ozette potatoes and a sauce from garden herbs

IMG_8647I bought some delicious, glossy PNW-native ‘Ozette’ potatoes from Turnip the Beet Farm at the Lane County farmers market on Saturday.  I’ve written about them before, and think they’re fantastic for the locavore and armchair anthropologist.  They taste good, too!  As far as I know, Turnip the Beet is the only farm that produces them around here.  Farmer Lela says it’s the second crop of the year and they should have them at the next couple markets.

I like the Ozettes because they’re waxy and flavorful, so they make good fried potatoes and potato salad.  Or simply boil them and serve with the brilliant German green sauce, Grüne Soβe (or in the dialect of Frankfurt, Grie Soß).  It’s more of a spring thing, but if you’ve got a burgeoning herb garden, it’s a great summer dish.  All you need is seven herbs, a binder (e.g., sour cream) and something sour (e.g., lemon) and a little mustard.  The herbs that are traditional are sorrel, chervil, parsley, borage, burnet, cress and chives, but there are many variations.  Why not make a PNW herb blend?  I’ve seen basil and dill and marjoram included in some recipes, even.  Here are a few variations:

Mine was made with my very thick homemade sour cream (read: too thick for this sauce), a little milk to thin it out (bad idea, as it de-emulsified the fats), wine vinegar, mustard, and the traditional herbs minus cress.  Sorry about the poor picture, I was hungry.

I’m particularly excited about these potatoes because they represent yet another young farmer couple who are making a go of it in Lane County to bring us heirlooms and unusual produce, produced in a sustainable and labor-intensive way.  They’re worth supporting.  Even better, they just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for new greenhouses, so they’ll be able to extend the season in the future.  Congratulations!

 

 

 

 

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stalking the backyard daylily

IMG_7707A proud clump of orange daylilies or tiger lillies (H. fulva) graces one corner of my garden, blocking out a poppy and a lavender bush and encroaching on my daffodils.  Disdainful, I stopped in my murderous tracks a few years ago when I read one can eat most parts of the plant in a blog post by wildcrafter Hank Shaw.

I’ve since read more about them, including the history with some dubious tasting notes, and a chapter in Euell Gibbons’ classic, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, which seems to be a book that lights up the eyes of people who wish they were wholly foraging for food (while shopping at Whole Foods).

Being one of those people, mostly, I knew I had to take my dreams of a feral future and make them a reality, so I stalked the daylilies in my backyard.

What, you say you don’t know what a daylily is?  This is a daylily:

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Not a daylily (with an added bonus of an artichoke to symbolize the choking you will do when you eat a poisonous cultivar of true lily, below):

IMG_7714You can immediately tell them apart because the daylily grows in a big clump and has long, skinny leaves growing from the clump, but the true lily has many short opposing leaves growing up each stalk that culminates in a flower. Another things that differentiates them is that daylilies frequently repatriate to the wild, and they often resist the elements in parks, old lots, and meadows.  More on identification here.

The buds, flowers, stalks, and root bulbs of the daylily are all edible, but being a lazy hunter-gatherer, I went for the easy stuff: the buds.  Pick them when they are just about open, and don’t delay, since the ‘day’ part of daylily is not false advertising.  They ripen, bloom, and are gone in 24 hours.  You can see one bud just ready to be plucked to the left of the daylily in the image above the poison-choke-lilies.

IMG_7680Ever have Chinese hot and sour soup?  The “golden needles” or lily buds are none other than the dried buds of the daylily.  I dried a bunch and plan to use them in soups.  Apparently, they let off a slightly gelatinous ooze when you cook them, so they thicken up nicely.

The rest of the buds I plucked to eat in the manner I love vegetables the most: quickly dry-fried and salted.  You may have enjoyed padron or shishito peppers prepared this way, or perhaps Sichuan green beans.  Daylily buds rank right up there with the pleasure, and their unusual origin and utterly free cost to you will make you the star of all the foragers in your neighborhood.  OK, maybe not my neighborhood, since there are real foragers who live here, but if you live in a neighborhood without any, let me know and I’ll move there, since I could use a little stardom.

