Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Company's Coming: Gluten-Free Fruit Crisp, Anyone?


We've all been there. A good friend or beloved relative is coming to dinner, someone who has a dietary restriction, whether chosen—vegan, wheat-free, vegetarian, religious—or unchosen, like an allergy to nuts, wheat, garlic, sugar, etc., or an intolerance to certain foods. And I don't know about you, but my initail reaction is to freeze up when it comes to planning the menu.

This happened recently when a couple we've known for years were coming over, one of whom has ascertained over the years that her system doesn't respond well to gluten. It's not celiac disease, just as my husband's intolerance to lactose isn't life-threatening; it's just something that makes for a "rumbly tumbly," as Winnie-the-Pooh would say.

Gluten-free crumble topping? Done!

The main dish was easy—they're meat-eaters, and I'd just bought a grass-fed sirloin tip roast from Carman Ranch that I was planning to slice open, slather with a sorrel-shallot-rosemary-fennel pollen mixture, then roll up and rotisserie. An Astiana tomato risotto using tomato stock from the 120 pounds I'd roasted this summer, and a castelfranco chicory salad with Caesar dressing were easy decisions.

But then…dessert.
Ready to pop in the oven!

Virtually every dessert we normally make has some flour in it. Tarts, pies, crisps, cakes, all flour-dependent. Sorbet was an option, made with the scads of berries I had squirreled away in the freezer, but we were short on time for it to freeze properly. A trip to the store to buy a commercial sorbet was my back-pocket solution, but could I come up with a gluten-free dessert that wouldn't require (another) trip to the store? (The short on time element, remember?)

A search for "gluten free crumble" led to a recipe on the Kitchn website for a gluten-free topping that merely required grinding up oats in the food processor until they were the consistency of flour. Score! Their recipe (in my humble opinion) resulted in a clumpy product that didn't appeal to me, so I ground the oats in the processor and used the "flour" as a substitute for the flour called for in my family's crisp recipe, along with the usual suspects: brown sugar, oats, cinnamon and butter or margarine.

Delicious! A crisp for the ages.

The result was a virtual identical twin of the original recipe, especially glorious because I used a combination of frozen marionberries from our neighbor's garden and equally incredible Chester blackberries from Ayers Creek Farm—and the splash of Cointreau in the berries didn't hurt, either. And for the full-gluten experience, you can feel free to substitute one cup of all-purpose flour for the oat flour below.

Gluten-Free Berry Crisp

For the topping:
1 c. oat flour (see instructions, below)
3/4 c. uncooked rolled oats
1 c. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. melted butter or margarine

For the filling:
4-6 c. berries
1 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. Cointreau, triple sec or eau de vie

Make the oat flour by processing 1 1/4 cups of uncooked rolled oats in the food processor until it has a flour-like consistency. Mix the oat flour together with the other dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Pour in melted butter or margarine and stir with fork to combine. Set aside.

Place berries in large mixing bowl. Add sugar, liqueur and cornstarch and mix thoroughly. Put in 9” by 12” baking pan. Scatter topping mixture over the top and bake in 350 degree oven for 50 min. to 1 hr. until bubbling.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

In Season: Fall Has Fell? More Like Exploded!


Like many farmers I've talked with in the last couple of weeks, Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce seemed shell-shocked at how quickly summer has left the scene. "It fell off the cliff real fast," he said, recalling how our usual leisurely stroll from summer into fall seemed more like a bad writer's solution to tying up the loose ends of a messy script.

A high mountain pass, a hairpin curve, screeching brakes and a looping, slow-motion tumble into the canyon. (Like one person's summary of the voluminous Anna Karenina: "Anna. Train. Squish.")

Espelette peppers for a spicy hot sauce.

It's certainly not all doom and gloom, though. Alsberg emphasized that farmers' market shoppers will find that some peppers are still available, as are some local table grapes that weren't mush-ified by the cold rains, but you'd best catch them now or say sayonara until next year.

Josh's favorite apple, the Rubinette, of course!

