Articles by Author
I’ve been reading with fascination Michael Moss’ often hilarious and deeply thoughtful article in a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine. Moss — his book “Salt Sugar Fat” is a must-read for anyone who wonders how the American diet got to its present parlous state — approached a top ad agency, Victors & Spoils. (I thought it was a joke at first, but no, that really is an agency, renowned for provocative crowd-sourcing campaigns.)
What would happen, Moss proposed, if you created an ad campaign for, let’s say, broccoli, probably one of America’s most hated vegetables. The Times article follows Moss through his research on how a Coca-Cola type of campaign might approach the problem of vegetable dislike. (On the way, he looks at another key link in the chain — how American farmers could produce more vegetables and why they don’t.)
More from Zester Daily:
Because the fact is, if you look at statistics, we hate vegetables. Oh, I know, someone is going to respond by saying, “No, no, we love all vegetables, we eat nothing else.” But you, dear reader, are a sadly diminishing minority. Moss cites a 2010 study by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services that concluded only 5% of Americans younger than 50 are getting the recommended five servings a day. Most Americans consume daily only half as many vegetables and less than half the fruit they ought to be eating. (And most of that fruit is in the form of juice — the least healthful way to get it.)
That five servings a day, recommended by no less an authority than the World Health Organization, is itself a bit of wish fulfillment.
No one in fact knows for sure whether fruits and vegetables on their own will have an effect on chronic disease rates. (There is some skepticism about cancer protection, as noted in this BBC report.) But it’s very clear anecdotally at least that a diet high in a variety of fruits and vegetables has a positive impact on health.
So why don’t we eat more?
Probably because it’s too easy not to. Junk food, fast food and the like are all around us, mostly at arm’s reach. If you’re going to eat more vegetables, you have to prepare them — wash ’em, trim ’em, look ’em over for slugs or bugs or worse and then … cook ’em. (Unless you prefer to live on salad.)
What’s a busy guy to do? Reach for the microwavables. Maybe Healthy Choice’s Chicken & Potatoes with Peach BBQ Sauce, which has a whopping 24 grams of sugar and just 5 grams of dietary fiber, plus about a third of the total daily sodium intake recommended for people older than 50. Maybe not such a healthy choice after all?
Kale, leafy greens are worthy additions to your menu
Nonetheless, the selection of greens in most produce markets, even in the most ordinary supermarkets, grows greater every year, and somebody has to be buying, cooking and eating them. Along with the usual spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, we find such offerings as broccoli rabe (aka rapini), collards, turnip greens, kale in many varieties, mustard greens, bok choy, beet greens and dandelion greens. The list goes on and on.
Nutritional powerhouses, these are often, sad to say, the most detested items on any menu, especially for children. But here’s the secret: It’s all in the cooking. No one could possibly love greens if they’re steamed to a limp, gray mash, then dumped on a plate with a blob of cold butter stuck on top. But done the Mediterranean way, they reveal, first of all, flavor. Then texture. Then an overpowering deliciousness. Garlic, oil, a little chili pepper, a scrap of citrus juice — they make all the difference in the world.
I just made the following utterly simple recipe using Tuscan kale, aka lacinato or dinosaur kale, the kind with long, dark green, slightly blistered leaves that is a growing presence in supermarket produce sections. You could do the same with spinach (much more cleaning, much less cooking time), chard, turnip greens (cutting away tough stems, otherwise leaving whole), ordinary kale (de-stemmed), broccoli rabe (trimmed of tough stems) and many other greens you find.
Braised Kale With Oil, Garlic and Chili Pepper
Makes 6 servings
3 pounds fresh Tuscan kale, lacinato kale or dinosaur kale
Sea salt to taste
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
¼ to ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus a little more for garnish
1 small dried hot red chili pepper or a pinch of chili flakes
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice or aged red wine vinegar (not balsamic)
1. Prepare the kale by stripping the leaves away from the stems. (Hold the stem in your right hand; grasp the leafy part in your left hand and simply slide down the stem, releasing the leaves.) Rinse thoroughly in a couple of changes of water.
2. Transfer the rinsed greens to a pot large enough to hold them all. Add a sprinkle of salt and a couple of tablespoons of boiling water. Set over medium heat and cook, covered, until the greens are wilted.
