April 30, 2013
In April, most seasonal restaurants tend toward green foods. As the weather shifts, and new crops come to life, plates are decorated with tender young peas, asparagus, green garlic, and spring onions. And now, the green strawberry is joining the ranks.
Picked earlier than their red cousins (and abundant this time of year), green strawberries have been popping up on high-end menus for the last several years. And they show no sign of going out of style any time soon. Evan Rich, chef at the new San Francisco hot spot Rich Table, decided to take the plunge this year after noting the presence of green strawberries on a number of menus he admired. Then the underripe berries made an appearance at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Yerena Farms, a small organic berry grower based in California’s Monterey County was promoting the unusual item, and selling them to a number of prominent local chefs.
Rich bought several flats of the berries and pickled them using a simple brine of champagne vinegar, sugar and salt. Now he’s serving them with yogurt atop a scallop chip (the result of a process wherein the inventive chef purees, flattens, dehydrates and fries a local scallop).
So far, Rich been pleased with the results — a tart, perfumy flavor that catches diners just a little off-guard. “They have all the qualities of a strawberry without the sweetness,” he says. “They also provide a little hint of the sweet summer fruit to come.”
In cities like Portland, Oregon, where spring goes on a little longer, chefs have been seen pairing green strawberries with things like duck confit and rhubarb well into May. But green strawberries aren’t just for savory dishes. Brooklyn’s hipster pizzeria Roberta’s makes a green strawberries shortcake and at San Francisco’s Perbacco, pastry chef Laura Cronin regularly incorporates this unusual ingredient into her desserts this time of year.
“They have a more acidic flavor than red strawberries. I candy them or toss them in a sugar syrup seasoned with bay leaf and other spices and herbs,” she said recently. “I love the crispness they bring to the dish as well as the kiwi-like flavor they take on when macerated in sugar.”
Cronin’s latest creation? Candy cap mushroom donuts filled with green strawberry compote.
Unless you grow them yourself, finding a regular supply of green strawberries might be tricky for the average consumer. But it’s worth asking the vendors at your local farmers market if they’d considering picking a few flats of the fruit a week or so earlier than planned. Of course, green strawberries probably won’t ever ripen up to peak sweetness, so if you do pick or buy them at this stage, be sure to have a plan on hand for how to use them, like this simple pickling recipe that Yerena Farms has been handing out at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.
For the pickling:
1 part rice wine vinegar
1 part sugar
½ part water
¼ part lime juice
For the flavoring:
Dissolve the sugar into the vinegar with water. Cool completely. Combine strawberries, flavorings, and brine in a mason jar. Refrigerate for 2+ days. Get creative with flavorings. Have a pickle party and pair with cheese!
August 29, 2012
The unassuming town of Buñol, Spain, home to 9,000 residents, is situated along the quiet Buñol river. It boasts a great paella, along with its many fruit, almond and olive trees, and compared with its neighbor to the east, the city of Valencia, is rather sleepy.
Until 40,000 people from around the world start throwing over 100 metric tons of tomatoes at one another.
La Tomatina, Buñol’s annual tomato throwing food fight, took place this morning with participants trying hard to reach one goal: to throw as many tomatoes as possible in what has come to be known as the world’s biggest food fight. With one single fruit and one single color, it might not be all that aesthetically pleasing, but you’d have to be crazy to say that it doesn’t look like a hollering good time.
The event began with its traditional Palojabón (literally, hamstick), a greased wooden pole two stories high topped with a delicious-looking Spanish ham. One brave participant must climb the slick stick and retrieve the ham in order for the events of La Tomatina to officially begin. This year, like most, nobody reached the ham. And this year, like most, it did not matter. People began throwing tomatoes anyway. Heeding only a few rules–tomatoes must be squished before being thrown to avoid injury, and tomatoes are the only weapons to be used–participants in this year’s festival donned protective glasses and gloves to protect themselves from the flying fruits. You may be asking yourself, what is the point of such chaos? It is just that. Pure, chaotic tomato-celebrating fun.
But La Tomatina is not only a food fight. Though the tomato throwers might be the most memorable part of the week-long event, the festival is a true celebration of cuisine and the end of the summer. It features paella cook-offs, parades, dancing and fireworks and attracts tourists from around the world to enjoy the scenic city and take part in its local pride.