What you will discover at farmers' markets are a panoply of apples and pears from local orchards, along with fresh ciders by the gallon. And, on October 19th at Providore Fine Foods, Alsberg is hosting a tasting of more than two dozen varieties of heritage, heirloom and hard-to-find apples—specially priced for the event—as well as local ciders and a variety of apple-y treats from Tim Healea at Little T American Baker. Another reason to go? Five percent of the day's sales will go to benefit the Sauvie Island Center, which provides local children with unique experiences that helps them make the connection between the food they eat, farming and the land.

Black futsu.

Look for squash to come on strong—Alsberg hates the term "winter squash," preferring instead the term "hard squash" to differentiate it from the softer-textured summer squash like zucchini, costata romanesco, crookneck and pattypan. He rattles off delicata, acorn and butternut as the more common exemplars of the hard squashes, but gets a gleam in his eye when he talks about his fondness for more unusual (and usually better-flavored) varieties like Black Futsu, Tetsukabuto, Gill's Golden Pippin and Robin's Koginut, an organic variety developed by rock star vegetable breeder Michael Mazourek of Cornell University.

If you're looking for the best flavor, it's always better to know your local grower, Alsberg believes. "When it's industrially grown the flavor goes out the window," he said. Big growers are looking for yield and an ability to sustain less-than-ideal shipping conditions; flavor is way down the list of their priorities, he says.

Castelfranco chicory.

Chicories are also going to be abundant, and you'll find local farms offering not just radicchio, escarole and frisée on farmers' market tables, but pale green-speckled-with-red heads of Castelfranco, the long green romaine-like Sugarloaf (known as Pan di Zucchero in Italy) and the pink-to-deep-rose Rosalba. Tardivo is another variety that's gaining popularity, with its long, thin, arching leaves and thick white ribs. (Alsberg claims to have created the hashtag #ChicoryIsTheNewKale, and who am I to argue?)

A good year for mushrooms!

Local mushrooms are going strong, plentiful enough that you can look for good pricing on chanterelles in the coming weeks. Persimmons are also looking plentiful, and you might begin to find pawpaws from a couple local farms. Pawpaws, also called the Indiana banana, are the largest edible fruit native to North America with a flavor that tastes like a cross between a mango and a banana, and breeders have been adapting them to the Northwest's maritime climate.

Purple sprouting broccoli.

When I exclaimed at the bunches of purple sprouting broccoli that I saw on his shelves, Alsberg launched into the glories of brassicas, saying that they're just beginning their season and should be abundant for the next few weeks. The bottom line is, don't mourn the passing of summer, because there's plenty to be excited about in the chilly days to come.

Providore Fine Foods, which includes purveyors Rubinette Produce, Pastaworks, Flying Fish, The Meat Monger, Little T American Baker and Hilary Horvath Flowers, is an advertiser on Good Stuff NW.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Getting 'Shroomed: On the Mountain with Oregon's First Family of Foraging


"That's why we call it mushroom hunting, not mushroom picking."
- Jack Czarnecki on the rigors of foraging for mushrooms

The Czarnecki family is well on its way to becoming a mushroom foraging dynasty, with fungi running in their veins the way filaments of mycelia run under the forest floor. In 2012 I was privileged to meet Jack Czarnecki when I interviewed him for a story about Oregon truffles, then just beginning to be recognized as equals to their legendary cousins in France and Italy. Jack, the third generation of this restaurant family, migrated from his native Pennsylvania to Oregon so he could hunt mushrooms year round. Sensing my curiosity about his craft, he subsequently invited me to join him and his compatriots to climb in the legendary Trufflemobile on a hunt for their wiley prey.

Jack at Joe's Donut Shop on a previous hunt.

Jack, retired from restaurateuring as well as active mushroom hunting, has passed on the family's traditions to his sons Chris and Stefan. Chris, a chef, took over ownership of the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, assiduously maintaining its mushroom-centric focus while adding a more contemporary twist to its preparations. Stefan (top photo), who owns wine touring company Black Tie Tours, had announced he was taking a day away from that business to head up to Mt. Hood to hunt mushrooms for the restaurant, and I inquired if he might be able to squeeze in one additional passenger.

Dick Nelson, mushroom maven.

As with his father before him, we arranged to meet at Joe's Donuts in Sandy, a requisite stop for foragers to pay obeisance to the mountain gods for a successful hunt and a dandy place to get sustenance for what was sure to be a long day of clambering through brush and up and down hillsides. As we set out for the mountain, the shotgun position in the front seat next to Stefan was taken by his dad's longtime mushroom-hunting buddy Dick Nelson, as familiar with the spiderweb of rutted tracks leading to the best spots as was Jack. Much discussion ensued as to which spots might yield the best results, and a general plan was formulated.