Anyway, the recipe in the first photo for dryfried daylily buds couldn’t be easier.  You’ll love the taste (but be careful, as apparently some folks are allergic or react poorly to the very mild and delicious greenbeany taste, likening it to armpit sweat).  Try just a couple at first to see if you are one of those unfortunate souls.

Heat up a heavy pan, cast iron if you have it, on high until it smokes.  Toss your daylily buds in a tiny bit of oil just before you toss them into the hot pan.  Smoke will ensue, so take the pan outside, flipping the buds with a spoon for just a few minutes until they are charred in spots and softened.  Salt with a coarse-grained finishing salt and serve immediately.

separate two eggs: roasted beet parsnip salad and christmas for one

Manzanita, OR.After the darkest day of the year, one can’t help but feel a little brighter.  I took advantage of the day to (appropriately) finish up changing my name on nearly all my documents and accounts and such.  To burn bright in 2014!  That is my mandate, my motto, my personal crest, my raison d’être, my challenge.

Perhaps I should invest in a fire extinguisher.

I’ve been cooking, and anticipating with great joy my Polish Christmas for One.  The theory is to spend far too much time making a miniature version of the 12-dish meatless, fish-heavy Wigilia.  It’s a celebration of being able to cook whatever I want and eat when I want, delighting in the pleasure of being alone and unfettered and ending the year without any more terrible disasters. Hope MUST return, I’ve decided, if only in one-week increments.

Please note the celebratory aspect.  It is far more disturbing, I’m discovering, for others to envision me spending Christmas alone than for me to live the reality of it.  Christmas has always been a quiet affair in our house, involving a break from elaborate dinner parties or socializing or social media or work.  And this year will be no different.  It will just be fancier with Polish dishes and calmer without arguing and more grey and fluffy and energetic and bitey and jumpy and maniacal.

I’ve got salt herring and pickled herring and gravlax.  I have beet kvass souring for borsch, and yellowfoots for mushroom pierogi, dilled sauerkraut for braising, fresh sweet cabbage fermenting with apples, carrots, and cranberries, and apple butter for a miniature cake, and grains for kutia.  There’s vodka and a bottle of good dry Riesling.  I’m still working on the rest.  There will be a little fish, ridiculously complicated, or maybe a crab.  Or oysters?

IMG_5075Anyway, before all that, I am happily eating a new dish made from glorious candystripe beets a new friend pulled from his garden for me.  A fine present for solstice, and unexpected.  I like that.

This pretty and simple warm salad, made with my own parsley and parsnips freshly dug from Tell Tale Farm, is in his honor, as it tastes of our Willamette Valley earth.  The secret is in roasting the parsnip batons separately from the beets with nutmeg and ginger, so they can get crispy and caramelized.

IMG_5094Pretty, no?

Warm Roasted Beet and Parsnip Salad

  • 3 beets (candystripe or other light-colored ones that won’t stain and mute color of parsnips)
  • 1 parsnip
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • handful of fresh parsley
  • fruity vinegar (homemade raspberry vinegar, if you have it; I used my foxy grape-star anise vinegar)
  • pepper
  • Equipment: 2 roasting pans and foil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Scrub beets well, cut in half or quarter if extra large, and place in one roasting pan.  Toss with a glug of olive oil and some salt until well-oiled.  Cover pan with foil and roast in oven until easily pierce-able with a fork. (40 minutes? Depends on the size of the beets.)

Peel and cut the parsnip into small batons, and mince ginger.  In a second roasting pan, and toss with a glug of olive oil, salt, and powder well with a good strong shakes of nutmeg.  Roast uncovered in the oven with the beets until browned and crispy. (15 minutes?)

Chop parsley and set aside.  Remove parsnips from oven when done and leave uncovered and unrefrigerated.

