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2014 1025 Corn puddingAlmost gone are the days of fresh corn on the cob. Our local corn farm keeps pumping out its succession crops that keep us fed from July to nearly November. When most farmers’ corn is old and tough, this farm is still producing young corn, worthy of eating just as is. But as the nights turn cold and frost threatens to harm the harvest, we find inventive ways of using fresh corn — in succotash with seasonal beans, and here in corn pudding served with a harvest of mixed peppers.

2014 1025 Piperade

The old saying, “What grows together, goes together,” typifies this time of year. The entire menu included corn pudding topped with sautéed peppers and onions, rosy yellow heirloom tomatoes with Thai basil, and green salad of just picked baby lettuce and arugula. You could add mild chicken sausage if you’re what my kids call a “meat-atarian.”


2014 1025 Mixed peppers

Piperade, the Basque version of pepper sauté, is simple. You sauté thinly sliced onion in olive oil, add thinly sliced peppers (I cleaned out my garden and used a variety) and cook them slowly until tender. Add chopped tomatoes and a little smoked paprika, and there you have it. I make a big batch on the weekend and use it in numerous ways throughout the week. It’s great with a poached egg for a quick meal.

Ancho Corn Pudding

4 ears corn

1 ancho chili, stem and majority of seeds removed

2 c milk

¼ tsp paprika

4 eggs

1 tbsp salt

Butter

 

Strip the kernels from the corn (stand a small bowl in a wide and deep bowl and place the stem end of the corn on the bowl, cutting vertically to allow the kernels to fall into the bowl versus scattering about).

Place a large wide saucepan over medium heat and press the ancho chili into the pan until lightly steaming, flipping it once.

Place the corn, milk and ancho chili in a food processor and whir to chop them finely. You probably need to do this in two batches, adding them to the pan as you go.

Add paprika and, over low heat, let the mixture come almost to a simmer. The milk should be lightly steaming. Remove the pan from the heat, cover it and let the mixture steep for 30 minutes or longer.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously coat a 6-cup baking dish with butter. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

Lightly beat the eggs. If the milk and corn mixture is warm, add a little to the eggs to warm them and add to the corn mixture. If the milk and corn mixture is cold, add the beaten eggs straight away. Season with salt. (This seems like a lot of salt but it’s needed.)

Pour into the buttered baking dish and place it into a larger pan, adding hot water to come up the sides by one-third to one-half. Bake for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. The center will be a little loose, but will firm up as the pudding cools.

Serve warm. Makes 6 servings.

Pickled Peppers

2014 1016 Pickled peppers 2This was the year of the pepper. I experimented with varieties we might want to grow in bulk in the future and ended up with a Noah’s ark-worth of capsicums, a tenth of what our local grower claims to tend, but that’s still 50 varieties. (Check them out: Cross County Nurseries and http://www.chiliplants.com. Great but unobtrusive place, sweet people, awesome inventory.

2014 1014 Red peppers for picklingI chose my peppers based on what was available since I ordered very late and went to the farm to pick up, but I spread the selection among sweet-medium-hot, early-medium-late, short-medium-tall, eating raw, stuffed, or pickled, accompanying cuisines from all over the place. In other words, this was a wide and somewhat random sampling. Given our slightly shady yard-turned-garden, it was a crapshoot to say the least. I lucked out. This was a great year to grow peppers locally.

Two of the winners in the bunch I earmarked for pickling are Red Squash and Pilange, both picturesque and prolific. I’d be pleased just to have them as ornamentals. Instead of planting them in the garden next year, I might showcase them in pots with a ground cover of compatible herbs or flowers that keep the soil and roots cool.

2014 1015 IMG_5374 Pilange peppers

Red Squash, also called Red Mushroom, is a crumpled little number, like a scotch bonnet but not hot. The plant grows like a tree, with a central stalk and umbrella-like arching branches that dangle the peppers like ornaments. Same with Pilange, although its habit is an even taller, more slender stalk with branches that spread at least 3 feet across.

2014 1015 Red Squash Pepper

As for pickling, it’s pretty simple. Half water and half vinegar make the base, and salt, peppercorns and spices (or herbs) make the flavorings. Here I used whole coriander seed, black peppercorns, garlic cloves and a little sugar. Last year’s pickled peppers were a little bitter so I thought that sugar would offset the vinegar. I use a cold pack method, meaning that cleaned, raw and pricked peppers (slashing or pricking them let’s the liquid inside) are packed in a jar and hot pickling liquid is poured over them. They’re ready in a day and keep for months in the fridge 

If you use large peppers, cut them up. Mine were very small, under an inch and a half, so I left them whole.

