Monday, October 20, 2008

pasta di zucca

That's pasta with pumpkin in Italian. I reserve half of one vegetable bed to grow sugar pumpkins just to be able to eat this and - of course - pumpkin pie. I can't tell which of these two I love more - guess it depends on my mood; savory or sweet. After being engulfed by sugary fumes while canning jellies and applesauce all last week, I was definitely inclined towards savory. On top of that I had a little taste of it while assisting my friend and chef, Greg Atkinson, on a catering job. We catered a fundraiser for the annual "Wintergrass Festival" in Tacoma. Greg put together an Italian feast of hors d'oeuvres - starting with 3 types of crostini, one version topped with roast pumpkin, a fried sage leaf and grated parmesan. I'm glad I managed to sneak one in my mouth before the guests snatched them all of my handmade platters. That was just a little teaser, but probably a timely one. Nothing worse than to go out in the pumpkin patch and find the bottoms of the pumpkins eaten by slugs and hollowed out by mice. Now they're safe and dry on the kitchen counter, awaiting their fate. Spared too from falling prey to Floortje and Bunior, our dogs. Unlike their poor hapless fellow-sufferers: the apples. (We can't find a place to walk or sit down anywhere in the house without smooshing a half chewed apple.) 

Now to the recipe:

pasta di zucca:                                          

1 small sugar pumpkin
olive oil
coarse sea salt, pepper
2 oz pancetta, diced
freshly (!) grated parmigiano reggiano
1/2 stick of butter
handful of sage leaves
1 lb pasta (ie gemelli, fussili)

Cut the pumpkin in segments and remove the seeds. Peel and dice.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Heat a little olive oil in a large casserole over medium high heat. Add the pancetta. When brown on all sides remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the pumpkin to the same casserole, season with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, stirring every so often.
Add a little olive oil and the pasta to the boiling water; cook till al dente. Drain.
Fry the sage leaves in the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. The butter should be brown, but be careful not to burn it. Remove the sage leaves to drain on a paper towel. Season with salt. (And don't eat them all just yet!)
Mix the pumpkin, pancetta and pasta together on a platter. Sprinkle with sage leaves, drizzle with the brown butter and serve with freshly grated parmesan and a fresh salad.
Serves 4 people.

Note: In a more elaborate version I fill handmade ravioli's with the pumpkin, sage and parmigiano, drizzle with the browned butter and top off with more fried sage leaves. No pancetta necessary.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

a little Provence blues

Sadly, last year around this time, Michael and I were eating our way through the Provence. No such luck this year and I'm feeling pretty nostalgic. Didn't help to open up my iphoto on a picture of the market in Aix-en-Provence. A sad reminder of what lunch could taste like. I do my best with homegrown tomatoes and trying to find the best goat cheese, sausages and olives around here, but it's never going to be the same. The amount of delicacies and the quality and freshness just can't be recreated here. Where do I find a Banon?A goat cheese painstakingly wrapped in marinated chestnut leaves. A stall with at least 50 kinds of sausages? Heaps upon heaps of wild mushrooms. Mountains of porcini?

OK, enough already. I did have to try something for lunch to bring me closer to Provence. At least we have Port Madison Goat Cheese here on Bainbridge Island. And I do have the freshest of tomatoes, a little jar of Herbes de Provence, some Fleur de Sel from the Camargue and a drizzle of good olive oil. Not perfect - for one the sound of the market is missing and - even worse - I'm out of rosé!

Monday, October 13, 2008

canning season

Once again! Not that nothing went on between the last post and this one. Oh well. It's been awhile and that's enough said. I'll get straight to what I've been busy with these last weeks. Canning - for one. It's not been the warmest of summers, but the raccoons let us know that the grapes were FINALY ready to harvest. It took me 4 days to pick them all. During that time we got nightly reminders that there were still more grapes to be picked. The announcement was usually made by Bunior - our boston terrier pug mix - barking at the loud snarling noises coming from a family of 6 raccoons prowling the roof. This would lead to dear husband Michael abandoning his sleep for a midnight chase on the roof - armed to the teeth with a broom no less. (Where's that picture?!) Of course it was raining and the tomatoes and blackberries needed to be picked too. AND I caught a couple of hippies trawling my orchard - ladder and all! - for apples. So I've squeezed, juiced, sauced and jellied wheelbarrow loads, but there's still more to be done. Luckily I came across a recipe for chutney that uses apple, grapes and most important - green tomatoes. Of course I've tweaked it so much, since it was too bland for my taste, that it's now my: 

all green tomato, apple and grape chutney          

6 lbs green tomatoes, chopped
10 green apples, peeled, cored, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
4 cups apple cider vinegar
5 cups dark brown sugar
1 tbsp. picillo peppers
1 fresh habanero pepper, finely diced
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp mustard seeds, lightly crushed
1 tbsp turmeric
3" piece juicy ginger root, diced
2 cups golden raisins
21/2 lbs green seedless grapes

Throw everything, except for the grapes, into the largest pot you own - I use a 7 qt Le Creuset cast-iron pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 hour. Add the grapes and continue simmering until the chutney starts to thicken. Stir frequently! 
Meanwhile, prepare your jars and lids. I fill my 14 qt stock-pot with as many washed jars and bands and as I can fit, cover them with water and bring to a boil. When the chutney starts to thicken I boil my tongs, ladle and a funnel as well, before removing the hot jars and bands with the tongs to a clean dish towel on the counter. Quickly fill the jars, dip the lids in the boiling water, close up the jars and invert them on the towel for 5 min. Turn them over - they should pop pretty soon. Add more jars and bands to the boiling water and repeat the whole process until all chutney has been canned. 

Great with chicken or lamb, or on ham or roast beef sandwiches.