lekvar: roasted prune plum paste

IMG_8718Forgive me, I wish I had eaten the prune plums, but I had to make lekvar (prune paste) instead.  Lekvar is easy but takes a long time.  If you start with actual dried prunes, it’s much faster, but I was gifted 25 pounds or so windfall fruit from the Friendly Fruit Tree Project to process, so the first step was roasting the fruit to remove liquid and concentrate the sugars.

IMG_8701Once the fruit had been picked over, cleaned, and roasted overnight, I squeezed out the pits and cooked down the puree even longer.  Once it had significantly reduced in size, I milled out the skins and remaining stems, even catching a few errant pits.

IMG_8755If you can, mill on a coarse screen and a fine screen for a silky texture.

Then I added sugar at a 1.5:1 ratio, a cup of sugar for every 1 and a half cups of puree.  This yields a product that isn’t very sweet, but still provides a jam-like feel. And added the juice of a lemon to acidify the mix.  Some people add lemon or orange zest at this point.

IMG_8767I cooked the lekvar down for several more hours, carefully monitoring the bottom of the pan, which is very susceptible to burning.  The stuff thickened and reduced by about a third before I decided it was ready.  And then voilà!  Dark, mysterious prune plum paste for fall.  It can be stored in the refrigerator or frozen, as it’s a bit too thick to be processed safely.

IMG_8732One can use lekvar in so many wonderful ways: to stuff dumplings, fill cookies and Hamantaschen, spread on cheese or cheese crackers, or this, a wondrous creation from the Friuli region of Italy, inspired by Fred Plotkin’s recipe in La Terra Fortunata: The Splendid Food and Wine of Friuli-Venezia Guilia, Italy’s Great Undiscovered Region.  Sguazeto sauce is used on roasted pork, but it makes a nice sticky barbecue sauce, too, for pork chops or a small shoulder roast.  It usually starts with prunes, but prune paste works like a dream.

Sguazeto for Roasted Pork

    • 2 heaping teaspoons pine nuts
    • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon honey
    • 2 tablespoons. olive oil
    • 1/4 cup lekvar (or, if you don’t have lekvar, substitute 3 Brooks prunes, chopped and plumped up with some wine for 30 minutes, then mashed)
    • 2 tablespoons chicken stock
    • 1 tablespoon. white wine vinegar

Roast the pine nuts and cumin seeds on a medium-high burner until fragrant.  Combine the pine nuts and cumin in a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a fine paste, then mix with honey and olive oil. Heat mixture with lekvar, chicken stock, and vinegar and simmer for 10 minutes or so until flavors combine.

Roast or grill your meat as desired, dressed simply with salt and pepper. Remove from grill and top with sguazeto just prior to serving, or brush some on in the last 15 minutes of cooking. Garnish with chopped parsley and few whole pinenuts.



appeasing summer meal and local rosé not to miss

IMG_3577To use up those remaining peas, there’s nothing — literally nothing — better than linguine with pancetta, peas, and mint.  Older peas and the robust flavors of mature mint marry better than the sprightly young things of spring with the aromatic, porculent, chewy bits of pancetta.

And literally nothing better to go with than William Rose Wines’ Prohibition Rose, the rosé hit of the summer around these parts.  First, if you haven’t yet spent half your summer salary on dry rosé, I urge you to do so.  It’s time to get with the program and stop drinking Pinot Gris. Period.

IMG_3578Second, you can’t go wrong with Prohibition Rose, if you can get your hands on it, and do ask for it at local stores.  It’s a blend of southern Oregon Merlot, Syrah, and Grenache, which mindbogglingly might make it harder to get on the shelves because of the Eugene consumer obsession with Pinot everything.  But you’ll be missing out if you spend your hard-earned cash on our popular, boneless WV whites.  And honestly, this year the shine is off even Provençal and Spanish rosés for me, which I love, with Prohibition Rose around.

It has the vivid color of sockeye salmon and all the delicious strawberries and raspberries and good acid structure of its southern French cousins, but a fuller and dare I say wilder body.  It’s a big girl and not at all sweet, and we like it that way.

