Sunday, March 11, 2018

More Borş: This Time a Risotto!

Okay, I may be needing an intervention over my current obsession with this fermented grain thing, but really, guys, it's pretty amazing stuff. And easy as pie—though, compared to what's involved in making pie, it's more like, I don't know, making a peanut butter sandwich. But that's not how the saying goes, so I hope you catch my drift.

I got a note recently from a reader who saw one of the previous posts about this fermented grain stock, and was moved to share this:
"I am Romanian—I actually came to the USA four years ago, but lived for 20 years in Austria—and my grandmother was doing her own borş and we used it for soups all the time! I still remember the taste, and the big jar that was always standing at our kitchen table. We do eat a lot of soups in Romania, which means I had lots of borş in my lifetime!" 
Stock made from Peace, No War corn is in upper left. So pink!

I've now made three kinds of stock, all from Ayers Creek Farm ground grains: one from yellow flint corn that went into a posole, and the second from Peace, No War purple corn that made a fabulous risotto chock full of sautéed Arch Cape chicory and onions. The third was a barley stock for a parched green wheat soup with carrots and kale and a bit of bacon. All the stocks were distinctive, rich and full-flavored, particularly the purple corn stock, which had an almost meaty quality. As a matter of fact, I used it instead of beef broth to make a beef stroganoff, and couldn't tell the difference in the finished dish.

And the Pepto-Bismol pink color of the stock made from his purple corn? Anthony Boutard (of Ayers Creek Farm) has this to say:
The color comes from the anthocyanins in the corn. It is my art project, selecting for an intense mix of these water soluble pigments. Some of the anthocyanins are pH indicators, including those in corn. You start with that dark blue at around pH 7 and, as the brine acidifies, reaches pH 3.7, it becomes that beautiful fuchsia color. Otherwise, there is no specific culinary reason for the effort on my part. 
As an aside, the plant genus Fuchsia is named in honor of the German botanist and doctor Leonhard Fuchs (1501-1566). His herbal was cited by successor herbal publications, including Gerard. Several species have him as their authority as indicated by L. Fuchs following the Latin binomial.
So if you're game to try it, check out the recipe. It takes four to five days to ferment on your counter (or, as mentioned above, on your table), but it's so worth it!

Chicory and Onion Risotto with Fermented Grain Stock
Inspired by the fabulous Linda Colwell

For the chicory:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped in 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
12 oz. sturdy chicory (like Arch Cape, radicchio or treviso), roughly chopped

For the risotto:
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 c. arborio rice
1/2 c. dry white or rosé wine
4-5 c. fermented grain stock (I used fermented purple corn stock)
1 c. parmesan, grated fine

For the chicory, heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then add the chopped onion. Sauté until tender, then add the garlic and chicory and sauté until the chicory is wilted and tender but still has some crunch. Set aside.

For the risotto, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot or deep skillet until it melts, then add the rice. Stirring to prevent sticking, cook until it is hot and well-coated with oil, 2-3 minutes, then add the wine. Stir until the wine is absorbed and then add a ladle of stock, stirring until it's absorbed into the rice. Keep adding ladles of stock, letting each one absorb, until the rice is cooked but still has a nice resistance, then stir in the chicory and cheese. Serve with more parmesan at the table, if desired.

* * *

Addendum from Anthony:

After making and using the grain brines for more than a year and a half, their utter simplicity is their virtue. I have not tired of them. A jar or two sit in the refrigerator at all times. It is not an obsession, no more than using water or milk in dishes is an obsession. Just a fine and versatile ingredient that deserves greater recognition. For the life of me, I can’t understand why the grain brines remain unexplored.

Saturday, I made a clam chowder using brine with onions, potatoes and celery, and a bit of cream. The chowder bridged the realm between New England and Manhattan styles in absolute perfection. The New England richness offset by the brightness of the tomato-based Manhattan version. In seafood chowders as a general matter, nothing else satisfies, having used the brine. Last night we had bay shrimp in a white sauce made from half milk, half brine, and served over rice.

Tomorrow, it will be a beef brisket braised in some brine. For the last two Thanksgivings, we have made gravies using the brine in the place of stock. Likewise, perfect for braising lamb shanks. Soups featuring mushrooms and fungi also fare much better when brine is used instead of meat stock.

