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Monday, September 15, 2014

Dusky Wax Cap Mushroom Coconut Chili Soup / Mustavahakas Kokos Chili Keitto

Dusky Wax Cap Coconut Chili Soup / Mustavahakas Kokos Chili Keitto with Black Sesame Sourdough Bread
Oh, what a mushroom season this has been!  And oh, how I love heading deep into the woods, basket in hand, searching for edible mushrooms.  For those of you who haven't yet been caught by the fever of finding edible mushrooms, you may think it crazy, but for those of you whose baskets and jars and freezers and spare containers are slowly, steadily and repeatedly filling with mushrooms, you'll understand the joy of coming across a mushroom that you've seen pictures of, wondered about, and perhaps picked once or twice in the forest, only to toss it away again, because you "weren't 100% sure".  Or of finding a much-loved mushroom once again:  nothing beats the thrill of the first flush of boletus edulis in the dim light of the shady forest, standing proudly at the foot of a pine or fir, or spotting the unmistakable gold of chanterelle out of the corner of your eye against the dark green moss of the forest floor, the first mushrooms a new season.

New to me this year, Mustavahakas (Finnish) or Dusky Wax Cap Mushrooms, Hygrophorus Camarophyllus, is the black tie dresser of the mushroom world.  It has an elegant, dark gray/brown cap, a clean natural  white undercap with elegant, waxy, sturdy, curved, gills and a slender, strong gray stem.  Once you've seen one, you will always know them, though it's easy to miss them at first in the autumn forest among fallen leaves and debris, since they sit close to the grown, the dark heads just above forest floor.  They have a mild pleasant smell, reminiscent of honey, and the flavor is excellent.  They are considered to be a three-star mushroom, right up there with porcini for flavor.  I found mine growing in a mixed forest filled with fir, pine and birch, in the center of a mossy patch not too far from a patch of yellow foot chanterelles (suppilovahvero).  They are a fall mushroom in Finland, Scandinavia and Russia, with a growth season from the end of August through October.  In the US they are found in northern North America.  If you know of them growing in other parts of the world, please let me know!

Mustavahakas, Dusky Wax Cap, Hygrophorus Camarophyllus

I didn't find many out on my last trek: just under 1/2 liter of good ones, but enough to fry up in the pan and create a soup.  I left a portion of them behind in the woods since the worms had found them before I did, so slice them completely in half as you pick them so you know which to bring home and which to leave behind; the worms tend to get there early.  If you are lucky enough to find a lot of them, they freeze well.  Fry them in a dry pan over medium heat until they release their juice, and then store them in a labeled plastic bag or container.

So how to cook them?  I'd read somewhere that they suit Asian recipes well, so I decided to make a nice soup for lunch.

I fried the mushrooms first and salted them lightly so I could taste them before adding them to the soup. The flavor reminded me a bit of the way oyster sauce smells, and the scent that came off as I cooked them was that of raw honey.  This soup uses simple ingredients to create a warming soup with fiery chili undertones that is really satisfying.  I give a range for the amount of chili as I found I made it a bit too fiery at first, and ended up removing some of the liquid before adding the coconut milk.  I hoping to find more of this beauties on my next trip out - I am thinking they'd be great in a curry stir fry over steamed brown rice.

If you don't have Dusky Wax Caps anywhere near you, you could substitute store-bought Shitakes or Matsutakes for this recipe.

Dusky Wax Cap Coconut Chili Soup - Mustavahakas Kokos Chili Keitto
Dusky Wax Cap Coconut Chili Soup

2 cups / 1/2 liter fresh waxy cap mushrooms
2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 + 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 carrots, sliced into thin circles
1 cup / 2.5 dl thinly sliced white cabbage
1 - 2 teaspoons red chili pepper, depending on how spicy you like it
3 cups / 750 ml water
1 tablespoon soy sauce, preferably Tamari
2 teaspoons of oyster sauce; optional, but adds a nice extra depth to this soup
1 tablespoon of chopped chives
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
1 cup / 250 ml coconut milk
1/2 cup / 3/4 dl of small egg noodles, pasta, or rice noodles (I used mini bow tie pasta)

In a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized pot, heat 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, then add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms release most of their liquid and are cooked through, about 5 minutes.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Pour the mushrooms onto a plate and set aside; set the pot back on the stove.