Anyway, distracted there for a moment.  Back to the pasta.

Buy some of the freshest pancetta you can find, which very well might be the rolled specimens from Salumi in the cheese case at the 29th/Willamette Market of Choice.

Start a pot of boiling water for some fresh Pasta Plus (our local pasta company) linguine, and as that’s progressing, shell your peas and chop up a few handfuls of mint and chives from the garden.

Next, heat a little oil in a deep skillet and fry up as much pancetta as you dare over medium heat, being very careful not to burn it. Add lots of freshly ground black pepper.

When the water boils, throw in the pasta for a few minutes ’til al dente, then quickly add the peas to the pancetta, stir for about 30 seconds, and transfer the pasta from the pot directly into the skillet.

Add a good spoonful of pasta water, toss the pasta, and remove from the heat.

Last, add your torn mint and chives, plate, and garnish with a mound of pecorino cheese.

Oh, and one more thing about William Rose.  The newly released dry riesling.  It is no joke.  Buy it up immediately (but wait until after I get a case).  It’s one of winemaker Mark Nicholl’s absolute favorite wine varietals, and that shows.  Read up on William Rose here, or come to this Saturday’s Bite of Eugene, where he’ll be a judge for the Iron Chef competition, so you can bother him personally.  And what’s up with future plans for the label?  Will there be a home sweet home in its future?  Ask him!

berries with frothy custard clouds

IMG_3571I have my repertoire of berry recipes indexed, if you’re interested, but my new obsession is berries with frothy custard clouds…or as the Italians call it, zabaglione.  The first time I had it, I was a teenager, and thought it was the most exquisite dessert in the world.  I’m not sure if I’ve been disabused of that notion.

It wasn’t just the taste of the custard. I said the word to myself repeatedly, slowly, sensually: zah-BAG-lee-OHN. As a word, it was a marriage between other things I loved to say: zamboni and linguine and Sierra Lione.  It was much nicer, indeed, than the French word sabayon, a similar custard, the cookbooks told me, but one that seemed vastly different to me — almost smug in that way the French can be. No, zabaglione was what I wanted to float away upon if I could choose any liquid for Lethe.  Zabaglione, take me away…

And as a young adult who reads more about the world than circles it soon discovers, I realized I had been saying it incorrectly.  ZAH-bahl-YOH-nay.  Makes sense, no?  Much closer to sabayon, much further away from my version of linguistic heaven where custard canoodles on the perfectly shaven-smooth clouds of West Africa.

Nevertheless, it’s still good, the perfect summer evening dessert.  With three ingredients: farm fresh egg yolks, sugar, and marsala wine (the sweet, fortified wine you can find in better supermarkets, but for godsake don’t buy the cheap stuff), it’s easy to count on it.  Use the best eggs you can. Ones straight from the chicken will yield a lemon yellow custard; supermarket eggs, even good quality, will give you more of a pale froth.

You’ll need a strong arm.  It’s a thin custard, sometimes served like a soup, but you’ll need to froth it to triple its volume.  I’ve long loved the small drama of walking around a dinner party whipping cream by hand with a big whisk.  Whipping the zabaglione takes just as long, anywhere from 10-15 minutes, and you really want a full volume.  Pour it into long, skinny glasses over your favorite fresh berries, either macerated with a bit of sugar and marsala or just left nude as the way you found ’em.

And don’t skimp, you frugal American, as I did in the photo.  I saw a version at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco a couple of months ago that was served absolutely overflowing a tall pilsner (?) glass, frothing down over the sides of the glass and piled up a little on the charger plate.  It was a disaster and fabulous and a showstopper.

If you’re interested in stabilizing the custard and serving it cold, see Elise Bauer’s recipe or others for the incorporation of whipped cream.  You might also try Marcella Hazan’s cold red wine version, reprinted here.  Just don’t put any extra flavoring crap in it, like vanilla.  It’s perfect the way it is.

I was charmed by Giovanna Zivny’s history of the recipe, which reports the old fashioned way was to make the custard using the egg shell as a measurement, with a 1:1:2 ratio (egg yolk: sugar: marsala), so that’s how I eyeball it when I add the sugar and wine.  Egg shells, however, differ in size and it’s an utterly bad way to measure things, not to mention the recontamination issues when handling egg shells in a dish that’s already suspect because the eggs aren’t completely cooked.

