ozette potatoes, queen spud of the northwest

IMG_4256Of the many cool vegetables grown by relatively new farm Turnip the Beet, the ‘Ozette Fingerling’ potato must top the list.  Rush over to the farm tomorrow at the Lane County Farmers Market to see if Farmers Lela and John have any of these big fat fingerlings left.  Locavores won’t regret it.  Last Saturday, Lela told me that they might have them for another week.

On that very day, when I was trying and failing to blow through the market just to get a few things, I was stopped by a very excited anthropologist who told me that the Ozette, grown by the Makah people of what is now the tippiest tip of northwest Washington for centuries, was available for sale.

The Ozette is a potato that came up the coast from the Andes, I was informed dramatically, bypassing Europe altogether!  Unlike most potatoes that were collected in Peru and environs by the Spanish and colonized back in the Old World, then returned to America, the Ozette had been left behind by Spanish colonists. They had decided the Makah area around Neah Bay wasn’t a good port, so they left their settlement behind.  The Makah people, who seem like a sensible lot, saved the potatoes from the garden, named them after a local island, and planted and cherished them for generations.

The potato looks like a long, fat oca, if you know that Andean root from your travels to Peru or New Zealand.  It’s bumpier and creamier and smoother than a standard fingerling.  When baked, the potato becomes dense but still floury, like a Russet on steroids.  And the flavor is nutty and rich.  It makes an absolutely delicious soup because of the starch content, and doesn’t need butter if you bake or mash it.  I still have a couple left I’d like to fry.  My guess is that they’ll be terrific latkes for Thanksgivukkah this year, if they last in the fridge or cellar that long.

If you’re interested in the history of this singular Pacific Northwesterner, check out Gary Nabhan’s Renewing America’s Food Traditions.  You can also read about Slow Food’s presidium (scroll down) Ozette project and the details of the Ozette’s development and commercialization as a seed potato. There’s a great video featuring narration from a Makah woman about Native farming and naming the Ozette that was produced by the Seattle area restaurant/farm The HerbFarm, one of the first non-Makah Nation concerns to grow the potato.  The Ozette’s entry in the Slow Food Ark of Taste is here.

The Ozette made me a wonderful vegetarian soup this week with some leftover corncob broth I had from prepping my Bodacious corn for freezing for the year.  It’s fine to substitute water, but the corn added a snappy note to the potatoes and cauliflower.  I’d strongly recommend it.  Corn broth freezes beautifully. I love potato soup, and think it never needs added bacon or pancetta, but if you wanted to gild the lily…

Ozette Potato Cauliflower Soup with Corn Broth

Serves 4.

  • 6 cups corn cob stock
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 t. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 3 cups potatoes cut in 2-inch chunks, preferably Ozette but ok to substitute 1/2 Russet and 1/2 Yukon Gold
  • 1 carrot, peeled
  • fresh thyme
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

Make your corn cob stock by simmering six denuded cobs in heavily salted water for about 20 minutes, then remove cobs.  Or use chicken stock or water.  Saute onion until golden brown.  Add onion, cauliflower, potato, and carrot to the corn broth, and cook until soft. Taste and add salt and white pepper to your liking. Mash vegetables, then blend with a hand blender until smooth.  Alternatively, use chinois to mill soup smooth.  Add fresh thyme and buttermilk and simmer on the lowest heat for a couple of minutes to blend flavors, then serve.

homemade hominy and other corny matters

What a sad story is corn in America.  Demonized now because of the commodification of agriculture and our reliance on feed corn, corn is viewed with a suspicious eye.  As a naïve Midwesterner, I’ve always loved corn.  I like popcorn, corn on the cob, cornnuts, cornbread, corn tortillas, corn salsa, tortilla chips, cornmeal, corn broth, corn chowder, corn stirfry…the list goes on.  The only kind of corn I don’t like is canned creamed corn.

Well, and high fructose corn syrup, which kind of starts out the same way.

I realized after reading Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, like so many of us did, that corn was a huge part of my diet as an American.  My very first diet seachange was to start cutting out preservatives and “hidden” sources of cheap corn in my food to shift my dollars away from Big Ag.