Pickled Peppers adapted from Bon Appetit

1 qt peppers, washed and dried

1½ c distilled white vinegar

1½ c water

2 tbsp pickling or Kosher salt

2 tbsp white granulated sugar

2 tbsp whole peppercorns

2 tbsp whole coriander seed

Prick the peppers in three places with a skewer or small knife. Place them in a very clean, dry quart jar that has a plastic or glass lid.

In a medium saucepan, bring the remaining ingredients to a boil over high heat. Stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes.

Pour the hot liquid over the peppers and cap the jar. When cooled, refrigerate the pickled peppers.

2014 1004 Husk cherry jam with rosemaryJamming with Rosemary is not a hipster jazz gig. It’s just my way of taking advantage of the season. Of all the woody herbs in my garden, rosemary is the least likely to over-winter. Before it gets too cold, I like to give my plants a good haircut. When you prune a plant, it starts growing, so you will definitely kill it if you trim it close to frost time. With plenty of husk cherries falling to the ground ready to harvest, I decided to make one of my favorites: Husk Cherry Jam with Orange and Rosemary.

2014 1004 Husk cherriesHusk cherries, if you don’t know them, look like tiny paper lanterns and contain a small yellow sweet-tart berry inside. They’re also sometimes called ground cherries (since you harvest them after they’ve fallen off the plant) or cape gooseberries. I throw them into salad, pair them with tomatoes, cook them with their cousin tomatillos to make salsa, or turn them into delicious jam. When they’re cooked, they have a taste that reminds me of vanilla. Even holding back on sugar, they’re a little cloying so I tend to seek a counterpoint. Orange zest and rosemary do the trick.

I do exactly the same thing with fig preserves but use lemon zest instead of orange. Both of these jams are fantastic in the dead of winter, served with runny Brie, thinly sliced prosciutto or speck, and homemade rosemary crackers.

Husk Cherry Jam with Orange and Rosemary

1½ qts husk cherries, yielding 2½ c after husking

2/3 c water

Approximately 1 c sugar

1 tbsp grated orange zest

Small sprigs of rosemary

Make sure the husk cherries are free of dust and dirt. Place them in a saucepan with the water and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook until the fruit starts to collapse, and mash it lightly with the back of a spoon.

Remove from the heat and measure the fruit. Return the fruit to the pan and add sugar equal to half the measure. (I had 2 cups of fruit, so I added one cup of sugar.)

Bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and add the orange zest and a sprig of rosemary, stirring to combine. Place a crumpled piece of parchment paper on top of the jam and set it aside for 2-3 hours or overnight (in which case it should be refrigerated). The purpose of this step is to build up the gelling capacity.

Prepare jars for water bath canning. Place a saucer in the freezer for testing the gel. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Start testing for gel. Mine reached gel stage in less than ten minutes. Remove the cooked sprig of rosemary. Pour into prepared jars. Submerge 3-4 individual rosemary leaves of in each jar of hot jam, making sure they are covered and not harboring air pockets.

Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Turn off the heat and remove the canner lid and let sit for 5 minutes before removing to a counter to sit undisturbed until cool.

Makes 4 four-ounce jars.

2014 1004 Chicken Chili with ChorizoI’m on a roll with corn and beans. As the corn stalks become sere and the air becomes September-crisp, we feel the urge to savor the last corn of the year while ramping up for our winter fare of dried beans. We transform the corn into salad, chowder, fritters, and now — chili. Instead of adding store-bought chili powder to a chili base, I have found it more fulfilling to use good quality Spanish chorizo sausage as an ingredient, along with freshly toasted and ground cumin seeds, and smoked and regular paprika. Fresh hot peppers grow seasonally with corn and provide a genuine spunk that the ground stuff can’t muster. Also, this is a great way to use excess cherry tomatoes, which retain their presence in the sauce. While this could be a year-round affair (with or without the corn), there’s something gratifying about making it from this week’s harvest.

I normally would wing a recipe like this, but I happened upon a version of chicken chili by Yotam Ottolenghi, one of my favorite chefs on the planet. I regularly read his column in The Guardian and have literally cooked my way through Jerusalem, a Cookbook, which he co-authored with his business partner Sami Tamimi. I added the corn to his stew. He was teaching a lesson on corn tamales and chicken stew was the base. I went for the stew but I think I should try the tamales while fresh cornhusks are still around.

This is a good make-ahead dish since it keeps well and improves in flavor after a day of rest.