Also notable is that Zivny never uses a double boiler, so it’s not essential, but if you don’t your custard won’t be as frothy and will surely curdle on the bottom. Also, you might need to worry about the higher level of heat if using fragile glasses.  Does that stop me?  No.  But you might be more particular, or have nicer glasses.


Serves two, preferably lovers, and preferably on a warm summer night.  Whisper it to your partner in a husky voice: ZAH-bahl-YOH-nay is served!

  • 3 eggs, as fresh as possible
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup Marsala or another fortified or sweet wine
  • 2 cups or more fresh berries of your choice

Separate the eggs, place the yolks in a small bowl, and reserve the whites for another use.

Clean and slice berries, if necessary, and place in tall glasses or wine glasses.

Prepare the double boiler by placing 1-2 inches of water in a medium saucepan, then place a stainless bowl on top of the pan. Note you’ll need a large bowl to accommodate the whisking and triple-volume of the final product.

Bring water to a gentle boil on medium-low heat.

Whisk together the wine and sugar in the heated bowl until sugar dissolves.  Add eggs, whisking constantly, and whisk them for 10-15 minutes, until the custard has thickened slightly, tripled in volume, and is very foamy and pale in color.  If the eggs start to cook, turn the heat down to low and remove the bowl for a few seconds.  Be careful, as this custard, like all custards, will break if overcooked.

Serve immediately, pouring the custard over the berries until barely overflowing.

you say green tomato again: green tomato pork ragu with pine nuts and raisins

Whew!  My green tomatoes are done for the year, but here are all my ideas for green tomatoes. Try:

I was inspired by a comment on David Lebovitz’s post about his Indian-influenced spiced green tomato chutney.  The chutney looks delicious in its own right, but the real star was someone named Tia, who shared ideas from Rome for green tomatoes:

Late in the fall, green tomatoes take over the Roman markets. They are good as a salad on their own — especially the ones with a rosey hue — they add body to chicken soup, and they also make a nice, somewhat tangy ragu for pasta: Lightly crisp a small amount of pancetta in olive oil, add a smashed clove or two of garlic and some chopped shallot or onion along with a bay leaf and a bit of fennel seed. If you want a richer sauce, crumble in some mild pork sausage. Cook the sausage until it is no longer pink, but don’t let it brown. Add a lot of roughly chopped green tomatoes, salt and pepper, and cook into a sauce over medium heat. Toss with penne, ziti, orecchiette, or other shaped pasta. Finish with parsely, lemon zest, and black pepper. Drizzle each serving with olive oil and flock with grated pecorino cheese.

Is there any way to improve on this?  Why yes, there is.  It’s a good idea to roast your remaining green tomatoes: slice in half or in chunks, toss in olive oil and salt, and roast on 225 for a few hours before bagging them up and freezing.  They can be used for enchilada verde sauce or this delicious ragu in the middle of winter.  I like the balance of sweet, savory, and tanginess in my adaptation, too, which used up the last of the rosé.  It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but it was absolutely delicious.

Roasted Green Tomato Ragu with Pork Sausage, Raisins, and Pine Nuts

Serves 4.

  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 1/2 lbs. green tomatoes (roughly 3 cups cooked down)
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup very dry, pale rosé or pinot gris
  • 1 lb. pork sausage meat (sweet Italian with fennel or pork with sage is perfect)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds, if pine nuts aren’t in your budget
  • olive oil, salt, and pepper
  • Parmigiano Reggiano, grated, for topping pasta

Mince onion and garlic.  Chop tomatoes.  Plump raisins in the rosé.  Toast pine nuts until just barely colored, and set aside.

Cook onion in some olive oil over medium heat until golden (do not brown).  Add the garlic and sausage meat, continuing to cook over medium heat until cooked through, breaking up large chunks of sausage. Add chopped green tomatoes, either precooked/frozen earlier or raw.  Add wine and raisins.  Let simmer with sausage, pressing against tomatoes with wooden spoon to break into sauce.  Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper if needed.

