Persimmon – I picked up an Hachiya Persimmon at my produce truck (and the sweet guy just gave it to me for free. My mother, having grown up in an area with persimmon trees, had always warned me off of them: “If they aren’t just dead ripe, then they are the sourest things in the world. And it’s almost impossible to catch them between being ripe enough and rotten.”
But this was a beautiful, evenly shaped and unblemished specimen, and it called to me. So I bought it and left it to sit around for a week or two. And then one day, I came back from D&D to find that my kitchen smelled sweet and luscious. So I went over and squished the persimmon, and found it sufficiently squishy. (My research since then suggests that I would have been safer to wait until it was visibly squishy, not just to touch) So I promptly called up my mother and food co-conspirator for advice on eating the thing (Do I peel it? Do I need a specific angle of approach to avoid the seeds? Will it be disappointing on its own – should I make something to go with it?)… and both of them were out.
My mother called back and let me know that all of the seeds would be up at the top, tucked up under the stem, so you could just go on and bit the thing.
MMmmm! It was sweet! And luscious. And dribbling down my chin. It tasted a bit of pears and apricots, and had just a slightly too mushy texture.
Also, I discovered that I didn’t like the skin and proceeded to pick the skin off the next area right before I ate it. The skin is thin (like a pear or tomato, but just a bit firmer so there’s a crisp pop as you bite through… kind of like a cooked sausage casing) but papery, and I could flake it off rather easily, if messily.
Quince – I was first introduced to quinces several years ago by a wise and clever woman in Boston who shares my interest in ancient cuisine. She presented me with a quince, and I think I ended up forgetting it at my sister’s untasted. But I have thought fondly and longingly of them ever since.
And then I saw them at the Headhouse farmers’ market, so I bought 2 (at a dollar each!).
Now you know above where I said the persimmons perfumed the house? I’m not sure that was 100% true. Because I realized later that I had also brought home the quinces that afternoon, and quinces are famed for giving off an amazing floral scent while the sit on the counter and ripen. But after I ate the persimmon, the smell continued but changed a bit, so I think both were making happy smells together, and I’m sticking by that claim.
When I bought the quinces, they were consistently green, but the sweet smell finally guilted me into cooking the quinces (tannins make them tart when raw, but simmering them in sugar and water makes them amazing and pink/red).
First, I washed the outsides thoroughly, removing all of the fluff on the skin. I quartered them and cut the seeds and tough bits out. Even though everyone says you should peel them, I didn’t. I dumped the quarters into a glass loaf pan (2 quinces ended up being slightly more than 1 layer deep), and I poured over top: the rest of the simple syrup I had hanging out in my fridge, 1.5 knifefuls of the honey that had crystallized in my pantry, 3 generous teaspoons of vanilla sugar, and a bunch of water. I have no idea what the proportions were.
Then I popped it into the 350F oven in which I was also roasting a delicata squash and a rutabega. Once those were finished, I lowered the heat to 200F and draped the pan with tinfoil. And then an episode or two of Primeval later, I got bored and brought the heat back up to 350F. And then I decided I didn’t need for it to simmer all night long until it became bright red.
So I washed out a jar with hot water (yeah, I know, not sterilized, but at least the glass wouldn’t shatter with temperature shock) and took up the quinces and poured the sauce over. It was almost like canning; the lid even popped sealed and everything. Actually, I’m not sure I should have kept so much air out – I think the color darkens even more with exposure to oxygen, but at 2am, it seemed like the best way to keep the quinces happy.
see also: David Lebovitz – Rosy Poached Quinces; Zucchini & Chocolate – Vanilla Poached Quince
Jerusalem Artichoke – you can read the wikipeadia article I linked there for all the fun facts about jerusalem artichokes. I was drawn to them because several of the food blogs I’ve been reading through recently have raved about them. (huh, I was sure I’d have more links there.)
So I saw them at the the market, and I picked the prettiest one (yes, just one). I figured I’d make a simple 1-person soup to get to know the tuber, but I ended up seduced by risotto.
Now, I love to cook hovering by the stove and tinkering with things, and I tend to pass up recipes that involve leaving food alone for extended periods of time because I like to pick at things. So I will tell you that risotto is not that hard.
I had some homemade vegetable stock (though, oddly enough, not my home), and I didn’t think it had any parsnips in it, so I took the opportunity while heating up the stock to chuck in some large cubes of parsley root (more on the difference later). But, yes, always get your liquids up to temperature for stock, if you can (by which I mean, if you are saving on dishes by not pouring a finishing splash of cream into a separate container first, there it no need to get your container of cream warm. Just suck it up and keep cooking.)