3. Remove and drain, then transfer to a chopping board and chop the greens coarsely in several directions.
4. Set a skillet large enough to hold all the cooked greens over medium heat and add the garlic and olive oil. Cook, stirring, until the garlic starts to soften, then add the chopped greens, stirring and turning them in the aromatic oil until they have completely absorbed it.
5. As soon as the greens start to sizzle in the pan, remove from the heat and taste, adding more salt if necessary. Stir in the chili pepper and lemon juice.
6. Pile the greens on a heated platter and garnish with a dribble more of oil. Or serve the greens atop crostini, toasted slices of Tuscan country-style bread rubbed lightly with a cut clove of garlic and dribbled with a small amount of oil.
Top photo: Baskets of greens for sale at a market in Camucia, Italy. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins
L’orto del professore, the professor’s garden, is riotous, an unruly tumult of beans and squashes, tomatoes and peppers, cabbages, kale, lettuce, cucumbers and wild things, too. When I visited il professore a few weeks ago at his home near Piazza Armerina in central Sicily, there were green beans twining up poles and low borlotti bush beans (the kind that, when dried, get turned into zuppa di fagioli); there were climbing squashes, long, pale, snake-like squashes — Sicilian favorites called cucuzza – and big, round pumpkins in various shapes and shades of yellow-stained orange; there were eggplants and tomatoes and cabbages and peppers in all sizes and degrees of heat.
Everything grew together in helter-skelter fashion, and there was also growing everywhere a surfeit of what you (and I) might call weeds — but they all had names and they all had purposes, from familiar purslane, growing close to the ground, so healthy and delicious in salads, to tall plants of amaranth with their graceful pink flower stalks laden with seeds. There was also lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album), nettles and mallow (Malva sylvestris), all valuable sources of food for anyone who knows what he’s about.
More from Zester Daily:
And the professor knows what he’s about. He is a noted gardener, forager and expert on all manner of living creatures, but especially those that grow in the ground. My friend Salvatore, himself no mean forager of wild greens, always tries to spend time with the professore when he’s visiting his native Sicily from Umbria, where he’s lived the last dozen years or so. It was Salvatore who took me to meet the professore after a morning during which the two genial gentlemen had rambled through the pine forest above Piazza Armerina, looking for mushrooms but without notable success. Salvatore had supplied the professore last spring with seeds of cavolo nero, a type of kale that’s a foundation of wintertime tables in Tuscany and Umbria, and now he wanted me to see how the plants had done in the unfamiliar environment of central Sicily. In brief, they had done spectacularly well in this hotter, drier climate, growing thick, dark, blistery, blue-green leaves that, when stripped of their tough central stems, would be steamed or fried or added to soups.
It’s sometimes hard for outsiders to understand the kind of niche levels of consumption that exist in Italy. It’s fewer than 400 miles from Salvatore’s garden in Umbria to the professore’s in central Sicily, and yet cavolo nero is as exotic in Sicily as some Chinese herb might be in New England. Just as no one in Umbria would think of using the fragrant dried oregano that is so ubiquitous in Sicilian cooking, so no one in Sicily, as far as we could tell, had ever tried to grow cavolo nero. (In U.S. markets, where it’s been appearing for several years now, cavolo nero is sometimes known as Tuscan kale or lacinato kale.)
Is there religion in a garden’s riotous profusion?
I admired the professore’s success with cavolo nero, but I was more interested in the garden as a whole and its riotous profusion. I can’t think when I’ve seen a garden that looked more undisciplined, even abandoned. Used to the trim and tightly weeded rows of a New England vegetable garden, I was undone by what looked like an uncontrollable wilderness. And yet the plants were healthy, with no trace of bugs or diseases. As we stalked through bean patches and clambered over pumpkin vines, it suddenly struck me. “This is a very Catholic garden,” I said. What did I mean? “Well, it’s wide open to anything and everything, saints and sinners alike.” (At least that’s how I see it.) The professore laughed. “I’m not a Catholic,” he said. “I’m somewhere between an atheist and an agnostic.” “So was my father,” I replied, “but he had a thoroughly Protestant garden, straight rows, tidy, neat, disciplined.”
