Saturday, March 29, 2014

Accidental Grace: Gumbo Z'herbes

At some point contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food must have lived a past life in New Orleans, so in love is he with the people, music, culture and food of that city. Here he shares the lore and a recipe about one of his favorite dishes from the Big Easy.

I didn’t realize it was Maundy Thursday when I stopped at Dooky Chase’s for fried chicken. It was one of our first trips to New Orleans, and I was determined to try as many of the city’s iconic foods as I could. I had an extra hour, it was around lunchtime, and I was a few blocks away.

The place was packed. As I squeezed into the bar to order some chicken to go, I saw the specials board inked with the magic words, “gumbo z’herbes.”  It suddenly clicked that Easter was a few days away, but all I really cared about was getting some of this special once-a-year gumbo, made with a garden’s worth of leafy greens. And I got the chicken, too.

Always use an odd number of greens.

I’d read about Leah Chase’s famous green gumbo, and it had inspired me to make a simple gumbo with greens. I’d always thought gumbo z’herbes was a Lenten dish made without meat, but when I tucked into the bowl I’d brought home I found chunks of sausage. Miss Leah’s version calls for several pounds of meat, and I learned it’s eaten on the Thursday before Good Friday to prepare the faithful for a day without meat. A committed heathen, I like it any day of the week during gumbo season.

Make a dark roux.

While the early Spring sunshine heralds the approaching end of gumbo season, we’ve still got months of cool, damp weather ahead, perfect for a bowl of something hot and spicy. While my variation makes less than the original from Dooky Chase’s, it’ll still feed a small crowd, so invite some friends and have a party.

Gumbo Z’herbes

My own gumbo influences are Cajun, so I start with a dark roux. Combine about a half cup each of extra virgin olive oil and whole wheat flour in a cast iron skillet. Cook in a 350° oven for about 90 minutes or until it’s the color of dark chocolate. You can do this ahead, it keeps in the refrigerator indefinitely (or make twice as much and save half for the next batch).

While the roux’s cooking, chop an onion, some celery and bell pepper (about half as much of each as you have onion) and cook them in extra virgin olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Toss in a chopped jalapeno if you like things spicy. In a separate skillet, brown about 2 lbs. of cubed pork shoulder and at least one smoked sausage or andouille (I like the ones at Laurelhurst Market).

Add the meat (and scrape all the browned bits out of the skillet, deglazing with a little water if necessary) and the roux to the vegetables. If you’ve got any homemade vegetable stock or nettle broth, add at least 2 quarts, using water to make up the difference (or all water if you don’t have any). Bring gently to a boil.

Tradition calls for an odd number of greens, a nod to Catholic symbolism. A letter-writer to the Times-Picayune explained, "This is a traditional Holy Thursday meal for Creole families in New Orleans. The Nine Greens represent the Nine Churches visited on Good Friday in remembrance of Jesus' walk to be crucified." I used green cabbage, Swiss chard, beet greens, rapini, collards, cavolo nero and kale, but nettles, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, turnip greens, escarole, dandelion, carrot tops and bok choy all serve well. But use a mix of 7, 9, 11 or 13.

While most recipes call for a bunch of each, which makes an enormous pot of gumbo, use about a cup or so of each green for this more modest quantity. Chop your chosen greens coarsely to give you about a cup of each, and add them to the pot. Stir well and taste, adding salt if necessary. Cover and simmer for at least 2 hours. I usually don’t use it, but a few shakes of filé (pron. FEE-lay), ground sassafras leaves, are traditionally added just before serving.

Make some Kokuho Rose brown rice. Put about a cup of rice in a wide, shallow bowl and ladle the gumbo over it. Sprinkle with sliced green onion and pass the Crystal hot sauce.

Friday, March 28, 2014

No-Boil Lasagne Noodles: Why, Exactly?

Sometimes I start jonesing for a particular food or flavor. Awhile ago it was curry, then beef braised in a chile rojo, both satisfied with a couple of simple dinners whipped out of ingredients in the pantry. I was wandering through our neighborhood Trader Joe's recently, thinking of pulling together a lasagne—just the mention of it makes me salivate—so when I saw the package of lasagne noodles on the shelf I threw them into my cart without a glance.

Letting the noodles "rest" for 30 min. Pffft!

Pulling them out of the bag when I got home, I noticed they were labeled "no boil." What? But having promised the family lasagne for dinner and kind of curious to see what the heck these might be, I decided to use them and see just how "oven ready" they really were.