Chicken Chili with Chorizo, Corn and Black Beans adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi

I – 1¼ lb boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of all fat and cut in half

½ tsp salt

1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic, chopped

1½ tsp whole cumin seed, toasted and crushed

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

1 tsp paprika

½ tsp smoked paprika

1 ancho chili, cut in quarters

¼ lb Spanish chorizo, skinned and cut into ¼-inch dice

1 small red hot chili pepper, more or less to taste

1 c chicken stock

½ lb cherry tomatoes, halved, or 1 medium tomato, chopped

1½ tsp red wine vinegar

1 c cooked black beans

Salt

11 tsp grated orange zest

Cilantro leaves, torn

Optional: sour cream

Sprinkle salt on the chicken and set aside. Meanwhile assemble all the other ingredients

Sauté the onion in olive oil over medium heat until soft and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, both types of paprika, ancho chili, chorizo and fresh pepper and sauté for 2 minutes, pressing the ancho chili into the bottom of the pan to soften.

Add the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes, turning once, until both sides color.

Add the chicken stock, cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the lid, add the tomatoes, vinegar and beans and simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce has thickened.

Season to taste with salt, and stir in the orange zest and cilantro before serving. Serve with sour cream if desired.

Serves 4-6

2014 0926 Corn and black bean saladAmerica’s Test Kitchen would be proud. I’ve been tinkering and puttering around with this idea for months, evaluating ingredients and proportions, adjusting ingredients and sequence. And scaling it up. I made a mini version for two as a trial as soon as corn was in season, re-proportioned it to 6-8 for the immediate family, then to 20 for a larger family gathering over 4th of July weekend, and finally to 75-100 for a big picnic in August. As summer is winding down, I’ll make it a few more times before fresh corn is back next year.  

What I like about this recipe is that it can – and should – be made a day or so ahead. I figured this out because the leftovers from my first batch were better the next day after lime infused the salad. This is basically the same dressing as the lemon-paprika dressing that I use for lentil salad, though there I mince the peel instead of grating it. When you scale up the recipe, you probably don’t need to double or triple the dressing, especially not the lime zest.

With the addition of lime and use of fresh-cooked ingredients, this salad is so much better than the ubiquitous corn and black bean salsa that you see everywhere. It’s familiar though, and that’s important for a big picnic.

Corn and Black Bean Salad with Lime Dressing

Main ingredients

2½ c cooked black beans (from ½ lb dried black beans or 2 15-oz cans, drained and rinsed)

3 ears corn (yielding about 2½ c kernels)

1/3 c red pepper, cut into ¼-inch dice

1/3 c orange pepper, cut into ¼-inch dice

2 scallions, thinly sliced or minced

Salt to taste

Dressing

1 tsp lime zest (grated lime peel)

1/3 c lime juice (from 2 limes)

2 tbsp olive oil

½ tsp paprika

Pinch cayenne

Pinch salt

Garnish

Cilantro leaves

If you are using dried beans, soak them in water to cover by a few inches for a few hours, add abundant salt and cook them at a slow simmer until crisp-tender. This could take 45-90 minutes depending on the age of the beans.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by combining the lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, paprika, cayenne and a large pinch of salt.

When the beans are tender, drain them (reserving the liquid for another use, like soup or rice cooking liquid). Add some of the dressing to the warm beans and let them cool.

If you are using canned beans, drain and rinse them and coat with a little dressing. They won’t have the opportunity to absorb as much of the dressing but they’ll still be good. Diminish the salt if using canned beans since they’re typically pretty salty.

Cut the kernels from the corn. (The easiest way to do this is to stand the cob, stem end down, on a small upturned bowl or cup in the middle of a large bowl and slice the kernels off the cob with a knife from top to bottom. The kernels will fall into the large bowl and not spatter all over your kitchen. Be careful not to bang the knife blade on the supporting cup or bowl since you might dull it.)

In a large wide sauté pan, bring about 3 tbsp – ¼ cup of water to a boil and add the corn kernels. Cook for 1-2 minutes, drain and cool.

When ready to assemble, combine the dressed beans, corn, diced peppers and scallions in a large bowl and coat with the remaining dressing. Chill for a few hours or overnight before serving. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste and garnish with chopped cilantro.

Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

2014 0918 Sanditas pickledSanditas (“little watermelons” in Spanish) are also called Sandia de Ratón (“mouse melon”) or the unglamorous and misleading ”Mexican Sour Gherkin.” Not a cucumber much less a gherkin, these miniatures of the genus Melothria Scabra are lovely raw and pickled. I came across them last year in our organic produce market and decided to grow them.

2014 0918 Sanditas washed in a sieveThey are delightful plants, with thin wire-like climbing vines, tiny yellow flowers that attract tiny black bees, and threads that dangle speckled green one-inch ovoid fruit like so many Christmas ornaments. They’re crunchy like cucumbers when green and I combine them with similarly sized cherry tomatoes in salad. They become sour when ripe, at which point they detach from their vines and drop to the ground. Or maybe that was caused by the wind and rainstorm that came through yesterday.