So I laughed in sympathy when Ayers Creek Farm owner Anthony Boutard began his talk for our Oregon Agriculture panel at the Food Justice Conference last month by shaking ears of corn at the audience, saying how mad he was that Pollan had ruined corn.

In 1922, McCall’s magazine ran an editorial on the introduction of new American fiction that would represent real, not nostalgic or idealized, American life…as American as corn.  I believe (partly as an addled corn addict, partly as a Midwesterner, and partly as a huge fan of Boutard’s corn) that we should rehab the reputation of American corn…as American as fiction.

We grow decent corn here in Oregon, believe it or not, and some of it is actually dried.  Homemade hominy is the perfect opportunity to start corn’s renaissance efforts.  I had the chance to make it last week, thanks to some red and yellow flint corn, already treated with hydrated lime, that Anthony brought down to Eugene for me.  Above, you can see a picture of the results: both my not-quite-successful attempt to remove the pericarp coating the inner kernel and the awesome freezing power of my new chest freezer, which just added a tiny bit of frost atop the corn.

Hominy can be pressure-canned or frozen.  I froze this batch because was a bit nervous about the stubborn clinging of the pericarp (the little nodule on the end is supposed to come off and didn’t, even with fierce rubbing) affecting the penetration of the heat in pressure canning, which sounds silly now that I type it.  Freezing is a lot less hassle.

My favorite use of hominy is what I call fake posole, a soup that isn’t even remotely like posole, save the pork and hominy.  I particularly like the combination of green chiles and pork.  In the soup pictured below, I simmered pork shoulder in a stock pot with onion, garlic, and bay leaf for a few hours, then shredded the meat and added some of my homemade salsa and a couple of cups of roasted chiles (frozen is fine) and the hominy.  The difference in using fresh (or fresh-frozen) hominy is that what’s usually mainly a starchy texture in the can becomes the most delicious, nutty, roasted corn flavor when you make your own.  It greatly enhances everything it touches, and I’ll never touch the canned stuff again.  For example, check out the pure white, washed out kernels in the soup (made with canned hominy), and the brilliant yellow and red stuff above.  The color differences, well, pale in comparison to the taste differences.

To make your own hominy, you’ll need hydrated lime (calcium hydroxide), also known as pickling or slacked/slaked lime (Spanish: cal, if you want to search for it in a Hispanic market), to break down the outer pericarp on the kernels.  I’ve also seen recipes from a very reliable source, the University of Georgia National Center for Home Food Preservation, that use lye (sodium hydroxide) or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).

Edited to add, 2014:  I wanted to highlight Chef Mark Kosmicki’s method, as described in the comments below: “If you didn’t want to use chemicals, you could do this just fine with wood ash. I’ve done it recently with wonderful results. You just have to soak the corn in water the day before, then boil with a half cup ash per pound of corn, then boil till the skins are loose, an hour or two. Run it under water to clean, which is kind of hard.”
Also, in the intervening years between writing this post and editing it, I should mention that Anthony has published a fantastic book on corn, really a must-have for the locavore gardener/cook.  Expect science and recipes from renowned Portland chefs!

Here are Anthony’s instructions, slightly edited for clarity.  Enjoy!

Hominy

  • In an enamel pot (ed: important, since the lime is caustic and you don’t want it reacting with metal — I used my Le Creuset dutch oven and it cleaned up easily), add two tablespoons of hydrated lime per pound of corn.
  • Add water to cover the kernels by an inch or so.  Heat the pan to a bare simmer, don’t boil, and let cook for 40 minutes to an hour.  The solution will turn a lurid yellow and the fragrance of corn will fill the kitchen.
  • Take the pan off the heat and let the mixture steep overnight at room temperature or on the back stoop.
  • The next day, strain off the lime and liquid into the compost bucket (ed: will add calcium to your compost).  Rinse the kernels vigorously several times until they are clean.  The outer skin of the kernel, the pericarp will wash away (ed: I stress VIGOROUSLY and SEVERAL, but don’t worry if you don’t get it all off, since it’s still tasty.  I let it sit for two days and it was still hard to get the pericarp off).  The result is alkalinized corn, or nixtamal.
  • The nixtamal is cooked very slowly until it is tender, at which point it is called hominy. If you have a slow cooker, you can use it to cook the hominy (ed: highly recommended).  Fill your stockpot or slow cooker pot with the corn and fresh water.  Cover the kernels well, as they will absorb a good deal of water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer until the kernels split open as little flowers.  The hominy is now ready to use in a pozole or soup.

what’s black and white and needing to be buttered up?