With all my ingredients ready to go, I looked at the instructions. Basically it said to preheat the oven, layering the noodles with sauce and cheese in the pan as usual. But then the next line stopped me. After getting it all ready, it said to let it sit for 30 minutes, presumably to allow the noodles to absorb some of the moisture from the sauce and soften up a bit.

After baking? Just okay, and no time-saver.

Are you kidding me? I could have brought a pot of water to boil and parboiled my noodles—I don't cook lasagne noodles fully, just let them get a little bendy so they can soak up some lovely tomato flavor—in less time than that! And this is considered "convenience food"? Oh, please.

In any case, I did as instructed anyway, and it turned out okay. Not great or mind-blowing, mind you, but the noodles were al dente (a little more than I like) and tasted pretty good. I can only say they won't be making another appearance on our table, unless I need an excuse for a major eye-roll.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Portland Dining Month Wrapping Up

Dang! With just five nights left, it looks like I'm not going to be making it through my picks of restaurants to hit during Portland's annual Dining Month—in fact, I've only made it to two on the whole darn list so far.

But with an opportunity to sample three courses of some of PDX's finest grub—there are 90 places to choose from—for just $29, it almost makes it into the "I don't feel like cooking tonight" category, which, if I had my druthers, would be every other night around our house. To me, it's a chance to try out places that fit the "special occasion" description, a trial run for a later date night, anniversary or place to take out of town friends.

My first hit was Kelly Myer's Xico, which we'd visited earlier but wanted to return to, if only because I was seduced by the salmon in mole verde (top photo) on offer. Which points up the fact that though these menus are designed around the featured price, the offerings are obviously barely clearing break-even status. Added to that was the opportunity to get one of the restaurant's signature margaritas, which totally hit the spot.

Beverages aren't included in the price, of course, which no doubt gives the restaurants a chance to make up some of the revenue, but I've never felt pressured by up-selling on the part of staff or given the nose-in-the-air treatment because I'm ordering the "cheap" option. Remember that March can be a pretty slow time of the year for dining out, so most restaurateurs and wait staff are happy to see so many smiling faces at their tables.

The second trip was to Paley's Place on Northwest 21st, the anchor of Vitaly and Kimberly Paley's now three-restaurant empire (he also owns downtown's Imperial and Penny Diner). Dave and I were seated at a cozy table in the dining room behind the bar (above right) and were brought amuse bouches of shot glasses of cucumber gazpacho with our drink order. Again, there was no sniffing on display when I ordered the Dining Month menu, and no move was made to grab back the amuse as not included—same with the complimentary basket of bread and butter.

Portions at both places were generous, as well, with Paley's main course of grilled albacore (left) perfectly seared on a bed of frikeh salad with a drizzle of caper aioli. One caveat to be noted is that the offerings are set in stone, so check the menus listed on the website to make sure it will accomodate any of your party's dietary restrictions. For instance, while I can (and do) eat almost everything, Dave's lactose issue makes it virtually impossible to enjoy all three courses, so he orders from the regular menu. (Though you can always check with the restaurant when you call to make your reservation.)

So if you can't make it one of the next five nights, put it on your calendar for next year. I have a feeling this event is gonna be here to stay.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Smelt Are Running! The Smelt Are Running!

"This evening we were visited by Comowooll the Clatsop Chief and 12 men women & children of his nation…The chief and his party had brought for sail a Sea Otter skin some hats, stergeon and a [s]pecies of small fish which now begin to run, and are taken in great quantities in the Columbia R. about 40 miles above us [Cowlitz River] by means of skiming or scooping nets…I find them best when cooked in Indian stile, which is by roasting a number of them together on a wooden spit without any previous preperation whatever. they are so fat they require no additional sauce, and I think them superior to any fish I ever tasted…" - Meriwether Lewis, Feb. 24, 1806

They're known as smelt to most of us, the species named Eulachon or, in Latin, Thaleichthys pacificus, these small six to nine-inch fish that in the early spring in the Northwest swim from the ocean up larger rivers like the Columbia to shallower tributaries such as the Sandy River. I've heard stories of the smelt runs most of my life, their numbers so large at times that they could choke a smaller river, drawing hordes to the banks with dipping nets when the word went out that the smelt were running.

Native Americans in British Columbia with smelt.

