over there later that day, to meet with a financial adviser from our bank. Yes, our bank is in our supermarket, which is not so much convenient as depressing. Think strip mall instead of Le Corbusier.) What Rich had in mind were those supermarket bakery loaves, impregnated with garlic and butter and sold in foil bags so that they can go straight into the oven. And that’s when it hit me: garlic-scape bread.

The recipe I’ve come up with is so painfully obvious, I’m embarrassed that it has taken me until now to come up with it. It’s basically the same formula as the pesto: scape-paste incorporated with fat (butter instead of oil), served with starch (bread instead of pasta).

An added bonus: the compounded butter turns a wonderful shade of pea green. Rich asked what, if anything, had I added to achieve its springtime hue. Not a thing. Call me a garlic-scape bread purist.

Incidentally, our meeting with the financial adviser was remarkably pain free. We ran some life insurance quotes and discovered, actuarially speaking, that I’m a safer bet than Rich. “Women eat more vegetables than men,” the adviser observed by way of explanation. True, but I don’t think he had this recipe in mind…

Don't be fooled by the green. That's mostly butter in there.

Garlic-Scape Bread

Ingredients

One bunch of garlic scapes, approximately 10 shoots

One stick of unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Pinch of salt

One loaf of bread — French or Ciabatta, whatever your preference; we grabbed a day-old, discounted baguette which did the job just fine.

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Roughly chop the scapes on a cutting board. Add to the bowl of a food processor and process about 15 seconds. Add butter and salt and process for another 15 seconds or so, until the butter and scapes form a paste.

There are two ways to tackle the assemblage: Either slice the loaf length-wise and shmear or cut a dozen or so horizontal slits across the top and apply the butter inside each. Or cut the loaf in half and try both. Wrap the loaf in foil and toss in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove and enjoy.

Feeling Bookish

I was sick this past week. Like, missed several days of work sick. No television was watched, no books were read. That kind of sick. Actually, we were all sick: me, Rich and even our little cat, who had to spend some time at the vet.  It was only this past weekend that I decided I was up to leaving the couch and head outside for a little walk. My destination was the library, which is less than 10 minutes on foot from the house. I’d already put my name in online for a couple of books, but it will be months before any of them are in my hands. And anyways, there’s something downright magical about a trip to the library. Can you imagine, a whole building full of books and movies and music, all free? Splendid, I tell you.

And there it was, right in the new releases, Andrea Reusing’s brand new Cooking in the Moment. I had read about her miraculous anchovy mayonnaise here, and her wondrous asparagus with soy and butter here. Somehow I figured this book would be on reserve for months before I could get a hold of it. But like I said, the library is magical.

I picked up a few other cookbooks – is there anything one can do with CSA garlic scapes besides make it into pesto? – and checked out the book sale in the back room. I also found success there, in the form of a cookbook devoted entirely to onions and a book of porky goodness for Rich.  And off I went, with my bag full of books.

I’ve done the walk home from the library dozens of times since I’ve lived in our neighborhood, and I’ve have developed the safest route home where I can have my head buried in a book while walking on the sidewalk. I made it through the introduction and was deep into the spring section by the time I’d made it back to my couch where my cat and I spent the rest of the afternoon, intermittently reading (me) and napping (both of us). I imagined what pickled sour cherries would taste like in July, was curious about the spinach with melted leeks and cardamom in late September, and wondered if I could wait until winter to enjoy roasted Japanese turnips with honey.

This is Reusing’s first book, and she writes the same way she cooks at her Chapel Hill restaurant Lantern: using local and seasonal fruits and vegetables. She wrote the book over the course of a year, sitting down when she could, perhaps on a Saturday afternoon in late August, after enjoying an eggplant salad with walnuts and garlic. She literally cooks and writes “in the moment.” North Carolina is of course a bit more temperate than Boston, but certain fruits and veggies have their season, so I dove right into June, excited to see what tricks she had up her sleeve.

I see these two weeks I have the book out of the library as free-trial period. No money down, and I can return it, no questions asked. That being said, if all the recipes are like this one here that I saw and knew I needed to make, well, Reusing has just sold a copy of her book.

I had been bookmarking rhubarb recipes for nearly a month: muffins, compotes, cakes, clafoutis and jams, but none of them felt like a June recipe to me. But when I saw this sorbet recipe, that teams rhubarb with a ginger syrup, I knew I had found what I was looking for. I used about half the amount of rhubarb that Reusing calls for, but left the amount of ginger syrup the same. The result was wonderful: soft, sweet, fragrant and surprisingly creamy for a sorbet. It also yielded about 1 1/2 cups, which is what the original recipe says it will make. I used this for my sieve.