When beets are done, remove the foil and let cool until you are able to handle, then peel off skin with a paring knife.  Slice beets and place in serving dish.  Toss with a good splash of vinegar and some more olive oil, then add parsley, parsnips, and perhaps a little pepper.

Serve while still warm.  It makes a great light supper dish for one with some feta sprinkled on top, or a side dish for sausages or pork chops for 2-4.

Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone.  Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing to add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

as american as roman honey pickled cherries with savory

IMG_3581Looking for a new locavore cherry recipe in anticipation of the sour cherry crop now ready to go in the Eugene area?  Go no farther than ancient Rome.

A fellow participant in the Cult of Pre-Pasteurian Preservation and Food Preparation Facebook group page, Justin Mansfield, wrote that one of his favorite Roman preservation recipes is this one, a pickled cherry concoction using honey, red wine vinegar, and savory. He provides some details for Classics geeks and historical recreators:

Since there’s some interest, here’s the original recipe, from the 10th century Roman agricultural collection Geoponica (Farm Work) 10.42: Περὶ διαμονῆς κερασίων· Τοῦ Αὐτοῦ. Κεράσια ἀφαιρεθέντα τοῦ δένδρου πρὸ ἀνατολῶν ἡλίου, καὶ εἰς σκεῦος ἐμβεβλημένα, προϋποβληθείσης εἰς τὸν πυθμένα θρύμβης, εἶτα κερασίων, καὶ πάλιν θρύμβης, καὶ ὀξυμέλιτος γλυκέος ἐπιβαλλομένου φυλάττεται· καὶ εἰς καλάμους δὲ ὡσαύτως φυλάττεται.On the preservation of cherries, by same {i.e. this recipe is excerpted from Florentius, a lost author of the Imperial era}. Cherries that are picked from the tree before sunrise and put into a container, with savory first strewn over the bottom, then cherries, then once again savory, and sweet oxymel added on top, will keep. They’ll also keep the same way with rushes.

The species referenced are probably Prunus cerasus, and Satureja thymbra respectively. (No idea what kind of rush is referred to here… the name refers to several species. Dalby also points out that it’s unclear if the meaning is “laid out on rush mats” or “with rush-leaves used in place of savory.”)

He also notes that other sources indicate the honey:vinegar ratio should be between 6-8:1 parts by volume, not weight.  I opted for less sweet, and may just regret it, since I chose a very full-flavor, acidic Italian cabernet vinegar.

The cherries should be sour pie cherries, not sweet ones (but I’m willing to look the other way if you can’t get sour).  The recipe reads as if the Romans didn’t pit the cherries, but you may opt to do so.  I usually buy my sour cherries at Hentze Farm in Junction City, already bagged and pitted because I’m so lazy.  Pros: no sticky pitting on a hot day; easier to eat final product; and you get a quart or so of the most glorious juice in the world.  Cons: not nearly as pretty as intact cherries; you’ll need to pick through the cherries for bruised ones, as the machine handles them roughly; and you don’t get the nice almond flavor from the pits when pickling them.  In either case, you must use sour cherries almost immediately or freeze them, as they are exceedingly fragile.

Romans didn’t cook with sugar; honey was a basic sweetener.  For locavores, you already likely rely heavily on honey and even might have a hive or two to help mitigate the bee crisis.  As for me, I made this recipe with a wild star thistle honey I bought on the road in California, since it seems vaguely Mediterranean and has the scent of almonds from nearby groves (or so I fantasize).  But if you’re in the market, there’s some local thistle honey that’s being sold at Sundance, distributed with other wonderful varieties like pennyroyal, snowberry, meadowfoam, buckwheat, and coriander. (The coriander is grown in fields north of Eugene, Hummingbird Wholesale tells me, and the pennyroyal tastes a little like mint.)  Also in honey news, I hope you caught the interview with new Eugenius and prolific cookbook author Marie Simmons on Food for Thought on KLCC last weekend.  She has just published a book on honey, with history and recipes.  Marie was our last interview before our summer hiatus, so check out the archive if you missed it and you miss us! :-)

Anyway, the Roman pickled cherry recipe is wonderful with homemade duck rillettes, which I had for breakfast in a moment of sheer decadence.  Life’s too short for Cheerios.  As Epicurus would have said, had he known the phrase, carpe diem!  The savory brings out a, well, savory quality of the cherries.

