Wednesday, September 27, 2006

It's Autumn Children,
Well it is, and it's going to feel like it soon, and even better, you will see it at the market for the next two or three months. Now, those of us lucky enough to shop at a farmer's market will see it most dramatically; but even if the closest you come to a farmer is Pepperidge Farm, there is a lot of variety out there if you only look for it.
I feel like every season has a flavor "profile". By this I mean, the flavors ripe and ready to be exploited, used and abused. And really why not abuse them a bit. If you sign on to my theory, come Spring, you're not going to be serving them anyway.
To my mind, the flavor profile of autumn is made up of of the following:
Wild Mushrooms, Nuts, Grapes, Apples, Truffles, Game, Pomegranates, Winter Squash, Root Vegetables, Pumpkin and Cornmeal.
Here's some thoughts on how to use them ...
Wild Mushrooms
It's important to recognize that a lot of what are called wild mushrooms (Shiitake, Oyster, Cremini, etc.) are not wild mushrooms. They are better classified as exotic mushrooms. Wild mushrooms are truly that. Mushrooms harvested in the wild, and the difference is both mind and wallet blowing. Wild mushrooms for the fall include porcini, chanterelle, black trumpet, lobster and hedgehog, however many others may appear locally. Of course it's important to stress the importance of purchasing wild mushrooms from reputable purveyors. They really call kill you, and even easier, make you sick as an orphan on trick or treat night.
One really delicious and relatively economical way to incorporate wild mushrooms into your autumn repetoire is with dried wild mushooms. They can be rehydrated whole, or ground dry into a powder in your spice/coffee grinder. Porcini mushrooms are especially available, and often at an econimical price if you have access to Costco or Sam's Club shopping clubs.
Here's one idea for using dried porcini:
Orreichette Pasta with Exotic Mushooms, Leeks, Asiago and Porcini Demi Glace
Saute a mixture of exotic or wild mushrooms (whatever the market or budget allows) and deglaze the pan with madeira or dry sherry. Set aside.
Clean leeks and slice. Wash thoroughly. Sautee in oil or buter, being careful not to add color. Feel free to deglaze with a little white wine. When soft and tender, remove from heat and set aside
While cooking the mushrooms and leeks reduce homemade chicken or veal stock with madeira (or sherry) and porcini mushroom powder, until it has some viscosity. You may add some purchased demi glace to speed the process (For the record, you will rarely receive specific measurements here. I rely on your cooking instincts to make these recipes happen. If you need extra insight, email me.) When the liquid coats a spoon, remove from heat and set aside.
Shred asiago cheese, mix in 2/3 of the cheese and set aside. If serving this dish room temperature, chop flat Itlian parsley and set aside.
Cook orreicchette until al dente, drain and chill. Combine pasta, mushrooms, porcini reduction, leek and asiago. If serving hot, put in prepared cassreole and bake at 350* until crisp outside and hot inside. If serving room temperature, place in bowl and garnish with parsley and reserved asiago cheese.

There you go my pretties. Next post we'll move ahead on the fall flavor profile.
Contented Eating
Big Mary

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I wanted to re-visit Italy for many of the obvious reasons; the history, the incredible flavors, the beautiful people, terra cotta roofs against clear blue skies and those great yellow ochre walls of Italian buildings. However, the best souvenier I brought home was a renewed respect for honest, seasonal ingredients used simply to produce vibrant nourishing meals.
Each city boasted at least one glistening market, or in the case of Bologna, a whole district of stores, stalls and stands, with cured meats, fragrant cheeses and blood red tomatoes, cherries, basil, chilies, eggplant and zucchini. Was it coincidence that the cherries we sampled were the epitome of cherry, or was it just the romance of the setting. I still don't know. Maybe it was the the lowered expectation when told these blond, blushing beauties were Maraschino Cherries. (Side note: turns out the processed, plasticified, red dyed cherries at the bottom of my Manhattan, DO start out as Ranier cherries, an American similar variety) In any case, their tart sweetness has entered my permanent sense memory beside my Mom's pecan pie, my first taste of frais de bois, the smell of shaved white truffles and Iranian Imperial Blond Oessetra Caviar.
What we didn't see this stiffling sunny July afternoon was asparagus, blood oranges, porcini, brussels sprouts or artichokes. All of which I could find in a local high end NYC gourmet shop. What the Italian nonnas know that so many of us don't is that food has seasons, and you just shouldn't be eating asparagus in Italy in July.
And I'm more guilty than the least offender, providing asparagus in the barren snowscape of winter to my highly opinionated, and more highly uninformed corporate clientel of paper pushers, secretaries and junior executives that my catering company serves. But let's set that aside for now, as it's clearly the 2000 pound gorilla in the room.
To my mind, we lose out the most in ignoring the tightly focused bounty of fall and winter vegetables. Parsnips, turnips, kale and mustard greens, chanterellle, brussels sprouts, carrots and the wide array of autumn squashes, kabocha, delicata, sweet dumpling to name a mere three. It' so easy to toss out a summer vegetable array with tomatoes, sugar snap peas, corn, summer squash, sweet peppers and eggplant. More challenging and rewarding is to celibrate the richer, deeper flavours of autumn. Goddess be praised, if only for the annual rebirth of white truffels.
In my next post I hope to dive deeper into some thoughts on autumn flavors and ingredients. Until then...
Contented Eating,
Big Mary