From 1938 to 1992 the average catch in the Columbia during the season was 2 million pounds, but from 1993 to 2006 the number declined precipitously to an average of 43,000 pounds. Though the exact causes of the depletion are unknown, it's theorized that it's due to habitat loss from dams, pollution and/or climate change. In 2010 the southern eulachon was listed under the Endangered Species Act and harvests were strictly regulated or, in recent years, completely curtailed.

This year, for the first time in several years, the smelt season was opened to dip netting, generating much excitement among locals, some whose families had a long history with the annual smelt runs. Ethan and Ashley Bisagna, owners of Feastworks, were among those who jumped at the chance, packing up their three kids, ages 11, 4 and 18 months, along with Ashley's brother, Austin, to head down to the banks of the Sandy.

Ethan demonstrating how it's done.

The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife had designated just two six-hour windows, on March 15 and 22nd from 6 am to noon, and the family arrived early to find the banks already lined with hopeful dippers. (Click on the photo at right to see the crowds on the opposite bank.)

“There were hundreds of people out excited about the smelt run. It looked just like the old dip netting pictures from the 50s. It was pretty cool to be a part of it,” said Ashley. “Austin can remember our grandfather going out to dip net for the smelt every year.”

A little salt and fire is all it takes.

With a limit of 10 pounds per adult, Ashley said that they had their limit of 30 pounds within two hours. Shortly after arriving home, they'd thrown their first batch on the fire for lunch and the rest were smoked and canned for their personal larder.

“These are an oily little fish with a really clean, delicate flavor…they’re delicious,” said Ethan, adding that the family is already strategizing about next year's season.

Historical photo from Wikimedia. Other photos courtesy Ashley Bisagna.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ayers Creek Owl Update: Release!

Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm is keeping me updated on the Great Horned Owl nest in the top of a snag near their house. And yes, that little lump of grey just below her to the left are the two owlets!

After 51 days on the nest, the mother took a moment to enjoy the morning's sunshine. The first time we have seen her off the nest since that afternoon on the first of February when she sat down and laid her first egg.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Norman Chronicles: Neck and Neck

They're unofficially called "butcher's cuts," those not-so-frequently-seen-in-meat-cases pieces of lamb, beef or pork. Because they aren't big, gorgeous hunks of flesh, they were harder to sell and ended up going home with the butchers to feed their families, knowing as they did that these "off cuts" were often more flavorful than their more well-known compadres. Flank steak and hanger steak used to belong to that category until the beef association started promoting them, and now they'll often cost as much as steaks.

A cut that hasn't yet been popularized and, with any luck, will remain in the cheap-but-delicious category is lamb neck. This two-or-so-pound piece of meat is perfect for braising low and slow until the flesh is melting off the bone, and has enough heft flavor-wise to stand up to the richly flavorful Provençal-style sauce below. You can get one by ordering it from your favorite butcher or market that carries lamb, though it might mean the butcher's family will have to figure out something else for dinner.

Braised Lamb Neck Provençal

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lamb neck, about 2 lbs.
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 c. roasted tomatoes, chopped
1 c. dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
Zest of 1 lemon
1/8 tsp. saffron
1 tsp. salt
2 bay leaves
1/2 c. pitted oil-cured black olives or green olives, sliced*
2 lemons, cut in wedges

Preheat oven to 325°.

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown neck on all sides. While lamb browns, put saffron and salt in mortar and pestle and grind until saffron is broken down. Remove browned neck to platter. Add onion and garlic to pan and sauté till translucent, scraping up browned bits of lamb. Add tomatoes, wine, lemon zest, saffron-salt mixture and bay leaves to pan and stir, then return lamb neck to pan. Cover pan with parchment paper and lid and braise in the oven for 2 1/2 hrs., turning the neck every 45 min. or so.

Add chopped olives and lemons to pan and continue cooking another 45 min. until meat is falling off the bone. Serve over polenta.

* I used Spanish anchovy-stuffed olives, which added that touch of umami from the anchovies. Yum!

Read the other posts in The Norman Chronicles: Getting to Shepherd's Pie, Braising Saddles and Shanks and Hearts.

Friday, March 21, 2014

These Eggs are Ready for Easter!

My friend Kim has a flock of around 40 pastured hens on her property in Happy Valley, a diverse collection of heritage breeds like Ameraucanas, Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, among others. The variety and diversity shows in the magnificent color of the eggs she collects each morning, don't you think?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

What is Fair Food?

