Posts Tagged ‘parsley’

Kitchen Staples: notes on staples and specialty ingredients


I’ve been in the habit of referring readers to my website for more information on the seasonings that I use and the ingredients that I don’t grow at home, but at this point it seems to make more sense to make the blog more independent. Therefore, here are some random jottings on what I keep in my kitchen and why.

Vegetables: Veggies are a primary and prime staple! During the growing season, I cook with what’s ready, but often I’m tired out by dinner and don’t want to spend more time picking, so I try to harvest and prep vegetables in the morning so that they’re ready in the refrigerator and can be prepared with little trouble. When I buy vegetables, I try to wash and trim them right away so that they’re near-instant gratification at dinnertime. Salad greens are soaked clean, rinsed twice, and stored in a large salad spinner-crisper. I try to think of vegetables first, meat or grain second, when planning meals. When I know that something is ripening, for example the first of eight broccoli heads is nearly ready to pick, I brush up on interesting recipes then, not a week later an hour before dinner when I’ve got three heads of broccoli in the refrigerator.

Meat: here in Albuquerque, I get most of my beef, fish, and lamb from the Fishhuggers, an energetic local couple who sell their family’s grassfed beef and lamb and the Alaskan salmon that Kenny catches every summer. Their meat is 100% grassfed, and unlike many grassfed operations, their meat is not overly lean and tough. Cooking grassfed meat is different, and I recommend getting some advice from them. Generally it cooks a lot faster than grain-fed meat and you have to get it off the grill promptly to keep it rare and tender. I get all my chicken from the Pollo Real people at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. Their chicken is fed some grain but is raised on pasture. It’s healthier for the chickens and for you, and also it tastes like real chicken. I don’t know of a reliable local source for pasture-raised pork, so I get mine from the James Ranch people in Durango. Again, with regard to sustainability and health benefits, you can use the sources of info mentioned in “butter and Dairy” above. Most of the meat mentioned above comes frozen. If you want to buy fresh, be aware that “grass-fed” is not a legally controlled designation and there is a lot of meat in the meat cases around town labelled “grass-fed” that isn’t. One producer even told me that his meat was grass-fed “but I just finish them on grain for a month. That’s still grass-fed.” That isn’t grass-fed, and a well-designed study has indicated that the Omega3 content falls very rapidly during even a brief period of grain-finishing, eliminating the health benefits that you are paying for as well as the environmental benefits. I would only buy from a farmer that I knew personally and trusted. If in doubt, ask to visit the farm.

Butter and cheese: for the sake of the planet and the cows, I eat only pastured butter. The very best that I know of is from Pasturelands in MInnesota, and is 100% grass-fed, no grain supplementation, which makes it unique in the market. It comes frozen in styrofoam shippers, and they include a prepaid label so that you can send the empty shipping carton back and have it reused. I keep it in the freezer for up to a few months. They also offer 100% grass-fed cheeses. I especially like their mild Cheddar for snacking, and then they have complex cave-aged cheeses for special occasions. Why does 100% grass-fed matter? For quick info you can check out the Eat Wild site, or you can take more time and read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, still the best book on ethical eating that I know of and far above later books on the subject (including, unfortunately, Pollan’s own later books.) I wish that there were a local producer of 100% grassfed dairy products, but until there is, I’ll buy by mail.

Parmesan: I am giving this imported cheese its own heading because there is no worthy substitute for the genuine Italian article. It’s worth buying the best that you can find. Discount stores like Trader Joe’s or Sam’s Club carry imported Italian Parmesan, but the quality is quite poor compared to really good Parmesan, and most domestic and Argentinian imitations that I’ve tasted have been appalling. Nobody will be more thrilled than me if American producers come up with a truly great Parmesan, but I would argue that it hasn’t happened yet. If you buy the good stuff, your pastas will benefit, and because the flavor is so pronounced you can use it the way the Italians do, ie sparingly. Pastas in America are too often oversauced and overcheesed. You’re supposed to be able to taste the pasta.