As the sauce is simmering, prepare your pasta.  This ragu does best with penne or a similarly large, ridged rolled pasta.  Or a lovely macaroni — kind of like a gardener’s Hamburger Helper, if you think about it.  The sauce is done when the pasta is done.  Add more wine or water if it seems to be too thick.

Integrate the sauce and cooked pasta, leaving just a bit of starchy water in the bottom of the pasta pot, and adding enough sauce to coat well.  Fold in pine nuts just before serving, and top each bowl of pasta with lots of grated parmesan.

grazie mille, chef mario!

I’m sad to say I ate the last plate of gnocchi last night at Chef Mario Tucci’s beloved neighborhood joint, the Friendly Street Café.  So many fans thronged the little café on what was to be the last weekly Gnocchi Night on Wednesday that Mario couldn’t seat everyone.  That meant the first and last Gnocchi Night, Part Deux took place the following evening.

And we were so happy to be able to share in the love. The chef is planning to visit family in Firenze and then return to Eugene to new opportunities.  The café will pass into the capable hands of his team, who are planning a shift to a breakfast-lunch menu with earlier hours and an expanded range of baked goods.

Grazie mille, Mario; we look forward to hearing about your next project!

meal of the week: garden tomato caponata and puttanesca

I like the Food for Thought on KLCC “meal of the week” feature so much I think I’m going to start posting images of my own meals of the week.

Here’s last week’s, a delicious appetizer of caponata, the eggplant spread with my own garden tomatoes, basil, onions, and dehydrated tiny grapes; and a main course of pasta puttanesca, made all the more delicious with a fresh tomato sauce and marjoram.

The tomatoes in both are ‘Amish Paste,’ an amazing paste tomato that grew much better for me this year compared to last year.  Several of the tomatoes are near 1-pounders!

Want the recipes?  The caponata is Mario Batali’s Sicilian interpretation made deep and thick with balsamic and cocoa.  Use the version in the comments that is from his cookbook (more tomato sauce and oil, and I’d omit the sugar completely since it’s already too sweet). The puttanesca was inspired by a New York Times article.  Fresh tomatoes and high quality anchovies are key.

sardinian regional menu night at osteria sfizio

It all began so well / but what an end.

I am resolutely sure Eugene needs more tasting menus, and the Marché/Osteria Sfizio empire does its part in that campaign, offering regional menus once a month.  Marché presents meals from the regions of France, natch, and Sfizio regions of Italy.  I often find that they don’t stick their collective neck out far enough for me, though, and that means I choose which dinners to attend very selectively because they’re pricey for what they are, usually very simple preparations of un-daring foods.

For example, I was hoping for more bottarga (salted mullet roe) at the Sfizio regional dinner for Sardinia last night, but understand why it could not be in our little town.  One of my favorite pasta dishes is Japanese tarako (salted cod roe) spaghetti with little enoki mushrooms, and there’s a traditional Sardinian pasta dish dressed simply and similarly with salted mullet roe and olive oil, so I was hoping Sfizio would at least sneak in some bottarga into their pasta dish.  But alas.

Here is the menu, with my pictures:

Food of Sardinia
8/28/11 – $45

insalata di polpo alla marceddiese (right)
octopus salad marceddi-style
recipe from ristorante da lucio, marceddi di terralba (oristano)
melanzane in scapece (left)
marinated eggplant
recipe from ristorante letizia, nuxis (carbonia iglesias)

fregola con cocciua niedda (above top)
fregola sarda with clams
recipe from ristorante da lucio, marceddi di terralba (oristano)
culurzones di patate e menta (above bottom)
pasta filled with potaoes & mint
recipe from trattoria pisturri, magomadas (nouro)

casca alla calasettana (above)
fish and shell fish couscous calasetta-style
recipe from Trattoria da pasqalino, calastta (cagliari)
panada di vitello, maiale e verdure
veal, pork and vegetable pie
recipe from trattoria desogos, cugliere (oristano)

millefoglie di carasau
puff pastry filled with pastry cream and blackberries
recipe from ristorante letizia, nuxis (carbonia Iglesias)

Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino 2009 $8
Argiolas Cannonau Costera 2008 $9
Argiolas Korem Bovale 2006 $12
flight of all three for $15

The antipasti was quite nice, and matched very well with the pretty gold Vermentino.  Indeed, I would have been happy if I had stuck with a half-bottle of this wine instead of the flight of the three wines of the night, since the Vermentino was by far the best match for the seafood-heavy menu.  The Bovale, in particular, a big red, lost its austerity and character in the heavily salted tomato sauce with the couscous, and was left just harsh.