I’ve since announced to Rich that we will now have ginger syrup on-hand at all times in the house. As Reusing points out, there is a touch more syrup made than what is needed for the recipe, and suggests to make a spring cocktail combining it with muddled fresh strawberries, lime juice and vodka, served over ice. Don’t mind if I do!

Rhubarb-Ginger Sorbet from “Cooking in the Moment” by Andrea Reusing

Makes 1 1/2 cups

3 pounds fresh rhubarb, thinly sliced (about 2 quarts)

1 1/2 cups Ginger Syrup (recipe follows)

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons lemon juice, or more to taste

In a nonreactive saucepan, bring the rhubarb, ginger syrup, and salt to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the rhubarb turns a deep, dusky rose color and is the texture of very soft applesauce. (It took me closer to 25 minutes to reach that stage, but perhaps you’ll have better luck than me.) Push through a medium (not fine) sieve or colander with a spatula while still warm. It should yield 4 cups. Cool before adding the lemon juice and freezing an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. (We actually put the bowl in an ice bath to speed up the cooldown before mixing.)

Ginger Syrup

Makes 2 1/2 cups

2 1/2 cups sugar

2 cups sliced, unpeeled fresh ginger

Bring 1 1/4 cups water to a boil in a nonreactive saucepan. Stir in the sugar and ginger and bring to a very low simmer. Cook for 1 hour. Cool the ginger in the liquid and then strain.

Redemption Salad

Lately, I’ve been inflicting injurious harm to salads within my reach. Or, as Rich put it when he saw the mess on my plate at his brother’s wedding two weeks ago, “What did you do to your salad?” I looked down at my plate. The dressing was more of a lake on my little dish.  A grape tomato floated in the liquid like a buoy. A piece of lettuce, like a water-bogged piece of driftwood, was sinking nearby. “I don’t know,” I replied, stymied. The following week, at a friend’s bridal shower, a similar fate happened to my salad there as well. I’ve tried to understand what went wrong; my guess is one shouldn’t apply salad dressing with a ladle. Or, I shouldn’t use a ladle, at least.

This week was the start of Ward’s Berry Farm choose-your-own-CSA-box through my office. It couldn’t be simpler: I was given the option of ordering upfront for the entire season or going week-by-week, choosing whatever box tickles my fancy when it’s announced. And I couldn’t be happier. May and April were such a bust, produce-wise.  I am still annoyed at the bunch of asparagus I picked up with glee last month at Russo’s, only to realize it was from California. So the idea that I can get a box of produce from the farmer who picked it, two blocks from my office, makes me so happy. This week’s box included two heads of lettuce: my shot at redemption for the wrong I did to those poor, unsuspecting plates of banquet salad.

I intentionally kept the salad simple. I carefully cleaned the red leaf lettuce, gave it a spin in a salad spinner and ripped it into bite-sized pieces. I sliced up a cucumber, and then peeled and grated a beet. If you can, do it it with a food processor; it keeps things on the clean side. Then, I gently drizzled on this sunset-hued chile-cumin vinaigrette from Didi Emmons Vegetarian Planet. I modified the recipe just a touch. I found that the two teaspoons of honey made for a very tangy dressing, so I added a third. She calls for a mild red chili power: I used the Aleppo powder I picked up at Fairway last time I was visiting friends in the city.

Chile-Cumin Dressing adapted from Vegetarian Planet

Ingredients

1 ½ teaspoons cumin seeds

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon mild red chili powder

3 teaspoons honey

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

2/3 cup canola or corn oil

Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

  1. Toast the cumin seeds in a small, dry skillet, shaking the pan often, until they release their aroma. Grind the seeds in a spice mill. In a blender or food processor, blend the garlic, mustard, cumin, chili powder and honey to a paste.
  2. Pour the vinegar and oil into a bowl. With the blender or processor running, slowly pour the vinegar-oil mixture into the paste. When all of the vinegar-oil mixture has been incorporated, add salt and pepper. Store the dressing in a covered container in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to 3 weeks.

Makes about 1 cup dressing

Milk and Honey

Last week I went outside to Rich who was busy working on his bicycle. “Honey, right now I’m cooking some wheat berries in the pressure cooker. They should be done in about 15 minutes.” “Um, OK…” Rich responded. I could hear the skepticism in his voice.

“But I’ve realized that the dish I had in mind would instead be a perfect dish for Shavuot,” “Jewish Pentecost?” he asked, making sure he was thinking of the right holiday.  “Yup!” I said. “So tonight, we’re having macaroni and cheese,” then I paused, “from a box!” (There weren’t a lot of kosher mac and cheese options growing up, so it’s a totally foreign dish to me.) “Yippee!” Rich replied with a genuine enthusiasm for a true dish of his childhood.