To the pot, add 2 tablespoons of sesame oil and the onion.  Saute the onion until it is slightly translucent and tender, 2-3 minutes.  Add the garlic, carrots, cabbage and pepper, stir well, and allow to cook for another five minutes.  Add the water, soy sauce and oyster sauce, and allow the mixture to cook for 10 minutes.  Add the chives, parsley and coconut milk, stir well, and bring back to a boil.  Add the pasta/noodles and cook them in the pot per manufacturers instructions or until they are al dente.  Taste and add salt & pepper if needed.  Pour into bowls and serve.

Serves 4.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Beet, Carrot, Rosemary & Goat Cheese Galette

My friends, it's time to eat your root vegetables.  In a pie.  For dinner.

Beet, Carrot, Rosemary and Goat Cheese Galette
I have been dreaming of this recipe since early spring when I planted my beets.  I had grand plans of harvesting loads of beets:  a few golden ones; dark red round ones, and the prettiest of them all, the lovely striped Chiaggio beets… and then along came a cold, rainy, long spring followed immediately by a long, dry, extremely hot summer.  I was away for the first three weeks of really hot weather, and nearly every living thing in my garden died.  The sole survivors were the mint which grew with great vigor and abundance everywhere; the oregano which has taken over the bed into which it was planted 3 years ago, 1/2 liter of strawberries, and a whole load of rhubarb.  Not exactly a smashing success.

My local food market, thankfully, was stocked with beets harvested by those with better luck and far greater skill than I, so I was finally able to gather the elements of this recipe floating around in my mind, and produce a dinner for my dearest and me.

I know, first I call it a galette, and then I talk about pie, so what's going on, here?  A galette is French term for a flat, round, free-formed crusty pie or cake.  In this case, an open-faced, free-form pie, using flaky crust dough, baked on a flat pan with the dough arranged an a relaxed fashion around and partially over the ingredients, and then baked.  It's easy to make and not at all fussy, so it doesn't matter if it isn't perfect; in fact, it shouldn't be.  The more rustic it looks, the better.

The first night we ate it all by itself, with no accompaniment.  It was warm from the oven with the golden, flaky crust breaking under the edge of the of fork and dissolving in our mouths.  The tanginess of the goat cheese balanced the sweet honey and earthiness of the beets and carrots, while the small bit of rosemary added a welcome perfume. It was delicious.  The next day I had one of the remaining slices for lunch, served slightly warmed, together with a fresh green salad.  The crust wasn't as crisp on day two, but it was still delicious, so feel free to make this a day ahead and rewarm it to serve if needed. Warming it in a 200°C/425°F oven for 10 minutes would re-crisp the crust, as well.

It may look like a lot of work, but really, you expend a little bit effort and then wait while the action happens.  So go ahead, get that crust started and you'll be enjoying this in no time.

Beet, Carrot, Rosemary & Goat Cheese Galette

Beet, Carrot, Rosemary & Goat Cheese Galette

Flaky Tart Crust
1 teaspoon / 5 ml salt
2/3 cup / 150 ml cold water
3 cups + 2 tablespoons / 455g all-purpose flour
1 cup + 5 tablespoons / 300 g very cold butter

In a small bowl, combine the salt and the water and stir to dissolve. Keep cold until ready to use.

You can make the dough in a food processor or by hand.  To use a food processor, but the flour in the work bowl.  Cut the butter into pieces and scatter over the flour.  Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs, and some of the butter pieces are about the size of peas.  Add the water-salt mixture and pulse briefly until the dough starts to form a ball, but is not completely smooth.  You should still see butter chunks.

To make by hand, put the flour in a bowl.  Cut the butter into pieces and scatter over the flour.  Using your hands, a fork or a pastry blender (my preferred tool), work the butter into the flour until the mixture forms large chunks and some of the butter pieces are about the size of peas.  Pour in the water-salt mixture and, using your hands, work the dough together so it forms a ball but is not smooth.  You should still see butter chunks.

On a floured work surface, divide the dough into two equal balls and shape each ball into a disk about 1 inch / 2.5 cm thick.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours or up to overnight.

You will need only one disk of dough for this recipe.  If you do not plan to use the other disk immediately, place the disk in a plastic bag, label with contents and date, and freeze.  Remove from the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator one night before you'd like to use it.