Me!  I finished an article and a huge fellowship application at the beginning of the week (see above), and moved directly into grading an eight-inch stack of papers.  I’m pretty sure that if I poked a hole in myself, black ink would run out.

I’ve been thinking about how many blog posts I have half-written and percolating, but to be honest, the only fresh food I’ve really made lately, besides a stew or two, is popcorn.

But black and white heavens, what popcorn it is!  Because I try to match food to my own coloring, was absolutely delighted by Lonesome Whistle’s heirloom (?) Dakota Black popcorn.  It pops up in huge white kernels with jet black centers.  (Lonesome Whistle’s website seems to be down, but try clicking the link from their Willamette Farm and Food Coalition information page.) Who knew we could grow such glorious popcorn in Eugene?!

I bought mine before it was fully dry, on the cob, back in the fall, and it had been hanging around waiting for me to de-hull it.  They may still have some left in much more convenient bagged form — try to grab it for a stocking stuffer by visiting their booth at the holiday farmer’s market at the Lane County Fairgrounds.  It’s the best popcorn I’ve ever had, and I’m a serious popcorn (buying-different-varieties-on-the-web serious) eater.  Thus, a special shout-out to all duck fat popcorn eaters!!  This is not to be missed.

corncob broth

If you went out and snapped up the last bit of corn in this long, weird season, as I did, consider making vegan corncob broth for winter chowders. Inspired by the recipe in the excellent Paley’s Place Cookbook that I reviewed for last year’s EW procrastinator’s gift giving guide, I’ve been waiting all year.

All you need to do is blanch the corn on the cob, remove the kernels for freezing, then let the corncobs simmer in salted water with some fresh herbs for about 15 minutes.  I added bay leaf and thyme.  There were 6-7 cobs to 3-4 quarts of water.  You could even add some other vegetables or onions or garlic, I suppose, but the clean, corny taste of just the corncobs is perfect as is.  Freeze in 4-cup containers for soups.

dining niblets: hot stuff edition

I love the predicted 20-degree drop in temperatures for tomorrow.  Until then, let’s talk hot stuff.

  • Inspired by a trip to the coast and gorgeous albacore tuna troll-caught just off the Newport coast, I documented the OSU Extension tuna canning class at the beginning of the week.  I hope to have a blog post up soon that provides notes and annotations for our tested recipe.  I’m under pressure (get it?) to finish an article for school right now.
  • Or, perhaps, you’ll hear me talk about canning tuna fish on the upcoming hot new radio show, Food For Thought on KLCC (89.7 FM), our NPR affiliate.  This week’s theme is preservation, and I’ve been invited to share my experiences.  Listen from noon – 1 p.m. on Sunday, August 29.  I’d love to hear your questions and comments via phone or email!
  • New restaurant alert, and this one is almost too good to be true.  Run, don’t walk, to Noodle & Thai, 553 Main St., Springfield.  I don’t even know where to begin.  They make their own noodles — that’s a great place to start:

fresh rice noodle rolls

drunken noodles with fat slices of beef

homemade red curry over fresh thin rice noodles

And they make their own curry pastes.  Order ‘medium’ for very spicy.  The chef says he strives to shop organically and locally.  I haven’t had Thai food this good in a very, very long time.  And the prices are Springfield, not Eugene.  Right now, there’s a healthy lunch crowd, since the place is near City Hall, but they’ve only just opened for dinner.  The restaurant appears to be a remodeled diner with a semi-open kitchen, and its small storefront belies the larger, pleasantly redecorated space inside.

