Bowled Over

Meal bowls are an easy way to get dinner on the table in a jiffy. In my recent article on Zester Daily  I explore the topic and give some recipes using seasonal ingredients and tips on how to creatively repurpose leftovers into yummy bowls for every meal of the day.

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This savory yogurt bowl doubles as a fantastic dip with pita chips or crudités.

Green grass and springtime

I was lucky enough to go on a tour recently of Bellwether Farms sheep creamery. The Callahan family has been making a variety of dairy products using both sheep and cow’s milk for almost twenty years on the property. Some of their most popular offerings are ricotta, creme fraiche and fresh and aged Italian style cheeses such as pepato and crescent.

During my visit, cheesemaker Liam Callahan was making a batch of ricotta in two 250-gallon steam kettles. Here is the moment the mixture started to form curds.IMG_1798

The ricotta is ladled into baskets and left to drain before packaging.

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The sheep milk ricotta (they make jersey cow milk version as well) is luscious and creamy without a hint of the grittiness often found in commodity ricotta. Once home, I set about creating a simple pasta that highlights this delicate cheese and incorporates the bounty of spring produce at the market now.

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Bow tie pasta is cooked with shelled English peas and asparagus then drained – be sure to save a little pasta water for the sauce!

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The drained pasta is mixed with the veggies, Meyer lemon zest, ricotta and grated Parmesan. A splash of pasta water creates just the right texture while the ricotta melts in to the ingredients resulting in a light, creamy sauce.

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Buono Appetito!

Spring Pasta with Sheep’s Milk Ricotta

1/2 lb. farfalle pasta

1 c. shelled English peas

1 cup asparagus, woody ends broken off, cut in 1″ pieces

1 heaping teaspoon of Meyer lemon zest

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese and more for serving

1/2-12 oz. basket of Bellwether sheep milk ricotta

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of fiercely salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and peas, stir and set your timer for 7 minutes. When the timer goes off, add the asparagus and set the timer for 4 minutes. Taste the pasta and vegetables for doneness then drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water as you go. Put the drained pasta and veggies back in the pot and add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine and add a little pasta water, if necessary, to loosen the dish and create a saucy texture. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Divide amongst plates and pass extra Parmesan for the top. Yield: 4 servings

 

 

Citrus time

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The plethora of citrus fruit in market bins right now is inspiring. For ideas on how to use it all, check out my article on Zester Daily:

http://zesterdaily.com/fruit-wrecipe/zesty-citrus-fruits-brighten-winter-meals/

What to do with Hachiya persimmons

Any other fruit that looked like this would be tossed into the compost bin.

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Around northern California persimmon trees grow in backyards and gardens. The orange orbs continue to hang on the tree after all the leaves drop off, creating a skeletal and yet abundant image. Many people don’t like the taste or don’t know what to do with the prolific fruit.

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These Hachiya and Suijo persimmons are finally ripe enough to cook with after sitting in my garage for the last month. Since they are an astringent variety of this deep orange fruit, they can only be used when they are absolutely mushy.

 

One of my favorite ways to use juicy, soft persimmons is in James Beard’s boozy persimmon bread recipe. It calls for 2 cups of persimmon pulp, which is easy to scrape out by cutting off the top of the fruit and using a spoon to extract the pulp.

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I used six Hachiyas and three Suijos to get 2 cups.

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The recipe is simple to make, a basic quick bread with dry ingredients combined in a bowl and the liquids added all at once in a well made in the center. It makes a generous amount which you can divide into two loaf pans, six mini loaves or eight mini bundt cakes.

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The flavor is reminiscent of a fruit cake with a little taste of alcohol, bursts of dried fruit and the crunch of nuts.

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The recipe freezes really well too – here are my foil packages of persimmon bread ready to go in the deep freeze for enjoyment with a cup of tea or use as a hostess gift down the road.

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Persimmon Bread

Adapted from “Beard on Bread” by James Beard.