Can that be? Is there really such a thing as a Catholic garden or a Protestant garden? It’s fun to think about, and maybe there’s a bit of truth in it. We continued our banter as we made our way back to the house, where a lovely lunch awaited us — pasta with tenerumi, fresh from the garden; a sweet-and-sour braise of rabbit with caponata, that great Sicilian combination of eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, onions, garlic and olive oil (talk about Catholic!) on the side; and a dessert of simple slices of chilled melon. All prepared by the professore’s wife, whose 94-year-old mother, a testament to the virtues of this Mediterranean, fresh-from-the-garden diet, joined us at the table.
Now, you may be asking, what exactly are these tenerumi? Tenerumi are the tender (tenere — get it?) green leaves and budding tips from that same cucuzza squash, the long, snake-like squash I mentioned earlier that is such a favorite in Sicily, and, like the oregano I also mentioned above, quite unknown in more northern parts of Italy. The squash itself is a summertime favorite, harvested when young then chunked and stewed gently with other vegetables. It’s considered cooling, according to the Doctrine of Signatures, which goes back to Hippocrates, if not earlier. But the leaves and tender shoots of the plant are also edible, and indeed prized in Sicily, and they were growing all over the professore’s orto, putting out delicate white flowers. (The white flowers mean that technically this is a gourd not a squash, which has yellow flowers.) I’ve seen tenerumi leaves sold in New York City Greenmarkets and I imagine they’re probably seasonally available in other parts of the country as well. They are deliciously refreshing and slightly astringent and, when cooked with pasta, make an exciting and unusual first course. The professore’s wife prepared her tenerumi by slicing the leaves and part of the stems, discarding any tough or wooden stem ends along with the tendrils, which won’t soften with cooking. You should have about 4 cups of fresh sliced tenerumi for the following recipe.
Could you make pasta con tenerumi with other types of squash leaves, too? I don’t see why not, as long as they are not too big, old, tough or covered with prickles. The leaves and shoots of young zucchini and other types of summer squash would be just fine, but I wouldn’t use the big, old, hairy leaves of pumpkins or hard winter squash. You can also order seeds for cucuzza from Growitalian.com (search for zuchetta) and plant them in your garden next spring, just like zucchini. Harvest the squash (sorry, gourds) when they’re not more than a foot long, and pull off the leaves and tender shoots whenever you feel the urge — you can go on with this all summer long.
Pasta Con Tenerumi
This makes enough for 4 servings — and note that it’s more of a soup than a pasta and should be eaten with forks and soup spoons.
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more to garnish the bowls
About ½ pound small cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 small fresh chili pepper, seeded and chopped (or to taste)
A big bunch of tenerumi leaves and shoots, prepared as above, to make 4 cups
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 cups of water
1 pound spaghetti, broken into 1-inch lengths
Cheese to grate over the top (pecorino Siciliano or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1. Add the garlic and oil to the bottom of a 3- to 4-quart stock pot and set over medium heat. Cook, briefly stirring, until the garlic has softened, but do not let it brown.
2. Stir in the halved or quartered tomatoes and the chili pepper and continue cooking, stirring until the tomatoes start to give off juice and the bits of chopped chili have softened.
3. Add the cleaned tenerumi leaves along with a generous amount of salt and black pepper. Stir very well to mix all the ingredients together, then add about 6 cups of water and bring it to a simmer.
4. Let the liquid simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the leaves are tender but not falling apart. While the leaves are cooking, break the spaghetti into approximately 1-inch lengths.
5. When the leaves are sufficiently cooked, stir the pasta into the pot along with another pinch of salt. Let it cook till the pasta is done — approximately 8 minutes, or according to your own preference.
6. Serve immediately in soup bowls or on plates. Add a generous dollop of extra virgin olive oil to the top of each serving along with a handful of freshly grated cheese. This is often served in summertime at room temperature, but in the chilly days of autumn I prefer it as the professore’s wife served it — hot from the pan.
Note that some people like to add a potato or two, peeled and cubed, right at the beginning, along with the tomatoes.
Top photo: The professore in his garden, holding up one of the cucuzza squashes he grows. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins
“X Friggere,” in all caps, read the sign over the freshly picked olives on a market stall in the Pugliese town of Martina Franca: “For frying.”
Olives for frying? Fresh from the tree?