Make the filling:
5 medium-sized beets
2 large carrots, cut in half lengthwise
1 container of soft goat cheese
1 teaspoon chopped, fresh, rosemary
1/2 teaspoon Maldon salt or orange citrus salt
1 teaspoon of runny honey
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 200°C/425°F.

Wash the beets if they are muddy, cut off the long thin root end but leave the stem end intact.  Place on an oven-proof tray and place in the hot oven for 30 minutes.  While the beets roast, peel and slice the carrots and toss them with a drizzle of olive oil.  After the beets have been in the oven, add the carrots to the same try and cook for another 15 minutes.  The beets should be tender when pierced with a fork; if they are not, cook them a little longer.  The carrots should be slightly caramelized and brown; remove them before the beets if needed.

To assemble:

On a lightly floured surface, roll 1 disk of crust (recipe above) out into a large circle measuring 40 cm / 15 inches in diameter.  Don't worry if it's not a perfect circle, or if the edges are a bit rough.  The great thing about a galette, is that it is supposed to be a bit rustic.   Place the crust onto a parchment covered tray.

Spread the center of the crust with a layer of goat cheese - use all of it, and spread it out so it's 1.5cm / 1/2 inch from the edge.



Slice the beets into thin layers and lay them out across the the goat cheese, starting 2.5 cm / 1 inch in from the edge of the goat cheese, letting them overlap slightly.  Leave a small empty circle of goat cheese in the middle.  Cut the carrots into small chunks or strips and arrange them in the center.  Sprinkle the chopped rosemary and the Maldon salt over the top of the carrots and the beets.  Drizzle honey over the top.



Fold the edge of the crust over the outside section of the beets, working from one point in the circle and turning the crust slightly under itself as you work the dough up and over.  Brush the crust with beaten egg.  Place the tray with the galette into the hot oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the crust is golden and crisp.

Serves 6-8 as a main course.  I recommend you serve it with a nice green salad.  Also makes a wonderful appetizer.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Zucchini Potato Gratin

Zucchini Potato Gratin
What are gonna do if you've planted even one zucchini plant, and it just keeps producing one zucchini after another, faster than you can keep up, and faster than you can give it away?  You may have made zucchini bread or cake and zucchini soup and grilled zucchini, and are running out of ideas.

But then even more seriously, what are you gonna do if you have a head full of zucchini recipe ideas and no zucchini in sight?  The second feels like a far worse predicament this year, I have to say - since my zucchini plants produced…absolutely nothing.  I was away for the hottest weeks of Finland's summer, and my poor plants dried out from neglect.  I received a few zucchini's by someone trying to get rid of some of their excess, and happily started cooking.  No worries - there is always another great way to utilize this raw ingredient in my house.  Anyone looking to unload a few?  ;)

If you happen to have access to potatoes as well, here's a dish that can be served as a main course or side dish and will have you coming back for seconds.  The creamy béchamel sauce can be made with any kind of milk from non-fat to whole milk; or oat milk as a non-dairy alternative, and really ties the whole dish together well.

Dig in while the Zucchini Potato Gratin is still warm.
Zucchini Potato Gratin

1 medium zucchini
6 new/small potatoes
1 onion, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, minced, or 2 teaspoons dried
1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder or 2 garlic cloves, minced fine
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
3 cups milk
1 cup grated white, mild cheese (Emmental, Gouda or Mozzarella all work well here)

Heat the oven to 175°C / 350°F.

Using a box grater or mandolin, slice the zucchini into very thin rounds.  Toss with one teaspoon of salt and place into a colander over a bowl.  Allow to sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Using a box grater or mandolin, slice the potatoes into very thin rounds.  Place into a small bowl and cover with cold water to prevent browning.  Prep the onion, parsley, and oregano and mix them together in a small bowl.

Squeeze the zucchini over the colander to release as much water a possible, making sure to collect the zucchini water in a bowl.

To make a béchamel: in a small saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour until blended.  Add the zucchini water and whisk until smooth.  Add all of the milk, whisk until smooth, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat.  Once the mixture is thickened and just begins to bubble, remove from heat.  Whisk in the salt and pepper, and garlic or garlic powder.

