As I kissed her the heat of her body increased, and it exhaled a wild, untamed fragrance.
~Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

“Keep it simple, stupid” is an oft heard maxim coined by Kelly Johnson, famed systems engineer and aeronautical innovator. A mise en place freak. The KISS principle often reigns over the kitchen. So many toothsome cuisines — from Italian to South American to Malaysian to French to South Asian to Chinese to Russian to Singaporese to Southeast Asian to Latin American to Japanese to African, and so on — pursue the simplest solutions and tread the simplest paths with both components and techniques. By now, we know a simple plate is far from boring or dull. Food that is nothing more and nothing less than simplicity mastered with hints of restraint.

Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus), aka sunroots or sunchokes, are actually a perennial sunflower native to North America. Fleshy rhizomes (underground stems) bear small tubers which are elongated and uneven, vaguely resembling ginger root. They vary in color from pale brown to white, red or purple. Sun chokes are subterranean tubers which are more difficult to harvest than potatoes because the tubers cling to the roots and become intertwined. Cultivated varieties of sunchokes grow in clumps close to the main rhizome while wild ones grow at the end of root. They can grow from 3-12 feet high with large leaves and flowers that are 1 1/2-3″ in diameter.

Sunchokes were discovered growing wild on the eastern seaboard in pre-colonial days. Samuel de Champlain first encountered sunchokes growing in an Indian garden in Cape Cod in the early 17th century. Because he likened them to artichokes, he dubbed them so. Native Americans called them sunroots and introduced these perennial tubers to the pilgrims who adopted them as a staple. Apparently the French began growing these tubers successfully because they were sold by Parisian street vendors who named them topinambours, the French word for tuber. The origin of the nomenclature “Jerusalem” is rather hazy, although some surmise the name to be a corruption of the Italian griasole, which translates as “turning to the sun.”

I was graced with some of these divine gnarly knots by a kind farmer at the city market, and they are well worth the short trip from oven to table. Simple enough. So, when served or later, don’t forget to KISS the cook…wherever.  If you are cooking/eating solo, just use your imagination.

ROASTED JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

1 lbs+ Jerusalem artichokes, cleaned and halved
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F

In a large glass bowl, drizzle halved artichokes with olive oil, working them gently with your fingers (the world’s greatest kitchen tool). Spread oiled artichokes on a sheet pan lined with foil. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper. Roast until fork tender, about 40-45 minutes.  Of course, cooking time will vary depending on your oven and artichoke size.

JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES + BALSAMIC VINEGAR

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 lb Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed and quartered

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
1/4 C unsalted butter

3 T aged balsamic vinegar

Heat oil in a heavy large skillet over medium high until simmering, but not browned. Add artichokes and 1/4 cup water, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until artichokes are tender, about 8-10 minutes. Then, uncover and cook more until water has evaporated and the artichokes begin to brown, about 8-10 minutes further and then remove from pan.

Add thyme, rosemary and butter to the pan and cook while stirring until the butter ultimately browns which takes about 4 minutes. Off the heat, add the balsamic vinegar, stirring and scraping. Spoon the browned butter over the artichokes and serve.

Pourboire: Sunchokes can be prepared mashed (peeled or not) with or without other vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, turnips, or celery root. They also can be served raw, openly sautéed, or boiled.

Advertisements

Eve, Duck & Figs

September 23, 2011

The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.
~Oscar Wilde

Call me old school. I am not yet converted to the phenomenon of e-books, and may never be. This by no means criticizes Kindles and kin nor exalts ecologically unfriendly hardbacks. Opinions about the advantages and disadvantages of both have been voiced ad nauseum. For now, I cannot deny myself the pure almost childlike pleasure of feeling a book in my hands—adoring the cover art, peering under the dust jacket, feeling the spine, ever so gently cracking the book, reading the title page and dedication, caressing the paper stock, leafing throughout the book—then hunkering down and raptly savoring, sometimes tackling, each page of prose while admiring the font, fondling each turn with tactile pleasure, sensing the slight whisper of air as each page settles down snuggled against its mates, memorizing the last page read, closing the unfinished volume softly, and shelving it until we next meet. A blissful seduction. The affair ends in time but is sometimes rekindled.

Banned Book Week, which celebrates free and open access to text and denounces book censorship gets underway this weekend. Underscored are the intellectual freedoms that come from candidly sharing information and expressing thoughts, however unorthodox, and the looming dangers of literary restriction. For whatever flimsy social-political-religious excuse, banning a book is cowardly.