Since I’ve been gone for most of the summer, I’ve missed…not much in terms of produce.  Since everything’s so late, I am pleased to see all the mid-summer produce ready and willing to be put up.  Here are some of the hot finds I saw in markets this week:

  • Bodacious corn at Thistledown Farm on River Road.  I haven’t seen such a nice corn season since I’ve lived in Oregon. Boo on the California tomatoes at the farm, though. (But I understand. Not hot: too-early heirloom slicers at the farmer’s market.  Ick.  Mealy.)
  • A new blackberry variety called ‘Diamond Jim,’ or so they said (could be ‘Black Diamond’?) at Lone Pine Farm on River Road.
  • Crabapples and gorgeous Chester blackberries at Hentze Farm, a couple miles farther north on River Road.  I made pie and a long-cooked, French-style jam from the latter.  Hentze is one of my favorite farms in the area.  They have a small processing equipment facility (with machines purchased from the once-ubiquitous processing plants in our valley) so you can buy freshly cut corn and beans in bulk for canning.
  • Beans look great everywhere.  Plums and peppers are just beginning, they tell me.
  • Veteran and Suncrest peaches at River Bend Farm off Highway 58 southeast of Eugene.  Annette reports that Veterans are easy to can, being a true freestone, with skins that slip off easily.  Donna in the OSU Extension Master Food Preserver office likes to can Suncrests because of the flavor.  She says that the Elbertas also make great canning peaches, so look for them in the coming weeks.  The hottest preservation gig in town is Annette’s jam classes, by the way.  The next one is full, but you can still sign up (if you hurry) for the following:  Thursday, 9/14 from 6:30-8:30 pm, or Saturday, 9/18 from 2-4:00 pm. The classes are held at the farm, and cost $30.  For this low price, you’ll learn jam-making basics and receive 12 half-pints of assorted jams made in class.  More information through the link above.
  • Speaking of the Extension MFP office, the hotline will be leaving Lane County on Sept. 2, when the office closes.  For the rest of September, you can still use the statewide hotline, as we will be handling calls from the Douglas County Extension office.  But if you need to drop by the Lane County office with your food safety or gardening questions, do so before Sept. 2.
  • If you enjoy Marché’s monthly regional French dinners, you will be excited to hear about the regional Italian menus served by its sister restaurant, Osteria Sfizio.  The first monthly dinner will feature the foods of Puglia, and will be held on August 29.  Cost is $40.  Read more here.  Sfizio has an excellent bar menu and some enlightened options for supper, both small plates and large.  Personally, I can’t wait for the Fruili menu in November!
  • Again with the noodles!  Chef June at Café AriRang on Broadway is serving a summer special — spicy noodle and vegetable salad.  Perfect for these hot days.
  • Did you see the numbers for the canned food drive held at the Lane County Fair?  23,919 pounds of food within two hours.  Now that’s hot.  You rock, Eugene.
  • Oh, and one more thing.  Don’t forget to vote in Eugene Weekly’s annual Best of Eugene.  You need to register at this website first to help combat ballot-stuffing (don’t worry, they won’t spam you).  If you can support my blog for “best blog,” I’d appreciate it!  Vote for at least 10 categories for the ballot to count.

nacho average salsa: red pepper purée with corn!

dscf3974dscf39871

These are some gradin’ nachos.  I’m fortunate since I didn’t have many final projects to grade this term, but the nachos made it easier.  Although I still have a few jars of homemade salsa in the pantry, I thought I’d try something new.  Everyone and their brother is trying to get rid of frozen corn, right?  I noticed I had a drooping bunch of cilantro and a red onion, so thought I’d throw together a salsa. Winter tomatoes didn’t exactly appeal, hm…

And then, inspiration struck.

When I was an undergraduate in Berkeley, I’d almost exclusively shop at the old Berkeley Bowl, showing up on an odd weekday or first thing in the morning on a weekend to avoid some of the foot traffic.  One of the only prepared items I’d buy was a delicious, bright red, zingy corn salsa made by a local company that also (if I remember correctly) made tamales.  They’d sample the salsas on a little table on the weekends.  I’d buy a pint and a bag of corn chips, then rush home and devour half the container for lunch.

It was that good.

So as I was mulling over my corn salsa possibilities, the remembrance of times past filled me with the holy recipe ghost, and it occurred to me that my decades of experimentation to recreate this salsa were misguided.  I had never been able to capture the texture and slightly bitter flavor of the red pepper purée.

