Sunday, January 30, 2011

edible Vineyard Beet Chips

It’s taken me a long time to appreciate the beauty and flavor of beets.  They might not look like much in their unscrubbed state but their scruffy exterior belies a jewel-like appearance just under the surface.  A little cleaning up does a beet wonders. 
What most of us think of as a beet is actually the root; the stems and leaves attached to the root are also edible and extremely nutritious.  Beet leaves are loaded with vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium.  Beetroots are an excellent source of folate, beta-carotene, fiber, manganese, potassium, and betalains, which are known to detoxify the liver.

Raw beets (beetroots, that is) may be grated by hand or in a food processor then added to a green salad or tossed with a simple vinaigrette and made into a salad of its own.  If you prefer your beets cooked, take those same grated beets and sauté them on the stove with a little olive oil or butter, salt and pepper. 
I’ve come to love roasted beets, served either warm or cold, and have found this Alice Waters' recipe to be an easy, fail-proof method:
1 pound beets
1 teaspoon vinegar (red wine, sherry, or white wine)
1 – 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Trim greens from beet; save for another use.  Wash beets thoroughly.  Place them in a baking dish with enough water to cover the bottom of the dish to a depth of 1/8 of an inch.  Sprinkle with salt, cover tightly, and bake in oven until they are easily pierced with a knife, about 30 – 60 minutes, depending on their size.  Uncover and cool.  Cut top and bottom of beets and slip off skins.  Cut the peeled beets into small wedges and sprinkle with vinegar and salt.  Let stand for a few minutes to allow beets to absorb the flavor.  Taste and add more salt and/or vinegar as needed.  Toss with olive oil and serve. 
Every time I make beets this way for my mom she says “These are good but I’d love them with just a little butter on top, nothing else”.  We kid my mom that she is a Plain Jane when it comes to food, which she claims is “the English” in her.   In truth, I think it sounds like a delicious idea (I’m a bit of a food Plain Jane myself, too – the simpler, the better). 

I’ve wanted to make beet chips for a while and last Sunday’s NFL playoff games seemed like an opportune moment to do so.  Chips and football are a classic combination.  In edible Vineyard’s most recent issue there is a beet chip recipe, which unlike others I have seen, calls for a pinch of cayenne.  I liked the sound of that – I love food with a little kick – and decided to give it a go.  The recipe was a success but sadly, my hometown Jets were not.  That’s all right; I discovered a new recipe to add to my culinary repertoire.  Not to mention I’m really a Giants fan, anyway.
Playoff football may be over but Super Bowl Sunday is right around the corner.  If you’d like a healthy, colorful, delicious alternative to the ubiquitous potato chip, this is it.  I swear it’s just as good as a potato chip, albeit in a different way.  You’ll never replace the addictive taste of a traditional fried, salty chip, but the sweet, earthy taste of beets is truly a winner.  
Beet Chips  
Adapted from edible Vineyard, Harvest 2010

I used my Dad’s fancy mandoline to slice the beets and I’ll be honest, I do not like that thing. I find the whole apparatus not that easy to maneuver, which makes its big, sharp, scary blade even more ominous.  My knife skill aren’t so fabulous that I can cut paper thin slices freehand so I was forced to use it anyway.  You can be sure the next time I’ll prep the beets with my little hand-held slicer which can be picked one up at any kitchen supply store; I got mine at Muji, a cool Japanese retailer with a nice line of housewares.
The edible Vineyard recipe wasn’t terribly detailed but then again, baking chips is a fairly straightforward thing.  Another change I’ll make next time is to forget about brushing each chip with oil as called for in the eV recipe and instead toss them in a bowl with the oil and cayenne.  Not only will this take less time, I believe it will give the chips a lighter coating of oil and make for an even crispier chip.
The beet slices shrank quite a bit so don’t be afraid to pack the slices onto the pan in a single layer.  I have another recipe that calls for putting the beets on a rimmed sheet pan then stacking another, identical sheet pan on top.  This probably helps keep the chips flat but I liked the way mine contorted into twisted shapes.  It’s less fussy and less clean up, too.    
Red and golden beets
A few teaspoons of olive oil
Pinch of cayenne
Sprinkle of kosher salt
Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Slice beets thin using a mandoline or any other hand slicer.  
In a large bowl, whisk olive oil and cayenne.  Add sliced beets to bowl and toss to coat slices with oil mixture.  Spread beets on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt.