It was the weekly open-air market, and the plump, black olives were going like — well, I could say they were going like hotcakes, but hotcakes might not sell so well in Martina Franca. In any case, they were selling fast and furiously.
If, like me, you’ve had the unhappy experience of biting into a freshly picked olive right off the tree, you’ll know nothing compares with the horrible, bitter, astringent taste that fills your mouth. Ptew! It’s an automatic rejection — you spit it as far as it will go, the only reaction possible. And then you wonder who on earth was the first person to discover that lusciously sweet olive oil could come from such yucky fruit.
So what’s with fried fresh olives? I knew what I was doing, and I bought 2 kilos, almost 4½ pounds, at a fire-sale price of 4 euros — about $5.20 a kilo.
Fried olives from a top chef
More from Zester Daily:
I knew only because I had experienced fried olives just the previous evening with chef Domenico “Mino” Maggi and his wife, Carole, at their engaging trullo complex in the nearby town of Locorotondo. Along with Martina Franca, this is the heart of the Valle d’Itria, in the center of Puglia’s long peninsula, where the curious domed trulli, built of layered slabs of local white limestone and looking like nothing so much as a set for “The Hobbit,” are the architectural feature of note. Mino and Carole actually live in their own trullo amid a cluster of 10 — the others are rented out as self-catering apartments.
Mino, who is a noted chef, teacher and worldwide ambassador for Pugliese cuisine, often gives cooking classes for guests in an open-air kitchen at the center of the complex, surrounded by their olive groves and vineyards. I’ve worked with Mino many times in the past, at the Culinary Institute of America in California and also on culinary programs in Puglia. (You can see him in action in this video shot by the Culinary Institute of America team.)
But that night, we were relaxing with a glass of wine when Mino jumped up and declared, “I have to prepare you an aperitivo.” He whipped out a skillet and set it over a flame, adding a healthy glug of his own olive oil and a couple of smashed cloves of garlic. Then a couple of peperoncini — little hot red chili peppers (also from his own garden) — went in, along with a couple of bay leaves and a bowl of those olives, fresh, black, plump and almost bursting with oil. Together it all simmered on the stovetop while we watched in fascination. “Yes, indeed,” Mino said, “they are fresh olives. Not cured at all. Right off the tree. They’re called Nolche, or sometimes Amele — because they’re sweet like apples.” And in some places, I learned later, the olives are called Termite.
Mino explained what he was waiting for: “Once the olives are disfatte,” he said, using a wonderful Italian word that means they are still distinctly olives but have collapsed and fallen in on themselves from the intense heat of the pan, “once that happens, you add just a few chopped pomodori a pennula.” These are small, intensely flavored local tomatoes, the kind smart cooks can keep hanging in a cool pantry all winter long. He shook the pan a couple more times, tossing it with that confident motion chefs master early on in their careers, and then he turned the whole of it out into a bowl for our delectation.
With some miniature blobs of burrata, the deliciously white and creamy cheese of Puglia, and good durum-wheat bread to dip in the juices, the olives were extraordinary. You could still taste the bitterness, but just as an underlying layer, a hint actually, beneath something strange and sweet and hugely rich.
Now, I will give you the recipe, but it is not something you can do in your own home kitchen, especially if you live anywhere east of California, and even in California you would be stretching it. That’s because not just any olive will do. No, it must be this peculiar and particular variety that, as far as I know, is only available in Puglia and a few other parts of southern Italy and Sicily. And you can only do it at the peak of the season, that is, at the end of September and through October.
So the first step of the recipe is to get yourself a plane ticket next September to Bari, the Pugliese capital, and then find a local market. Or better yet, rent a car and drive out to delightful Martina Franca, where the local market day is Wednesday, or Locorotondo, which has its market on Friday mornings. Buy a half-kilo (that’s about a pound) of olive per friggere, making sure you get good, sound, ripe olives. This should make enough for an appetizer for 4 to 6 people.
1 pound (½ kilo) ripe, fresh, black olives for frying
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, preferably Pugliese
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 or 3 small, dried red chili peppers (more or less to taste)
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh, chopped
½ teaspoon sea salt, or more to taste
4 or 5 small, very ripe cherry or grape tomatoes, preferably pomodori a pennula, halved or quartered
Crusty bread, torn into pieces, for dipping
1. Rinse the olives in a colander to get rid of any dust and toss gently. Spread them out on a kitchen towel to dry.
2. Set a skillet large enough to hold all the ingredients over medium heat and add the olive oil. As the oil heats, smash the unpeeled garlic cloves with the flat blade of a knife and cut each one in two lengthwise.