The origins of the tomato fight, which dates back to the 1940s, is unclear. The AFP says that it began with a friendly, neighborhood food fight, while townspeople in Buñol claim that the first tomatoes were thrown by residents angry at the city’s councilmen. Whatever its humble beginnings, the event is now an internationally recognized event.
Dictator Francisco Franco banned La Tomatina for its lack of religious ties, but when he left power in 1975 the event was swiftly resumed. While most raucous, obscure European traditions seem to date back centuries (Oktoberfest, for example, began in 1810), La Tomatina is a relatively new event, fueled by a nationalistic passion for celebrating even the most everyday oddities.
When the fight ended and the participants were covered in tomato puree, the streets were left cleaner than they were before. Bunol’s officials say that it is the acidity levels of the tomatoes that scrub the concrete clean, but it might also be the water used, sourced directly from a Roman aqueduct. Town residents kindly sprayed down a couple of hundred residents, while other tired food fighters headed to the Bunol River to wash themselves free of tomato residue.
It’s a shame they never added any garlic or basil to the mix, to spread over a nest of angel hair, but we can only hope that tomato fighters will be more industrious and culinarily-inclined in coming years.
June 9, 2010
I grew up in Southern California, partly in Orange County, which at the time still had nearly as many strawberry fields as shopping centers. I remember looking out at the rows of low plants and feeling bad for the migrant farm workers hunched over picking off the berries in the hot sun. All the same, I loved the (literal) fruits of their labor, those sweet, juicy red berries, which my family bought by the box at farm stands.
Most of those fields have since been replaced by tract homes, and over the years it seems to have gotten harder and harder to find good strawberries. California produces about 75 percent of the nation’s strawberries and, because they are so delicate and perishable, many of the ones you get in the supermarket now are large, flavorless and dry. I nearly gave up on my formerly favorite fruit.
So it was a pleasant revelation to me when I moved to upstate New York a few years ago and tried my first local strawberries—thumb-sized, ruby red and so packed with sweet strawberriness that I could have cried. The season here is short—only a few weeks in June and early July—but it just so happens that my wedding is planned for peak strawberry season, and my fiancé and I plan to serve them alongside the cake. I don’t even care if I dribble some of the red juice on my dress.
Two years ago I went to a pick-your-own strawberry farm, and it turns out I was right to feel sorry for the migrant workers. After only an hour or so of picking, my back was screaming in pain. All the more reason to use them wisely.
If you can get your hands on good strawberries (and can restrain yourself from just popping them like gumdrops), here are five good ways to eat them:
1. With cream. This is as classic as it gets. Once you combine strawberries with cream (whipped or otherwise), you can use them to top shortcake or angel food cake, or mix with pieces of meringue for the English dessert called Eton Mess (which originated at Britain’s most famous private school).
2. In a pie. The year that I picked my own strawberries, I decided to use them in a pie to bring to a July 4th barbecue. It was simple—just glazed berries in a cookie crust—but, thanks to the quality of the berries, it was good enough to garner raves from some Culinary Institute of America students.
3. In a risotto. One of my colleagues uses wild strawberries in an unexpected risotto, though I imagine cultivated ones would also work. This is a good use for berries that aren’t very sweet. Just follow your favorite risotto recipe—or try this one from Saveur—adding chopped berries, and finish with fresh Parmesan cheese and a fresh strawberry garnish.
5. In a cocktail. Daiquiris are the popular choice, and margaritas a close second, but for something a little different try using a strawberry shrub—known as a gastrique in France—which is an old-fashioned boiled and chilled mixture of fruit, vinegar and sugar that can be drunk as is or added to a cocktail.
March 1, 2010
The coconut is one of the most useful plants in the world. Some cultures use almost every part of the tree from the leaves to the water inside of the coconut fruit. In fact, the water is sterile, and was used as a intravenous solution in a pinch during World War II. The flesh of the coconut fruit, the fluid inside the coconut, coconut milk (made of liquid squeezed from the coconut flesh) and even the root of the palm, known as hearts of palm, are all eaten. Here are a few ways to enjoy the different parts of the coconut:
1. Batter: Think coconut-breaded shrimp. Use flakes of coconut flesh to coat shrimp and bake or fry. You can also coat other seafood, like tilapia, or try chicken with dried coconut flakes.
