Saturday, August 23, 2014

Locovore: Loco for Local

No, not a typo. I recently had friends over for the last largish meal I made before leaving Rhode Island to return to my desert home for the academic year, and realized that, without even trying, every single thing we ate was locally produced. On an island (Conanicut, otherwise known as Jamestown).  Don’t you just love that? 

It was hot in the morning, and the forecast was for thunderstorms. My friends don’t care for the heat. And my cottage is little and, of course, doesn’t have air conditioning. So I decided to make a dinner that I could cook before the rain and serve at room temperature. What a great excuse: that’s actually one of my favorite ways to eat.

My friend Wayne (source of the mussels) had called me up and offered me some fresh-caught Bluefin tuna “head steaks”; I learned that this was the meat right behind the head that was cut off in preparing a giant tuna to be sold. My friends may not like the heat, but I knew they liked tuna, so of course I said yes.  Wayne swung off the bridge to drop me the fish on his way out to another fish-spotting gig.

Now, Jamestown has a surprising amount of meat and poultry for such a tiny place: grassfed beef, pasteured pork, chicken, and lamb.  And your usual lot of summer vegetables, plus the early gift of fresh-dug potatoes. Surprisingly, tomatoes were early this year. Surprising because of the brutal winter—did that do something to speed them up?—and just because. I usually have to return to school before the really nice tomatoes are in—and these are field tomatoes we’re talking here, beautiful in early August.The meat and produce are from Windmist Farm,and Hodgkiss Farm.

So here is the menu, with some pictures of ingredients. While I made a very satisfying visit yesterday to our own impressive farmer’s market here in Tucson, I have to say, to paraphrase Dorothy, there’s no place like New England.

A Jamestown Dinner

Dinner for Friends on a Muggy Day Threatening Thunderstorms

Tuna Tartare on potato chips

Figs with goat cheese sweetened with honey and fresh thyme

Everything-grilled salad of chicken, beef, onions, peppers, yellow and zucchini squash, and corn (see this post)
Green beans marinated with olive oil and fresh oregano
Tomato and mozzarella (from Narragansett Creamery) salad  

Ciabatta from Venda Ravioli
Organic Blueberries and Peaches with Maple Sour Cream

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Strawberries: The Real Thing

Well, this is a little out of summer sequence, because this is the first local product I bought when I arrived here in June, and this jam is the first thing I made. How could I forget that precious item that that I eat only in their native habitat in season—strawberries (not counting tomatoes, of course)—particularly when they are scarce to nonexistent in Tucson, unless it is the strawberries brought in from Yuma? Which doesn’t happen much.

The strawberries were amazing this year: a gift after a cruel winter. It is a ritual for me to make a small batch of jam with the first ones I get, and this summer was no different. I always makes something a little different—although strawberry-vanilla is a perennial favorite—and since I had just planted a little container herb garden, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I had a nice lot of true peppermint on hand.

I suppose that my strawberry jams are really more like preserves. I leave smaller berries whole, and only cut larger ones in half. And of course, I like my jams cooked just long enough so that they have jelled but are still fluid. This takes a lot of practice—I am anti-commercial-pectin, as you may know—but is well worth the effort for a perfect, versatile product.

Strawberry-Mint Jam

I just throw the mint in whole and fish it out after the jam is done. Use as much or as little as you like. Makes a little over a pint.

1 pint ripe local strawberries
1 ¾ cups sugar
Pinch salt
3 or 4 nice big sprigs of peppermint, left whole
Juice of half a lemon, and the rind

Wipe strawberries with a paper towel, hull, and cut the large ones in half. Put everything into a minimum 2-qt saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring gently to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat somewhat, but keeping it at a low boil, and cook, skimming, until it is as you like it, testing by your preferred methods or temperature (about 220F at sea level).  Ladle into jars, and freeze one for a treat during the cold winter months.