In Eve’s Diary, Mark Twain wryly interpreted the biblical fable of Adam and Eve replete with illustrations depicting Eve frolicking and lounging in Eden. The artist, Lester Ralph, chose to show Eve as she was described in the Bible—naked and comfortable in her skin. While there were no fig leaves, his drawings were far from prurient or lascivious, with her pubis mostly obscured and always rendered sexless. Nothing more and likely less than the typical T&A that had adorned art for centuries beforehand. (A young Picasso had already been penning openly erotic images by the time of Eve’s Diary.) Nevertheless, in 1906 the Bible beating board of trustees at the Charlton Public Library (MA) shamefully claimed outrage and voted to ban the book, removing it from the shelves. Oh, the horror of the female body. The excommunication by this gutless trio comprised of the town clerk, a minister and an undertaker was ridiculed far and wide at the time. Their sinister actions were not reversed until just this year when the current library board voted to put Twain’s porn back into circulation.

In a letter to a friend, penned under S.L. Clemens, the esteemed author bristled: “But the truth is when a library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me.”

ROAST DUCK WITH FIGS, BALSAMIC & PORT

1 duck (3-4 lbs), liver reserved & trimmings (neck, heart,
wing tips) chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dried thyme

12 fresh figs, halved
6 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into diagonal slices
2 medium shallots, peeled and cut into thick slices
4 sprigs fresh thyme

1/4 C balsamic vinegar

2 T honey
4 T balsamic vinegar
1/2+ C port wine
4 T unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 425 F

Remove the fatty glands from the upper side of the bird’s tail. Season the duck inside the cavity and out with salt, pepper and dried thyme. Place the liver in the duck and truss neatly with string so it will retain shape. Place the duck on one side in a large heavy roasting pan with a rack, and set it in the oven with the breast side facing toward the back. Roast, uncovered for 10 minutes. Turn the duck on the opposite side and roast for 10 minutes more. Turn the duck on its back and roast for 10 minutes more.

Remove the roasting pan and strew the chopped trimmings, figs (cut side up), garlic, carrot, shallot, and thyme under and around the duck. Cut and remove the trussing string. Return the pan to the oven and roast the duck for about 13-15 minutes per pound. (The time varies according to bird size—with more time per pound for a smaller duck, less time per pound time for a larger duck.) Using a bulb or large spoon, baste several times with pan juices while roasting. During the last 15 minutes, baste with some balsamic as well.

The duck is done to medium rare if the juices from the fattest part of the thigh run faintly rosy when the skin is pricked, and when the duck is lifted and drained, the last drops of juice from the vent are pale rose. The duck is well done when the juices run pale yellow.

Once done, transfer the duck to a platter or cutting board which is propped up at one end at an angle with breast side down and tail in the air so gravity draws the juices into the succulent breasts. Tent and allow to rest.

Carefully remove the figs and set aside covered in a serving bowl for later. Return the roasting pan to the stove with the trimmings over high heat. Cook until they are nicely browned, about 2 minutes. Partly drain and mostly discard the liquid in the pan. Deglaze with several tablespoons of balsamic and honey for about 2 minutes, then add port and simmer for 5 minutes more.

Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve place over a new sauce pan, pressing down on the trimmings. Also add any juices that have drained from the duck as it was resting nearby. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, and add another couple of tablespoons of balsamic, and reduce. Remove from the heat and add the chilled butter, a few pieces at a time, whisking so that the butter slightly thickens the sauce.

Carve the duck and arrange on plates. Spoon some sauce over, adorn with reserved figs, and serve.

INSALATA CAPRESE

Simplicity wielding the scepter.

Traditional balsamic vinegars are aged at least 12 years to achieve their distinctive scents and flavors. Grapes are slowly cooked in copper cauldrons, then combined with older balsamic vinegars to hasten the acidification process. The preparation is eventually transferred to oak barrels, which infuses it with the wood’s aroma.

24 fresh basil leaves, julienned
4 ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/4″ thick
1 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4″ thick
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil
Good quality balsamic vinegar

Cut the basil leaves into a julienne of thin ribbons by stacking several leaves on top of each other at one time. Then, starting at one long edge of the stack of leaves, roll them up tightly into a compact cigar shape. Cut the roll crosswise into slices about 1/8″ thick. Set aside.

Drain the mozzarella cheese of any excess water and pat it dry with paper towels. Cut the mozzarella into slices about 1/4 inch thick.

Lightly sprinkle the top sides of all the tomato slices with the sea salt and black pepper.

Arrange the tomato and mozzarella slices on a platter or on individual serving plates in an alternative, overlapping pattern. Drizzle them evenly all over with the olive oil and then with the balsamic vinegar. Scatter the basil julienne over the tomatoes and mozzarella.

Pourboire: Consider adding a few leaves of sliced arugula.