I like meat stocks and a turkey stock is what drives me to cook the otherwise just satisfactory fowl. A good beef, pork or chicken stock is wonderful, but they are too often added to dishes in a perfunctory manner where they flatten or detract from the flavor of the primary ingredient. The brines have just the opposite effect, brightening and accentuating the primary ingredient. Not always desirable, but a good starting point.

What intrigues me is the fact that so many Eastern Europeans describe these brines so vividly and with such fond memories, yet they seem to have abandoned them to nostalgia, or buy the stuff as a processed food in specialty stores. I think they have shrouded them with such mystery because no one bothered to make them simple and as easy as Sea-Monkeys.

I have packaged a coarsely ground barley for Josh at Barbur World Foods. I have an index card attached with simple instructions, and non-metric, Sea Monkeys-worthy measurements:

Grain brines are a nourishing and flavorful ingredient prepared from coarsely ground meal soured by lactic acid fermentation. Use the brines in place of meat stocks or where a recipe calls for wine. For example, in making a risotto, fish chowder, mushroom soup, white sauces, or braising meats. Excellent for vegan dishes.

 Use a very clean 2-quart mason jar. Add one cup of barley and three tablespoons of kosher salt. Fill the jar to the top with warm water and screw on the lid. Shake and leave on the counter at room temperature. Loosen the lid slightly while it is fermenting.

Read more of Anthony's writings in his Farm Bulletins. It's time well-spent.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Guest Essay: Ode to the Egg

Writer and cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins has traveled and lived all over the world, in the process coming to the realization, in her words, "that there is a powerful connection between who we are and what we eat. That food is a dramatic (and delicious) expression of who and what people believe themselves to be and how they got that way. Is this cultural anthropology? Yes, I suppose it is, but it’s anthropology with the very important difference that you can taste the culture on your tongue and feel it between your hands, not to mention sniff its often heady aroma on the air."

It’s the simplest, most basic of foods, the one cooks turn to when there’s nothing to eat in the house—because there’s almost always an egg or two in the pantry, ready to be scrambled for a quick supper, or tossed with hot pasta to make a rich carbonara, or poached in chicken stock to turn unassuming broth into chicken soup.

Spring and eggs go together. When the light starts to strengthen and the grass begins to green, the hens begin to lay once more, which is why eggs are so closely tied to the two great Mediterranean spring festivals, Easter and Passover. The egg on the Seder plate, the colored eggs in the Easter basket, are there to announce that winter is over and new life has begun.

Fortunately, eggs have crept out from under the dishonor in which they were held for decades, vilified for high cholesterol content and banned from the tables of anyone who feared heart disease. No longer! Dietary cholesterol is not usually the cause of elevated serum or blood cholesterol. That’s more the result of a diet high in saturated fat, or of unhappy luck of the genes.

Eggs, traditional kitchen folklore tells us, are good for you, an excellent source of protein of course, low in total fat, with 0 carbs and just 71 calories in a normal large egg. They are good sources of iron, selenium, phosphorus, and riboflavin, as well as vitamin B12. They’re also well supplied with antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which protect against macular degeneration, among other benefits. Did your mother tell you eggs are good for your eyes? Mine did, and she was right!

But what kind of eggs? Cage-free, free-range, pastured, pasteurized, organic? The choice is confusing but for most and best flavor, my vote goes to eggs bought from the farmer who tends the chickens. Like Farmer Hubert’s eggs, pictured above, they may be multi-colored (the blue ones are from Araucana hens, the white ones from Leghorns, but I can’t tell you about the rest.) Going straight to the source, you’ll find out how the chickens were raised, what they’ve been fed, and how fresh the eggs are. A bonus: eggs from hens allowed to scratch around a chicken yard are almost always better tasting than ones raised in total captivity. Incidentally, brown eggs are favored in New England and white eggs preferred elsewhere, but the flavor and goodness are exactly the same.

Here’s another interesting fact to put in your egg file: Eggs in North America must be washed before they can be sold. Not a bad idea, you’re thinking? Think again. Eggs come with a natural protective coating that gets dissolved in the wash water. In Italy, where I live part time, eggs don’t have to be refrigerated, while in the U.S., I’m told, it’s best to keep them, if not refrigerated, in a very cool place to protect them. (You may find that eggs bought from the farmer have not been washed.)