But lo!  I had a jar of ajvar in the ‘fridge, and my long struggles were over.

dscf4027

This summer, I’m planning to make my own ajvar, but until then, I use the stuff in a jar, available at any Middle Eastern grocery store and many plain ol’ American ones, too.  In Orange County, I could buy it at the Safeway, but I’m not so sure about Eugene.  They’d probably have it at Market of Choice.  It’s bright red and fortified with vegetables, such as carrots and onions and eggplants.  The eggplants are the key: they lend the smoky bitterness to the spread that I had been missing when I tried to recreate the corn salsa from Berkeley Bowl.

Did the original recipe use ajvar?  Hard to tell, but it sure tastes like it.  In any case, the salsa is easy, pretty, and vegetable-y.  More importantly, it uses up your freezer corn.  Enjoy.

Red and Yellow Winter Salsa

  • 2 c. frozen corn, unthawed
  • 1/2 c. ajvar red pepper spread, either hot or mild
  • 2 T. minced red onion
  • good squeeze of fresh lime
  • handful cilantro, chopped (optional but recommended)
  • chopped fresh jalapeño (optional)

Mix all ingredients together and let sit in the refrigerator until corn defrosts and the corny juice blends with the flavors in the salsa.  Serves as an all-in-one nacho topping, quesadilla insert, or taco fiesta.

stir-fried corn: think globally, freeze locally

I have a lip-smackin’, corn-fed, wintery recipe from Fushcia Dunlop’s Sichuan cooking masterpiece, Land of Plenty.  Or at least I think it is in the cookbook, since I have the British version and feel I need to qualify in case it isn’t in there :).  The reason I particularly like this recipe?  It’s a way to get rid of the corn that’s clogging up your freezer right now.  Ah, corn, I adored you so much in August, back when you and I were young, running on the beach, sharing an ice cream by the boardwalk…  Summer lovin’, had me a bla-hast…

dscf3906Focus.

Now is the winter of our dissertacontent, and it’s hard enough to find a decent vegetable in the take-out joints in this town.  Luckily, we have freezer corn!  For those of you who endured the wormy corn season last year and assiduously put up bags and bags of Bodacious, this recipe is perfect.

So get on with it, already!

Corn makes a simple, authentic Sichuan stirfry.  Dunlop reports that it is served at homes and in humble restaurants at the height of the season.  Of course, it would be brilliant with fresh corn in the middle of the summer, when your peppers are at their juicy best, but it’s not at all bad in winter with frozen corn, especially the local stuff you’ve put up yourself.  As you might imagine, the dish goes well with any meat, not just as part of a Chinese meal.  Each time I make it, I’m tempted to add some Sichuan peppercorns or red pepper flakes to the mix, but it really is perfect as is.

About the peppers.

If you’re living locally, you could freeze home-grown thin-skinned peppers whole and dice them for this recipe.  I do this with some of the Hungarian paprika peppers and pasilla peppers I grow — roast ’em and freeze them with the blackened skins on.  It’s important, when using frozen peppers, to keep in mind that the texture and color won’t hold up when they are thawed.  Therefore, using a tiny dice and having pepper bits for flavor and color is key.  For this recipe, instead, I used the small, elongated Korean peppers available in Asian groceries. See the stuff that looks like okra in the picture?  Only one in 10 is hot (beware!), so taste first if you’re sensitive.   I find these peppers have a great flavor, much better than bell peppers, which are so overrated.  You might also decide to throw in a diced jalapeño or two.  Preserved roasted red peppers would also do in a pinch, now that I think of it.

Dunlop says to dice the pepper so the pieces are corn-sized, and if you are using fresh corn, don’t blanch the ears first, so the corn remains crunchy and juicy.

Three Pepper Corn Stir-fry

adapted from Fuschia Dunlop’s recipe

Serves 2-4 depending on other dishes.

  • 2 cups fresh-frozen corn*
  • 1 T. corn or peanut oil
  • 1/2 red pepper and 1/2 green pepper, preferably a thin-skinned variety (see note above), diced finely
  • lots of salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat 1 T. oil in wok.  When hot and shimmery, fry the peppers until little spots of char appear.  Immediately add the corn, and fry until golden brown spots appear.  Season with copious amounts of salt and freshly ground pepper, more than you think you might need.

That’s it!  Simple, no?