Let me unpack this a little, starting with the wheat berries. A few months back, I went a little wild in the bulk bin aisle. I had come across some new recipes, and was so excited by them that I filled up my sack with all sorts of goodies. Along with wheat berries, I now have containers of mung beans, Kamut and other grains lining the shelves of my pantry.

But excited as I was with my bounty, I quickly remembered that I wasn’t going to be the only one enjoying the new dishes. Rich, of course, would be dining with me, and as willing as he is to try something new, quite often something completely foreign to him, I realize that sometimes I’m asking a lot of him. I took a good look at the small, round green mung beans and asked myself, Am I really going to feed my husband mung beans?

You see, Rich comes from a world of meat and potatoes, with a strong dose of dessert (cake and ice cream, not fruit). I, as you can probably gather from the blog, was brought up kosher and with a vegetarian streak. Our childhood palates are only the least of our different beginnings. When I first met Rich, I could have never imagined him ever being my husband. And how could I? He was raised in a very traditional Catholic household – an altar boy until 18, no less.  And I was raised in an equally if not more traditional Jewish household, with years of Jewish day school and a degree from Jewish seminary to boot.

So when we first got together, I asked myself the same question that I did looking at those mung beans: Is this really going to work?  And it’s been challenging at times, but my husband has proven to be a very capable student of Judaism. And he’s taught me about Christianity, especially where the New Testament has borrowed from the Old. More importantly, being in a relationship with Rich has taught me tolerance and acceptance of the unknown.

Next up: Shavuot. It’s the day the Jewish people celebrate the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. We actually count down the days from the second day of Passover, when the Children of Israel left Egypt, to their arrival at Mt. Sinai — in total, a seven-week journey. As Rich put it after I explained it to him: “So that’s where we got Pentecost from.”

Shavuot is also one of the three harvest festivals on the Jewish calendar, marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. There are more customs than laws for this holiday. Some observant Jews mark the occasion by staying up all night studying Torah. Reading the Book of Ruth, the story of the righteous convert which takes place during the barley harvest, is another popular tradition.

Jews eat dairy on the holiday. There are many explanations to this one, but most focus on the Children of Israel receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. And with the Torah, they also received the kosher laws and discovered that their pots and pans, and even their meat itself, would not pass muster.  Eating dairy, even today, is considered the easiest way to circumvent these issues.

This recipe is all of three ingredients, but each one touches on a Shavuot tradition. The Ricotta cheese is straight-up dairy, and the wheat berries pick up on the harvest theme. Finally, the whole thing is mixed with honey – as in “the land of milk and.” But most importantly, it’s an accessible dish for my husband, who’s still impressing me with his openness to my religion and cuisine.

Wheat Berries with Ricotta and Honey from The Italian Country Table by Lynn Rossetto Casper

This dish has its origins in southern Italy, where it is eaten for lunch, dinner or a snack. In the United States, it’s viewed as more appropriate for brunch or dessert. I cook my wheat berries for 18 minutes in the pressure cooker.

Ingredients

1 cup (5 ounces) hard wheat kernels (wheat berries)

Water

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups high-quality creamy ricotta

Honey to taste

½ cup currants or raisins

Generous pinch of ground cinnamon (optional)

  1. Soak the wheat in cold water to cover overnight in the refrigerator
  2. Drain and place in a 3-quart saucepan along with the salt and enough water to cover by 2 or 3 inches. Cook at a slow simmer, partially covered, about 1 hour, or until tender. The kernels will open up slightly.
  3. Drain the wheat and combine it with the ricotta. Blend in honey to taste and the currants or raisins. Turn into a deep serving bowl and dust with cinnamon, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature in small bowls.

Iron Chef: CSA

A few summers ago, I had the privilege of judging a local Iron Chef competition. The secret ingredient was not some creature off the ocean’s floor or an exotic fruit flown in from a far off island. Instead, it was the contents of the contestants’ Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, to highlight New England’s incredible summer bounties.

The teams used different farms and were assured that they didn’t need to use their entire boxes. To make sure the competition was fair, a list of standard vegetarian ingredients was issued, to be used in moderate quantities to enhance the vegetables: eggs, butter, up to 24 oz of soy products, 1 can beans/chickpeas or up to 2 lbs dried legumes, vegetable broth, garlic, onion,  nuts, flour, rice, quinoa or couscous, cornstarch, cocoa, sugar, up to 6 oz of cheese,  salt, pepper, milk, extra-virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, mustard, vinegar, soy sauce, lemon/lime juice. Contestants were allowed to use any spices but got extra points for fresh herbs.

Some teams really stepped up for the competition and produced terrific dishes, including a refreshing tomato granita served in a hollowed-out cucumber and fresh, homemade pasta. Others, I am sad to report, did not. “A quiche?” I asked one team. “You bring me quiche? Do you want to win?”