Bake for about 15 minutes on each side, until crisp.  Serve.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January on Martha's Vineyard...

…is cold. And gorgeous. At least that’s how I would describe it after being there a week ago. The storm that walloped New York City with a foot of snow the day before I left didn’t have the same effect on the Vineyard and instead left a slew of rain with a topcoat of snow. Those several inches of snow quickly froze, turning parts of the island into a skating rink.

The drive up from Manhattan wasn’t bad – about five hours, not including the ferry. For me the ferry doesn’t count as “getting there”; as soon as I’m on board, vacation is on. The sun set while we lumbered to the island and fishermen steamed home for the day.

At this point in the road we’re almost to the house.

This innocent looking hill was our first realization that many of the back roads were sheets of ice. I’m not a fan of SUV’s but I have to say this weekend I was grateful for ours and its four-wheel drive!

While my friend took in the view from the comfort of a heated house (and fantasized about golfing in Florida), I ventured out into the chill to explore. I had woods and beaches and goats to see! In the summer this vista is filled with boats either tethered to moorings or under sail to Vineyard Sound; today it was desolate.

I poked around the yard a bit longer

then slipped down the icy road

through the woods

to the beach.

There are many farms of varying sizes on Martha’s Vineyard. This one, called Pilot Hill, was a working dairy until the 1950’s.

The land was purchased by the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, whose mission is to preserve the rural character of the island, and turned into a low-density housing development with many acres of common space. Part of the land is still farmed and provides fresh produce, cut flowers, and eggs in season to its neighbors as well as island restaurants such as The Scottish Bakehouse on State Road.

Walking towards the farm I engaged in a stare down with their cows

but not with these guys…

Across the road reside two of the friendliest goats you’ll ever meet and were they ever happy to see me! I’m guessing they don’t have many visitors this time of year because their heads and ears were clearly overdue for a good scratch. Their winter coats were so pretty, especially this one.

Who knew goats like to nosh on leftover Christmas trees? With every munch the fragrant, wintry scent of pine wafted through the air.

The ladies in the hen house weren’t dumb; they stayed inside, out of the cold!

I had to agree with them at this point. I’d been outside for a few hours and was starting to look forward to a warm, cozy abode of my own. I made my way home, down the deer path.

What next? Food, of course!  On Friday afternoons during the winter Offshore Ale Co. is the place to be for their homebrewed beers and $1.00 oysters. I learned on this trip that Bob Skydell, owner of one of the best farm shops on the Vineyard, Fiddlehead Farm, was one of the founders and former owners of Offshore Ale. I definitely like Bob’s aesthetic and eye. At both Offshore Ale and Fiddlehead Farm he has captured the essence of New England without resorting to the cliqued and hokey.

The rustic, soaring interior of this mircrobrewery and pub is filled with beautiful small wooden boats hanging from the rafters as well as racing flags and other boating paraphernalia. A huge barrel of peanuts sits by the front door for anyone to partake in and I was encouraged by the bartender to crack my shells onto the floor, not my plate!

This is the spot I had my first taste of the divine Sweet Neck Farm oysters from Katama. Sweet Necks were available for $2.50 a pop (worth every penny, in my opinion) but in the spirit of the moment, we stuck to the dollar specials, which were Blue Points from Long Island and local West Tisbury Wilds. Offshore Ale brews all their lagers, pale ales, IPAs, and stouts from scratch. I had a fantastic rich, smooth winter ale called Miss Behavin’. When life is good, it’s really good…

The next day was our pilgrim moment. Faced with nothing to eat for lunch but hot dogs dug from the depths of the freezer and neither of us anxious to stand outside by the grill, we opted to roast them in the fireplace. Sitting on the floor with a glass of wine, it was the perfect snack before heading to a friend’s house for dinner in Oak Bluffs.

A few hours before getting on the ferry to begin our trip home we did what people have been doing every morning for decades on the Vineyard – eat at the ArtCliff.

The ArtCliff Diner is a Vineyard institution, a local hangout that is always packed. This is the place where Carly Simon is as likely to be at the table next to you (yes – once) as a local carpenter. We got there just in time and didn’t have to wait for a table, a rarity. But if we had to wait, it would have been well worth it. The ArtCliff’s creative spin on classic country breakfasts, more often than not prepared with food grown locally, is out of this world. Both the atmosphere and staff are easy-going and friendly - the Vineyard at its best.

