Our local Farmer’s market, held at the Festhalle, has been busy this summer, purely because of the excellent produce and value, compared to jacked up super market prices And people still keep arguing that transportation costs don’t result in higher prices. Check the price of gas, because Scotty did not beam that food to Publix.
Every ingredient, save for two, came from either the Festhalle or our front yard. I’ll differentiate those in the ingredients list.
1 tablespoon Italian Olive oil
1/2 medium Onion, Chopped (Festhalle)
1 sweet Pepper (Homegrown}
4 plum Tomatoes, Chopped (Festhalle)
2 Oyster Mushrooms (Festhalle)
Saute the onions, peppers, and mushrooms in the olive oil, and when done add the tomatoes and cook for a further minute. Mix together—
3 extra large Eggs (Homegrown)
1/2 cup shredded Vermont Cheddar Cheese
Chopped Parsley (Homegrown)
Sea Salt and Pepper
Pour the egg mixture into the veg, and cook this frittata style–let the eggs begin to set, and then throw the skillet into a 400 degree F oven, until the omelette is done to your liking. Alas, poor supermarket. Only two imported items, from Italy and Vermont. Wait, the cast iron skillet is from Tennessee, another exotic foreign country.
A literal translation for Pasta alla Pastora would in fact be pasture pasta, but the usual translation is Shepherd’s Pasta. This dish was developed by Italian shepherds, who needed food that could be prepared while out in the pastures, and so the cuisine that developed around quick food made from a few simple, portable, ingredients became known as “alla Pastora.” I made this one even simpler by using common off the shelf, supermarket ingredients.
I formerly made my own ricotta cheese and Italian sausage, but soon enough got tired of the effort that went into something that is supposed to be simple. Here’s the result.
1/2 pound Country Sausage, aka Breakfast Sausage
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
8 ounces Cottage Cheese
Salt and Pepper
First, thoroughly brown the Sausage in the olive oil, adding salted pasta water to form a sauce. This takes about as long as it takes to cook the pasta. When the pasta is to your liking, add it to the cooked sausage. Stir it a couple of times, and turn off the heat. It’s that simple.
Next, add the two cheeses, and stir until they melt into a creamy sauce. Taste for seasoning, and you’re done.
I also make some quick and dirty crostini, with homemade baguettes and some pre-blended Irish garlic and herbs butter. This whole thing is easy enough to make with one eye on the food, and the other one on the sheep.
When I was growing up, there were essentially two kinds of cheese–Cheddar and Velveeta. Cheddar meant your family was in the dough for a change, and Velveeta was for when you were almost broke. We mainly had Velveeta, until American cheese singles came along.
How times change–now I am making regularly a classic Italian snack, in a piece of Lodge Tennessee made cast iron. The ingredients here are all either local or Italian.
1 1/2 cups Tipo “00” Fine Italian Flour
1 tablespoon Italian Olive Oil
3/4 cup Water
2 teaspoons Yeast
1 teaspoon Sugar
Mix all the ingredients together, or dissolve the yeast and sugar in some water first. Knead, let rise, and and shape it as if making a pizza dough. This amount of dough will make two 11″ x 7″ Focaccia.
One medium Tomato, sliced, from the Festhalle
Hard Cheese, Grated
Chopped Rosemary, Rosemary grown by yours truly
More Olive Oil
Freshness is the key to all Italian dishes. This cheese was new to me, when I stumbled across it at our supermarket, as a two for one deal. It’s a typically superior hard Italian cheese, this one being from the Italian Alps. It is considered to be the northern Italian equivalent of Parmesan, at a much lower price. That, alas, will not last long.
So there are more than two kinds of cheese, after all. The Piave is every bit as good as Parmesan. In a fit of nostalgia, I once bought organic American cheese singles from Whole Foods. That’s yuppie to the point of crossing over to the dark side.
Combining my two favorite pastimes, woodworking and eating, was fun. It gave me two excuses–make more kitchenware, and buy more kitchen-alia.