Assembly:

Butter the bottom and sides of a 2 quart, oven-safe casserole dish; any shape will do.  Layer potatoes across the bottom, Sprinkle with 1/3 of the onion mixture and 1/3 of the cheese.  Layer half of the zucchini rounds over the top and ladle 1/3 of the béchamel over the top.  Repeat to layer potatoes, then onion mix, then cheese, then zucchini, then béchamel, then potatoes, onions, béchamel, ending with the last 1/3 of the cheese.

Place the mixture in the oven and make for 45 minutes until the potatoes are tender when poked with a fork and the top is golden brown.

Serves 4 as a main dish.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Gooseberry Cardamom Jam

Finnish Crepes served with fresh bilberries, Gooseberry Cardamom Jam, and Turkish yogurt.
Gooseberries are funny little things. Every summer, up at J's mummo's place, there are a few old gooseberry bushes that faithfully produce a 2 liters of green gooseberries and 1 liter of big red ones…and about 1/2 liter of the little wild ones that we use for eating only.

The branches of the bushes have pokey little thorns that grab your hand as you reach for the berries, and nearly each berry comes off of the bush with a dried flower poking out of the top end and a stem attached to the other end.  Both ends of each berry need to be trimmed before consuming; the easiest way to accomplish this is to grab a pair of scissors and trim each berry, one by one.

Green gooseberries, before the stems and blossoms were trimmed.  
So there you are with your pail of berries, but what do you do with them then?  You can only eat so many straight up, and out of the freezer they are so tart that every time we tried them over morning oatmeal or in smoothies we ended up throwing the end result away, or tried to compensate for the unbelievable sourness by adding heaps of sweet stuff.  Not good.

So now gooseberry harvest is over for another year, and this time I tried a few new tricks.  The first, made with the green gooseberries, was a Gooseberry Cake - a cake whose texture and flavor definitely improved after sitting overnight, and one I'd try again.  More on that cake later.  The other recipe I tried was a Gooseberry Cardamom Jam.

With a scant liter of red gooseberries available, I didn't have a lot of raw ingredients to work with, which was no problem, really, because I wasn't sure my experiment would work at all.  But we'd decided we were going to make Finnish Crepes for dinner, but didn't have any jam on hand - a must-have ingredient when eating sweet crepes around here.  Necessity is the mother of invention as we know, and I started combining ingredients into pot.



Gooseberry Cardamom Jam is the perfect tart-sweet note in these dinner Finnish crepes.
This is a jam with a really strong flavor - you don't need much at all on the crepe, and it isn't a jam you'd put on toast.  The cardamom flavor stands out strongly and cleanly against the gooseberry's equally strong flavor, and I didn't want to over-sweeten as I like my jams to taste like what they are made of rather than to be a sickly sweet mass.

It's a jam I'm looking forward to experimenting with in savory foods: I'd like to combine it with a brown sauce to serve with a roast, or to use it as I would with blackcurrant jam, and serve it with roast chicken.  This actually makes sense to me that the flavor is reminiscent of blackcurrant as both berries are part of the Ribes genus.

For now, roast anything will have to wait, as first, I'm starting with crepes.

But if you need other ideas for using up Gooseberries, here are a few:

Mrs Wheelbarrow makes pectin from gooseberries.
Nigel Slater makes gooseberry pie, a recipe published in his cookbook Ripe.
And brought to you by the BBC, a plethora of options.

The makings of a good dinner.
Gooseberry Cardamom Jam

1 liter red gooseberries, blossoms and stems trimmed
2-3 dl sugar / 1 - 1.5 cups sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 dl / 1/4 cup water

Place 3 spoons on a plate and into the freezer.

Combine all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed stockpot.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium.  Allow the mixture to boil for 25 - 30 minutes, until the mixture has reduced and smallish bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan.  Remove from heat.  Pour a small amount of jam onto one of your spoons and return it to the freezer for 5 minutes.  The jam is done if, when you push the jam on the spoon with your finger, it wrinkles a little.  If it has not gelled enough, cook for an additional 5 minutes and test again.  Repeat again until it has gelled to your liking.

Note: gooseberries contain a lot of pectin, so you don't want to cook this too long.  It's best if it's a little runny as a finished product.

Once the jam is done, remove from heat.