Honey Pickled Cherries with Savory

Makes one quart.

  • 4 cups sour cherries, either pitted or not
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/8 cup wine vinegar
  • 12 two-inch sprigs of savory (either winter or summer; I used winter, which is stronger)

Wash and sterilize a quart jar.  If you are using fresh sour cherries, rinse and sort out the bad ones.  If you are using pitted cherries, strain cherries and sort for badly bruised ones.  Reserve the juice unless you are completely nuts.  Pour yourself a shot of pure sour cherry nectar and knock it back.  Ah, there.  OK, now proceed.

Heat the honey and wine vinegar in a medium saucepan, then take off heat and let the cherries soak in the mixture for a few minutes.

Rinse savory.  Place 3-4 sprigs at the bottom of the jar, then add another layer in the middle, then add some on top to help keep the cherries immersed in the liquid.

Using a jar funnel, carefully ladle the cherries into your jar, pressing down gently to fill gaps, and adding savory in the middle and on top.  Fill with 2 inches head space.  You may have more cherries than necessary; if so, enjoy over ice cream with more honey.  If there is not enough liquid, either add back the juice you removed or press down a little harder on whole cherries to encourage them to exude juice.

Place on a plate, and cover jar with cheesecloth.  If you used unpitted cherries, it is especially important that you have enough overflow capacity. Let sit on counter for 48 hours minimum.  At this point, taste and decide if you want to ferment longer for a fizzier, deeper, sweet-sour flavor, or otherwise refrigerate.  Pitted cherries will ferment faster.

Enjoy as a condiment with any roast meat or sausage, as a special side on a cheese plate, or, as I just did, with duck rillettes.

of cabbages and drag kings: a gay marriage salad

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Searching for the perfect reddish pink salad to serve your “gay-wedding” guests?  Seek no further.  With most of the blue states and every single rhetoric instructor ever chuckling over the Supreme Court transcripts for two cases challenging the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, it’s clear we need to celebrate with something simple and sassy, something that waves the colors and is topped with a veil of crème fraîche.

I vow love for this early spring salad: love, love love.  It’s my take on downtown restaurant Belly‘s tangled beet salad.  I’ve loved her since the day I met her — only a week or two after the restaurant opened.  It was a little unusual, I’ll admit, for one so carnivorous to love, really, what amounted to a pile of leaves, but we weren’t committed to traditional and outdated definitions of marriage, only fearing the censure of the courts.  So we capered about, rejoicing in our newly minted promise to be true.  We occasionally faced tough times, sometimes united in furtive silence, sometimes daringly holding hands in front of our close friends.

And being progressive and the sharing type, I’m opening up this relationship to you.  You can thank me in your champagne toast.

Keep in mind that she’s a local girl.  You can pick her up in the markets this weekend.  Some tender, nubile cabbages are ready now, or you might have a wizened old specimen hanging out in your crisper — I don’t judge.  Beets are also a great storage crop, so I hope you have some left or can get some larger ones at the market.  You made some berry vinegar last year, right?  This salad cries out for the special combination of sweet berries with vinegar, and I even add more fruitiness with a splash of pickled cherry juice.  Spearmint and fennel fronds are up in gardens right now; you might skip the fennel but don’t omit the mint.

Crème fraîche, which is essential to serve on the side, is stupidly easy to make with some cream and buttermilk. Don’t you dare buy it.  Recipe below.

So if you think we shouldn’t legislate love and really want to move forward, this salad is really a perfect way to celebrate spring, when the world is mud-luscious, and the queer old balloonman whistles far and wee.