There are all kinds of terms used in what is called the "food movement" in this country, and I find it confusing. Fair food. Slow food. Food justice. Food equity. I mean, it's probably possible to parse all this to make some sense of it, but what does it mean, really?

The other day I was invited to attend a "viewing party" organized by a local PR firm, Maxwell PR, to watch streaming video of a day-long conference put on by the organization that does TED Talks. (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.) Originating in New York City, it was to be a series of 10-minute presentations called TedXManhattan: Changing the Way We Eat.

One in particular, by Alison Cayne, owner of Haven’s Kitchen, a recreational cooking school, cafe and event space in Manhattan, struck me. She's also on the boards of Just Food, Edible Schoolyard NYC and FERN (Food and Environmental Reporting Network). In other words, a pretty knowledgeable source on what's happening regarding food issues.

She spoke on The Food Movement in a Historical Context, explaining how social movements work through the lens of women's suffrage—40-plus years from the first official meeting of the suffragettes to the passage of the 19th Amendment—and civil rights, which took more than 100 years from the Emancipation Proclamation to the Civil Rights Act. Basically she said that despite the seeming slow pace of change, the food movement as such is right on track with other social movements, at a stage where groups are beginning to work together and awareness is building among the public as to the importance of a safe, sustainable food supply.

Then, and mind you all this was within her 10-minute time frame, it got really interesting. She defined what a fair food system was. In five simple bullet points. Wow! So here you go, fair food in a nutshell:
  1. Every school child can eat a nutritious lunch every day
  2. Fresh vegetables are available at every corner store in even the poorest neighborhoods at an affordable price
  3. Those who have very little to spend on food aren’t forced into a diet that makes them sick
  4. Farmers don’t have to be worried about paying for their kids’ education because their work is valued
  5. People know what they’re buying and have real choice because the food is labeled.
Simple, right? Understandable and non-jargon-laden. So now you know when someone starts talking about fair food, this is what they mean. I get it now!

Photo by Ben Shumin from Wikimedia Commons.

Garden 2014: Shoots and Buds

While most of our garden still slumbers under a tangle of fallen sunflower stalks and the weeds and grass that are beginning to take it over, I've been watching to see what's survived the winter. Most exciting are the little green shoots of the tarragon hedge (top photo) emerging from around the old stalks of last year's crop, promising another bumper crop of one of my favorite herbs.

Red veined sorrel.

Along with the tarragon are new sprouts of parsley popping up, as well as thyme and savory that apparently made it through the freezing temperatures. The red-veined sorrel has also come back and looks to be thriving, so it will start adding its bright color to some salads in the near future. It was good to see that the blueberries we planted last fall are budding, too, but I'm not expecting much of a crop until next year when the plants get better established. And I do have high hopes for the rhubarb, which should, at three years old, be ready to produce enough for a couple of crisps and maybe even a pie.

Come on, rhubarb!

While there's another month yet before I can start digging in earnest, I have time to think about what to plant along the cyclone fence behind the blueberries, both to cover up the unsightly metal fencing as well as screen off our backyard dining area from passersby. And then the decision about tomatoes, which were heartbreakingly unproductive last year—I'm thinking optimism will win the day and we will try growing them again.

Ayers Creek: Owl Update

Whenever I visit Anthony and Carol at Ayers Creek Farm this time of year, I can count on finding the tripod and telescope set up near the house, focused on the top of a big snag in the stand of firs about 200 feet away. The top of that broken snag has, for the last several years, been home to a great horned owl's nest and, while I didn't see the owlets on my recent visit, Anthony assures me they've hatched by now.

The mother owl laid her eggs about a month ago just as the snow and freezing rain storms hit the area, and Anthony took a picture of her sitting on her nest, her head covered in snow (left). Once the eggs are laid, she doesn't leave the nest for at least 40 days, made possible because her mate keeps her (and the babies when they hatch) fed until they develop enough down to keep themselves warm.

Hopefully the tiny fuzzy heads of the owlets will poke out when Anthony's got his camera hooked up to the telescope and we'll get a good look at them. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Simply Delicious: French Onion Soup

The lunches of my youth, growing up as I did in a small town in Central Oregon, where the annual summer festival celebrated the potato and crowned a potato queen, were a typical smorgasbörd of the times: bologna sandwich on white bread alternated with tuna fish, with cottage cheese and potato chips on the side.