Using a wide mouth funnel placed in the jar and a ladle, spoon the jam into the jars, leaving a 1/2" / 1.5 cm space at the top.  Repeat until all of the jars are full.  Using a damp paper towel, wipe the rim of the jar so there is no jam residue left.  Place the hot lid on the jar, and, using a towel to hold the hot jar so you don't burn your hand, tighten the lid finger-tight (don't over tighten; the best way to ensure that you don't is to use your thumb and first to fingers to tighten the lid, which means you won't have enough finger strength to push it too far.)

Wash the big jam pot.  Put a dish towel in the bottom and place the jars on top.  Fill with water to cover the jar by at least 1"/ 2,5 cm.  Put the lid on and bring the pot to a boil.  Once boiling, set the timer for 15 minutes.  When the timer stops, turn off the heat and let the jars rest for 5 minutes.  Remove the jars from hot water and set on a dish cloth on the countertop, right side up, to cool completely.  Check to make sure the lids have sealed:  the top dome of the lid should be pulled in tightly and shouldn't move when you press it with your finger.  Sometimes you'll hear a ping as the jars cool and the lid seals, but not always.  If the lids are sealed, label the jars and store them in a cool, dark place for up to one year.  If your jar doesn't seal, put it in the fridge and use it within one month. 

Makes 1/2 liter / 1 pint.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Dinner over the campfire: Redfin Perch (Ahven) in Foil

Bonfire dinners = happy summer days
Lakeside living.  Fresh fish.  A whole lot of sunshine.  Laughter shared with the people you love.  Food cooked over the fire.  Garden-fresh produce.  Lazy, breezy days.  The makings of a good summer.  Oh, and more fish.  Yes, please.

Redfin perch (ahven) ready to take the heat.
Carrots with butter, honey, salt & pepper, ready for roasting.
There was a lot of fish coming out of Lake Päijänne into our happy grasp this summer, most of it redfin perch (ahven) or pike (hauki).  It seems every time we dropped the nets in, we pulled out a sizable catch.  When you have 6 -10 fish (or sometimes more) coming out of the lake at the same time, you need to start getting creative about how to cook so that boredom (gasp!) doesn't set in.  Mostly, we've eaten it either smoked whole or filleted and pan-fried over the open fire.  Excellent, finger-licking stuff.

Final moments over open flame - ideally the fire could have been a bit lower.
This time, I wanted a lighter, juicier version, but one that still didn't involve heating up the kitchen.  Open fire cooking is another great advantage of cabin life, and who wouldn't want to eat a fresh meal in the great outdoors with the wind blowing softly off of the lake?  I've had success cooking fish in parchment or foil in the oven, so decided to try this over the open flame, and to serve foil-wrapped vegetables as side dishes cooked up in the same fashion.

Dinner is served
I started with the vegetables first:  root vegetables tend to take a long time to roast, and I wanted to give the carrots time to caramelize and the turnips and potatoes time to soften.  The carrots & potatoes were excellent; next time I'll par-cook the turnips for 5 - 7 min to get them to a delicious softness before putting them in foil.

L to R: new potatoes, turnips, carrots
The red fin perch was a delight to eat this way:  with a skin that peeled away easily with a fork and knife (make sure you descale/suomustaa the fish before you try this method).  The steam trapped in the foil softened the fish into tender, moist flakes that pulled away from the bone, and the fish disappeared pretty quickly.  Note: this will work pike perch and trout as well.

Foil-wrapped redfin perch

Foil-wrapped Redfin Perch

One redfin perch per person
Onion, peeled, cut into slices
Fresh Dill fronds
Lemon slices (best) or lemon juice
Salt
Olive Oil

First, get your campfire/nuoti going.  You want to give it a chance to burn down so it's mostly hot coals and low flame.  Arrange a grill over the top of the flame.

Clean and descale your redfin perch.  Lay out a large piece of foil per fish.  Salt the fish inside and out. Lay each fish on one side on the foil lengthwise in line with the foil.  Arrange onion slices (or the green tops if you have them), lemon slices and dill into the cavity of each fish and arrange them over the top of the fish as well.  If you don't have fresh lemon, do as I did in the picture above and sprinkle the cavity and the top of the salmon with lemon juice instead.  Drizzle olive oil over the top of each fish.  Bring the long sides of the foil up over the top of the fish, fold them over carefully several times, and press to seal.  Roll up each end and seal.  

