The day hunger disappears, the world will see the greatest spiritual explosion humanity has ever seen.
~Federico Garcia Lorca

On a somber note, every 5 seconds a child dies of hunger related causes in this world. If you find that less than morally disturbing, skip over these thoughts and move on to the Betty Crocker part.

It is time to move beyond this stagnant state of denial about regional and worldwide food shortages. The ever bountiful agricultural economy of the last half-century that was taken for granted is drawing to a close. A new era has arrived where food scarcity shapes global politics and may well lead to upheaval and conflict. While the world’s burgeoning population has created a marked increased in the demand for food, climate changes and irrigation woes have made it nearly impossible to boost production to meet these needs. This may not happen tomorrow, but it will likely paint a bleak picture for our youth and their progeny. Hungry and thirsty people will by nature contentiously compete, protest, riot and even wage war to feed and water their offspring. And yes, Virginia, this will affect Kansas too.

In an article entitled The New Geopolitics of Food which appears in a recent issue of Foreign Policy, author Lester Brown explores how food shortages drive geopolitics and create volatility. The forecast appears dire and reeks of unrest.

Begin with basic demand: soaring world population growth. Each year, the world must feed an additional 80 million people, most of them in developing countries. The global population has almost doubled since 1970 and is projected to reach an ominous 9 billion by mid-century. Quite a few mouths to feed. Several billion people are meanwhile entering the “middle class” and trying to move up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive livestock products. These new yuppies create additional demand for grains to feed these animals.

Next, consider supply: supply and production are simply lagging behind the booming demand for food. The reasons for shortfall are manifold, including reduced water tables, depleted wells and aquifers, irrigation overpumping, eroding soils, and the ever-present consequences of climate change. Consider that more than half of the world’s population lives in countries where water tables are falling; that for a temperature rise of every 1 C farmers can expect a 10% decline in optimal grain yields; that coincidentally the politically roiling Middle East is the first region where grain production has begun to decline due to water shortages; that new deserts are being created due to soil erosion and mismanagement, undermining the productivity of one-third of the world’s crops; that without consulting locals, nearly nearly 140 million acres of land and water rights grabs have been secretly negotiated allowing more affluent countries to grow grain for themselves in far away lands. Such warning lights on our collective dashboard should not go unheeded.

The pervasive rich-or-poor-each-one-for-themselves mentality which forsakes global energy, water, soil, population and climate change policies directly causes food insecurity and destabilizes broad swathes of the world. A form of humans as pestilence. Sorely needed are cohesive narratives coupled with conflict-resistant agricultural strategies shared by all. A risk rife geopolitics of food scarcity has emerged and must be earnestly addressed before regional and global breakdowns are at hand…and not until “once upon at time, long ago,” right?

So, chickpeas seem not just timely, but regionally apt.

CHICKPEAS & OLIVES

1 1/2 C dried chickpeas
Equal parts of chicken or vegetable stock and water, to cover
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and gently smashed
1 bay leaf

3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 C green (such as Lucques or Picholines) and black (such as Kalamata or Niçoise) olives, pitted and roughly chopped
Several sprigs fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
Zest and juice of 1 fresh lemon
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Soak the chickpeas in a bowl of cold water overnight. Drain and rinse well, then put in a heavy saucepan with the onion, garlic and bay leaf. Just cover the chickpeas, with equal parts of stock and water. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, until very tender, about 45 minutes. Drain, discarding the used onion, garlic and bay leaf.

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat, and briefly cook the garlic, about 30 seconds. Add the chickpeas, salt, and pepper, to taste, only to heat through. Smash some with a potato masher, leaving some chickpeas whole for looks. Remove from the heat, and stir in the olives, tarragon, and lemon zest. Stir in lemon juice, to taste.

Drizzle with olive oil, and serve as a base for roasted, sautéed or grilled fish, chicken or meat.

