Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Melon and Tomato Salad

I've been known to go a little bit melon crazy. The array of melons at the farmers' markets is always amazing, a fact I only started noticing in recent years.

This week I bought a gorgeous orange-fleshed, palest green-skinned honeydew and a green-fleshed, yellow-skinned canary melon from Tonnemaker Orchards at the Columbia City farmers' market. I couldn't resist a fat, crinkly Crenshaw melon down the way. And summer's not really over if you're still eating watermelon, right? Ok, so I now have 4 kinds of melons on the kitchen counter.

What to do with all these melons? It's weird, but there are not a lot of great recipes out there using melons. (Except watermelon. That feta and mint salad is everywhere now. And I've even seen a recipe watermelon poké with soy sauce!) Maybe it's just because most people just eat the orange and green-fleshed melons fresh without embellishment.

Melon with prosciutto is a classic, but I was looking for adventure. On the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of bizarre flights of fancy out there involving melon (see Bon Appetit's retrospective). Recently, there have been a few recipes in food magazines for pickled melon, which turned out to be delicious!

I tried several different melon salad recipes, and merged my favorite aspects from each. Bon Appetit's Tomato, Pickled Melon, and Burrata Salad was marvelous. But this Green Tomato and Honeydew Salad from a 2008 issue of Gourmet was life-changing - the combination of cumin, cilantro, and pepitas was unusual and intriguing. Pepitas are little green hulled pumpkin seeds sometimes used in Mexican cooking; I found them at the Beacon Hill Red Apple Market. Leaving the melon a little longer in the vinegar, as the Bon Appetit recipe suggests, made it even better.

I grew the best tomatoes ever this year - Black Prince! A miracle in Seattle, they are dark red and incredibly sweet and tangy. They were absolutely perfect in this salad. I also love it with my favorite orange heirloom tomato, Dr. Wyche's Yellow, or tomatoes that are green when ripe, like Green Zebra or Aunt Ruby's German Green.

1/2 large honeydew or other orange or green-fleshed melon
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 jalapeno, finely minced
1 Tbs white vinegar
1 tsp sugar (optional)
1 large heirloom tomato
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
2 Tbs raw pepitas
1 Tbs olive oil

Quarter the melon lengthwise, peel, and slice crosswise about 1/2 inch thick. Arrange in a single layer in a shallow baking dish.

In a dry skillet on medium heat, toast the ground cumin until it is a shade darker and fragrant (careful, it's easy to burn!) Stir cumin, pepper, salt, jalapeno, and vinegar in a small bowl until the salt is dissolved. Pour over the melon and let it sit for about half an hour.

Slice the tomato and arrange on a plate with the melon. Stir cilantro into the remaining liquid and drizzle over the melon and tomatoes. Wipe out the skillet and toast the pepitas until they begin to blister and brown. Toss them in a small bowl with the oil and a little salt, and sprinkle over the salad.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Roast Pork and Fennel Sandwich with Romesco Sauce

This is quite possibly the best sandwich I've ever made. It's based on one they serve at The Grove, one of my favorite restaurants in Albuquerque, but I've always wished their version had more romesco and more fennel. Finally, it's perfect (according to me).

When we first moved into our new place in Seattle, I was thrilled to discover there's a fantastic bakery and a fantastic butcher shop right across the street from the awesome yoga place in Columbia City! The first time I walked into Bob's Quality Meats, I saw hanger steak in the case on my left, duck fat and pork neck bones in the freezer on my right, and I knew I was in heaven. They source locally, they have an amazing selection, and they're so friendly... this is the butcher shop of my dreams.

Dave picked up a pork loin at Bob's this week, and cooked it according to the instructions in The Joy of Cooking. It turned out beautifully, nicely browned on the outside and juicy on the inside. I sliced up some gorgeous huge fennel bulbs they had on sale at PCC, and threw them on the pan with the roast to get all soft and caramelized.

Romesco sauce is one of the world's great condiments - spicy, tangy, nutty, and packed with umami. The basic recipe is roasted red peppers (I used jarred ones since they're not in season yet) pureed with almonds, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, and maybe a little chile powder like hot paprika. I threw in some bread crumbs and sundried tomatoes for extra flavor. We've been enjoying the fresh green garlic and smoky goat horn chile peppers from Alvarez Organic Produce in everything this month.

Pile all that up between two slices of Columbia City Bakery's incredibly light and pillowy potato bread, and you have a feast!

3 lbs pork loin
Rosemary (optional)
2 large fennel bulbs
Olive oil for the pan
1/2 cup almonds (preferably sliced or slivered)
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
3 sundried tomatoes, snipped into small strips
Half a 12-oz jar roasted red peppers
2 Tbs bread crumbs
1/2 tsp hot paprika + 1/4 tsp cayenne, or 1/2 a goat horn or chipotle chile2 Tbs sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

Heat the oven to 450F. Rub the pork loin all over with salt, pepper, chopped rosemary, and a little olive oil. Place it on a rack over a large sheet pan. Trim the bottoms and stems off the fennel bulbs and slice vertically, 1/2 inch thick. Rub the fennel all over with oil and place it flat on the pan around the meat.

