Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Brrrr! It's October.

Oooh baby, it's chilly out there!!!!

I don't about the rest of the world, but the sun is having trouble warming up the north east! My tomatoes have not all ripened up yet, but I will have to harvest them all before the frost comes down... Maybe after Thanksgiving.

Anyhoo, this weather definitely calls for comfort food, and the crops now in are perfect!

Artichokes
I didn't think it would be possible, but I was so excited when I found Quebec grown artichokes!!! I love artichokes even though they are rather fussy to prepare. The easiest way to eat an artichoke is to boil them (do not steam them because they will remain bitter). Depending on their size, it will take 10 to 15 minutes to boil. You can then leave them to cool off, or dig in while they are still warm. Peel them 'leaf by leaf', scraping the bottom fleshy part with your teeth... oh and dip them in something or other: melted (garlic) butter, a very lemony mayonnaise, red wine vinegar dressing, a mustardy vinaigrette... When you get near the centre, you will find really delicate leaves, almost see-through and quite pretty with their purple edges... don't bother with them, rip them out, and take a spoon to the prickly choke: you've hit the bull's eye. The heart is the jackpot, the whole point of the adventure... It is SOOOOO lusciously good!

So much so, that some people do not bother with the rest of the flower (artichokes are indeed flowers, and those tough leaves are really petals...) If you will adventurous, you can take a knife to the raw artichokes, and trim away all the leaves and the choke in order to attain the heart. While you hack away at your bounty, keep the prepped heart in lemony or vinegary water to stop the from browning. But like I said earlier, it's a lot of work. Rewarding, but time consuming. Enjoyable for some -like myself-but most people won't be bothered to attempt the task, even though the dishes you can prepare with fresh artichoke hearts are countless: carpaccio (raw, thinly sliced, with a lovely olive oil and lots of lemon juice); artichaut Soubise (creamy sauce, onion stuffing); baked, roasted, in a soup... Yet, boiled with mayo is still very nice indeed.

Beets
Beets are great at this time of the year: they're big, and meaty, and they have been prepped for storage. They're really inexpensive and they keep (almost) forever. Baked or roasted is how I like them best, though some people prefer boiling them. Personally, I wrap them in foil and throw them in the oven at 375'F, and leave them there for 45min to an hour. Prepared this way, beets tend to be sweeter and much less watery. Once cooked, they will keep in the fridge for a week, and they'll be ready for whatever you want: soup, mash, salad, or a good roasting.

Beet soup (Borscht) is really wonderful this time of the year. There are several ways to make this Slavic soup, but the basic ingredients are onions, a couple of carrots, and beets. You can top it off with a nice beef stock like the Russians do, or you can use water or vegetable stock like the Polish. You can grate all the ingredients, and keep the soup rustic, or rough chop the ingredients and blend everything when the soup is cooked. Whichever way you choose to go though, Borscht is always served with sour cream.

Beets come in all sorts of colour: red, white, yellow, orange and striped. All are tasty and make pretty purées on their own, or you can add them to mashed potatoes.

Parsnips
You might not know what parsnips are, but I am sure you've seen them before: these root vegetables look like white carrots, but they do not taste like white carrots (which are a whole other vegetable, up and coming on the gourmet circuit). Their flavour is a cross between carrots, celeriac and parsley root (which also look like a white carrot, but aren't!) It is sweet, savoury and starchy at the same time, and it is delicious roasted with other root vegetables. It can also be boiled, then finished in a pan with lots of butter and pepper. They take longer to cook than carrots, but can go from cooked to mush in the blink of an eye, so most people prefer to roast them, because it's less fussy. Parsnip's starchiness makes it a great soup vegetable: you can use them to thicken a thin soup, or on their own with some cream or milk, or... with apples! Yes, you read right, parsnips and tart apples (like Cortland, Empire, Gala/Royal Gala, Granny Smith...) are an interesting, yet scrumptious combination.

Romanesco Brocoli, and other cabbages
This here prickly little guy is a romanesco. It's a pretty and fascinating vegetable. A member of the cabbage family, it looks like a pagoda, with its pointy spires. If you look closely, each point is a perfectly mathematical spiral composed of more spirals. Truly, a beautiful vegetable.

It looks like a brocoflower -if you remember those vile things- but it is not a modern hybrid, but an heirloom vegetable that was bred for flavour, not novelty. It resembles cauliflower in texture, but its flavour is closer to broccoli, leaning towards a perfectly cooked Brussel sprout. Its perfect beauty is best enjoyed lightly steamed or boiled with a dip of some sort (Mayo!!), but it is also nice in a warm salad with some sturdy leaves such as roquette and romaine and a nice Balsamic vinegar dressing. You can always toss it a soup if you must, or toss it in a stir fry. People who are not keen on broccoli or cauliflower tend to warm up to romanesco, so give it whirl!

It would probably make a lovely centrepiece at a dinner party!

Other perfect soup vegetables
Onions!!!! Mmmmm, there's nothing like a good French onion soup. Granted it does take some time to make, but here are a few short cuts: do not bother with the home-made beef stock, there are perfectly acceptable ready made stocks out there, as long as you stay away from cubes and powders - this soup calls for a liquid (low- or no-sodium) stock in a can or a TetraPak. Better yet, don't even bother with the stock, water is fine, and you can add body to your soup with the addition of a tasty beer (amber, red or even a stout). The most important part of the onion soup are the caramelised onions, here again , there is a shortcut: add some sugar to the onions to jump start the caramelisation. Don't worry if the onions start to stick, or if -GASP!- you burn some bits: trow a bit of water or beer into the pot to stop the crisping up, and get on with the soup.

If that all sounds like too much trouble, white onion soup is a good alternative. It's just a lot of onions cooked down in some butter or oil. Add a tablespoon of flour, let it brown a bit. Top up with water, vegetable or chicken stock and let it bubble away. Finish off the soup with some milk or cream.

Garlic
No, I'm serious! Keeper garlic are plentiful right now, so buy a whole sack and throw a bunch in the oven. Roasted garlic is divine on toast, but it also makes a great creamy soup.

Both garlic and onions are immune system boosters, so try to eat lots of them in preparation for flu season.

Celeriac
If you, like me, aren't too sure about celery, try celeriac (celery root). This root vegetable has a faint celery aroma, but like a lot of roots it has some sweetness to it, and a rounder, more voluptuous flavour. Though a great soup vegetable (the Brits like it with apples -again!), it is also nice grated raw in a mayo-based salad (try it in a chicken salad.)

Pumpkins and other squashes
Pumpkin soup anyone? Need I say more?

Leeks
Potato and leek soup is a classic (vichyssoise when served cold in the summer or parmentier when hot), but combine leeks with onions and garlic and you've got a delicious flu-fighting soup.

...bbbrrrr! My fingers are frozen! Need some of that soups that's bubbling on the stove.

Bon app!

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