What about salmonella? If you think eggs are risky, cook them thoroughly, either hard-boiling or baking in cakes or cookies. Hard cooked eggs can quickly become deviled eggs, a seriously delicious, old-fashioned treat. Do them up Mediterranean style, mixing yolks with a little mustard, some capers and a few green olives chopped with fresh green herbs, the whole bound with a dab of olive oil and another dab of mayonnaise. Or serve them plain, halved and garnished with a black- or green-olive tapénade.

Take a tip from the Italian kitchen and drop eggs, one after the other, into a bean-and-pasta soup, then serve a poached egg with each soup portion, perhaps with a little parmigiano reggiano sprinkled on top. Another dazzling egg trick I learned from Maria Jose San Roman, a great chef from Alicante in southeast Spain: Use gently fried eggs as a sauce to top sautéed potatoes: Sauté sliced potatoes (in olive oil, of course), then arrange on a platter, season generously, and top with eggs similarly fried, the yolks basted with hot oil so that when they break they make a rich, golden sauce for the potatoes. Nothing could be simpler—or better.

Easy Cheese Soufflé

Cheese soufflés transport eggs to the height of elegance. They have a reputation for being tricky but they’re actually easy when you understand the concept. Basically, it’s a béchamel sauce into which egg yolks are stirred and then the stiffly beaten whites and grated cheese, baked until the eggs puff up, and then served immediately. Wait just 10 minutes and the soufflé will deflate—still tasty but not the exciting thing that comes straight from the oven bursting with cheesy fragrance. Another advantage: You can prepare most of it ahead of time, then just beat up the egg whites and fold them in with the cheese right before you put the thing in the oven for 20 minutes. Most soufflé recipes make enough for 6 people but I like this snug little way of making just enough for two.

You’ll need: butter, a small amount of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, a little all-purpose flour, about 3/4 cup of whole milk, 2 eggs (separated), and a cup of grated cheese (gruyere is best but emmenthal or cheddar will work well too). Plus the usual salt, pepper and, if you wish, a pinch of ground red chili and/or a spoonful of French mustard.

First butter the inside of a couple of small soufflé dishes, the kind that hold about 1 cup. Butter them generously and sprinkle the bottoms and sides with grated parmigiano–you’ll need about a tablespoon for each. Set these aside and in a small saucepan melt about a tablespoon of butter over low heat. While you’re doing this, warm the milk in a separate saucepan–it should be very warm but not simmering.

Whisk about 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour into the melted butter, whisking well to avoid lumps. Cook, stirring, for just a minute or two to get rid of the raw taste of the flour, then start adding the hot milk, a little at a time and whisking after each addition. This will avoid lumps in the béchamel sauce. When all the milk has been added, continue cooking for a bit to let the sauce thicken to the consistency of very heavy cream. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool down a bit, then add the egg yolks, one at a time and whisking well after each one. Add a little salt (not too much because the cheese will be salty), ground black pepper, a pinch of chili pepper if you wish (I like to use piment d’Espelette, the chili from the Basque country of southern France), and a spoonful of Dijon mustard. Stir all this together then set aside until you’re ready to continue making the soufflés.

When you’re set to continue, heat the oven up to 450º. Beat the egg whites to a stiff froth, then gently stir half the egg whites and half the grated gruyere into the béchamel. Top with the remaining egg whites and cheese and, using a spatula, fold it all together.

Add the mix to the two soufflé dishes and transfer to the hot oven, immediately turning the heat down to 350º. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the soufflés have risen and turned golden on top. Remove and serve immediately.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Ryan Magarian's Pearl Tavern Matures

It's not all food system issues around here, y'know. I also get a chance to write profiles of restaurateurs and visits to museums thanks to kind editors like Andrew Collins of Portland's The Pearl magazine. Recently I drove across the Willamette to sit down with cocktail guru Ryan Magarian to talk about his latest venture with former University of Oregon and NFL footballer Joey Harrington, called Pearl Tavern, which Magarian described as an "American sports bar meets neighborhood tavern."

After a slightly bumpy beginning, this lively neighborhood space has found its footing—and a loyal following.

It seemed like a recipe for a hands-down success: combine a highly visible corner location in a burgeoning business and residential neighborhood with the expertise and energy of a sought-after bar expert opening his fourth establishment, a Michelin-star chef, a hugely successful restaurant development group, and a national sports celebrity. Throw in a can’t-miss concept: American sports bar meets neighborhood tavern. And you’ve got an instant winner, right?