Capers: There is no question about salt-cured capers being the best. I’ve seldom met a caper I didn’t like, but my favorites are the “Wild Mountain Capers” that I get at The Spanish Table in Santa Fe. They are fearfully expensive but they have a wonderful herbaceous flavor and are less salty than other kinds. I buy them in 1 pound jars. When you are ready to use them, rinse off the surface salt and soak in cold water to cover for an hour, then drain and squeeze dry. In the summer I use capers so much during the summer that I often soak some when I’m working in the kitchen, squeeze dry, and pack them tightly in little plastic containers to use on the spur of the moment. They will keep 2-3 days this way, and they keep indefinitely in their salted state.

Anchovies: There is no better seasoning than anchovy for giving a meaty complexity and richness with minimal use of actual flesh. One or two fillets can give a complex undertone that can’t be identified as “fish” but which greatly improves the dish. I use tiny amounts in a wide variety of dishes. Salt-cured are the best if they are the lovely meaty specimens that you find in Italy, and in a very few specialty food stores in this country. Food “experts” frequently recommend the 1KG cans of salted anchovies that are readily available in the US, which makes me think that they themselves have never opened such a can to find the scads of teensy fish with no fillets to speak of that they contain. My experiments with those cans have been very disappointing, and I now use anchovy fillets packed in olive oil instead. Another product that I would never be without is colatura, an Italian “anchovy essence” of the highest quality. It is something like Asian fish sauce but darker, more complex, and richer in flavor. Zingerman’s has it. I don’t know of a local source.

Wine: all I will emphasize here is that if you cook with wine, it has to be good wine. If you wouldn’t drink it or serve it, don’t cook with it.

Eggs: I have my own laying flock now, but there are several people at the various local farmers’ markets who have real free-range eggs, not the ersatz kind that come from large producers. Be sure to save your egg cartons and take them back to the people who sell eggs. The growers are always glad to get them back, because they aren’t cheap, and reuse always beats recycling.

Olive oil: I’m sometimes shocked at how much of it I use in a couple of months. It loses flavor slowly but steadily in the bottle, so don’t buy more than you can use up in a few months, store it in a dark place, and buy from good sources where it isn’t displayed in a light hot place. Find a few kinds that you like. The easiest way to find out what you like is to taste a lot of them, and the most convenient way to get started is to go to The Spanish Table in Santa Fe, where knowledgable employees will offer you samples of oils that you are interested in. Or just let them surprise you. I try to keep a couple of very flavorful oils on hand for salads, and some less intense but much less costly oil for cooking.

Charcuterie: The excellent products of La Quercia last a long time when wrapped properly and refrigerated, and they are scrupulous about using humanely raised pigs. The prosciutto rosso is superb. I have not tasted any Italian prosciutto that was better, and no domestic product has been anywhere near as good. They also have a less expensive grade called Americano, and it’s very good, although it lacks the subtlety and finesse of the rosso. Their guancialle is a good staple to have around, and has been the start of about a zillion delicious pasta sauces in my home. For Spanish cooking I keep some Spanish chorizo around. This is a dry cured sausage, nothing like the fresh uncased chorizo found in Mexican groceries.

Herbs: I strongly recommend growing your own, even if you don’t grow anything else. The presence of fresh organic thyme, winter savory, sage, rosemary, basil, and parsley will inspire you to cook. They are easy to grow, and in our sun-drenched area will survive in partial shade if necessary. Having big pots of them around invites frequent use. I advise getting the culinary classic Simple French Food by Richard Olney and reading his notes on use of herbs. These are very strong flavors, and using them at random invites a muddled result. Once you have used them for a while, it’s second nature to create a balanced taste.