Yield: two 9-inch loaves or 6 mini loaves or 8 mini bundt cakes

3 1/2 cups flour, sifted

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 -2 1/2 cups sugar (I used the lesser amount)

1 cup melted butter, cooled to room temperature

4 large eggs

2/3 cup cognac, bourbon or whiskey (I like bourbon)

2 cups persimmon puree

2 cups walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped

2 cups diced dried fruit or raisins (I like to use a mix of golden raisins and dried apricots, nectarines or dates)

Coat the inside of the loaf or cake pans with canola baking spray very well. Preheat the oven to 350. Sift the first 5 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center then stir in the remaining ingredients, mixing completely until well combined. Divide batter among prepared pans. Bake in oven 1 hour for regular loaves and 40-50 minutes for mini loaves or mini bundt cake pans. Test for doneness with a toothpick, which should come out clean when inserted into the center. Cool on rack for 10 minutes then take out of pans and continue to cool to room temperature.

 

 

 

Festive last minute Thanksgiving desserts

If you’re not sure what to make for dessert tomorrow, check out my latest article on Zester Daily with recipes for delicious meal endings using seasonal ingredients:

http://zesterdaily.com/desserts-wrecipe/go-seasonal-4-refreshing-thanksgiving-desserts/

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Truffle time in Italy

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During a recent trip to the Le Marche region of Italy in the Apennine Mountains, I had the good fortune of crossing paths with some fresh truffles. The white ones (on the left sitting on the white napkin in the above photo) have a distinct yet subtle flavor and tender texture while the black ones are stronger and firmer. White truffles are lots more expensive than their black cousins at about $260 per ounce vs. $35 for the same volume of black ones.

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We visited the village of Acqualagna, the tartufo (truffle in Italian) capital of the area and went to a store that specialized in fresh truffles and products made from them.

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Black truffles were at the end of their season; they are mostly harvested in Le Marche in the late summer months. It was just the beginning of white truffle time, which will last until December. The store had truffle sauces, salts, oil, even chocolate infused with the aromatic fungi; it was quite a treat to experience such a place.

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Next we drove to Urbino, a classic Renaissance town with a thriving university. Amongst the ancient buildings and religious art were restaurants celebrating tartufo in all their glory.

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Although this plate of pasta doesn’t look like much, shaved white truffles were scattered in its buttery midst, creating one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten.

Many restaurants in the states will be hosting truffle dinners this fall. Check in your area and do partake if the opportunity arises. Here is a Yelp link to places in San Francisco that may have white truffles in the coming weeks:

http://www.yelp.com/search?find_desc=white+truffles&find_loc=San+Francisco%2C+CA

Figs galore

It’s fig time here in northern California and by all accounts, this is a banner year for them. The tree in my backyard is producing lots and I have them spread around the kitchen waiting to be grilled, put in salads, blended into smoothies, stuffed with cheese and popped in my mouth.

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The variety of my tree is supposedly a striped panache; and while they do have the telltale dark red interior of that variety, there are, so far, no stripes. I’m also picking black mission, brown turkey and some mystery types from trees around the neighborhood.

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The other morning I made a chunky fig jam, which didn’t take long at all to put together. I chopped the figs in bite-sized pieces and combined them with sugar, lemon juice and vanilla bean seeds. The aroma was heavenly!

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Before too long, the mixture reached a perfect gel and was ready for jars.

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I’m looking forward to baking newton style cookies with the jam and swirling it into a pan sauce for duck and chicken, and I can’t wait to serve it with cheese and charcuterie, like the fantastic burrata platter I had today at Il Davide restaurant in San Rafael, California. Molto delicioso!

Fig Vanilla Jam

1 quart of fresh figs, rinsed, stems removed and coarsely chopped

2 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean

Place all ingredients in a large, shallow, non-reactive pan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer over medium heat until jam forms a gel. Ladle into sterilized jars and process in a canner for 10 minutes.

Yield: 4-1/2 pints