2014 0918 Sanditas on the vineLast year, I pickled them as if making cucumber dill pickles: pricked them with a trussing needle, packed them in a clean jar with a head of dill flowers, and poured over hot liquid composed of 2/3 cider vinegar, 1/3 water and salt. 

This year, to make up with a failed experiment to grow those tiny cucumbers used for cornichons, I decided to pickle the sanditas cornichon-style, with tarragon, a few spices and honey. The combination of flavorings came from Linda Ziedrich’s blog. She’s the go-to person for all things pickled, so I was happy for the advice. They cure for a few days before being ready to eat and can be stored on the counter or in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for quite a long time.

Pickled Sanditas a la Cornichon, adapted from Linda Ziedrich

Enough Mexican Sour Gherkins or Sanditas to fill a pint jar

A few small sprigs tarragon, rinsed and dried

2 allspice berries

4 black peppercorns

10 whole coriander seeds

2/3 c white wine vinegar

1/3 c water

3/4 tsp pickling salt or Kosher salt

4 tsp honey or sugar

Wash a pint jar well in soap and very hot water, Rinse and air-dry it.

Rinse the sanditas, remove and black bits clinging to the blossom end and prick a couple of times with a trussing needle. Drop the sanditas into the jar, adding the tarragon as you go.

Meanwhile, lightly crush the allspice, pepper and coriander and add to a small saucepan with the vinegar, water, salt and honey. Bring to a boil, stirring, and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

Pour the hot liquid over the sanditas, filling the jar completely. Add more vinegar to top it off if necessary. Cap the jar. I used a plastic Ball lid, but if you use a metal lid, place a piece of plastic wrap between the liquid and the metal.

Let the sanditas sit at room temperature to pickle for at least three days. Store in the refrigerator for long-term storage or eat within about a week.

2014 0914 Peach Citrus Marmalade in JarsMy love affair with rose-scented geraniums started a few years ago. A friend offered trimmings from her herb garden while I was in the midst of canning peaches, resulting in a peach jam perfumed with a lovely aroma reminiscent of roses. Since then, I’ve been growing several varieties of pelargonium, as they’re properly called. My favorites are “Old Fashioned Rose” and “Lady Grey Plymouth.” They make wonderful potpourris to scent your linens (and probably drive away moths) but I also like them crushed in sugar, added to ice tea, and lightly flavoring jelly and jam.

2014 0913 Rose Geranium and Peach Citrus PureeThis jam is an adaptation of  “Fanny’s Peach Jam” from Catherine Plagemann’s Fine Preserving, a small volume on pickling and jam amusingly annotated by M.F.K Fischer. I’ve made this jam – featuring peaches, oranges and a lemon all ground up together – a couple of times, gradually improving it from the initial try. I thought it was a little flat so I added a pinch of salt and a whole lemon instead of a half at the beginning and a squeeze of lemon just before jarring it. I also diminished the sugar and, in this case, added a nectarine for its rosy color. Remembering the “Peach Marmalade,” also from Plagemann, that started me using rose geranium, I added a few leaves to the cooking jam and a small leaf to each jar.

Peach and Citrus “Marmalade” with Rose Geranium, adapted from Catherine Plagemann’s “Fanny’s Peach Jam” in Fine Preserving

6 yellow peaches, peeled, halved and pitted

Optional: 1 nectarine, halved and pitted

2 navel oranges, quartered, seeded but not peeled

1 lemon, quartered, seeded, but not peeled

Sugar

Pinch of salt

12 small leaves of rose-scented geranium, rinsed

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Coarsely chop the orange and lemon in a food processor and add the peaches and optional nectarine, cutting the entire mixture into a medium grind. Measure the fruit and add a pinch of salt and sugar equal to 50-75% of the volume of fruit (e.g., for 6 cups of fruit, add 3-4 cups of sugar). Stir well, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Prepare kettle, jars and lids for water bath canning. Place a saucer in the freezer (to use for testing the gel).

In a large wide saucepan, bring the fruit mixture and 6 of the rose geranium leaves to a boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it sets a gel tested on a saucer placed in the freezer, about 12 minutes. Remove the geranium leaves and discard. Dunk the remaining leaves in hot water,

Ladle into prepared jars, inserting a small leaf in each jar, and stirring to release any air bubbles. Cap the jars with two-piece lids and process for 10 minutes after the water comes to a boil. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and let sit for 5 minutes before moving the jars to the counter to sit undisturbed until cool.

Makes approximately 6 eight-ounce jars.

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