Monthly Archives: June 2013

Wild Mushroom Agnolotti with Truffle Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

8 oz. fresh wild mushroom agnolotti

1/2 c. heavy cream

2 T. white truffle oil

Salt & pepper to taste

1/4 c. shredded Pecorino Romano cheese

 

Directions:

Cook pasta in boiling, salted water according to package directions.

While pasta cooks, heat butter in a large skillet. Stir in heavy cream and truffle oil. Bring sauce to a low simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste; add additional heavy cream or truffle oil, if desired. Drain pasta and toss with sauce. Garnish with shredded cheese.

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Week 5: Truffles

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The word truffle originated from the Latin term tuber, meaning “swelling” or “lump.” Truffles are subterranean fungi that grow in association with the roots of trees. They are round and warty and range in size from a couple of inches across to ones the size of a baseball.  The ones with which we are most familiar are the French black truffle (Tuber melanosporum) from the Périgord region of southwest France which has a blue-black exterior when fresh, fading to brown-black with age and a pungent, earthy odor, or the renowned odorous white truffle (Tuber magnatum) of Alba, in the Piedmont district of Italy which is solid, light-colored, and very brittle. They are also found in Sweden, New Zealand, Australian, Chile, Africa and in the Middle East, and have been recently been introduced in Oregon.

History

The first mention of truffles appears in the 20th century BCE in neo-Sumerian inscriptions and in the fourth century BC in writings of the Greek Theophrastus, a student of Plato and Aristotle. In classical times, their origins were a mystery and were thought to be the result of lightening, warmth and water in the soil. They were mentioned by the papal historian Bartolomeo Platina in 1481 and were served at the table of King Francis I of France during the Renaissance.

Harvesting

Truffles are harvested in Europe with the help of a female pig or truffle dog during September through May. The animals are used because they can detect the strong musky aroma of a mature truffle underground. Collecting truffles requires training and experience. A small hand rake or cultivator is used to gently uncover the soil near the base of suspected host plants.

The quantity of truffles harvested in Europe has consistently decreased each year. The New York Times reported that the decrease in production could be due to global warming. To ensure future production, appropriate tree seedlings (mostly oaks and hazelnuts in France and oak, hazel, poplar, and beech trees in Italy) have been inoculated with truffle spores, and when the sapling tree is established, it is transplanted to the proper environment, usually a barren, rock-strewn area. It takes about seven years before the first truffle begins to grow. A bearing tree will produce for about fifteen to thirty years. The Oregon truffles are being cultivated in association with the Douglas Fir.

The black Perigord truffle can bring as much as $1,200 per pound. However, the highest price ever paid was $330,000 for one weighing 3.3 lbs. by a Macau casino owner in 2007.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses

Truffles have been used as culinary delicacies, aphrodisiacs and medicines.

As their flavor is heat-sensitive. truffles are eaten raw and unpeeled. Carefully wash with water and gently brush to remove any traces of soil. Dry with a paper towel.  They can be sliced or grated and added to cooked foods just before serving. The pungent aroma of a truffle permeates any food stored with it in a closed glass container.  Thus, a small amount can be added to oils and then used in various recipes. However, read the label if you purchase truffle oil as some sold today do not contain any truffles and are just olive oil infused with a chemical substitute.

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Resources

“$1,200 a Pound, Truffles Suffer in the Heat.” The New York Times. 12/21/2012

Freedman, Louise. Wild About Mushrooms: The Cookbook of the Mycological Association of San Francisco.

North American Truffling Society. www.natruffling.org

Wikimedia images.

Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org

 

Bouillabaisse

Ingredients:

4 lobster tails or 3 whole lobsters, steamed

2 dozen cherrystone clams in shells

1 dozen mussels in shells

1 pound white fish fillet (cod, haddock or halibut)

2 pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 ½ pounds large sea scallops

½ cup olive oil

1 cup onion, diced

½ cup celery, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 -1 lb 12 oz cans of diced tomatoes with juice

1 bay leaf

¼ t. saffron threads

1 ½ t salt

1 t pepper

2 quarts of store-bought fish or chicken stock

Directions:

Prepare seafood. Remove cooked lobster meat from shells and cut into 2-inch pieces and set aside.  Scrub shells of clams and mussels to remove any dirt. Cut fish fillet into 2-inch pieces and set aside. Peel and devein shrimp.  Rinse scallops. Sauté the onion, celery and garlic in olive oil in a large stock pot over medium high heat.  Add tomatoes, bay leaf, saffron and salt and pepper.  Add stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 20 minutes or until some of the liquid is reduced to concentrate the flavor.  Add seafood, cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes until fish and scallops are opaque, shrimp is pink, and the mussels and clams are opened wide. Serve with crusty garlic toast, Caesar salad and a crisp white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. Serves 6.

Week 4: Saffron

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Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, comes from the red stigmas of  an autumn-flowering crocus, Crocus sativus, which ranges in color from a light lilac to a deep violet.  Each flower produces only 3 stigmas and they must be picked by hand. It takes 250,000 stigmas or “threads” to make a pound,  which accounts for why the spice is so expensive by weight.