POLENTA WITH CHICKPEAS & LEMON

1 1/2 C dried chickpeas
Equal parts of chicken or vegetable stock and water, to cover
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and gently smashed
1 bay leaf
Juice of 1 lemon

2 C whole milk
1 C heavy whipping cream
1 C chicken stock
2 plump garlic cloves, crushed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 C quick cooking yellow polenta
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 T freshly grated lemon peel
Pine nuts, for garnish

Soak the chickpeas in a bowl of cold water overnight. Drain and rinse well, then put in a heavy saucepan with the onion, garlic and bay leaf. Just cover the chickpeas, with equal parts of stock and water. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, until very tender, about 45 minutes. Drain, discarding the used onion, garlic and bay leaf. Toss well with lemon juice. Set aside.

Then, in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk, cream, stock, garlic, and thyme to a simmer. Discard garlic cloves and thyme, and remove saucepan from the heat. Let stand for 10 minutes. Place saucepan to the heat and return the liquid to a slow boil, slowly pouring in the polenta. Vigorously whisk, until it reaches the consistency of oatmeal, about 5-7 minutes.

To finish, grate fresh lemon peel over chickpeas and combine with pine nuts, gently tossing them well. Then, spoon polenta into shallow bowls or on plate, topping each with a generous mound of lemony chickpeas and pine nuts.

Pourboire: there is nothing wrong with substituting canned chickpeas that are well drained. But, they will need to be briefly simmered in some stock with onion, garlic and bay leaf to impart flavor. Just take care not to overcook the canned species.

Advertisements

Rainbow Chard

February 2, 2011

the snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches
~e.e. cummings

A furious blizzard trekked across the midsection this week, paralyzing cities and towns, closing airports, interstates, schools, and businesses. The often blinding storm left behind frigid temperatures, ebullient students, “the sky is falling” forecasters and stark winterscapes. Some color seemed in order.

Our fortune lay quietly in the frig—the previous day the grocer was unloading tender, glossy leafed bunches of rainbow chard with crisp, vividly hued stems. As usual, I could not resist. Rainbow chard displays vibrant red, pink, white, and gold ribs that contrast with veined green leaves. A visual treat amid this cold, austere white.

A delicate side chocked with nutrients, chard may be steamed, sautéed, or braised.

RAINBOW CHARD WITH GARLIC & PARMIGIANO REGGIANO (OR LEMON)

1 large bunch rainbow chard, thick stems discarded and leaves cut into 2″ strips

3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, minced or very thinly sliced
1/4 C chicken or vegetable stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated or
Lemon zest, freshly grated

Add olive oil and garlic to a skillet over medium high heat. Sauté for 1-2 minutes, until garlic is fragrant but before it browns. Then add chard in handfuls and chicken stock, tossing. Season with salt and pepper and let cook until soft over medium high heat, stirring occassionally.

Remove, plate or toss in bowl and lightly sprinkle with parmigiano reggiano or lemon zest.

RAINBOW CHARD WITH CURRANTS & PINE NUTS

1 large bunch rainbow chard, thick stems discarded and leaves cut into 2″ strips

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1/3 C pine nuts
1/3 C currants
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a dry small skillet, toast the pine nuts until just lightly golden, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Add olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium high heat. Add chard in handfuls, season with salt and pepper and cook until it begins to wilt. Then, toss in the pine nuts and currants. Stir and continue to cook until chard is pleasantly softened.

Pourboire: Before cooking, chard needs to be thoroughly washed and dried since sand and other debris tend to nestle in the leaves. Instead of discarding, reserve the chard ribs for stocks and soups.

There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.
~André Gide

How and why does this unfounded fear of brussels sprouts persist among our youth? These crisp green orbs are ever welcome denizens in our kitchen, stashed in corners of the fridge awaiting dress rehearsal. Sometimes overlooked, but never forgotten. And once served, always revered.

