Bitter Herb

I’m tempted to start a new category on the blog: what to do with your leftover x that you bought for Passover and is still in your fridge a month and a half later. This year it was the fresh horseradish that my family always uses. Think E.T. but with a mop of curly green hair. It gets grated into the jarred stuff that is served alongside a few pieces of gefilte fish at a Saturday morning kiddush.

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The thing about the horseradish is that I can’t stand it. That entire category of foods doesn’t agree with me (Why would you ruin sushi with wasabi? And you do realize they make poison from mustard?) I debated just tossing the offending root in the trash, but that seemed like a waste. So I went to my cookbooks.

Luckily, it only took five minutes of searching until I was reading a pickled beets recipe that calls for fresh horseradish. It’s from Deborah Madison’s terrific cookbook, America: The Vegetarian Table, a book which has served me well in the past, but which I hadn’t opened in years.

The recipe calls for two tablespoons of coarsely grated fresh horseradish, which I toned down to about a teaspoon and a half. And honestly, the recipe really did benefit from the root. It gave it a little heat and was a great counter balance to the warm spices: brown sugar, fresh nutmeg, fresh ginger and whole cloves.

Madison points out that tiny garden beets, about the size of “large marbles,” are prettiest in this recipe. I used what was in my fridge, which were large ones. I simply peeled them, cut them into smaller pieces and steamed them before the pickling.

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I’ve served these alongside whatever we’re having for dinner: quinoa with arugula stirred into it; arugula sautéed with tons of garlic, strips of fresh red pepper and finished with golden raisins; roasted carrots topped with fresh dill; chunks of fresh avocado; eggs, boiled hard but with jammy yolks. Or, just grab a fork and the jar and have yourself an afternoon snack.

Pickled Beets from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table

Ingredients

About 3 cups of beets (20 small beets)

1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

1/2 cup white or brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 scant teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into strips

Up to 2 Tablespoons coarsely grated fresh horseradish

7 whole cloves

Directions

Trim the beets, leaving on ½ inch of their stems, and scrub them well. Or, peel and cut larger beets into 2-inch pieces. Steam them until tender but still a little firm, about 15 minutes. Let the beets cool. If the skins are tender looking and free of roots or coarse patches, leave them unpeeled; otherwise, peel them. Fit them into a clean quart jar.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan and bring them to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the beets, immersing them fully, Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. They are best served after sitting for at least a day and will keep for one to two months.

 

 

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A Perfect Pear-ing

We had quite a busy Saturday this weekend, starting with a lovely afternoon on Cape Ann. I shared a hay bale and a microphone with some really remarkable women to discuss eating locally at the Rockport HarvestFest. While we were there, we enjoyed lots of local treats like maple-covered almonds, fresh corn chowder and homemade pumpkin whoopie pies.

Then we trucked it back to town for an evening of parties. First stop was our friends’ annual beer and cheese party. What started as a gathering of about two dozen enthusiastic beer geeks six years ago has blossomed into more than 75 people sharing their favorite pairings.

In keeping with the local spirit, we brought a 2-year aged cheddar from Shelburne Farms in Vermont. We paired it with two versions of a saison, a spicy Belgian-style farmhouse ale, by new local breweries: Mystic Brewery in Chelsea and Backlash Beer Co. in Holyoke. And although the most popular accoutrement at the party was a baby (another change over the six years), my special accompaniment was a pear chutney I churned up earlier this week. As I simmered my pears, I thought about how my attempt to prepare a locally sourced dish had ended up involving ground coriander from Asia and lemons from California. Of course, the vinegary relish is of Indian origin and is now the most popular condiment in the United Kingdom.

Me, Maggie Batista, and Jane Ward. Not pictured: Heather Atwood.

Our second party was a 30th birthday for a dear friend, and the chutney did double duty that night as a small gift for him. I had actually tagged this recipe last fall to use as little gifts for friends, but the season slipped by too fast for me. To make sure that doesn’t happen again, I have another half dozen pears resting on my dining room table, just waiting to spruce up anything from a serving of yogurt to accompanying a nice piece of fish.

Pear Chutney from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table (I know, I’ve become a little addicted to this cookbook.)

As Deborah writes, “chutneys are sweet and sours in a single jar. Firm but ripe fruits are the best to use – little Winter Nellis, Anjou, or Bartlett Pears that are a day shy of eating. Peaches and nectarines can also be used for this chutney.”

Ingredients

2 pounds firm pears

½ cup white sugar

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup light brown sugar

½ cup golden raisins

Zest of 1 lemon

1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon minced garlic

½ cup peeled and diced or sliced fresh ginger

¾ cup finely chopped white onion

3 dried cayenne, árbol, or other slender dried hot chiles

10 whole cloves

Directions

Peel and core the pears and dice them into small pieces. Put them in a heavy saucepan with the white sugar and place over low heat. Cook until they’ve released quite a bit of juice, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir them a few times while they cook. Drain off the juice and set the pears and juice aside separately.