Toast the almonds on a sheet pan for 5-10 minutes. Watch them carefully so they don't burn - it can happen really fast!

Roast the pork and fennel for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 250F. Turn the fennel over, and continue roasting until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the roast reads 155F. It should take about another 45-80 minutes, depending on the diameter of the pork loin. If the fennel is not browned on both sides, turn the oven back up to 450F and roast it a little longer to caramelize.

Pulse the almonds in a food processor until they are chopped pretty small. Add the garlic and sundried tomatoes, pulse until they are chopped up pretty small. Add the red peppers, bread crumbs, chile, vinegar, and olive oil. Puree until smooth.

Remove the roast and and vegetables from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes, then slice the pork about 1/4 inch thick. Spread the bread slices with romesco sauce and sandwich a big fennel slice and a few pork slices between them. Voila!

The sandwiches are also great made with cold leftovers, and the romesco sauce makes a great dip for crunchy spring vegetables.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Japanese Knotweed Jam

So, as I started poking around in my new garden, planting a few lettuces, herbs, and such, I noticed this rather distinctive plant coming up around the edges of the concrete retaining walls.

Because it was growing out of cracks, rather than in an obviously planted spot, because of its somehow kinda scary-looking red speckled stem, and because it grew SO FAST, I thought... this looks dangerous. So I posted this picture on Facebook, and sure enough my friend Meghan confirmed, it is the dreaded Japanese Knotweed!

Whoa. I'd heard of it, and its reputation is legend. I'd just never seen it in person before. Incredibly invasive, almost impossible to get rid of, and listed as a noxious weed in at least eight states, including Washington. I guess I had thought it was also known as kudzu, but it's actually not the same thing. Definitely a serious problem, but guess what? It's also edible! It tastes just like rhubarb.

So I made jam and ate it with yogurt! Delicious. Next time I might even try it with some ginger, like the fantastic ginger-rhubarb jam my aunt Sandy sent me a few years ago.

6 cups chopped Japanese Knotweed stems
3 cups sugar (or more, to taste)

Choose stems no more than about 1 inch in diameter, and chop them into pieces about 1 inch long. Once they get this big, they can be really woody, so check them as you go by tasting some of the bigger pieces. If you can't chew them, throw them away until you get up to a more tender part of the stem. You don't want those tough fibers in your jam.

Cook knotweed and sugar in a saucepan on medium heat until it thickens. Stir more frequently as it gets thicker, so it doesn't burn. It's going to turn out a dark green color, like many of the less-red varieties of rhubarb do. If that doesn't appeal, you can always add red food coloring to pretty it up. Chill and serve on toast, with yogurt, or use it in this fantastic Rhubarb Trifle!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Egg Salad Sandwiches with Bittercress and Rosemary Blossoms

Well, it's been quite the year. Lots of changes, including leaving my beloved New Mexico, the place where my husband grew up and that was my chosen home for fourteen years, to return to Seattle, the place where I was born and where all my mom's family lives.

As the magnificent changes of spring unfold in the Pacific Northwest, I'm still in the midst of my own big transition, but I feel like we've landed in the right place. On this beautiful Easter morning, I am grateful for all the familiar joys of family and places I grew up loving, as well as the fun of exploring new places and new things to do.

We found a great little house with a great little yard, and I'm so excited about all the things I can grow here in Seattle's long, cool spring. Rhubarb, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, lettuce, maybe even watercress! And I'm discovering new weeds, too... like bittercress, also known as shotweed. It's an annual weed with funny-shaped leaves that all grow out from a central point near the ground, little white flowers, and long skinny seed pods that shoot seeds out everywhere when they dry and pop open. It's everywhere now, and it's delicious! It tastes just like watercress, not bitter at all.

One of the most delightful things about our new garden is that it has the most gigantic rosemary bush, taller than me and in full bloom since December! And there is a hummingbird that seems to live in it, or at least spend most of its time there, feeding from the rosemary blossoms. They are such gorgeous, tiny, edible flowers, with a delicate flavor of rosemary.

It just occurred to me recently that I might like egg salad sandwiches, because they are basically like deviled eggs in sandwich form! So here's a simple recipe for egg salad sandwiches that are a great way to use up all those Easter eggs and the perfect vehicle for bittercress and rosemary blossoms.

4 eggs
2 Tbs. mayonnaise
1 tsp. mustard (any kind will do)
A big handful of bittercress
A small handful of rosemary blossoms
4 slices of bread

Mash up the eggs, mayo, and mustard with a fork. Taste and adjust the amount of mustard to your liking. Pick the little tender fronds off the bittercress, wash them well, and dry them in a salad spinner. Pile the egg salad on top of the bread and top with lots of bittercress and rosemary blossoms.  Serve as open-face sandwiches or put the two halves together, whatever suits you in the moment.

Serves 2.