This dish is a regional amalgam of sorts and makes for a textural plate date…a good feel in the mouth. The cool northern brussels sprouts meld well with the balmy southern hints of pancetta, pine nuts and parmigiano-reggiano. Seems a natural. Although less than empirical, haven’t some studies suggested that blue eyed, fair skinned northern europeans are often attracted to dark, swarthy mediterranean types and vice versa? Diversity bodes well in the kitchen, too.

SHREDDED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH PANCETTA & PINE NUTS

2 lbs brussels sprouts, root ends trimmed off

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. pancetta, diced

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
2 large, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced

3/4 C chicken stock
2 T Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 C pine nuts, toasted

Fresh grated parmigiano-reggiano, for serving

Using a very sharp knife, a hand slicer, or a food processor fitted with a slicer, slice brussels sprouts into thin shreds—much like cabbage is thinly sliced for cole slaw.

Heat oil over medium heat in a heavy large skillet. Add the pancetta and cook until golden brown and crisp. Remove the pancetta and set aside on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Wipe out pan for next step.

Melt butter and olive oil in the skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and sauté, stirring, for about 1 minute. Do not brown. Stir in broth and mustard. Add brussels sprouts and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring just occasionally with a wooden spatula, until tender yet still bright green and somewhat firm, about 4-6 minutes. During the last minute or so, add the cooked pancetta and pine nuts.

Serve with a light fresh grating of parmigiano-reggiano.

Creamed Corn

September 11, 2010

Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.
~Garrison Keillor

A summer synonymous symphony: corn, chile peppers, tomatoes. With cream? Muah!

A cereal grass domesticated by early indigenous mesoamerican tribes, corn (Zea mays) is better known as maize to other cultures for obvious linguistic reasons. Some of the earliest traces of meal made from corn date back about 7,000 years. Corn was initially brought back to the Old World by Spanish and Portuguese explorers who later introduced it throughout the Mediterranean basin and thence much of the remainder of the world. Now, maize is cultivated on every continent except Antarctica.

Add corn to those lofty innovations that native farmers introduced to Europeans —joining vanilla, chocolate, potatoes, peanuts, manioc, beans, tomatoes, sunflowers, and yams. What indigineous tribes received in return from the white man? Well…

CREAMED CORN WITH CHEVRE, SERRANO CHILES & TOMATOES

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
3 heirloom tomatoes, thickly sliced

2 T unsalted butter
1/2 medium shallot, peeled and minced
1 serrano chile pepper, stemmed, seeded, and minced

4 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked, kernels stripped
1 C heavy cream
Fresh rosemary sprig
3 T chèvre, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 C pine nuts, freshly toasted
Fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons

In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over moderate heat. When shimmering but butter not browning, add thick tomato slices. Do not crowd, so cook the tomatoes in batches. Sear the tomatoes until slightly cooked, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn over and repeat. Cook remaining tomatoes in the same fashion. The tomato slices should still be firm yet lightly browned. Set aside.

Melt butter in a heavy medium sauce pan over medium high heat. When it foams, add shallots and chiles. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add kernels, cream and rosemary sprig to the sauce pan and cook over medium heat. Cover and bring to a simmer for about 5 minutes; then uncover and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in chèvre and ground pepper and continue cooking uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about another 5 minutes. Remove and discard rosemary sprig.

Arrange tomato slices on a platter or individual small plates, and top with creamed corn, chèvre and chile mixture. Garnish with toasted pine nuts and fresh basil.

Pourboire: For a tingly and pungent change of pace, substitute a fine French bleu or Italian gorgonzola cheese for the chèvre; or stir in cooked bacon lardons in lieu of garnishing with pine nuts.

Pesto Rosso

August 9, 2010

Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions.
~Pablo Picasso

We are born voyeurs of sorts. We unabashedly crave the look-see.

Although the nervous system works as a wholly (though less than flawless) integrated entity, some cerebral areas are more focused on certain functions. So, researchers can distinguish the centers responsible for vision, hearing, touch, olfaction, taste and so forth.

