27 June 2009

Pancetta, garlic...

With about five more pounds of pancetta hanging in the fruit cellar, lots of our recent meals include it. Early summer is filled with after dinner activities, so easily prepared meals are essential if we want to sit down together. Rice and pasta are the staples of these dinners.
Two nights ago it was pancetta, garlic, olive oil, fresh parsely and thyme, with a generous grating of Parmesan cheese over linguine noodles. Last night it was this: butter, pancetta, and shallots. Then generous pours of a mediocre Alsatian riesling, which I bubbled down. A quick paw through the icebox and a nice hunk of fresh ginger emerged. Thin slices of that, along with fresh thyme and parsley. Finally, peas, although they came from a bag, not the garden. Mix in penne noodles, and we’re good to go.
We keep trying new ways to eat pancetta, and they’re usually pretty good. I try to cook it long enough for its fat to flavor whatever else it's cooking with, but not so long that it loses its unique flavor.

23 June 2009

Swiss chard

We eat swiss chard almost daily during the summer and fall. We grow the beautiful variety called Five Color Silverbeet, a variety that was maintained by the Digger’s Garden Club in Australia after it was dropped by commercial seed companies. It was first re-introduced to US gardeners through Seed Savers Exchange, and in the past few years it’s been picked up by many seed companies in the US. The multi-colored ribs and big crinkly leaves are as pretty as anything grown in a Minnesota garden.
Beets and swiss chard are different varieties of the same genus and species, Beta vulgaris. Over time, beets have been bred for their tuberous root while swiss chard’s ribs and leaves are prized by cooks. Marcella Hazan, in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, has a delicious swiss chard torte we’ve been making for years, but our daily standard is a bit simpler, and it’s quick and delicious. Here’s what I do:
Add a hefty pour of olive oil to a saucier or other fry pan;
Mince a few cloves of garlic and add them to the hot oil;
After the garlic cooks, add the diced stems of the swiss chard and sauté it like celery;
When the stalks are soft, add a whole tomato, preferably a paste variety with lots of meat and few seeds;
Mash the tomato a bit and turn the heat up pretty high to cook off the excess moisture;
Add a little salt;
Lay all the chard leaves on top of each other and roll them up like a fat cigar, then cut the fat roll of leaves into thin strips – maybe ½” or so;
Add the leaves to the hot pan, and stir it all around;
I usually cover the pan for a minute or two to let the steam wilt the chard leaves quicker. Cook the leaves for three or four minutes total.
When I come home from work and make this for lunch, I usually serve it with rice, and I always have a little bowl of nahm prick, a homemade, fiery Thai condiment, on the side.

18 June 2009

Last night it rained

Last night it rained. The 1.15 inch rainfall was welcomed by everyone (except the soccer players: one inch of rain over one square mile equals about 17.4 million gallons of water weighing 143 million pounds, or the weight of a train with 40 boxcars, according to the National Weather Service, so approximately 160 million pounds fell on the brave kids and parents who kept playing!)

I putter around my garden with a hose or watering can, gently soaking the leaves, roots, and soil, and I have thoughts that go in two directions. First, it’s hard not to think about places where large segments of the population don’t have access to water. As I watch a plant perk up with water, I wonder what it’s like to live in a water-deprived community, where the constant struggle to obtain water dominates daily life. Second, I wonder how we’ve allowed the marketing and sale of bottled water to succeed. Water is our most basic human need. If human rights have any meaning, access to safe, affordable water should be a priority for all governments. And in this country, where we use 20 times more water than some 1.8 billion people worldwide who use a mere 20 liters per day, we’re standing idly by while this most precious resource is being commoditized and privatized right before our eyes.

The biggest shock we’ve had in recent years was last year’s gas prices – when a gallon hit $4.00 people began to worry and panic. $4.00 for a gallon of gas was as terrible a scourge as anyone could remember. Yet, we’d still drive to the store and spend a dollar on a bottle of water. A dollar for about a pint of water. It makes gasoline look like a bargain.


08 June 2009

Duck Fat

A jar of duck fat, rendered from two ducks I cut up and cooked this weekend. As plain as this picture is, just a jar of nearly white, perfectly smooth fat, so it is.

The ducks were good. I grilled three of the legs and all of the breasts after marinating them overnight with a rub of fresh thyme, bay leaf, garlic, salt and pepper. We drank a 2003 Estancia Meritage, a birthday present from a cassoulet-laden feast two winters previous, and the sun-drenched grapes from Paso Robles, darkened and stilled in our Minnesota basement for a few years, opened up and with deep berries, licorice and spice, and welcomed my sister to our home.

On a surprisingly cold, rainy, June-grey Saturday we ate steaming hot bowls of duck-rich phố for lunch. Not much phố in Buffalo, but plenty in our kitchen after an all night simmer of bones and such. And again this evening, I seared the last leg and all the remaining meat bits in onions and fat, added flour, then stock, and made a bubbly rich dinner for another cold day. And still a half pot of stock in the icebox sits, brown dark and gelled, a stock for all seasons.

And when the stock is gone - tomorrow - a jar of duck fat will still sit in the fridge. And every time I reach for the jar and cook with it I'll be thankful I named my blog for it.