The walnut cheese board is free edge, or live edge, depending on which terminology you prefer. George Nakashima, a master of this form, preferred free edge. Speaking of that, here it is.
I left on the inner bark just to emphasize the point. I even have a borer hole–probably the last one that bug ever made, because the wood is toxic to our bug friends. The finish is walnut oil, naturally. I also made the best salad dressing I have ever had out of it. Apologies to all of the unfinished pieces of wood I have lying around.
This Laguiole cheese set was bought from Fleabay for the price of a six pack. Some rubbing compound on the stainless, some sandpaper and walnut oil on the handles, and they look better than the ones that come out of the factory. From the grainy picture on the interwebs I thought they were walnut handles–after finishing them, I think they are rosewood instead.
Now it’s time to go to Nerdlandia and talk about the Mammoth Cheese that Mr.Jefferson was given as a tribute for his support of religious freedom. How big was it? A little over 15 x 4 feet big, and weighed 1230 pounds. Too big for my knives.
The Baptists of Cheshire, MA, had had enough of the Federalists and their lackey Congregationalist ministers down grading their religion, and saying that Jefferson would burn every bible in New England, and turn all their women into prostitutes (that last gem came from the President of Yale). Therefore, they made the Mammoth Cheese, and engraved it with the phrase “REBELLION TO TYRANTS IS OBEDIENCE TO GOD.” Then they hauled it down to Washington.
Jefferson threw a big reception for the big cheese, and made the church accept a payment of $200. Church elder John Leland, the mastermind of this clever scheme, thanked Jefferson for the “singular blessings that have been derived from the numerous services you have rendered to mankind in general.” Then they all had some cheese.
Later that same day, perhaps inspired by the cheese, Jefferson wrote one of the most famous Presidential documents in history, reassuring the Baptists of Danbury, MA, that the new constitution insured their religious freedom, and that the Jefferson administration would protect them. Here’s the key paragraph:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
Letters of Thomas Jefferson
The wall of separation phrase was eventually adapted as case law precedent by the Supreme Court. Two years after the big cheese hit town, the US Navy produced a Mammoth Loaf of Bread, to go with the Mammoth Cheese. In typical fashion, Jefferson sent the loaf to the Senate, “along with with a large amount of roast beef, cider, and whiskey,” according to the National Constitution Center. The cheese lasted longer than the bread did. My guess is, knowing the habits of Senators, that the whiskey went first.
In honor of Mr, Jefferson, and his insistence that there be a Bill of Rights attached to the constitution, I will have a cheese plate, and a cheeseburger, on the Fourth of July. I think he had something to do with that holiday as well.
Though there was a small mountain of peas to shell, and a bowl of pecans to crack, nothing can stand in the way of MJ and myself enjoying a nice Sunday breakfast. As usual, we just went with the ingredients we had.
3 medium Eggs
2 small Tomatoes, chopped
5 small dried Morels, reconstituted in hot water, chopped
1 medium Shallot
Morel soaking liquid
Grated or soft Cheese
Salt and Pepper
This is an easy recipe, but we scored some authentic long shallots (Echalote traditionnelle longue) from France, and nothing goes together like morels, shallots and eggs.
First cook the shallots and morels together in olive oil. (It helps to have a really heavy cast iron skillet.) Add the chopped tomatoes, and simmer until softened.
Combine the eggs, cheese, and some of the morel juice, with salt and pepper.. When the veg and fungus is cooked, add the eggs to the mix. Cook on the stove top until the eggs begin to set firmly, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and pop the whole thing into a 400 degree F oven. That’s the entire whang dang doodle.
This can also be made with some fried new potatoes as the base, in which instance it becomes a massive breakfast. The key is quality ingredients, as with all things.
The eggs were donated by our ISA Brown chicks, and the chopped parsley was harvested from a pot on our countertop. We grew one of the maters, and the other came from the Festhalle. Which reminds me that I have maters to get ready for canning.