I enjoyed the classic caponata-like melanzane in scapece, an eggplant relish studded with sundried tomatoes, carrots, and celery, and finished with mint.  The slivers of fried eggplant skin were a beautiful and necessary touch.

Sfizio excels at cephalopods, in particular with octopus, and I’d advise anyone who goes to order at least one polpo dish.  The insalata di polpo alla marceddiese was no exception to this rule.  It was a simple cold antipasto of roasted red peppers, slivers of green olives, and fat chunks of octopus arms.

But the issue with these apps, and the menu as a whole, was its repetition.  Both in terms of visuality and taste, the menu didn’t offer much in contrast.  The antipasti, one of the two primi, and the secondo we ordered were all richly sauced in red.  Where were any green — or for that matter — fresh vegetables?  The veg in the antipasti was a great beginning, but then it was all tomatoes.

Knowing I’d be having the seafood couscous as a secondo, I was met with a dilemma: two couscous-like grain dishes in a row?  Retrogrouch wisely went for it, but since we had had Israeli couscous the night before, which is a like a combination of fregola and regular couscous, I opted for the potato and mint-stuffed ravioli, which ended up being the mistake of the night.  Dear Rocky and all the fine people of Sardinia, potatoes do NOT match well with red sauce.  Period. This isn’t really Sfizio’s fault, since they were trying for authenticity on this dish, but ugh.  And immediately preceding another tomato sauced dish?  Bah.  If I had known the ravioli would be sauced with tomato, I would have avoided it, but the menu was tightlipped and I didn’t ask.

The fregola sarda with the clams, however, was a bracing, buttery delight.  Had I had an entree-sized dish of that with some kale/golden raisins/pignoli on the side and a glass of the Vermentino, you could have called me a Sardinian for life.

Ah well.  Regardless of the repetition, I enjoyed the casca alla calasettana, especially the perfectly tender and generously portioned squid rings.

The dessert was inoffensive — triangles of crisp puff pastry laid nonchalantly atop a mound of pastry cream and a few blackberries strewn around the plate for decoration.  No Sardinian honey?  Again, ah well.  Luckily, we were able to eat quickly enough (and go early enough, thanks to an engagement afterward) to avoid the real problem of the evening, the truly horrible wedding/fashion show/dance party in the common square at Oakway that faces the restaurant.  To wit:

As my husband said to our charming (and certainly suffering) waiter, “when the Hall & Oates starts, I end.”  I don’t think Sfizio can do anything about the common space, but it’s really awful — like I won’t go there awful — to ruin such an open, airy, lovely indoor-outdoor restaurant on Wednesday evenings when the cover bands play.  Special events, we discovered last night, are worse, turning a breezy Sardinian evening on a patio into a cruise ship dance party.  Is there any way to force groups booking the square to turn the volume down?  Tell ’em a cantankerous old lady food snob sent you.

frozen peas trick lady yearning for spring

Our first sunny day in weeks, or at least the first one I’ve seen because I’ve been stuck inside my claustrophobic office, back to the window.  Yearning for green!

I realized last year that I crave tender spring vegetables about a month before they’re ready, so I froze some shelled peas from my garden in May for precisely this moment.

No, they aren’t anywhere near as delicious as new peas, but with hand-cut fresh pasta, bacon, crème fraîche, and mint, they aren’t half bad.

I had some leftover pasta sheets from making a half-pan of lasagna, so I cut them into irregular ribbons, which cooked up light and tender in just a minute or so.

Happy spring! See you at the season opening of downtown farmer’s market tomorrow.

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.