Beet and Cabbage Salad with Mint, Fennel, and Crème Fraîche

Serves 4.

  • 1/2 small head of red cabbage, or quarter head if larger (aim for 5-6 cups of shreds)
  • 1 medium dark red beet (3-4-inch diameter)
  • 3-4 shallots, sliced very thinly
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed (salt-cured are better than brined)
  • 2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons berry vinegar (substitute balsamic)
  • splash of pickled cherry juice or cranberry juice, if you have it
  • handful of spearmint, leaves rolled up and sliced finely in chiffonade
  • fennel frond tips, torn into little pieces
  • 1/2 cup or more crème fraîche

Shred the cabbage as finely as you can with a knife.  Do the same with the shallots, then soak shallot shreds in cold water for 5-10 minutes to remove some of the strong flavor.  Drain.  Using a box grater, grate the beet.  Toss vegetables with the salt and capers, and set aside for 15-30 minutes.  Whisk together the oil and vinegar, and add to shreds.  Just before serving, add the splash of juice, then top bowl with a chiffonade of spearmint and little fennel frond bits.  Serve with a generous dollop of crème fraîche for each serving.

Crème Fraîche

Makes 1.25 pints.

  • 1 pint freshest, most organic, lovely heavy cream you can find
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 quart-sized jar (pint is too small)

Plan ahead several days before serving, as it takes time to set up.  In the gloomy, rainy PNW, it often takes mine three days, but I like it thick and tangy.

Mix together cream and buttermilk in a sterilized jar.  Cover with cheesecloth and let sit on the counter for anywhere from 1-3 days, depending on how thick you want the final product.  The longer you wait, the stronger the flavor.  Don’t bother mixing it, as it will even out over time and get a uniform thickness.  Refrigerate and enjoy with soups, salads, or desserts.

chicory chic: a winter vegetable worth the rain

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I’ve spent the winter getting to know one of winter’s sexiest families — the chicory.  Anyone who has inadvertently grown a crop of dandelions in the Willamette Valley knows how massive and fertile these relations can be.  If I’m not careful, I will find weeds locally foraged greens the size of dinner plates in my garden.

I’m not really a fan of wild dandelions, but I do like their evolutionary determination, and the underlying bitterness common to all plants in the chicory family.  Endives, curly escarole, red radicchio (both the round chioggia and pointy treviso types), frisée, and the huge heads of sugarloaf (puntarelle, see top photo and the loaf Marco is holding, below) are becoming more and more popular as a winter substitute for romaine lettuce.

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Farmer Marco Franciosa of Sunset Lane Farm in Brownsville, a gentle man and gentleman I had the pleasure of meeting this winter thanks to fellow preserver Linda Ziedrich’s blog post mentioning his work, cultivates many kinds of chicories for the restaurant and specialty market trade in Portland with his wife, Kay.  We went out into the fields on two grey, rainy days a month or so ago, and he showed me the easy way to grow chicory, above, and the hard way, which I’ll explain in a second.

IMG_2719Marco uses seed from European sources and closer to home: his neighbor, Adaptive Seeds/Open Oak Farm (above, Farmer Sarah Kleeger marvels at the size of her heads).  For the past three years or so, he has been experimenting with open-pollinated varieties and gorgeous crossed varieties that have yielded some stunningly pretty leafy greens.

When I saw the chicory crops growing, I was immediately smitten.  I’ve enjoyed Belgian endive for years; it was one of my first salad delights in my early twenties, served by a budding chef on a picnic on the bleak cliffs of Point Reyes, California, with pear and blue cheese and walnuts.  I had never had anything that juicy and delicious that could be termed “lettuce.” There’s a recipe for a variation of this simple salad featured on Sunset Lane Farm’s website (I’d swap out the pecans for hazelnuts, personally, being the Willamette Valley nut I am).