(Side note: Before I get a dozen comments from people defending quiche, I just want to say, I get it. In fact, I keep a package of frozen Orinoco pie shells in my freezer, just in case I need to show up at a potluck at an hour’s notice: some eggs, some milk, a softened onion, a jar of roasted red peppers kept in the pantry for this specific food emergency, a fluffy pile of grated cheese. Yes, I get it. But there’s a contest going on, people!)

“Hey,” they responded, “We were at the Springsteen concert last night. It got out late. We didn’t have enough time. The crust is homemade, if that helps.” It helped, a little. Duly noted.

After the parade of dishes, we, the judges huddled upstairs comparing notes, where, a la Twelve Angry Men, I may have provoked a “spirited” conversation about which team should win. My favorite was the first team, which kicked off the competition with fresh summer rolls stuffed with ripe mango, served with a side of peanut dipping sauce. “But Molly,” my judges pointed out, “they broke the rules. There’s no such thing as a mango in a CSA box. There’s no such thing as a local mango, period. It’s New England! And rice papers? Peanut butter? Those things just aren’t allowed.” “But they were my favorite!” I argued. “I loved the mango in the summer rolls; so refreshing in this heat.”

I was outvoted ultimately, and realistically we couldn’t award the CSA Iron Chef competition to fresh mango summer rolls. I relented and begrudgingly shaved points from their score. The winner, I guess I should just mention at this point, was the tomato granita team, which was captained by my sister. Hey, I’m nothing if not impartial.

The fresh mango was such a treat for me. I never buy them, exactly for the reason why my fellow judges felt they had no place in the competition. But here’s the thing: It’s mango season, really and truly. As Melissa Clark wrote last month, springtime is mango season in India and all the hot steamy places mangoes grow. My Facebook feed is now full of photos of friends’ mango trees in Miami, brimming with the orange gems. Considering that we seem to have skipped from winter right into summer (complete with thunderstorms and tornadoes) the time is right for fresh mango summer rolls.

I bought my rice papers at H-Mart in Burlington, but I’ve also picked them up at Super 88 (now Hong Kong Market) at Packard’s Corner. The Thai basil and fresh mint are what makes it taste like a summer roll. I picked up my bunches at Russo’s this time around, but I know H-Mart and Hong Kong Market sells them as well.

If you’ve never made a summer roll before, don’t fret, it’s very simple. Think burrito. Some of the rice papers will rip, but just keep going. And please don’t worry if they don’t all look gorgeous; they’ll still taste delicious. Make sure you have all your ingredients laid out on the counter assembly-line style, starting with a pan of warm water for soaking the rice paper.

To prepare the mango: I peel mine with a peeler, then I stand it up and, with a sharp knife, cut the flesh right up off its pit. For this dish, I slice everything very, very thin, the length and width of two matchsticks.

Most recipes I’ve read for summer rolls call for Napa cabbage, although I’ve never actually been served them that way in a restaurant. After ranch dressing, this is the best use of iceberg lettuce.  I thought that some crisp, sweet red pepper would be nice with the mango, and it was. I also used some fresh tofu, and I’ve seen some restaurants use grilled meat in theirs. I say go for it, if that’s your thing. Otherwise, hello, vegan yumminess!

Fresh Summer Rolls

8 rice papers, but keep more around because some will rip

One head iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced. Use a plastic knife if you’ve got one handy; steel knives will cause the lettuce to brown.

¼ cup Thai basil, julienned

¼ cup fresh mint leaves, julienned

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl.

Half a red pepper, cleaned and sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

One mango, sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

One block tofu, sliced the width and length of two matchsticks

Directions:

Fill a large pan with warm water and set on counter. Next to that, place a large plate. If you have room on your counter, place the herbed lettuce directly in back of the plate. If not, place it right next to the plate. Next to that, set your plate of mango, tofu and red peppers.

Take one sheath of rice paper, gently lay it into the water, swish it between your fingers for about 15 seconds, until it softens.

Remove it from the pan and lay it on the plate.

Place about ¼ cup of lettuce near the bottom of the paper. Add a slice of mango (or two), red pepper and tofu.

Fold up the bottom, then the sides, and roll up to the top.

Repeat.

And please don’t get frustrated if the first two or three, or even the seventh, rips. It will happen.

Peanut Butter Sauce

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 tablespoon grated ginger

Juice of half a lime

Mix all ingredients in bowl and give it a taste. Maybe you’ll realize it needs more sugar. Maybe you’ll think it needs more ginger. Definitely fine tune it to your own tastes. Also, this makes a ton of sauce. It will keep in the fridge for a few days. My suggestion is to find yourself some steamed broccoli and some noodles. Maybe brown rice. I promise you at no time will you throw your hands up in the air and shriek that you have too much peanut sauce on hand.