So I started off with a mixture of butter and olive oil because both tastes seemed like they would go well with the corner of jerusalem artichoke I nibbled raw and the way the flavor is described when warm (all nutty and earthy). Into that, I threw the white of a small leek (sliced, cleaned, and drained). I did not use the green part because I was aiming for an earthier dish, and I probably would have opted for onions or shallots if I hadn’t had a leek in my fridge.
Once the leek softened, I added 2 cloves of garlic (minced), my 1 jerusalem artichoke (washed, rough spots peeled off so that it was sort of striped with peel, halved lengthwise, and then sliced thinly), and some arborio rice (3/4 of a cup, maybe less).
Once the sunchoke softened and the rice was a little toasty, I ladled in a little vegetable stock. Cooked and stirred until it started looking a bit dry… then more stock. Repeat as necessary.
When the rice was almost cooked, I started to consider seasoning. 1/2 teaspoon salt (you might prefer less salt than I). A decent grinding of pepper. A shake of powdered thyme. And a small pinch of chipotle. And a few grinds of nutmeg.
I finished it off with 2 half & half creamers (so about an ounce total) and a generous grating of Prima Donna cheese I had acquired through a random offer for bartering. Grate and stir, grate and stir. And then grate a little more for the top.
It was delicious. Awesome, even. But I’m not sure I could distinguish which parts of the flavor came specifically from the jerusalem artichoke.
So – Parsley Root – I actually discovered parsley root before I figured out parsnips. There I was, in the suburbs, learning how to make stock for the first time. My mother thought I was nuts for wanting to go through all that work to make something that was just an ingredient, but she humored me and told me anyway that I needed some celery, carrots, and parsnips (and onions, garlic, parsley, rosemary, thyme, and pepper). So we went to the supermarket to buy fresh vegetables. And there were some lovely things that looked like parsnips but still had the parsley attached at the top, labeled parsley root. So I got those and thought it wonderfully convenient to grab one thing with two ingredients and had no idea they weren’t parnips.
Then I went to a different grocery store, and they had never heard of parsnips with parsley greens. So I went back to the original store and bought the parsley root again, this time noticing the different terminology (still not realizing that it wasn’t just a vocabulary issue). Finally, after years of being puzzled, I found websites that acknowledged it was a different thing.
The main thing is that parsnips are sweeter than parsley root, and they don’t come with the delightfully flavorful greens that taught me how to appreciate parsley, too.
Mashed Parsley Root
So there I was with stock to boil. In this case, vegetable stock.
So I peeled three parsley roots (and saved the peelings for a later stock) and cut it into large, easily fished out, chunks maybe 1″ square. And put them in the stock.
Some time later, when they could be easily pierced with a fork, I pulled them out (with a slotted spoon) into a bowl. I threw in a chunk (2 Tbsp) of butter, and I went after them with my potato masher. They were still quite resistant to the mashing, and it took a decent amount of persistence… but the result was a lovely dish that I would make again at the first excuse. Not a cohesive mash like potatoes, but a delightful texture nonetheless.
Luckily, I already knew that I wanted to package up the risotto for the next day because I was glad not to have to worry about making the mashed parsley root my dinner.
And then the dish I’ve been making a lot because the weather has been cold and wet and miserable and I have wanted simple food with rich, dark flavors. This dish might not be for everyone.
Meaty Pasta with Blue Cheese
So I acquired from my mother (in with a bunch of containers of frozen leftovers) a package of her lasagne filling – ground beef with tomatoes, garlic, and onion (and probably other things) cooked down until it is solid goodness.
So I boiled two ounces of pasta (penne).
With just 4 minutes left for cooking the pasta, I heated up 3 Tablespoons of the lasagna meat. Poured over it about a cup of pasta sauce from a jar.
One the sauce was hot, I drained the pasta, poured it over the sauce, and mixed it all together with a teaspoon or so of the pasta water. I kept cooking it until the pasta was finished cooking.
Then I tossed it into a bowl, crumbles blue cheese on top, and then mushed the cheese deeper into the pasta so it would melt a little around the edges.
In later versions, I added:
- 1 big floret of cauliflower, cut into small pieces and started cooking at about the same time as the pasta so that it could soften sufficiently.
- 1/2 teaspoon of homemade pesto, added at the same time as the beef
- cloves of roasted garlic, added at the same time as the beef