Place the fish on the grill over the fire, and cook for 20-25 minutes.  To check for doneness, open the top of one package (watch for the steam that will come pouring out) and push the tines of a fork into the fish near the spine and the neck opening; pull down lightly with the fork.  If the fish pulls easily away from the bone and is moist a slightly flaky; it's done (I always taste to make sure; (ahem) quality control).  Remove from heat and serve.



Roasted Carrots
Fresh carrots; greens trimmed but with one inch or so remaining
Salt
Honey
Butter

Arrange the washed, trimmed carrots on a piece of foil.  Sprinkle with salt; drizzle with honey; and set a few pats of butter over the top.  Close the foil; seal the package; and place on a grill over the open fire.




Roasted Potatoes 
New potatoes washed and cut into chunks
Butter
Salt & Pepper
Green onion tops, cut into rounds, optional



Lay the washed, cut potatoes on a piece of foil.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper and set a few pats of butter over the top.  Close the foil; seal the package; and place on a grill over the open fire.





Roasted Turnips

Raw turnips, washed, peeled, and cut into chunks
Butter
Salt & Pepper
Green onion tops, cut into rounds, optional

Place the turnips in a small pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes.
Place the cooked turnips on a piece of foil.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper and set a few pats of butter over the top.  Close the foil; seal the package; and place on a grill over the open fire.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Tomato Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella



Tomato Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella
I am betting that if you grow tomatoes, your garden is starting to burst at the seams with them by now.  If you don't have a backyard tomato crop (unfortunately I'm in this category), rest assured that they are arriving at the grocery stores and markets in all shapes, colors and sizes, and there is no time like the present to put them to good use.  They are at peak flavor right now, so all you need are a few great ingredients to make a perfect meal.

One thing to remember about tomatoes: they don't like to be cold.  Not when they are growing and not once they are picked.  There is nothing like an uncomfortable chilly session in your refrigerator to take the sweetness out a tomato, so leave them on the counter in a pretty bowl, and use them quickly before they start to soften and go bad.

I picked up a couple of baskets of Finnish tomatoes at the local market yesterday, in two colors simply because I couldn't resist.  Along with a fresh red onion, a ball of buffalo mozzarella, basil off of the balcony, a drizzle of great olive oil, and a pinch of Maldon salt, we were sitting down to a dinner salad accompanied by some nice crusty sourdough bread.  Summer perfection.

Tomato Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella
Tomato Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella

400g / 1 lb of tomatoes in various sizes and colors
1/2 small red onion, diced; about 2 tablespoons
1 ball of buffalo mozzarella, drained and cut or ripped into chunks
15 fresh basil leaves, stacked, rolled and sliced into thin strips
2-3 tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
a large pinch of Maldon salt
Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, optional, but highly recommended

Cut the tomatoes into slices and/or chunks.  In a small serving bowl or on two plates, arranged the tomatoes, sprinkle with the 1/8 teaspoon salt and toss lightly to combine.  Top the tomatoes with the mozzarella and then sprinkle the onion and shredded basil of the top.  Finish with a generous drizzle of olive oil over each salad, a sprinkling of Maldon salt, and if desired, a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar.  Serve with a good quality bread for mopping up the juices, and let the sun shine in.

Serves 2.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Stone Fruit Jam Part 2: Nectarine Mint Jam

Nectarine Mint Jam
Jam isn't something you normally think of when you come across a pile of nectarines.  And I have never, that I recall, seen a nectarine jam for sale.  It's usually the peaches and apricots that get all the glory when it comes to jams and desserts, while nectarines are typically left for eating directly out of hand. 

But making nectarine jam is something you really ought to make time for.  I mean, I love a good, juicy peach - especially if the skin isn't the fuzzy kind that pokes the tender skin above your lip as you bite into it; this is a challenge unique to peaches, and usually means you need to rub the outside of the skin vigorously on a paper towel or the thigh of your jeans to remove the fuzz. A perfect peach has minimal fuzz, and is so big that it overflows the palm of your hand when you hold it, and so sweet and juicy that you need to bend forward at the waist, chin forward as you bite into it, so that the juice that will inevitably spill over with every delicious bite runs down onto the ground rather than covering the front of your shirt.  That's a good peach.

And then there's the slightly tart, slightly sweet curious combination that comes with a perfectly ripe apricot - the kind that breaks open neatly beneath your thumbs so you can remove the pit, with just the right amount of softness and give between your teeth and that makes one of the best types of jams I can imagine.  Apricots are easy.