2. Salad: Hearts of palm are harvested from the root of a palm tree. Doing this kills the entire tree, so a salad made with the root was once called a “millionaire’s salad.” Today, rather than using coconut palms or other varities, most heart of palm comes from the peach palm—the only palm varietal not to die after its root has been harvested. Hearts of palm have a subtle flavor similar to asparagus or artichoke. Paula Deen has a recipe for a salad with spinach, strawberry and hearts of palm that I can’t wait to try.
3. Curry: Coconut milk is the base for many Thai curries. I make a creamy red curry using red curry paste, a can of coconut milk, chicken and sweet potato. For more information, and some actual recipes, Serious Eats as a nice breakdown of curry type with recipes.
4. Substitute for dairy: While I don’t keep kosher, recipes using coconut milk instead of dairy milk to follow kosher laws are intriguing. Take this Sweet Potato Coconut Crumble from Gourmet Kosher Cooking or these coconut milk scalloped potatoes. Coconut milk can also serve as the base of non-dairy ice creams for those lactose intolerant ice cream lovers. Grist recently reviewed non-dairy ice cream options, and the coconut milk varieties won.
5. Piña Colada: Some snow from the great snow storm of 2010 is still lingering on the ground here in D.C., but it’s already March and spring will be here soon. When it starts to warm up, fix yourself a piña colada and pretend you’re on a tropical beach somewhere. This popular cocktail is made from rum, pineapple juice and cream of coconut, which is derived from coconut milk.
September 22, 2009
Honeycrisp, Gala, Macoun, Gingergold, Cortland, Macintosh… our fridge was full of apples after a recent trip to visit friends on the north shore of Massachusetts. We went to one of my favorite old haunts there, Russell Orchards in Ipswich, where the smell of fresh cider donuts is even stronger than I remembered. Turns out, that’s because they now fuel their tractors—which pull tourist-heavy haywagons out to the orchards—with their used donut oil! Nifty.
On the drive home, I daydreamed about all the delicious recipes we could make, but somehow our main ingredient evaporated within a week (is there any better snack than a cold, crisp, fresh apple?). Here are some ideas for those of you with more self-control (or simply more apples):
1) Savory Apple Salads. Most people think of baking apples into desserts, but combining their sweet crunch with savory or salty flavors also makes a terrific salad. I know I’ll like curried apples with couscous or spiced apple quinoa salad. (I’m not as sure about kohlrabi-apple salad with mustard, but that’s just because I’ve never had kohlrabi.) And don’t forget the classic Waldorf, of course!
2) Apple Crisp. I practically lived on this during my junior year abroad in England, when my food budget was frequently consumed by my entertainment and travel budget. Our student housing included a small backyard with an abundantly producing apple tree, and my roommates and I took turns cooking up crisps almost daily. Recipes vary—here’s a good one—but the basic idea is to make a crumbly topping that combines butter, brown sugar, flour and/or oats. Fill a baking dish with sliced apples and a few pats of butter, sprinkle on cinnamon and maybe a little sugar, and add your topping. Bake for 45 minutes or so, until golden and starting to bubble with juice. Serve it warm for dessert, and eat the leftovers for breakfast. (Or, in the case of my roommates and me, leave it unattended overnight and later have a rousing fight over who finished it off…)
3) Apple Omelet. When I spotted recipes for this on Epicurious and Serious Eats, I initially thought it was some quirky new idea—but then I found it in a recipe from 1914 on the Apple Journal site, so I guess it’s stood the test of time. The Feasting on Art blogger was inspired by a Gauguin still-life to create a caramelized apple omelet with dulce de leche and goat cheese, which sounds amazing. Have any of you tried something like this?
4) Apple Pastries. This Bon Appetit recipe for cheddar-apple turnovers with dried cranberries, by the talented Dorie Greenspan, makes me drool, and it sounds temptingly easy. I hope it works in my toaster oven. And in response to my own question, yes, there is a better snack than a cold, crisp, fresh apple: It’s called apple strudel. And I ate waaaay too much of it when I lived in Austria, and later in Germany, for a few months. I’ve never considered making it myself—pastry dough intimidates me—but Paula Deen’s recipe, which uses frozen phyllo dough, looks doable. (And it adds bourbon, never a bad thing in my book.)
5) Apples and Peanut Butter. Yeah, I know, it’s a kindergartner’s snack. But it’s delicious.
As always, I’d love to hear your ideas, too!