History

Historically, picking saffron threads was first depicted in Bronze age drawings.  The first written mention of it was in a Greek botanical paper in the 7th century BC, and saffron was mentioned in ancient Chinese texts in 200-300 BC. The stigmas are used for flavoring, dying textiles, perfumes, medicines, and body washes. Alexander the Great used saffron in his baths to cure battle wounds. The first reference to using saffron in cooking was in Persia (Iran). Today Iran and Spain produce approximately 90 percent of the world’s saffron, although Greece, India and Morocco also contribute to production.

Cultivation

Saffron grows best in semi-arid land and climates which offer generous spring rains and hot summers. In the spring, the corms or bulbs are planted 3-6 inches deep in fields where they receive full sunlight. In October, the corm sprouts and the flowers bloom at dawn.  During the day they begin to wilt, and harvesting is very intense as the period when the stigmas can be picked only lasts about two weeks. The stigmas are then dried and graded.

Saffron is graded according to color, taste and flavor according to the International Organization for Standardization. However, many growers, traders and consumers prefer to sample saffron threads for taste, aroma, pliability, and other traits in a manner similar to that used by wine connoisseurs.  The best qualify of saffron is deep red and is called “coupe” for Spanish and Kashmiri saffron, “sargol” for Iranian.  The next grade “Mancha” if Spanish or Kashmiri, or “poshal” or “kayam” if Iranian, has a proportion of thicker, yellow threads mixed in.  Lesser grades have a brownish color and stubby, untidy threads. Occasionally the quality of saffron is adulterated by mixing in extraneous substances like beets, pomegranate fibers, red-dyed silk fibers, or the saffron crocus’s tasteless and odorless yellow stamens. Powdered saffron can be diluted with turmeric or paprika and be sold to unsuspecting buyers at market stalls.

Saffron threads break down chemically when exposed to light and oxygen and therefore must be stored in air-tight containers. To capture the maximum flavor, the threads should be steeped in liquid before use.

Medicinal Uses

Saffron is as important ingredient of large number of Ayurvedic medicines. It is used for acne, apoplexy, arthritis, asthma, colic, cough dyspepsia, insect bites and stings, mental disorders, painful menstruation, and sore throat. It is reported to reduce inflammation and is considered helpful for enlargement of liver and infection of urinary bladder and kidneys. If soaked overnight in water and administered with honey it acts as diuretic. Pounded with ghee it is used in diabetes. Saffron oil is used for external application in uterine sores.

In regulated doses, it is said to increase appetite and to ease headaches and hangovers. Administered in high doses it makes patient unconscious.

Due to presence of crocetin it indirectly helps to reduce cholesterol level in the blood and severity of atherosclerosis, thus reducing the chances of heart attacks. It may be one of the prime reasons that in Spain, where Saffron is consumed liberally, incidence of cardio-vascular diseases is quite low.

 

Culinary Uses

Saffron  is rich in many vital vitamins, including vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and Vitamin C. It adds a musky, pungent flavor to foods from paella and risotto to bouillabaisse.  In Sweden, saffron buns and cakes are made for the festival of light, St. Lucia’s Day, December 13. Too much saffron in a recipe, however, can make the food taste bitter and medicinal.

 

Resources:

Norman, Jill.  Herbs and Spices: The Cook’s Reference.

Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron

http://www.farsinet.com

http://www.royalsaffron.com

 

Shrimp and Artichoke Hearts

shrimp-artichoke-hearts1

Ingredients:

3 T. butter

3 T. flour

½ t. cayenne

1 pint half & half

3 T. catsup

2 T. Worcestershire

5 T. lemon juice

5 T. sherry

3 jars marinated artichoke hearts, well drained

½ lb. Fresh mushrooms, sliced

2 ½ lbs. Jumbo shrimp, cooked, peeled & deveined

2 c. grated cheddar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400o. Melt butter over low heat in a medium saucepan.  Add flour & cayenne pepper.  Mix well.  Whisk in half & half and cook over low heat until thick and well blended.  Add catsup, Worchester, lemon juice & sherry.  Blend well.  In baking dish, combine artichoke hearts, shrimp & mushrooms.  Pour sauce over and top with cheese.  Bake about 30 minutes in 400o oven.  This is best served with a crisp green salad, rice and a crunchy loaf of bread. Serves 6-8.

Week 2: Wasabi

Wasabi rhizome

Sushi wouldn’t be complete without a traditional mound of wasabi, but sushi lovers rarely ever get real wasabi.

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The pistachio-green paste is often just a blend of European horseradish, mustard, and food coloring. Even in Japan authentic wasabi is in short supply.

History

The discovery of real wasabi dates back to the 10th century when a farmer first cultivated it and showed it to a Japanese warlord who later became Shogun. The warlord liked it so much he declared it a treasure only to be grown in the Shizuoka area.