And local restaurants, most notably Belly, have been grilling escarole and using pretty speckled chicories raw in winter salads for years.  Right now, for example, Belly has a chicory and duck confit salad with pomegranate seeds — one of the best things on the menu with a perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and meaty.  Go check it out asap.

But I hadn’t ever had much respect for the most common chicory we use in winter, curly escarole, which so often serves as a green base for something actually edible on a catering plate.

IMG_3903IMG_3895The Dutch, as previously covered in my post on the traditional escarole mashed potatoes, like to use the big green leafy heads that they call Andijvie to add color and flavor to a winter staple.

But they have a much greater variety of recipes for Witlof, the tight yellowy-white bullet-shaped chicory pictured above that we call the Belgian endive.  (There is some debate about its origin in the area that now defines the Netherlands or that of Belgium.)  It’s a vegetable beloved by children and adults alike, and a surprising number of recipes that range from the typical Dutch ham and cheese endive au gratin casserole to some strange and wonderful combinations.

I’m seeking a publisher for a longer article on Belgian endive — both to showcase Marco’s wonderful specialty farm, which is to my knowledge one of two domestic producers of the crop, and the only one that uses the traditional method versus mechanized hydroponics — and to spread the word about this wonderful winter vegetable.  For some reason I can’t fathom, local magazines don’t seem to be interested in this story of Oregon tenacity and unique deliciousness, so I’m forging eastward (and learning how to write better pitches). Anyone interested?  :) Here’s a snippet of what you’re missing.

Belgian endive is, quite simply, a complete pain to grow.  Unlike the other chicories discussed above, it needs to be grown twice — first, out in the rainy winter field as its brethren above, then chopped down, leaves cut off at the bud head, roots chilled, then replanted and forced in the dark to produce that little white silky endive.  Then you can use the big roots for drying and grinding into chicory coffee.  Another post on that to come.

IMG_3265 IMG_4095 IMG_4092 IMG_4077It’s a labor intensive endeavor, one made easier in Europe and in the sole (?) California producer here in the U.S. These large farms rely on big hydroponic operations that force the heads in dark rooms in liquid fertilizer solution so you don’t have to actually bury the things in sand and add variables plus cleaning off the sand.  But Marco does it the old way by packing the roots tightly in heated raised beds.  He compellingly argues that it’s worth it — the sand method provides a more complex taste and a fuller head.

And oh, how right he is.  Compare, for example, the prosciutto-wrapped heads below with Marco’s, above.  See how there’s separation and greening at the top?  I bought the green ones at Market of Choice.

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But even if you can only get the hydroponic endives, they’re still quite tasty.  They store for a long time in a paper bag in the refrigerator.  If you don’t keep them properly, they will start to darken and grow more bitter, much like the rest of us.

I’ve developed a version of the renowned Cook’s Illustrated recipe for braised endive, a recipe I’ve used religiously for many years, that incorporates a bit of the Dutch preparation with ham.  I found that regular boiled ham tends to get too leathery when you brown it off and tends not to “stick” to the endive when browning (see the image below — too much ham!), so I switched over to a standard-quality prosciutto.  Don’t bother with your finest Italian stuff here.  It’s meant to be an accent, not a pig party.

IMG_4175The result is an exquisite, buttery, slightly bitter, slightly smoky braise that’s so delicious you will not be able to stop eating them.  I’m writing the recipe to serve two, even though, technically, it will serve four people with restraint.  Because, yeah, whatever.  Chicories.  Give them a chance.  You won’t regret it.

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Braised Belgian Endive with Prosciutto

  • 4-5 heads of tight, white Belgian endive
  • enough prosciutto to wrap heads (try 4 oz. or so)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 lemon, squeezed
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme or winter savory
  • 1 tablespoon parsley for garnish

Remove any damaged leaves and cut endive in half, lengthwise.  Wrap halves in prosciutto tightly.  Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter on medium heat in a chef’s skillet large enough to hold all the heads in one layer (and make sure you have a cover large enough, too). You’ll use the rest of the butter for the sauce.