3. Toss the garlic halves into the hot oil and let sizzle, turning frequently until they start to brown on all sides.
4. Stir in the chili peppers and bay leaves. (If the chilies are large, break them into smaller pieces; if they are too spicy, shake out the inner seeds and discard them before adding to the skillet.)
5. Add the olives and the salt and cook, turning, stirring and tossing while the olives simmer in the oil. (Think of the skillet as a wok — in fact, a wok would be a great implement for this.)
6. When the olives have started to collapse and fall apart, toss in the tomato pieces and continue cooking and tossing until the tomatoes too have disfatto, collapsed and released their juices into the olive mixture.
7. Serve in bowls or on deep plates, with plenty of bread pieces for sopping up juices. If you have a good source of burrata, it’s a fine accompaniment — but so is regular mozzarella, the kind that comes dripping with whey.
Top photo: Olives at the market with a sign indicating they are for frying. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Tomatoes are the glory of a summer vegetable garden. Or so the books tell us. But where I’m from, whether Maine or Tuscany, it’s really the late, late, almost-autumn garden that bursts with overburdened tomato plants, their tops occasionally still putting out yellow blossoms while the lower branches groan under the weight of hefty fruits.
Heirlooms? You betcha! Although one woman’s heirloom is another woman’s pride of the Burpee catalog. (An heirloom, after all, is something handed down over generations; many so-called heirlooms are recent arrivals on the tomato scene.)
More from Zester Daily
Be that as it may, now is the time to undertake the happy task of slicing, salting and slurping up fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes. There is no task more humbling before the goodness of god or nature or whatever is responsible for all that is right in the world than the taste of a garden-ripened tomato, its darkly burnished skin still warm from the Indian summer sun. In Catalonia, the national breakfast, which has rapidly taken over the rest of Spain too, consists of one of those tomatoes cut in half and pressed into a rough-textured slice of bread, smooshed so deeply that all the juices penetrate and nothing is left but the skin and a few seeds. With a splash of olive oil and a scraping of garlic, this is a royal treat.
Garden tomatoes perfect for making sauce
When you tire of fresh, raw tomatoes, turn them into a deep red, savory sauce for pasta. Melt a clove of garlic in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and stir in about a pound of tomatoes chunked into wedges. Add a sprinkle of sea salt, a pinch of sugar (always good to bring out the tomato flavor), a couple of herbs (parsley? a bay leaf? a sprig of rosemary? a handful of fresh basil?), and cook until the tomatoes are uniformly soft. (If you want to peel them before cooking, drop each one into boiling water for 10 to 15 seconds, then remove and the skin will lift right off. I confess I don’t find this necessary.) Once the tomatoes are melting in their own juices, take a stick blender and blend everything together right in the pot. If the sauce is thin, put it back on the heat for a few minutes to simmer and thicken. If it’s too thick, add a few tablespoons of boiling water or cream and blend it in.
Variations? Add a chopped yellow onion and a broken red chili pepper right in the beginning with the garlic. Or beat fresh, raw olive oil into the tomatoes at the very end. Mix with the pasta and toss with grated cheese.
Now the days are growing short and nights are growing cool and there’s an intimation of frost in the air, but farmers markets and produce stands still are lavish with tomatoes. It’s time to lay in a supply for winter. By that I mean a supply of bottled and frozen tomatoes and tomato sauce. Few things make a cook’s heart happier than a larder full of jars of summer produce ready to become winter meals. Just when the weather turns bitter cold, the wind howls around the kitchen windows, the wood stove starts to smoke from the down draft, and summer is only a memory, open a jar of tomatoes, throw them in a pot, add some beans and vegetables and a handful of pasta or rice, and there’s a heart-warming bowlful of sunshine ready for supper.