Wasabia japonica plants are slow growing perennials with a thick stem or rhizome, long petioles and large leaves. All parts of the wasabi japonica plant, including rhizomes, roots, stems and leaves are harvested, processed and valued for use. The rhizome looks a lot like a brussel sprout stalk after the sprouts are removed. It is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which also includes cabbages, horseradish, and mustard. Because the burning sensations of wasabi, which are felt primarily in the nasal passage, are not oil-based, they dissipate quickly and are diluted with additional food or liquid. The flavor is affected by how finely the wasabi is grated. The traditional way to grate wasabi is with a sharkskin grater, called an oroshi, which resembles fine sandpaper.

During a trip to Japan a few years ago, my husband and I took a side trip to the Daioo Wasabi Farm to learn more about the commercial cultivation of wasabi. We took a local train east from Matsumoto (Nagano Prefecture) to Hotaka, a small farming town, where we rented bikes.  Having been at the mercy of trains and buses for several days, the freedom of biking through the countryside on three-speed bikes with baskets was a joy.

Daioo is an old-style wasabi farm with rickety water mills used for grinding the wasabi root into that green paste we all know and fear. Wasabi is very temperamental to grown because it needs a special balance of soil minerals and cold, clear water. It’s growing practices are carefully-guarded secrets and the supply of genuine wasabi japonica is limited. The wasabi at Daioo is grown in screen-shaded gravel beds (to simulate the conditions under a natural forest canopy) and fed with a constant supply of fresh water from a river that fed into the larger Saigawa River.

Screen-shaded wasabi beds

Screen-shaded wasabi beds

Wasabia japonoica plants are usually harvested two years after planting but can take as much as three years to reach maturity. Normally the rhizome will is approximately six to eight inches in length and an inch or so in diameter when it is harvested.

The wasabi harvest

The wasabi harvest

Culinary Uses

Wild wasabi was first used to season raw trout, raw venison and pickled vegetables. Tasting at Daioo included a variety of products made from wasabi – including ice cream!  My favorite were the potato cakes (similar to McDonald’s hash browns) served with squeeze bottles of wasabi mayonnaise.

Cleaning the wasabi rhizomes

Cleaning the wasabi rhizomes

Health Benefits

Wasabia japonica has powerful anti-bacterial properties and also kills some forms of E-Coli and Staphylococcus.  Studies also indicate it helps reduce mucous, which has made it the focus of experiments relating to its use in combating asthma and congestive disorders.  It is very low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium.  It is a good source of Vitamin B6, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese, and an excellent source of Dietary Fiber and Vitamin C.

References

Nutrition Data. http://www.nutritiondata.com

Real Wasabi. http://www.realwasabi.com

Arnaud, Celia Henry. “Wasabi: In condiments, horseradish stands in for the real thing.” Chemical & Engineering News.

Wikipedia. http://www.wikipedia.com

Week 3: Artichokes

artichoke

The globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) is a type of thistle from the sunflower family which has been cultivated as a food. The plant, including the stalk on which the artichoke “flower” grows is 4-7 feet tall. The large edible head or bud of the plant is formed of thick leaves or “bracts,” the heart and the “choke.”  The name artichoke comes from the Italian words articiocco and cocali which mean pine cone.

History

Native to the Mediterranean area, artichokes were described by Greek philosopher and naturalist, Theophrastus (371-287 B.C.), who had seen them in Italy and Sicily. Ancient Greeks and Romans considered them a delicacy and thought they were an aphrodisiac. Artichokes were mentioned in France in the mid-16th century and were introduced to England by the Dutch around the same time period. French immigrants brought them to Louisiana and Spanish immigrants introduced them to California and Half Moon Bay in the 19th century.  Later member of the New York mafia, Ciro Terranove became known as the “Artichoke King” after the commandeered all the crates of artichokes shipped from California and resold them at a 30-40 percent profit. . Did you know that 99.9% of artichokes in the US are grown in California? This prompted the governor to recently name it as the state’s official vegetable.

Cultivation

There are over 140 varieties of artichokes. Though technically perennials that normally produce the edible flower only during the second and subsequent years, certain varieties of artichoke can be grown from seed as annuals, producing a limited harvest at the end of the first growing season, even in regions where the plants are not normally winter-hardy. This means home gardeners in northern regions may be able to grow artichokes without providing winter protection.

When harvested, the artichokes are cut from the plant leaving an inch or two of stem. Artichokes will stay fresh for a week or two in the refrigerator.

Retail florists also use the globe artichoke in floral arrangements, and it is sometimes grown in flower borders due to the attractive purplish flower head.

Health benefits

Artichokes have some of the highest levels of antioxidants in the fleshy part of their leaves and in the heart. Artichokes have been found to aid digestion, gall bladder function and to reduce cholesterol. The chemical acid cynarine in artichokes inhibits taste receptors, making other foods eaten with artichokes taste somewhat sweeter.

Culinary uses

Artichokes are cooking in a variety of ways – from steaming or boiling them whole and stuffing them to using the artichoke hearts in salads, stews and casseroles.  In the Mediterranean, it is popular to precook and marinate baby artichokes before roasting them on a grill.

Resources:

California Artichoke Advisory Board. http://www.artichokes.org

Cultivating a Healthy Food System. http://www.ceusa.org

Stradley, Linda. “History of Artichokes.”  http://www.whatscookingamerica.net

Wikipedia. http://www.en.wikipedia.org