Nectarines aren't something people get as excited about. The reason for this, I think, is that nectarines are picked, shipped, and arrive at a store or market near you, raw and crunchy and just not tasting that great.  Biting into a underripe nectarine is like sinking your teeth into an apple, except that you aren't hoping for an apple at that point, you are hoping for the lovely juiciness that a peach brings, but you get something else entirely and it feels disappointing.  It doesn't have to be this way.  Nectarines, (as long as they are ripe) because of their thin, smooth skin, don't need to be peeled or undergo any laborious preparation before you use them.  Just take out the pit, slice them up, and they are ready to go.

Fresh Nectarines over oatmeal with Plum Licorice Jam, Basil and Sprouted Almonds
So try this:  Next time you buy a batch of rock-hard nectarines, let them hang out undisturbed in your warm kitchen for 2 or 3 days.  They'll be perfect.  Eat a few.  Cut some over your oatmeal.  Layer them beautiful over the top of a vanilla or lemon tart.  And then, make jam.

I paired this jam with mint and it worked beautifully.  Usually when working with peaches and apricots, I've used rosemary, but somehow, with a garden full of mint and some perfectly ripe nectarines, this combination felt right.  The mint adds just the right, bright note against what would otherwise be a very sweet jam.

This jam is good on everything I've tried so far, including as the sweetener for a salad dressing in replacement of honey.  It's especially good on toast spread with ricotta and topped with this jam.

The jam is nearly ready...
Nectarine Mint Jam

2 kg / 4,5 pounds of nectarines, pit removed and fruit cut into 1/2" / 1.5 cm chunks
660 g / 3 cups of granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 large mint stems (10-15 leaves per stem, leaves left attached - use peppermint or another strong mint)

In a large stockpot, combine the plums, sugar, lemon juice.  Stir well to combine; cover; and allow the fruit to macerate for 1 hour.

Set the pot over high heat and bring to a rolling boil.  Reduce the temperature to medium-high, stir; and set the timer for 15 minutes, allowing the fruit to bubble undisturbed.  Meanwhile, place five teaspoons on a plate in the freezer.  You'll use these later for testing whether or not the jam is ready.

While the jam cooks, prepare your jars:  Wash in hot, soapy water and then fill with hot water and set aside.  Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add your one piece lid, or the cap part (with rubber seal) of your two piece lid and boil for 5 minutes.  Turn off heat and leave the lids in the hot water until you are ready to use them.  This sterilizes the lid and softens the rubber which helps the seal.

After 15 minutes, add the mint to the jam.  Continue to cook the jam, stirring regularly, for another 15 minutes.  At this point, turn off the heat, remove the mint, and discard.  Take one of the spoons you have in the freezer.  Fill it with jam and return it to the freezer for five minutes.  If the jam wrinkles slightly when you push it with your finger, it is ready.  If not, cook it for an additional 5 minutes and test again; repeating as necessary.

Once the jam has gelled to your liking, remove from heat.

Using a wide mouth funnel placed in the jar and a ladle, spoon the jam into the jars, leaving a 1/2" / 1.5 cm space at the top.  Repeat until all of the jars are full.  Using a damp paper towel, wipe the rim of the jar so there is no jam residue left.  Place the hot lid on the jar, and, using a towel to hold the hot jar so you don't burn your hand, tighten the lid finger-tight (don't over tighten; the best way to ensure that you don't is to use your thumb and first to fingers to tighten the lid, which means you won't have enough finger strength to push it too far.)

Wash the big jam pot.  Put a dish towel in the bottom and place the jars on top.  Fill with water to cover the jar by at least 1"/ 2,5 cm.  Put the lid on and bring the pot to a boil.  Once boiling, set the timer for 15 minutes.  When the timer stops, turn off the heat and let the jars rest for 5 minutes.  Remove the jars from hot water and set on a dish cloth on the countertop, right side up, to cool completely.  Check to make sure the lids have sealed:  the top dome of the lid should be pulled in tightly and shouldn't move when you press it with your finger.  Sometimes you'll hear a ping as the jars cool and the lid seals, but not always.  If the lids are sealed, label the jars and store them in a cool, dark place for up to one year.  If your jar doesn't seal, put it in the fridge and use it within one month. 

Makes 1 liter / 1 quart of jam