I turned Italian, and have begun straining out my leftover morel juice for use elsewhere. There will be no flavor left behind.
This is from so far south, it’s from across the border. It is, however also a staple of most Tex-Mex style Mexican restaraunts. Fortunately, it is also dead simple to make.
Can of Tomato Sauce
2 or more Chipotle Peppers, and Adobo Sauce
If you have cast iron intestines, you can go the Rick Bayless route, and make this with nothing but Chipotle peppers. As I prefer living, I go the tomato sauce way.
Start by making a little blond roux with the oil and flour. I used a regular size can of sauce, or you can mill some canned tomatoes, as it results in the same texture. After it begins to boil, throw in Chipotles that have been seeded. How many is strictly a matter of preference. The same goes with the amount of Adobo sauce you add. It only cooks until it is warmed through.
We made roast pork enchiladas with Vidalia onions rolled up in a tortilla, covered with this sauce, and grated Cheddar cheese. It’s a quick and easy meal, which only needs to be baked until the sauce bubbles. After that it’s time to swine away.
To quote my man Will Shakespeare, this is the “The stuff that dreams are made of,” as adapted by Bogey and John Huston in The Maltese Falcon. I woke up at six in the morning with the taste of tomato sauce in my mouth. It was then that I realized that I had been dreaming about it, possibly all night long..
It was a classic example of one part of what Dr. Freud said that dreams are made of, and this is not a particularly good translation, but it is the standard one: “the day’s residues.” For lunch the previous day I had a slice of leftover brick oven pizza, and it was still superb warmed up. It had Vidalia onion slices, Italian mozzarella, and a crust made from Caputo 00 flour from Italy. The star was still Melanie Jane’s tomato sauce. That’s what I dreamed about. Here’s her recipe, which will sauce two pizzas.
1 quart locally grown home canned Tomatoes–I believe these were Romas
1/2 of a diced Onion
Italian Tomato Paste in a tube–Tuscan, in this case, the brand being Tuscanini. (Aside–I had to buy this, as Toscanini is one of our favorite conductors of classical music, and his daughter married my wife’s favorite pianist, Vladimir Horowitz.)
Italian Pesto in a tube
Italian Garlic Paste in a tube–the secret weapon used by many pros
Oregano and Thyme
Salt and Pepper
This is considerably more complicated than what most Italians would make, but we aren’t Italian, at least the last time I checked. MJ then cooked it down to a concentrated strength, which gave me just enough time to get a roaring fire going in the brick oven.
Did it ever get hot. All I had was oak dead fall pieces, and they created an inferno. I didn’t burn the crust–I actually burned the sauce, as you can see from the little black line on my slice in the picture. I’ve never had that happen before.
It was still delicious. As I always tell people, don’t eat the burned part.
The forecast for Sunday was for a high of only 93 degrees F, so I decided to build a 900 degree F fire, and cook a couple of pizzas. Why the hell not?
Fortunately, I spent most of my time indoors, making the crust and sauce. I will do a step by step explanation of this process in a series of posts, but here’s an outline of what to do. I will also give an alternative cooking method, for those who do not have a bakery-sized brick oven. The following is for a Pizza Margherita, one of the originals, and still the best.
Dough for two Pizza Crusts–1 1/2 cups OO Italian Flour, salt, water, yeast
Pizza Sauce, preferably made with Italian or locally grown Tomatoes
Italian Mozzarella Cheese
The basil goes on after the pizza comes out of the oven. It probably wouldn’t look too sporty, otherwise, after a couple of minutes of this.
Other than eating this, the best part is smelling the basil cook on top of the really really hot pizza, right out of the brick oven. Simple and complex–the heart of a good pizza.
Herr Orff, one of my German Professors at the University of Alabama, came to class one Monday, and said, “I had some of that food that you people eat every weekend. What do you call it? Pit-sa. It was very good.” That actually is the correct pronunciation of the word pizza-if you’re German. Good thing he didn’t eat one of these. He might never have gone back to Deutschland.