“When we started out, we let ourselves get a little undisciplined,” says Ryan Magarian, the man behind some of the city’s most successful bar programs, including neighboring Oven & Shaker, which he runs with chef Cathy Whims. His newest venture, the comfortably masculine Pearl Tavern (231 NW 11th Ave, 503-954-3796), which he opened almost a year ago with former University of Oregon and NFL footballer Joey Harrington, took a few months to hit its stride.

“We were trying to do too many things,” he says. “We were kind of looking at doing steak, we were sports, we were a restaurant, and honestly—it just didn’t connect with people at first.”

Steadily, however, Magarian and his teammates have put together a winning venture, with star chef Thomas Boyce helming the kitchen. Pearl Tavern maximizes what Magarian refers to as the neighborhood’s desire “to find comfort and community in one space.” Indeed, you’ll find an unexpectedly high level of service, food, and beverages that’s quite uncommon among sports-concept restaurants.

Magarian claims, in his humble opinion, that the tavern turns out the best burger in town. Other top dishes include a healthier version of classic nachos, featuring pulled pork, tomatillo salsa, and cotija cheese, and an unabashedly decadent mac and cheese. Chef Boyce, known for his commitment to local farms, ranchers, and fishing families, plans to feature Dungeness crab cakes when the season opens, and his fish-and-chips and shrimp with hazelnut romesco are already fan favorites.

Magarian also designed his cocktail menu with fresh ingredients in mind. Consider the Whiskey Ginger From Scratch, with freshly extracted ginger juice (“people go bananas for it,” he says) and Thumper’s Revenge, which he describes as “somewhere between a Bloody Mary and a mojito with carrot juice as a primary foundation—so fresh, but savory too.”

Read the rest of the article about his groundbreaking whiskey program, curated by the phenomenal Tommy Klus, and the tavern's "complete celebration of Oregon athletics."

Photos by Paul Wagtouicz for The Pearl magazine.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Farinata, A Dream Come True

Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food has traveled extensively to find small, family-owned producers of exquisite oils, grains, salt and herbs, so his travel advice is worth heeding. As are his recipes, as the one for farinata, below.

I ate farinata for the first time in the Ligurian village of Levanto, just up the coast from the Cinque Terra, more than 10 years ago. Judith and I had spent a wet October day hiking the trail connecting the five towns, and the Cinque Terra rail pass lets you travel between La Spezia and Levanto, the hamlets just beyond the north and south ends of the five towns. So we rode the train to the sleepy seaside resort hoping to dry out a little.

As we wandered around, I'd ask the shopkeepers where they ate, my standard practice for finding good local food instead of the stuff meant for tourists. We ended up at a pizzeria away from the beach, back up the hill toward the train station.

We planned to grab a quick bite before riding the train back to La Spezia to pick up the car and drive "home" to the Tuscan village of Chianni. But I saw something that clearly wasn't pizza come out of the wood-burning oven; nothing on top, just a plain-looking golden pie in a darkly patinated copper pan. I asked what it was, the pizzaiolo said "farinata," and handed me a slice. I thought about the slightly crispy edges and soft, custard-like interior for years, dreaming about finding it somewhere closer to home.


Farinata is a simple flatbread made from chickpea flour, water, salt, and olive oil. The humble ingredients belie the rich flavor; it's hard to believe that there's no cheese. And it's fairly easy to make, enough that I can't believe I waited so long to try.

Mix chickpea (aka garbanzo) flour with about twice as much water; for a 12 inch farinata I use a cup of flour and 2 cups of water. It's important to let the flour hydrate completely, so let the batter sit for at least 30 minutes or even overnight (longer is better). Add a teaspoon of salt and a generous pour of good extra virgin olive oil (about 3 tablespoons). I like the traditional addition of fresh rosemary, so I'll stir in a tablespoon or more of it, lightly chopped.

Set your oven hot to 400°, move the rack to the top slot, and put a 12 inch cast iron skillet inside until it gets nice and hot, about 20 minutes. When you're ready to bake, add enough extra virgin to the hot skillet to completely cover the bottom; swirl it around to get up the sides a bit, too. Pour in the batter, slide the skillet into the oven, and cook for about 20 minutes. It's done when the top is lightly browned and the edges are pulling away from the pan. It's best hot, but it's not bad the next day.