In a nonreactive pot, combine the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Add the reserved juice, lower the heat, and simmer until fine bubbles dot the surface, about 40 minutes. Add the reserved pears and cook over low heat until the pears are translucent and the sauce is quite reduced and thick, about 25 minutes more. Ladle into a clean jar, cover tightly and refrigerate. They are best served after sitting for at least a day and will keep for up to two months.

Borei Pie HaGafen

For many American Jews, the Concord grape is synonymous with our traditions and holidays; a local ice cream chain, JP Licks, even sells a Manischewitz grape sorbet during April to celebrate Passover. In fact, when Rich and I were first dating, his Nana Parr – one of the best bakers I’ve ever met; I have the sugar cookie recipe, and will post it, promise – thoughtfully gave me a bottle of the sweet wine for the holidays. Granted, my parents were never big Concord grape wine fans – they’d be much more likely to serve a newly discovered gem from the Golan or perhaps something from Napa – but the flavor reminds me of grape juice, which was always the kiddie option at our table. The irony, of course, is that this Jewish flavor is also the most American taste out there. The grape was developed only a couple of miles from where I’m writing this, about 150 years ago.

All this is to explain why I choose to forgo bringing last year’s perfect plum cake to my parents’ for Rosh Hashana this year, and why I instead brought this Concord grape pie, made with the white grapes from my CSA. Deborah Madison writes, “This pie is truly America’s own, made from our native Concords in the northeast and Midwest, or Muscadines in the south.”

Before you scroll down to the recipe and say, “No thank you, that looks like way too much effort,” hear me out. This recipe doesn’t need to be made all at once. In fact, you’re better off doing it in separate steps. I made the ridiculously simple crust, which requires refrigeration, on Monday night, and then made the pie on Tuesday. And that part about separating the grape skins? Rich came and helped me with that step, and we were done in less than 10 minutes. And the food mill, which I know I’ve made the case for in the past, once again serves its purpose in getting rid of those pesky seeds.

We ate this pie for dessert on the second night of Rosh Hashana, after enjoying a dairy meal which was washed down with our pomegranate cocktails. My mom had the great idea to serve it with a scoop of ice cream and sprinkle berries on top. I doubt our purchase of Friendly’s granola and honey frozen yogurt is going to save the company from bankruptcy, but the flavor worked perfectly for this dish. This pie, as my friend Audrey exclaimed while enjoying the final slice, tastes like the good parts of Passover. Obviously, this recipe won’t work Pesach, let alone you’d be hard pressed to find ripe Concord grapes in April, but you can certainly make this for Succot later this month.

Concord Grape Pie from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table

Makes one 9-inch double crust pie; serves 6 to 8

Pie Crust

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

12 Tablespoons ( ¾ cup ) unsalted chilled butter, cut into small pieces

6 to 7 Tablespoons ice water

Filling

2 ½ pounds purple or white Concord grapes

½ to ¾ cup sugar

4 to 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, or 1 Tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1 to 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste

1 egg, beaten with 2 Tablespoons heavy cream or milk

Directions

To make the pie crust, stir together the flour and salt in a bowl. If you have a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Without a pastry blender, using two knives or your fingers, cut the butter until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Using a fork, stir in the water one tablespoon at a time, adding only enough for the pastry to hold together when pressed. Gather the dough into a ball and divide into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

To make the filling, pluck the grapes off their stems. You should have about four cups. Pinch them out of their skins, putting the insides into a saucepan and the skins into a bowl. Put the pan over medium heat, add ½ cup sugar, and cook until the grapes turn white, about three minutes. Pass them through a food mill placed over a bowl to rid them of their seeds, then add the skins to the pulp. Taste and, if it seems sour, add the remaining sugar while the pulp is still hot. Whisk in the flour or tapioca (use the larger amount of flour if the grapes were watery) and add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Let the mixture stand while you roll out the pie.

Preheat an oven to 450 degrees F. On a lightly floured board, roll the larger piece of dough into an 11-inch round. Ease it into a 9-inch pie pan and press it gently against the sides. Add the filling and brush the edges with water. Roll the second piece into a 9-inch round, set it over the filling, and crimp the edges. Make two slashes on the top for vents, and brush with the egg mixture.

Set the pie on a baking sheet in the center of the oven. After 10 minutes, lower the heat to 350 degrees F and bake until the crust is nicely browned, about 25 minutes. Remove to a rack and cool. Serve warm.