Soups, which occasionally made an appearance at lunch or dinner, were from the good folks at Campbell's, usually chicken vegetable or Scotch broth (my mother's favorite). Dave wooed me with his doctored canned tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I didn't learn to make a pot of soup until college, when I ran a coffeehouse in the basement of the university's Koinonia center. Mind you, I didn't cook the soups, but had a crew of volunteers I'd wrangled from friends and staff who would make the day's offering in a five-gallon pot.

The soups—and the price, which was just a couple of bucks for a big bowl of soup and a slice of "peasant" bread—attracted a large, regular following, running the gamut from Jane's potato-lentil to Ed's split pea to Mike's startlingly good beer cheese. Robert's French onion was always a huge hit with its rich, beefy stock and chunk of cheese-topped bread. I had a file of all of their recipes, since on occasion I had to pinch hit as chef du jour when one of my cooks couldn't make it in due to colds, flu or a raging hangover (it was college, after all).

I still make my favorites now and then, and have added a killer black bean soup, curried squash and a few chowders to the mix. My friend Kathryn recently reminded me of my soupy beginnings when she mentioned a particularly amazing yet simple French onion soup she'd made recently from a recipe by Jacques Pepin. Since we've no doubt got a few days left of rain, I thought it might be appropriate to share it.

French Onion Soup
Adapted from Jacques Pepin

1 lb. onions, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly crosswise
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
8 c. chicken stock
3-4 cloves garlic, minced fine
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 lb. Emmenthaler, Gruyère or Jarlsberg cheese, grated
Baguette, sliced crosswise into 1/2" thick slices, toasted

Preheat the oven to 425°. Place 6 small oven-proof crocks (1 1/2 c. capacity) on a cookie sheet. Place 2-3 slices baguette in each crock. Sprinkle 1 or 2 Tbsp. cheese on top of bread.

Melt butter or margarine in Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté till golden brown, stirring frequently so they don't burn, about 15 min. Add chicken stock, garlic and thyme and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 min. Remove any twigs of thyme and add salt and pepper to taste.

Fill the crocks to the brim with the soup. Sprinkle each crock with 1/2 c. cheese, pressing the cheese onto the rim so that it will form a crust. Put the cookie sheet in the oven and bake 30 min. until the cheese is golden, puffed and crusty.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kids Being Kids: A Parade of Baby Goats

With temperatures this week hitting 60 degrees and spring most definitely in the air, I thought a visit to my friend Kim's little farm was in order, especially when I heard her dams (that's the official name for mama goats) had given birth to a bunch of kids.

They're Nigerian dwarfs, and the kids range in age from just under a month to a few days old. They're about the size of my small-ish cat—that bench in the video is about 10 inches high—and still a bit skittish around strangers. Hopefully I'll be able to visit enough that they'll get over that.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

A Vacation from the Rain

I was between the third and fourth grades in Redmond, Oregon, the summer the local library had a reading contest. All that was required was to record the number of books checked out of the library and read in a defined period of a few weeks. It seemed reasonable to enter, since I spent most of my time curled up with a book anyway, the other half divided between riding my bike and drawing horses from a book of breeds I'd checked out of that same library.

These decades later I can't remember how many I read for the contest, but I do remember I got a book as the prize and the satisfaction of winning my age group. But, as I said, I would have read those books anyway, if perhaps with a bit less diligence. (I was fiercely competitive even then.)

Books have always been a gateway into different worlds for me, not so much an escape as a dive into a different time or place, the good ones populated by people I wanted to get to know. Even now, if I'm reading and Dave says something to me, I only hear a garbled burble of sounds and have to look up and apologize: "I'm sorry, what did you say?"

So needless to say, when my friend Jeffrey Hannan, a writer and author, sent a message saying he was experimenting with a serialized online novel set in Hawai'i, I was all in. Not only do I love his writing, but during the rainy, cold winter months in PDX there's nothing better than taking a vacation in a tropical paradise, if only for a few minutes.

The fact that, though he lives in San Francisco, he spends several weeks a year near Puna, on the big island of Hawai'i, which is where the story is set, is only the icing on the cake. With a knowledge of the local landscape and culture, he tells the story of Pru, who'd arrived in Puna from Rhode Island a decade before on a trip with a boyfriend whom she abandoned at the same time as she found her true place in the small town.

You can escape from the rain and read his story, The Punatics, and get on the list for the new chapters as they're released every week or so. I can't wait, not just to find out what Pru and her friends in Puna are up to, but to feel the warm ocean breeze and hear the hissing of the steam vents from the volcano, if only for moments at a time.