I had Swiss cheese and ham French toast with poached eggs (I know, I know – but I was starving!)

and my friend had a tomato, cheddar, and spinach frittata on top of home fries.

We shared the best short stack of buttermilk pancakes I’ve ever had. Really.

I’ve never gotten to the end of a stay on the Vineyard and not been sad to go.  This trip was no exception.  It’s true that most of the shops are closed for the winter so if your idea of fun is shopping, Martha’s Vineyard in January might not be for you.  Nor is it for you if you long to be on a beach or a boat in a bathing suit.  But if you’re the sort that doesn’t mind dreaming up your own adventures and hanging with the locals – in many layers of clothing! - it could not be more perfect than this time of year.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sausage and Mushroom Whole-Wheat Penne Gratin

I feel like my posts have been getting awfully healthy lately so to prove I’m not turning into a goody two-shoes, here you go:  a recipe made with sausage, mozzarella, parmesan, and heavy cream.  How’s that for decadent ingredients?  But then again, maybe I am a goody two-shoes because I swapped out the semolina pasta for whole-wheat and added arugula to give it a little more nutrition and a bit of color (once a food stylist, always a food stylist…).  I have to say, the extra calories were well worth it – this pasta was de-lish!  Really, really tasty and perfect for the kind of weather we have been experiencing in the Northeast, i.e. cold and snowy.

Sausage and Mushroom Penne Gratin
Adapted from Gourmet

Whole-wheat pasta is gaining in popularity but the problem remains that an awful lot of what’s out there is just that – awful.  I know this because I feel like I’ve bought and tasted each and every bland, heavy one!  After reading Melissa Clark’s piece on whole-wheat pasta in the Times, I took her advice and tried Bionaturae, an organic line of pastas made in Italy and available at my local grocery store.

Their penne was just as she described - warm and nutty.  When whole-wheat pasta is good it’s perfect in a stick-to-your-ribs dish such as this one - hearty enough to stand up to the other ingredients and rich without weighing it down. 

As a Flying Pigs Farm Camp alumna I’m partial to their heritage pork products.  There’s something about seeing first hand how a farmer raises their livestock and what breeds they choose and why that creates a loyalty that is tough to break.  I headed to their stand at Union Square for hot sausage but sweet sausage is fine in this recipe as well; it’s simply a matter of preference.

The North Fork’s Satur Farms continues to amaze me with the quality of their greens.  When I saw this box of wild arugula, which was grown on their farmland in Florida (see here for more back story), I couldn’t believe how perky and pristine the leaves looked.  Wild arugula is the original variety of arugula grown in Europe for generations.  No doubt the leaves in my box came from seeds found on one of Eberhard Muller and Paulette Satur’s European buying trips.  Wild arugula may look petite and refined but its peppery taste really packs a delightful punch.  
If there were any doubts about my devotion to Milk Thistle Farm Jersey cow dairy products, this bottle of heavy cream sealed the deal.  Just look at what I found when I opened their bottle of heavy cream.

Because there were several inches of thick cream on top, shaking the bottle wouldn’t do; I had to stir the cream before I could pour it out.  It was heaven.  Jersey cows rule – or at least their milk does!

1 pound dried whole-wheat pasta
1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed if using links
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups arugula or spinach
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
8 ounces grated whole-milk mozzarella, divided

Cook penne in pot of boiling salted water until al dente.  Reserve ½ cup pasta-cooking water, drain pasta and set aside.    
Preheat broiler with rack positioned 3 – 4 inches from heat. 
Meanwhile, in a 12-inch sauté pan, sauté sausage in 1 tablespoon olive oil over high heat until no longer pink, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving fat in pan.

Add remaining tablespoon of oil to pan, along with mushrooms and garlic and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are golden, about 3 minutes.  Add arugula to pan, stirring until wilted, about 1 minute more.

Return sausage to pan along with cream, reserved ½ cup cooking water, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ fresh black pepper and boil over high heat, stirring once or twice, until thickened, about 4 minutes.  Stir in pasta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, ½ cup mozzarella, and salt to taste.  Transfer pasta mixture into 3-quart baking dish and top evenly with remaining mozzarella. 
Broil until golden brown in spots, 4 – 5 minutes.
Serves 4 – 6 people