Monday, 24 October 2011

Bye for now my Sweet Shepherd's Peppers

At this time of year I silently mourn the end of Shepherd's peppers. Not to be seen in any grocery store around here til sometime late next summer, they disappear quiet ceremony bidding them goodbye, no poem to describe how unique and glorious they are.  Am I the only one wondering why these heavenly sweet-tasting peppers can't be available year-round? Assuming they can be grown in local greenhouses, I figure my wish is well within the 100-mile radius for food lovers so I don't understand why we're bombarded with the other variety of red pepper for the rest of the year, a pepper which I find so ill-tasting I can't even bear to bring one home anymore.  

I know I've roasted and preserved a bushel of Shepherd's and they're protected by my cantina walls right now but it's not the same. Fresh is fresh. And so this spoiled brat said a silent prayer in her kitchen this past weekend to keep all local farmers--  especially those who grow Shepherd's peppers--  safe over the winter months until we enjoy their precious produce again next year. My quiet ceremony paired a few Shepherd's with other favorite veggies for a macedonia, a mix of veggies for a stir-fry that goes great with steak, chicken, meatballs-- even pizza and pasta. 

Here's my recipe: along with your peppers, wash and cut up celery, mushrooms and rapini. Add a generous amount of olive oil to a heavy-bottomed skillet. Once warm, add two to three large cloves of minced garlic and peperoncino to your taste.  Cook and stir for a minute or two. Add rapini and celery and cook, (always stirring on medium heat) for a few more minutes. Add mushrooms and peppers, and when almost fully cooked,  half a cup of finely grated parmigiano.  I add an onion or two to almost everything I cook but I didn't this time.  I think onion would add great flavor as would other veggies.  See what works for you, the combinations are endless. I'll be looking for substitutes til I spot the first of the Shepherd's peppers next year.  God bless farmers everywhere. Buon appetito! Buon pranzo.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Giving Thanks for Turkey Leftovers

Turkey was the main ingredient for many of us last week.  I hope 
you had a happy holiday. We had a couple of lively and memorable Thanksgiving gatherings stuffing ourselves like a bunch of turkeys.  Our appetites for several rounds of nutrition and fine wine reminds me of that lively song La Societa dei Mangnaccioni, do you remember that one?  It's the story of a group of young people who call themselves The Society of Big Eaters. They live to eat, drink and enjoy life to the fullest not caring about much else. My sister and I used to sing it a lot many lunas ago when we were teens and too young to fully appreciate all the work that goes on before the food arrives at the dinner table! 

I don't know any songs about leftovers but I do remember a funny commercial on TV about a young boy who can't wait to eat dinner, then upon seeing it, he sighs heavily and groans:  "Leftovers again?"  As a kid, I used to laugh. As an adult I think: "Leftovers--alright! Now how can I rearrange them so I'm not on the receiving end of those heavy sighs?"  This year, I used my Thanksgiving kitchen harvest to make a couple of turkey pot pies. Number of groans: I thought I'd share my recipe with you. 

Here's how I layered them from the bottom up:  start with a generous layer of cooked turkey, cut into cubes and top with gravy.  
I added some peperoncino. Layer your stuffing next (if you're lucky enough to have any left) followed by whatever vegetable you've got. I used leftover garlic mashed cauliflower. Next I organized a layer of sliced sweet potatoes and topped it all off with traditional mashed potatoes.  Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 375 degrees. Easy, delizioso, and works well for any society of big eaters. Try layering your leftover chicken, fish, beans or simply vegetables. I'm looking forward to exploring a few creative combinations over the winter months when warm pies are welcomed most.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

It's a Good Day for Harvest Soup

Rather than wishing for the rainy weather to go away, I gathered some of my market veggies to make a chill-defying soup this morning.  This miserable weather calls for some comfort food.  Soup, zuppa, minestra, and plain, delicious many memories come to my mind beginning with my mom's steamy stracciatella.  I used to watch her beat the eggs and grated cheese with a fork and wondered if I could ever master that technique. She often added tiny meatballs to her brodo that were so drenched in parmiggiano, inhaling its fumes was almost as good as savouring it. 
And then there was the dreaded Green Goober Soup, as my sister called it, concocted by our vita-sana (healthy-living) mother when the Osterizer came to roost in our kitchen.  It was the enemy of all Children Against Veggies. My Ma's blender phase of pureed greens lasted longer than my sister could stand and was served piping hot to her loud protests much too often.  As my Uncle Tony used to say: "Chi santo mi salva?" (Which saint is going to save me?")

This harvest soup is always welcomed in our home and great for school lunches, as long as you have a reliable thermos.  We've tried a few models, once again having to relearn the lesson that you get what you pay for.  Here is my recipe.

Harvest Soup
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bunch of leeks, chopped (bottoms only)
4 or 5 carrots
2 sweet potatoes
Fresh ginger
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 to 1 1/2 cups of milk

Set a medium-sized pot with water on the stove to boil your sweet potatoes for five minutes. This will make them easier to peel and chop. Peel and roughly chop carrots and cut up a piece of ginger (roughly the size of a tablespoon). Next, add one to two tablespoons of olive oil to a heavy soup pot.  Add minced garlic and chopped up leeks.  Stir-fry for a few minutes, then add carrots and ginger.  Mix well.  Drain sweet potatoes and run under cold water so they're easy to handle.  Peel, chop, and add them to the mix. Cook for one to two minutes, then add broth and cover.  Cook on low to medium heat for roughly 30 minutes.  Puree using your favourite blender (I use one similar to the old Green-Goober machine). Stir in one to one-and-a-half cups of milk and keep on low heat.  Do not boil. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with either  parsley, sour cream or nutmeg and savour.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Fresh is Beautiful at the Market

We spent some of our morning at the Farmer's Market.  We walk there often on Saturday mornings from spring to fall.  It's a chance to visit with neighbors, exchange recipe information with total strangers and bump into old friends who live on the other side of town.  Today we joked with friends who asked us to try the new variety of Strawberries called the "trymes".  What are those we asked?  "See the small sign over the berries there?  It says "Try Me!"  
Oh...abbiamo capito...

This month we'll make a point of bundling up and going to the market every Saturday.  There are only four fresh market days left until spring.  

It was unusually cold today; a sign of things to come.  Although I'm Canadian, my Mediterranean blood protests at the wintry winds that blow this time of year. Wearing my fingerless gloves, I wondered how many days are left before the first snow falls.  I will relish these fall days and enjoy every bit of sunshine that comes our way.

It took a while to decide which one of these crusty masterpieces we would take home.  Look at them...aren't they gorgeous?  To me, baked bread is art as fine as any Chagall in the gallery. 

When I see freshly baked bread, I often think of my Zio Peppino who used to bake the best bread every week.  I watched him braid the loaves and push the tins into the oven; then wait with little patience 'til they emerged golden-brown delicious.  They always looked so perfect and so did these loaves I saw today.  

I carried the biggest bunch of celery home like a football.  It was grande, grande and a challenge to fit it comfortably into the fridge. 

In this vegetable heaven, I feel a Mediterranean stir-fry coming on.  Wonder what it will be?  Something that shaves down that Capo di Celery I wrestled with...and something with no tomatoes. We've been submerged in red sauce for weeks now.  Time to enjoy the color green.  I will see what comes together in my cucina and share my recipe with you next week.