Grains: I like to have coarse bulgur, size 2, on hand because it cooks up with a more interesting texture than the finer grades that “gourmet” groceries tend to sell. Local readers here in Albuquerque can get it at Cafe’ Istanbul. Elsewhere, check your local Middle Eastern food source. I keep organic jasmine rice on hand at all times for Thai-influenced meals. I have never been able to take to brown rice, so I use white. I do love to use forbidden rice (black rice) on occasion. As you see above, it makes a dramatic deep-purple backdrop for bright green vegetables. I keep yellow, blue, and purple cornmeal. For baking, I always have coconut flour on hand to supplement white-flour products with a dose of fiber that doesn’t ruin the flavor. It’s tricky to work with at first, but as you learn its quirks it becomes easy to add fiber to your baked goods to improve the glycemic index. Coconut flour doesn’t ruin the color the way grain brans do.

Legumes: I cook these in my solar cooker and freeze them in containers. But if inspiration strikes shortly before dinner, a frozen block is daunting to approach, so I keep a few cans of beans and chickpeas on hand for the last-minute ideas.

Kitchen Staples: Pasta and Eggs, and notes on what makes a good egg.

If you’re a lover of pasta carbonara, you know the rich and lovely taste of egg yolks on pasta. This time of year, if you don’t have chickens yourself (I don’t yet), the farmers markets are full of beautiful eggs with deep orange yolks, and wonderful impromptu meals can be made from them. This one is warm and comforting, but has a little zing to it. You can have it on the table in 30 minutes or less. If you always have pasta, high-quality olive oil, good Parmesan, and anchovies around, you’re never more than 30 minutes (tops) from a good meal. Good eggs in season send the combination over the top.


You will need a small, heavy skillet or clay dish (my preference) with a cover. Clay needs to be heated slowly, so if you’re using it, start heating it over low heat about 15 minutes before you want to start cooking the eggs.

Ingredients: for 2 very generous servings, start with 4 very good eggs, about 6 oz. of spaghetti or linguini, 2 small anchovy fillets (very necessary for the bold flavor of the dish), 3 tablespoons of good olive , 2 cloves of garlic chopped, a few tablespoons of chopped parsley (plus more for garnish if you like,) an ounce or two of the best Parmesan you can find, and half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes (more if they’re mild.)

Start cooking the garlic slowly in the olive oil, over medium heat, while the salted water for the pasta is coming to a boil. Meanwhile, chop the anchovy fillets very finely or pound them in a mortar until they’re paste-like. Stir them into the saute’ing garlic and cook the mixture until the garlic is soft through but not browned. Lower the heat under the skillet and stir in the red pepper. Break the eggs into the skillet a few minutes after you add the pasta to the boiling salted water. Splash a couple of teaspoons of water into the skillet (this makes a little steam to lightly cook the top of the eggs,) cover the skillet tightly, and let it sit over low heat until the eggs are done to your liking. Make sure the yolks stay soft. When done to taste, take the skillet off the heat. Heavy iron or clay will keep them hot. Open the cover so that they don’t overcook.
When the pasta is ready, drain it, toss it very quickly with the cheese, another tablespoon or so of olive oil, and the chopped parsley. Put in warmed bowls and top each with two of the eggs. Pour the garlic/anchovy/red pepper mixture left in the skillet over the top.
At the table, break the yolks, stir them into the pasta a little, and revel in simplicity and ease.
This dish accomodates whole wheat spaghetti if you like it.

Regarding those eggs, I advise buying at the farmers market whenever possible. To have a good life and make good eggs, chickens should run around outside and have access to plants and bugs, not run around a giant stinking building with a tiny outdoor yard, mostly unused by the chickens, that allows the manufacturer (and I use that term advisedly) to call its product “free range.” Don’t support a CAFO with the misimpression that you are getting truly good eggs. Really good eggs come from small producers and backyard growers and are not found at the grocery store. Be sure to bring the cartons back when you empty them, because the small growers pay too much for them and are usually eager to reuse them.