Photos courtesy Jeffrey Hannan from The Punatics.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Brassicas, the Book

When I was growing up the closest thing to a leafy green vegetable on my dinner plate was iceberg lettuce drowned with our family recipe for dressing, consisting of mayonnaise—Best Foods, of course—and ketchup, plus a sprinkling of garlic salt and dried basil. Any other vegetables that appeared were either canned or frozen, mostly peas, corn and beans.

When I first heard the word "brassicas"uttered, I had no idea what it meant. But the fact that it was spoken by Frank Morton, the jazz trumpeter of open-pollinated, organic seed-growers, meant that it was important. And that I should immediately find out what they were. Turns out they're a huge family of all kinds of leafy greens like kale, chard and mustards, along with familiar vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

Turned out I was exploring this family, Brassicaceae, at the same time that many chefs were starting to feature braised greens and salads made from kale, chard and mustards on their menus. Bunches of the immature buds of these cruciferous vegetables, often called raab or rabe, were starting to appear on farmers' market stands and stores' vegetables bins. Sweet with a touch of bitterness and incredibly versatile, they could go from a side dish to an entrée and were often best when simply sautéed or lightly dressed with oil and lemon.

So it was seriously exciting—and I understand if you think I may need to get out more—when my friend and fellow food writer Laura Russell announced she was writing a definitive guide to my new favorite genus. The result of years of exhaustive research and testing, Brassicas: Cooking the World's Healthiest Vegetables is a cookbook with more than 80 recipes, but it also delves into the history of this group of vegetables and their amazing health benefits, from vitamins and minerals to phytochemicals and glucosinolates. Plus you'll learn about how they act as antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and liver detoxifiers, among other health benefits. Available now for pre-order (it comes out April 8), I'm definitely adding this gorgeous book to my library.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Fritter Chronicles: Tuna or Kale, It's All Good!

Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food is a fritter fanatic, and he's back on track sharing his recipes for some phenomenal fritter satisfaction.

Sicilian Fritters with Oregon Albacore (Polpette di Tonno con Fiore di Finocchio)

These small tuna won’t be running for another 6 months, but Oregon albacore in a can or jar* is in season all year. Buy it canned in its own juice (and don’t drain it off!). If you can’t find any at your favorite market, order directly from the folks who catch it. In Sicily a mix of tuna and swordfish often goes into these, but they’re great with just the canned albacore.

At the fish market in Palermo.

Dump the fish and the juices in the can into a bowl and flake it with a fork. For each can of fish (typically 6-7 ounces), mix in an egg, a chopped shallot, about a tablespoon of bread crumbs, pinch of salt, and a teaspoon or so of fennel pollen (fiore, flower, in Italian). If the mixture seems dry, add another egg.

Use two soup spoons to form walnut-sized “meatballs.” I make mine more flat than round, but only because it’s a little easier than rolling them into balls. Pan fry in extra virgin olive oil until brown. Traditionally served in a simple tomato sauce, they’re pretty good plain.

* Sweet Creek Foods also has Oregon albacore, and is available at New Seasons and other markets.

Kale Fritters

These are the best thing to do with leftover cooked vegetables of any kind. But it's also pretty easy to drop a bunch of greens in a pot of boiling water. Any of the leafy kales—green, red, or Italian—work well, but I prefer the Italian for both flavor and texture. Drop a bunch into a pot of salted water and cook for about 5 minutes (or microwave for a few minutes). You want the kale wilted and partially cooked.

Kale fritters frying in olive oil.

Chop the kale into small pieces, the stem ends even smaller than the leafy ends. Use the whole stem, but make sure the thicker pieces are chopped small. You can do it in the processor, but I think the hand-cut texture is much better.

Combine the chopped kale in bowl with about a quarter cup of breadcrumbs, roughly the same amount of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, 2-3 cloves of minced garlic, a nice pinch of salt and a couple of eggs. Mix well, then see if you can form a small, walnut-sized fritter using two soup spoons. If it won’t hold together, add another egg or two (and if it’s really soupy, more breadcrumbs).

Use the two spoons (the classic quenelle technique) to make the fritters, sliding each into hot extra virgin olive oil as you make it. Gently flatten each fritter, cook over medium until nicely browned, then flip and cook the other side. Sprinkle with flor de sal after they come out of the pan. These are good hot or cold, and they reheat in a skillet nicely. A little Crystal hot sauce is a nice touch.