The human cerebral cortex is notorious for its depth, irregularity and variability from one individual to the next. Anatomically minute, the cerebral cortex is only about 3-4 mm thick. Yet, it plays a pivotal role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness.

Part of the cerebral cortex, the occipital lobe is located behind the parietal area, separated from the cerebellum right at the back of the skull. The smallest of all lobes, the primary business of this gray matter is visual perception and processing—differentiating colors, shapes, images. In particular, the Peristriate region of the occipital lobe is involved in visual and spatial processing, demarcation of movement and color discrimination.

Human color sensitivity is tripartite. Along with closely related primates and marsupials, we possess three independent channels for conveying color information, derived from three different optic cone types. There are three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. They are the three pigment colors that cannot be made by mixing other hues and are mixed to create all other colors and tints. The number derives from the three types of color-discriminating receptor cells, called cone cells, in the human retina. The three cone varities have broadly overlapping ranges of sensitivity, and are designated according to the location of their peak sensitivities in the long, medium and short wavelengths of the color spectrum.

According to the subtractive theory of color, color is produced by pigment or combinations of pigment. Secondary colors are made by mixing two primary colors together, e.g., red and yellow to get orange. Tertiary colors are combinations of primary and secondary colors.

There are seven colors defining wavelengths of visible light: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. The color red is evoked by light consisting predominantly of the longest wavelengths of light discernible by the human eye and brain.

Red — a color that connotes anger, blood, embarassment, stop, ardor, shame, ferocity, courage, danger, frustration guilt, fire, hate, eroticism, hell, passion, sex, sin, debt.

Some plants, like tomatoes, are often colored by forms of carotenoids which are red pigments that were originally developed to assist photosynthesis.

SUNDRIED TOMATO PESTO

4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, chopped
6 T olive oil

1 C oil packed dried tomatoes, drained well
1/4 C parmigiano reggiano, grated
1/4 C pine nuts, roughly chopped
1/3 C fresh basil leaves
1 t balsamic vinegar

In a medium heavy saucepan sauté garlic in olive oil over meduim heat, stirring, until softened. Do not brown. Set aside and allow to cool. By pulsing, purée sun dried tomatoes, parmigiano reggiano, pine nuts, basil, vinegar, garlic and oil in a food processor fitted with the knife blade until pesto becomes a smooth paste.

OVEN ROASTED TOMATO PESTO

2 1/2 lbs cherry tomatoes (preferably heirloom), halved
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil

1/2 C pine nuts
6 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 C total fresh basil leaves, chopped
4 T extra virgin olive oil divided
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, grated
1 T balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 250 F

Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil and place on an aluminum foil covered baking sheet, cut side up. Roast until slightly shriveled and wrinkly on the outside and juicy on the inside, about 2 1/2-3 hours. The time will vary depending on tomato size and ripeness. Set aside and allow to cool.

Meanwhile in a small dry skillet, toast the pine nuts until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool. Using the same skillet, sauté the garlic in olive oil until golden.

In a food processor fitted with a metal knife, add the oven roasted tomatoes, pine nuts, garlic, basil and olive oil. Pulse a few times until mixture is well combined. Scrape down the sides and then add the parmigiano reggiano and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and pulse the mixture to a paste.

Smooth skins hued from deep purple to violet white, and bodies styled from pleasingly plump to gracefully slender, eggplants always bare tender, creamy flesh inside.

Though commonly thought of as a vegetable, eggplant is actually a fruit, and specifically a berry. Eggplants belong to the Solanaceae plant family, commonly known as nightshades, and are kinsfolk with tomatoes, bell peppers and potatoes. Eggplants have nothing to do with eggs other than their oblong shape which spurred their ovular name. Other cultures favored the term aubergine which is derived from the Sanskrit meaning “to cure wind disorder,” since eggplants were once thought to alleviate flatulence. The Sanskrit word vatinganah was somehow morphed to badingan by the Persians, then al-badinjan by the Arabs, alberengena by the Spanish, and finally aubergine by the French.