Freezing is an even easier way to deal with a plethora of summer tomatoes. Maine cook Barbara Damrosch taught me this. Wash and dry the tomatoes — it’s best if they don’t have any blemishes — and simply drop them by the half-dozen, or less if they’re large, into gallon-size resealable bags. Into the freezer they go, and come January, pull out a bag, set the tomatoes right in a colander in the sink after breakfast and by suppertime you practically have a tomato sauce all ready to go. A little of that magical garlic and olive oil is about all that’s needed for summer to inhabit your table once more.
(Preserved Tomato Sauce)
Pomarola is what my neighbors call the tomato sauce they put up for the winter larder. Making it is just as easy as making simple pasta sauce and closely follows the same method except in greater quantities. I buy from my farmer 20 pounds of what are called “seconds” — meaning tomatoes that are a little bruised, a little misshapen — and plan to put them up in two, 10-pound batches, just for ease of maneuver. For 10 pounds of tomatoes, you will also need a half-dozen pint-sized (2 cups) glass canning jars (“Mason jars”) with self-sealing tops.
Before you do anything else, rinse the Mason jars, set them on a wooden board or countertop and fill each to the top with boiling water. Do this next to the sink so it will be easy to tip the hot water out when it comes time to do so. (Alternatively, you can put the jars right in the dishwasher and run them through just before you’re ready to use them .) Put the tops in a bowl and pour boiling water over them.
Here are the quantities for making it yourself:
3 or 4 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed or sliced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
10 pounds fresh red ripe tomatoes, rinsed, bruises cut out, cut in wedges or chunks
2 teaspoons sea salt or more to taste
1 teaspoon sugar or more to taste
Optional: 1 or 2 dried red chili peppers, seeds discarded, chopped in pieces; freshly ground black pepper ; 1 small bunch (4 or 5 stems) fresh basil, coarsely chopped; 4 or 5 stems fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley; 2 bay leaves; or other herbs; add a little of any or several of these, then taste and add more if it seems called for.
1. Put the garlic in the bottom of a heavy, 3- or 4-quart saucepan, along with a good glug or two (about ¼ cup) of best-quality extra virgin olive oil.
2. Set over medium-low heat and cook gently, stirring, until the garlic has softened. Then tip in the tomatoes and stir. You should not need to add any additional liquid as there will be sufficient in the tomatoes themselves to keep them from burning on the bottom of the saucepan. Stir them frequently and, as the tomatoes start to cook down, add the salt and sugar and any additional seasonings that you wish. Let cook for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring from time to time, until all the tomatoes are broken down.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool slightly. (Remove bay leaves or whole chilies if you used them.) Then take a stick blender and blend the contents of the pan thoroughly. The advantage of a handheld blender is that you can control the texture of the resulting sauce, making it as rough or as smooth as you wish.
4. If the sauce is too thin, return it to the heat and cook down until it is as thick as you want. If it’s too thick, stir in a little boiling water until it reaches the consistency you’re looking for. If you want to add olive oil, beat it at this point, a little at a time, using the stick blender. Before you finish, taste the sauce and add more salt or sugar if necessary.
5. Have your jars ready, tipping out the hot water if you have used it. Immediately fill the jars with the hot tomato sauce, filling them to within a half-inch of the top. Immediately screw down the lids. Wipe any excess sauce off the jars and set aside to cool. After a half-hour or so, a little ping from each lid will indicate it has sealed. Any jars that don’t seal should be refrigerated and used in the next few weeks, or processed in a boiling water bath (see below).
Directions for a boiling water bath
I don’t usually process plain tomato sauce any further because there is sufficient acid in tomatoes to keep in my unheated pantry throughout the winter without damage. However, if you wish to do so, and you don’t have special canning equipment, it’s easy.
1. Line the bottom of a big stock pot with kitchen towels to keep the jars from banging around.
2. Set the jars upright in the pot, using more kitchen towels if necessary to keep the jars from banging together. Add water to cover the jars; the water should be room temperature or slightly hotter.
3. Set over medium-high heat and bring the water to a simmer. Let the jars simmer in their boiling water bath for about 20 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
4. As soon as you can handle them, remove the jars and set aside. Once again, you should hear that satisfying ping when the lids seal.