When the foam reduces, add salt and sugar to promote browning.

Place the heads in the skillet, cut side down.  Cook until golden brown (about 5 minutes), then flip over and cook for another 5 minutes.  Mix together the chicken stock, lemon juice, and thyme or savory, and pour into the skillet.

Cover and cook until soft and succulent, about 15 minutes.

Plate the endive, cut side up.  On high heat, boil down the remaining juices with the tablespoon of butter reserved earlier until it forms a dark syrup, stirring frequently.  Be careful to watch it, as it’s easy to burn the sauce at this point.  Pour the sauce over the endive, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

Serves 2 as a main dish with quinoa or bread, or 4 with restraint.  It reheats nicely, but again, you won’t have any left.

the unexpected pleasures of savory watermelon

As soon as the sweet, dense, singular Eastern Oregon-grown Hermiston watermelons hit the market in late July, I try to keep a tub full of ready-to-eat slices close by in the refrigerator, just in case a heat-related emergency arises.  But heat and watermelon can be even chummier, I realized last night at an illuminating supper.

Taco Belly (which no one calls by its official name, Taqueria Belly) is the fancier new Belly’s scruffy kid sister, but no less beloved by its owners and staff and customers.  The regular menu is good, but the specials…well, sometimes the specials just Knock. It. Out. Of. The. Park.  I submit to you Exhibit A:

A grilled watermelon “salad,” special du jour du yesterday.  Watermelon salads are usually fussy things, with little cubes and precious dots and twiddles and fringes.  This was big, luscious slices of watermelon, grilled on a hot fire with the rinds on.  Then the slices were topped with pepitas, fresh goat cheese (I think), a simple roasted salsa roja, and a smattering of white onion and cilantro.  The pile is crowned with a few edible nasturtium flowers, which add not only fiery glory but a peppery and slightly bitter note.

This morning, admittedly high on watermelon, I found an elegant appetizer of salmon sashimi draped over a spiced watermelon refrigerator pickle from the slightly odd blog My Man’s Belly.  You can find her recipe linked in the watermelon category of the Punk Domestics preservation collective blog.  You might try smoked salmon, homemade gravlax or quickly seared salmon, as well.  Oregon salmon, of course.

But we can’t stop there.  I’ve been saving a recipe from the Bite of Eugene last year for exactly a moment like this, an original recipe that Iron Chef Oregon 2010, our dear Gabriel Gil of Rabbit Bistro & Bar served at the festival and distributed to attendees. Watermelon gazpacho. Yes.  It’s a subtle and perfect blend of watermelon and sweet, acidic summer tomatoes, with red peppers, cucumbers, onion and garlic to provide the underpinnings a good gazpacho needs.  It was my favorite soup last summer, so I asked Chef Gil (last year, hope he remembers) if I could post it on the blog.  And I trust my delay will be your future pleasure!

The soup should be started the night before you plan on serving it, since it needs to sit for 12 hours.  I suggest using dark, high acid tomatoes and Sungold cherry tomatoes, but any garden tomato is a winner in August.  You might want to reserve some of the vegetables for a little garnish in each bowl.  Straining the soup through a fine sieve is really an important step for a mind-blowing texture that will make your guests roll their eyes back into their heads in delight, but if you don’t have a sieve and don’t mind a more rustic finish, the blender will do.  You will still be loved.

Rabbit Bistro’s Watermelon Gazpacho

  • 2 lbs. assorted heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 pint basket heirloom cherry tomatoes
  • 1.5 lbs. clean watermelon, no seeds
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 baguette, diced
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cup dry red wine, preferably Spanish
  • 1 cup olive oil, preferably Spanish
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large container, mix all ingredients well and press on the tomatoes and watermelon, ensuring that they release enough liquid to almost cover the mixture. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Blend, in a blender, in batches, and pass through a fine sieve.  Serve in chilled bowls.  Serves approximately 8.