Native to India in wild form, eggplants were later cultivated in China around 500 B.C. The fruit was then introduced to the Mediterranean basin and Africa. Italy’s ardent affair with eggplant began in the 14th century. Myths persisted that eating eggplant caused insanity, not to mention leprosy and bad breath, which explains why eggplant was often used solely for decoration in many homes. Thankfully, so far I have at least avoided leprosy.

The Sicilian antipasto relish known as caponata is a poster child for food’s mottled history. An alluring triangular island smack dab in the middle of Meditteranean trade routes, Sicily has been conquered over centuries by the likes of Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, Arabs, Germans, French, and Spaniards. Through all this rape, pillage and survival, Sicilians subtly borrowed along the way to engender a cradle of singular cuisine. But, it comes as no surprise that the origins of caponata are disputed.

Some say caponata is of Spanish descent, derived from the Catalan word caponada, a similar relish. Others emphasize that the root word, capón, a type of fish, suggest it was prepared with fish as in capón de galera which is a form of gazpacho served shipboard. Another school claims that the dish had to be a mariner’s breakfast because of the vinegar, which may have acted as a preservative. A final, yet less accepted, theory is that the word derives from the Latin word caupo (tavern) where cauponae was served—a form of gastropub for ancient travelers.

Caponata is protean, having as many versions as uses. Antipasto, contorno, bruschetta, pasta, frittata, paninis, with fish, atop grilled meats, etc.

CAPONATA ALLA SICILIANA

Extra virgin olive oil
3 medium eggplants, cut into 1/2″ cubes

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 T red chile pepper flakes

2-3 ripe medium tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped
3 T capers, drained, rinsed and dried
1/3 C green olives, such as cerignola, pitted and chopped
2 T pine nuts
2 T currants
2 t fresh thyme leaves, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 T balsamic vinegar
1 T sugar
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t premier unsweetened cocoa powder
1 T tomato paste

Fresh mint, stemmed and chopped
Red chile pepper flakes

In a heavy pot or large sauce pan, pour in olive oil until about 2 1/2″ deep. Heat over medium high heat and bring the temperature to about 300 F. You can drop small pieces of eggplant or bread in the oil and when it starts bubbling vigorously, it is ready. Add the eggplant and cook, until lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked eggplant to paper towels and drain.

Meanwhile, in a deep, sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil to medium high, add the onions, garlic and pepper flakes and sauté until onions are softened, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, capers, olives, pine nuts, currants and thyme. Stir some and cook until the tomatoes release their juices, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk together balsamic vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, cocoa and tomato paste, add to pan, and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Add the cooked eggplant, and continue to cook at a simmer until heated, about 2 more minutes.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Garnish with mint and a pinch of chile flakes.

Pourboire:  consider dribbling caponata on bruschetta slices.

Boasting a gastronomic history of some ten centuries, that Meditteranean morsel known as Catalan cuisine is stunningly simple and seasonal. A rich culinary tradition that predates medieval times, the first book of Catalan recipes was the Llibre de Sent Sovi (1324). In its own inimitable fashion, this cuisine has managed to incorporate foods that have arrived through contact with other cultures via trade, conquest or regional cross-pollination. Catalan food can boast of aristocracy and nobility yet remain rustic…where both complexity and modesty are revered.

CATALAN SPINACH

1/4 C raisins

2-3 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/4 C pine nuts
1/4 C dried apricots, thinly sliced

2 spinach bunches (about 2 lbs), stemmed, well rinsed and drained
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Place raisins in bowl. Cover with hot water and let soak 10 minutes in order to plump, then drain.

Heat olive oil in heavy large Dutch oven or a deep heavy skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until golden, about 4 minutes. Discard garlic. Increase heat to medium high and add pine nuts until they are slightly brown. Then add raisins and apricots and toss to coat well. Add the spinach and sauté very quickly for a couple of minutes until it begins to wilt, stirring occasionally. Remember, the spinach will continue to wilt off the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.