Top photo: Jars of tomato sauce. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Strawberries! How do I love ye? Let me count the ways: strawberry shortcake, strawberry jam, strawberry pie, strawberry ice cream, strawberries and cream, strawberries and prosecco, strawberries and genuine aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena, or just a little handful of fresh-from-the-garden strawberries sliced over the morning granola
More from Zester Daily:
There are so many reasons to love a strawberry, do you really need more? If so, turn to nutritionist Rosie Schwartz, who points out the health impact of strawberries on her Enlightened Eater blog:
- They have a powerful anti-inflammatory impact
- They improve insulin sensitivity
- They offer a whole range of heart healthy benefits
- They guard against cancer
- They protect against cognitive decline.
Swartz offers state-of-the-art scientific evidence for these advantages.
Aside from their evident nutritional benefits, who could deny the sheer pleasure of this most remarkable fruit? When experts talk about fruity flavors in olive oil or in wine, the fruit that comes to mind, at least for me, is almost always strawberries. To me, the intense, pervasive flavor and aroma of ripe strawberries is the very definition of fruitiness, and it is irresistible.
We have strawberries in the supermarket produce section almost all year round, but they come from industrial farms in California and they are often raised with an eye to their visual impact rather than flavor. For taste, however, nothing beats strawberries grown in a cool northern climate, where the intensity of sunlight around the solstice ripens them quickly and the cool temperatures give them an intensity southern-grown berries lack. Best of all, of course, are the wild strawberries found on the forest floor, but they are so few and so difficult to transport that they are best consumed sitting right down by a woodland path and eating them by the handful.
Competition from the critters
I have strawberries in my garden in Maine, but it’s an annual contest with the local chipmunks as to who gets there first. Most mornings I find a few discards lying on the garden path, a bite taken out and then the berry tossed aside. Why? I hate to think the chipmunk is more discriminating than I am. Perhaps he was disturbed by the neighbor’s cat.
So I rely on a farmstand nearby. Mrs. Beveridge’s strawberries are dark red, big, luscious, full of flavor. And aroma — just passing the stand in the car, with the windows down, I am drawn into their seductive web.
Strawberry shortcake is an all-time American favorite, of course. Who doesn’t love it? Here in New England, the shortcake comes as a baking powder biscuit, with more than the usual sugar added, that is split in half, buttered, piled with strawberries, dolloped with sweetened whipped cream, and topped with a final garnish of the most perfect strawberry from the bunch. That’s all well and good, but I’ve also discovered that ricotta pancakes, perhaps sweetened slightly more than you would want at breakfast, make an equally grand dessert when mounded with deep red strawberries and a fluff of white whipped cream with just a drop or two of vanilla added.
Here’s the recipe, and I’m guessing it’s going to be handy in a few weeks when blueberry season rolls around again:
Makes about 12 pancakes, 6 servings
¾ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 to 4 tablespoons sugar
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of fine sea salt
1 cup well-drained ricotta
3 large eggs, separated
¾ cup whole milk
Grated zest of 1 lemon
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
Vegetable oil or unsalted butter for the griddle
2 cups partially crushed strawberries, plus whole berries for garnish
Whipped cream flavored with a little sugar and ¼ teaspoon vanilla
1. Toss together with a fork the flours, 2 to 3 of the tablespoons of sugar, the baking powder and the salt.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, egg yolks, milk, lemon zest and vanilla, and beat to mix thoroughly. Fold into the flour mixture.
3. In a separate bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until stiff, adding 1 tablespoon of sugar about halfway through. Using a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites into the batter.
4. Heat the griddle or skillet and smear with about a teaspoon of oil or butter. Drop the pancake batter by ⅓-cup measures onto the hot griddle. Cook until done and golden brown on each side, turning once.
5. Serve each pancake topped with crushed berries and a dollop of whipped cream plus a couple of whole berries on top.
Top photo: Fresh strawberries. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Greece’s agony is painful to watch. For those who know and love the country, the long fiscal battering, now in its third year, has often seemed excruciating, most of all, of course, for the Greek people, especially the young, who face a staggering unemployment rate of 54%. But there are ways to help, small perhaps but nonetheless significant. One is to seek out, buy and use some of Greece’s many fine food exports. Extra virgin olive oil should be at the top of that shopping list.
Patriotic Greeks, not content to sit by, are looking for ways to encourage not just economic recovery but the development of a new generation of innovative thinkers, which the country so desperately needs.