White chanterelle emerging.

Our primary goal was to hunt matsutake mushrooms, prized for their distinctive spicy scent as well as their flavorful culinary properties. The "matsies" were just beginning to appear, pushing their way up out of the duff of the forest floor, often no more than a bump in the undergrowth or, at best, a glimpse of white through the needles. Second were porcinis, also considered a seasonal delicacy. Last but not least on the list were white chanterelles, cousins of the more ubiquitous gold-colored variety, and much more abundant than either the matsutakes or porcinis.

An early dusting of snow.

A dusting of snow covered the trees as we headed down the highway past Government Camp, turning off the main road to one of the secret spots euphemistically named for a distinctive feature like The Rocks or The Dock. A few favorite spots yielded a smattering of the targeted fungi, but it was our last stop, an anonymous wooded slope that I'd visited with Jack on a previous trip, that ended up yielding a small bonanza of matsutakes and a plethora of whites.

Dick finds the prized "matsi" of the day.

Fortunately I was with Dick, who would point with his walking stick—actually a mop handle he'd borrowed from his utility closet at home—at a slight mounded lump on the ground, suggesting I should brush aside some needles in case it might disguise a matsutake just popping up. Which it invariably would. These mushrooms need to be dug in their entirety rather than cut off at the base like the chanterelles, to reveal dusty, dry earth clinging to the base that, along with their distinctive aroma, is a telltale sign.

All told we gathered more than thirty pounds of mushrooms in five hours, most of which would be going to the Chris at the restaurant, but I was generously allowed to bring a few pounds home to roast and freeze for future dishes where I could relive the smell of the woods on our hunt, the bracing nip in the mountain air, and Dick's charming Mona Lisa smile.

Read more about this iconic Oregon family, including links to my articles on Oregon truffles and mushrooms. Top photo courtesy Stefan Czarnecki.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Fermentation Fascination: DIY Hot Sauce


I had this whole plan, see? I'd been searching without success for the thick-skinned, thick-walled, fleshy espelette peppers like the ones I found four years ago from Viridian Farms—which is unfortunately no longer in existence—and used to such great effect to make some kick-ass, fruity, smoky harissa. In the intervening years I'd tried espelette peppers from various area farms, but the fruit, while it had the requisite thick skin, was uniformly thin-fleshed. When roasted, the flesh stuck to the skins like glue, making peeling arduous and not worth it in terms of resulting volume.

This year I was determined to try again to find those perfect peppers and purchased peppers from two more farms. Again, sad trombones.

Harissa.

With the first couple of pounds I managed to make a very small batch of harissa, but the next two pounds were just not going to be worth the work. Not wanting to waste their fruity, biting heat, I was casting about for good uses. Most suggestions were to dry and grind them to a powder, but then I ran across farmer and author Josh Volk's Instagram photo of chopped peppers that he'd fermented in a 3.5 percent salt mixture.

Bubbling away.

Aha!

A little back-and-forth with Josh led me to chop the two pounds of peppers in the food processor, add the salt, pack them in a Mason jar, set the jar in a dish in the basement, then put a zip-lock bag of water inside the jar like a pickling weight, which allows it to breathe (and overflow if necessary). Putting a lid on isn't necessary, but if you do, make sure it isn't screwed on tight—it needs to breathe!

After four days I saw bubbles and a little puddle underneath the jar, which indicated that fermentation was, indeed, occurring, so I left it for a few more days. Recipes say you can allow it to ferment for as long as a month, but being the impatient person I am, I gave it a week before bringing it upstairs to whiz in the blender, adding water to thin it to a sauce-like consistency.

Sour (i.e. pickled) corn.

The result? Well, we used it as a hot sauce on pork tacos along with some of Hank Shaw's sour corn that I'd made earlier and we thought it was great. But the real test came when I gave some to my neighbor Ivy Manning,  a hot sauce aficionado as well as author of countless authoritative cookbooks, for her expert opinion. Her reaction? "Can you just pour some out on the counter so I can roll in it?"

'Nuff said.