More vegetable-centered meals

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This time of year, vegetables are abundant and make up the bulk of our diet. Recently I wanted to put together a meal cooked on the grill using only vegetables that can easily be found at the farmers’ market. The kitchen stays cool, and people who don’t have a garden aren’t left out. If you need to accomodate vegetarians and vegans at your table, this meal can have everyone at your table happily eating the same thing, with no need for special plates.

The only remotely exotic seasonings that you’ll need are Spanish smoked paprika, readily available as Pimenton de Vera at The Spanish Table and other specialty grocers, and some capers, preferably the kind preserved in salt.
Click here for the recipe Continue reading

The First Tomatoes

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A grill offers wonderful vegetable cooking options. It’s a pity that most people only cook meat on their grills, because grilled vegetables make wonderful and satisfying summer meals. If you are a grilling enthusiast, or would like to become one, I highly recommend the elegant cookbook by Francis Mallmann Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way. My husband, the family grill-wallah, was intrigued by the directions for Burnt Tomatoes, and set out to make a great tomato sandwich. All the hot work stays outside, and your kitchen is spared. Of course you can buy tomatoes at the Farmers Market if you don’t grow them yourself, but if you plant a few around your house, you’re likely to realize why they were grown as an ornamental even back when they were thought to be poisonous.
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Click here for the recipe! Continue reading

The Greens of Spring: Green Herb Pasta

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One of the great pleasures of gardening is commemorating each new emergence in spring, and in  food gardening, one tends to commemorate them by eating them. Here, the herbs that are springing up everywhere make a pasta dish that is wonderfully tasty and varies every time you make it. If this doesn’t inspire you to plant your own herbs, probably nothing will.
My instructions will be relatively brief, so if you aren’t familiar with pasta-making, consult a good Italian cookbook such as The Splendid Table by Lynn Rosseto Kaspar. This is one of the few times when I use a food processor to start pasta dough.
This amount serves at least six as a first course, four as a main course, or two real pasta-pigs with lots of leftovers to take to work for lunches.

First, gather your herbs. Aim for a generous bunch. About half should be parsley. For the other half, see what’s springing up outside and decide what you plan to serve with the pasta. I like a good big handful each of chives and cutting celery leaves, the leaves of one small twig of rosemary (more if you plan to serve the noodles with lamb,) a few leaves of arugula, and about a tablespoon of thyme leaves. Later in the season, basil or marjoram might figure prominently. In the winter, green onions (green part only) and chervil might predominate, with some winter savory for oomph. You get the general feel of the thing.
Chop all the herbs coarsely. Put three cups of flour in the food processor, add the herbs, and process until they’re well distributed and finely chopped. Have five very good eggs handy. Add them one at a time, processing for at least 30 seconds after each one. Probably you will only need four of the eggs. When the “crumbs” in the processor bowl just start to come together into a dough, stop and finish by hand. Sorry about the work, but it’s much better that way. Turn out onto a lightly floured cutting board and knead until the dough comes together, adding a little water if necessary, or more flour if that’s what’s needed to make a nonsticky dough. Now knead for ten minutes, until smooth and elastic. Dust the dough ball with a little flour, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit half an hour.
When the dough has rested, roll it into sheets and cut into noodles by your favorite method. If you roll pasta by hand, you will go to Heaven. But if you use your handy machine, either powered or hand-cranked, you will eat fresh pasta a lot more often, and that’s a kind of heaven too. Take your pick.
Either way, when the noodles are ready, you can pack them in plastic bags and store in the refrigerator for two days, or in the freezer for a month. When ready to proceed, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil, and dump in the noodles. As soon as the water returns to a boil, start testing them for doneness. The cooking should take about a minute, but may take longer if you let the dough dry out a lot after rolling.  Be very careful not to overcook. You do want then al dente
Drain the noodles and toss with a good-sized knob of butter or a half cup of heavy cream or both (note to self: stop revealing your spirit of wretched excess) and about a cup of the best Parmesan you can find, grated. Grind a little black pepper over the top, garnish with a little more grated Parmesan, and serve.
If you’d like to add some herbed shrimp to the plate, click here