More on Zester Daily:
Kefalogiannis is what would be called in France a négociant of fine extra virgin olive oil. He doesn’t actually produce oil himself and has no ancient trees to show off to visitors. Instead, he works with existing producers to promote and market high-quality olive oil and olive products. Gaea is a specialty foods giant, with award-winning olive oils and other olive-based products — such as tapénades and cooking sauces — in its inventory. In the U.S., the products are sold under the “Cat Cora’s Kitchen” brand.
Extra virgin export
Greece is primarily what economists call a domestic demand-oriented economy, meaning most products are geared to the domestic market. It has the lowest ratio of exports to gross domestic products, or GDP, in the European Union, just 27% (compared to the EU-wide average of 45%). Most experts think Greece should be selling more abroad — much more. And olive oil, given the high quality of Greek production, should have a big role to play. Keep in mind that about three-quarters of all the oil produced in Greece is extra virgin — unlike Italy, for instance, where extra virgin accounts for a little less than half, or Spain where it is barely a third of total oil production. Most of this extra virgin comes from modest family farms, the backbone of the country’s agricultural economy. But such small enterprises find it difficult to compete on the international scale, lacking both investment capital and marketing skills necessary to play the game.
The statistics surrounding Greek olive oil production are amazing. First off, Greeks consume more olive oil per capita, by far, than any other people in the world — 18 kilos or nearly 40 pounds per person annually, according to the European Commission. (By comparison, Italians consume a little less than 11 kilos — about 24 pounds — each, while the U.S. is still less than a measly kilo). A third of all Greek oil is exported to other countries, mostly extra virgin, mostly to the European Union. But 90% of that is sold in bulk to Italian and Spanish packagers who either bottle and rebrand the oil or blend it with more expensive home-produced oil to make the kind of cheap, indifferent oils found in supermarkets all over the world. Only 10% of this remarkable product is exported in branded bottles.
For consumers aware of the price commanded by a bottle of premium quality Italian, French or Spanish oil, or for anyone who has experienced the quality of top Greek olive oils, there is something inherently odd about such high-quality extra virgin oil being sold off as a cheap bulk commodity. True, no one is forcing Greek producers to sell in bulk, but the olive oil market, like most agricultural niche markets around the world, is deeply conservative. The Italian market for Greek oil has always been there, going back probably several millennia, so why change things now? In short, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Tapping a young market with Greek olive oil
But Greece’s economy is indeed broken. Faced with a steady drain of exactly the youthful population that should be helping to put Greece back on track, Kefalogiannis has set up a think tank where young Greeks, straight out of high school or university, present business plans for evaluation by a group of expert judges who then select the 10 most likely to succeed. Each of the 10 winners is awarded seed capital amounting to 25,000 euros (about $32,500) plus a low-interest loan from a reliable Greek bank, plus access to Gaea’s broad international distribution network.
The whole project, “Reinspiring Greece from the Youth Up,” is funded through sales of Agrilia, a remarkable single-estate, certified organic olive oil from Antiparos, a tiny Cycladic island in the heart of the Aegean. The oil, which comes mostly from the favorite Greek olive variety koroneiki, is extraordinarily high in polyphenols — 550 mg per kilogram at the time of processing. High polyphenols mean the oil is not only exceptionally healthful, but also that it has a long life, protected by its own polyphenols from the taint of rancidity.
When I heard about the program, I rushed to buy a bottle of the oil through the Greek America Foundation, which sponsors the project.
So what does Antiparos Agrilia Estate oil taste like?
In short, it’s an outstanding oil, beautifully balanced among the three critical points of fruitiness, bitterness and pungency. (That last characteristic is an indication of the presence of polyphenols.) I found delicious hints of apple and fresh almond, and a balanced roundness, without the least hint of greasiness or fatty textures.
This is an oil to reserve for garnishing. Dolloped generously over buffalo-milk mozzarella or a fresh goat’s milk cheese or added at the table to a plain bowl of pasta with tomato sauce or a hearty beans-and-greens soup, it will take such simple dishes to heights of elegance. At $38 for a 17-ounce bottle, Agrilia Estate is not cheap, but it’s worth it: It’s worth it to support Aris Kefalogiannis’s generous vision, it’s worth it to celebrate the potential of Greek recovery, and it’s worth it to experience one of Greece’s finest products.
Top photo: Old olive trees in Kritsa, Crete. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins