Seasonal Foods: Nectarines

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The list of my Favorite Things About Summer includes the truckloads of stone fruits that appear at the farmer’s market in the beginning of June. Cherries, nectarines, apricots, pluots, apriums, and peaches all grace the stands with both ordinary and exotic-sounding names. Here in the Bay Area, we are lucky to have a ton of farmers bringing in a multitude flavorful varieties and hybrids. Some of my favorites include the Flavor King plum, Montmorency sour cherry, Flavor Grenade pluot, and the Carine white nectarine.

Stone fruits are a lot like wine; they can have high acid or low acid, tart skin or thick and tannic skin, and a multitude of complex flavors and aromas. Case in point – the Carine white nectarine (shown above), which is grown by Blossom Bluff Orchards in the town of Parlier, just west of King’s Canyon National Park. The Carine is a high-acid white nectarine (most white nectarines don’t have a lot of acid, like a yellow nectarine does), and Blossom Bluff is the only grower of this rare variety in the world. They were given a cutting of this experimental variety by a friend who stopped growing it because it was deemed “not commercially viable” due to it’s delicate nature and lack of shelf stability. The folks at Blossom Bluff decided to keep it because they felt it was special, and they were willing to take a loss in order to preserve this special fruit.

The Carine is special for a few reasons – the skin is delicate and tender, the flesh has a creamy texture and is perfectly balanced with sweetness and acidity, and the flavor has hints of sweet stone fruit blossoms. It’s Colleen’s favorite stone fruit, which makes perfect sense due to her love of floral white wines with great acidity.

If you want to try this special fruit, act quickly because it’s in season now. Blossom Bluff Orchards can be found at many Bay Area Farmer’s Markets, including the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market on Saturdays in San Francisco.

 

Seasonal Foods: Garlic Scapes

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Garlic – quite possibly the most popular member of the allium family, a genus of plants that includes chives, onions, and leeks. Like all alliums, garlic produces flowers, and before a garlic flower blooms, the blooming stalk is called a scape.

I’m not sure how I found out about the miracle of garlic scapes. I probably just bought some on a whim (I get very excited about ultra-seasonal vegetables and buy them without knowing how to cook them) and googled around until I figured out what place they had in our culinary world. It turns out, garlic scapes make fantastic pesto, which freezes surprisingly well (recipe forthcoming).

Garlic scapes are in season RIGHT NOW, and they are only here for a short while, so get them while you can. You can find organic scapes at Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market through Knoll Farms or Thomas Farm. I’ve also seen non-organic scapes at the Alemany Farmer’s Market, as well as Berkeley Bowl.

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Recipe: Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Salad

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I have a secret: I’ve been religiously going to the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning for… well, years. I’m sure if I ever didn’t show up for a couple of weeks in a row, one of the merchants I shop with every week would file a Missing Person’s report for me.

When we’re developing recipes for the wine club, this farmer’s market is usually the inspiration for our creations. You can buy literally ANYTHING here, if it’s in season and grown within a 200 mile radius (with the exception of garlic scapes, which I’ve given up on). It seems natural that I’d name a salad after this magical place, the muse in my lifelong culinary adventure.

This beautiful, seasonal salad is full of top-quality ingredients from some of my favorite Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market vendors. The spinach is from Star Route Farms in Bolinas; the strawberries are from Dirty Girl Produce in Santa Cruz; the goat cheese is sourced from Petaluma cheese-maker Andante Dairy; the delicious crispy pancetta is from my favorite Hayes Valley butcher shop, Fatted Calf; the dressing comes from the market, too – the olive oil is from olive grower Sciabica & Sons, and the balsamic vinegar from Bariani. I’ll admit, even the sea salt used in the dressing comes from our very own San Francisco Bay. I feel very fortunate to have the bounty of California at my fingertips.

These ingredients converge to create a classic salad with a little bit of an Italian twist (I am part Italian, after all). It has all of the flavor components one could wish for in a salad; herbal, sweet, savory, salty, pungent, and creamy. They are a match made in heaven, and you can elevate it to another level by pairing it with the Grace Wine Co. Santa Barbara Highlands Rosé of Grenache, available in our online store. This superbly bright and aromatic rosé is the perfect compliment to such a salad, and I can easily imagine enjoying the two together every day for the rest of my life.

Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Salad
prep time: 30 minutes
Serves: 2-4

Ingredients:
1 basket sea scape strawberries
4 oz pancetta or bacon, diced
3 oz fresh goat cheese, crumbled
2-3 big handfuls of baby spinach, washed and dried
for the dressing:
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. high-quality balsamic vinegar
Pinch of salt
Pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Heat a small skillet over medium heat and cook the diced pancetta or bacon until crisped. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
  2. Slice the strawberries in half lengthwise, into bite-sized pieces.
  3. In a small jar, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Shake or whisk well.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the spinach and strawberries, then toss with the dressing.
  5. Transfer the dressed strawberries and spinach to individual bowls, and top with the crumbled goat cheese and diced pancetta or bacon. Serve alongside a tasty, fragrant rosé.

 

Recipe: Asparagus with Morels, Green Garlic & Egg

asparagus

By now, you may have seen the mountains of asparagus at the Farmer’s Market. Asparagus is at the peak of it’s season, and you can buy fat, tender, delicious spears for a reasonable price. Sure, you might be able to find asparagus at the grocery store any time of the year, but if it’s not spring, it has traveled thousands of miles and usually tastes like cardboard. This is why I choose to eat seasonally – things just taste better.

When choosing your asparagus, go for the fatter spears, not the skinny ones. They tend to be more tender and flavorful. Choose bunches with tightly closed, firm tips, free of any rot. Once you get your asparagus home, don’t cut the ends off – instead just bend the bottom third of the spear and let it snap where it will – this will remove any fibrous or woody bits.

One of my favorite flavors to compliment asparagus with is spring morels, fresh from the forest. Their umami flavor is a wonderful enhancement to the sweet, tender asparagus. Green garlic is another springtime favorite of mine, which has a natural affinity for all things Spring. I wanted to combine these ingredients to make a healthy, delicious, seasonal meal – and so I did. This dish was so fantastic, I wanted to share it with all of you.

Wine pairing: Asparagus is notoriously difficult to pair with wine. For best results, go for an unoaked, aromatic white wine such as sparkling Vouvray, dry German riesling, Gruner Veltliner, or Sauvignon Blanc.

Asparagus with Morels, Green Garlic, & Egg
Author: Tala Drzewiecki
Cooking time: 35 minutes

Serves 2

Ingredients:
1 bunch fat, fresh asparagus spears, preferably organic, tough ends snapped off
2 very fresh eggs
2 oz. fresh Morel mushrooms (or any wild mushroom you can find), sliced
1 stalk green garlic, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1 small head frisée
1 oz. fresh goat cheese (optional)
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
Freshly grated Parmesan, to taste
Olive oil
2 tbsp. white vinegar
Salt & Pepper, to taste

for the salad dressing:
2 tbsp. Champagne or white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt & pepper, to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. In a small pan, heat the butter over medium heat until it foams. Add the morels and green garlic to the pan with a little salt, and sautée until the garlic is soft and the mushrooms begin to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Heat a pan of water until it simmers (not boiling) for poaching your eggs, then add 2 tbsp. white vinegar to the poaching water.
  4. Toss the asparagus in olive oil and season with salt. Place on a cookie sheet lined with foil and roast in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until cooked but still crisp.
  5. Divide the frisée between two plates.
  6. Combine the salad dressing ingredients in a small bowl, whisk, and drizzle a small amount over the plated frisée.
  7. Crumble a little goat cheese over the frisée.
  8. Start poaching your eggs. Don’t let the water boil; keep it at a simmer. Poach the eggs for about 3 minutes, until cooked soft or medium.
  9. While the eggs are poaching, divide the roasted asparagus between the two plates, laying the spears neatly on top of the dressed frisée.
  10. Remove the poached eggs with a slotted spoon and place on top of the plated asparagus.
  11. Shave some Parmesan over the hot eggs and asparagus, to taste.
  12. Top the poached egg with the sautéed morels and green garlic, then season with fresh ground black pepper.

Secret Wine Club: Jura

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis weekend, Colleen and I hosted another wine tasting for our friends. The theme was Jura wines.

The Jura is a a cool-climate, mountainous region in France between Burgundy and Switzerland, and is composed of six regions including Arbois, Macvin du Jura, Côtes du Jura, Crémant du Jura, Château-Chalon, and L’Étoile. Within these regions, wines are produced from poulsard, trousseau, savagnin, chardonnay, and pinot noir. White, red, rosé and sparkling wines are produced from these grapes.

The most famous wine from the Jura is called vin jaune (literally, yellow wine). This wine is made from the white savagnin grape which is picked when it’s very ripe. The finished wine is put into large oak barriques, and is allowed to evaporate through the staves of the barrel until a pocket of air forms at the top. A special strain of indigenous yeast forms a veil (or voile, au Français) over the surface of the wine, imparting a unique salinity and oxidative quality that gives vin jaune it’s trademark aroma and flavor. Vin jaune is quite intense, an acquired taste, and very hard to find.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany white wines from the Jura have a similar (but not as intense) oxidative quality to them, since they are often made in the same method. However, the difference between vin jaune and standard white wine from the Jura is the duration for which it’s aged. Vin jaune must be aged for a minimum of 6 years, while other white wines aren’t required to age for as long. Some whites from the Jura are aged in a barrel without that pocket of air, creating wines that are still very uniquely Jura, but much fresher in flavor and less intense.

The red wines from the Jura are very unique as well, and a little more approachable than their white counterparts. The reds are light but structured, with aromas of fruit, spice and earth. Poulsard makes the lightest of the red wines, while trousseau makes more robust (but still pretty light) reds. Pinot noir is also grown in the Jura and made into red wine, but the straight varietal wines are difficult to find.

Our wine list for the evening:
2011 Les Dolomies Savagnin, Côtes du Jura
2009 Domaine de Montborgeau Chardonnay/Savagnin, L’Etoile
NV Phillipe Bornard “Tant-Mieux” Pétillant Naturel of Poulsard
2012 Michel Gahier Trousseau, “Les Grands Vergers”, Arbois
2011 Jacques Puffeney Poulsard, Arbois
2006 Jacques Puffeney Vin Jaune, Arbois

Choosing the correct food pairings for these wines was really fun, as they are wonderful with food and the Jura has some really interesting regional culinary specialties. Wild mushrooms seemed to be quite common in the Jura, and in the winter I’ve been told that potatoes topped with melted raclette are a staple. The Jura is also a fly-fishing destination (weird, right?), so I wanted to make something out of freshwater fish. We also found some regional cheeses, and a rustic cream tart sort of thing called a Toétché, for which I could only find a recipe in French. Our resident Francophile Colleen was able to follow it just fine, no surprise there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur menu for the evening:
Toétché (above)
Trout rillettes
Fresh baugette
Sautéed wild mushrooms (yellow foot, black trumpet, oyster, hedgehog)
Warm salad of roasted rose finn potatoes and wild mushrooms
Morbier & Comté cheeses
Wickson apples
Breakfast radishes with cultured butter and grey sea salt
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found that the Toétché paired perfectly with the vin jaune. This made me very happy, since I wasn’t sure what the Toétché would even taste like. Big ups to Colleen for making it come out perfectly, it was absolutely beautiful and delicious. The morbier and comté cheeses were also wonderful with the white wines, although they did not pair particularly well with the reds. The trout rillettes were lovely with all of the wines, while the apples provided a nice, palate-cleansing counterpoint to all of the savory foods. I especially loved the breakfast radishes with cultured butter and sea salt, while others in the room weren’t so enthused (I learned of this snack from a Frenchman who was so graciously hosting me at a winery some time ago). Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but I find that radishes are an excellent vehicle for butter. The sautéed mushrooms were lovely piled atop fresh bread and enjoyed with the poulsard and trousseau.

As for the wines, we found that most people loved the ‘Les Dolomies’ ($28)– a white savagnin aged in a topped-up barrel. It was fresh, rich, and awesome with food. The Gahier trousseau ($39) was definitely the stand-out, everyone really loved it (it was my favorite as well). The Puffeney vin jaune ($80) was intense, too intense for a lot of people in the room. I also wish I’d opened it earlier and possibly decanted it, but my decanter was full of the Bornard ‘Tant-Mieux” ($32)which was absolutely reductive, sweet, and generally awful (not surprisingly, it tasted much better the next day). A friend also brought a bottle of Chardonnay from Côtes du Jura, which was great to balance out all the savagnin in the room.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hope everyone who came had a great time and learned a lot about these rare, unusual wines. I had a blast curating the list and finding foods to pair. I hope that everyone took away some useful knowledge and would feel confident ordering a glass from the Jura section on the wine list at their favorite French restaurant.

Recipe: Raw Kale Harvest Salad

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love a well-balanced salad. A great mixed green salad is nice, but to me, a salad is best with a few different elements – some crunch, something sweet, a couple different types of greens, and a dressing that brings it all together. I think most people are used to cooking kale, but treated well, you can eat kale raw, and it’s super nutritious. The trick is really letting it sit with the lemon juice for a few minutes. You want to break down the cells of the kale, and the lemon juice acts as a tenderizer.

This recipe is very adaptable – you can use a different bitter green than radicchio, or a different sweet, fruity element than pomegranate seeds. Just keep the basic integrity the same – some kale, a bitter element, a nut, a fruit, and a tangy-sweet dressing – and you’ll be golden.

We paired this salad with the 2012 Porter Creek Rose, which was included in our recent wine shipment. I think there are many options for pairings here, but any tangy, acidic, lean wine will be best. Sauvignon Blanc would be another good option.

Serves 4-6

Special Tools
Small jar (8oz or so) with tight-fitting lid

Ingredients
1 bunch kale – lacinato/dino kale are best, the smaller the leaves, the better
1 small head or ½ medium head radicchio
1 small pomegranate, pips separated
3-4 T pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 lemon, juiced
1 T sherry vinegar
2 tsp honey
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
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Method
Remove the stems from the kale leaves, then stack them on top of each other into manageable bunches, and slice crosswise into ribbons, about ¼” thick.

Quarter the radicchio half and cut the tough stem ends out, then slice crosswise to match the kale ribbons. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss the kale ribbons, and add the lemon juice, a healthy pinch of salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. Mix well with your hands, bruising the leaves with a moderate amount of pressure. You don’t want to crush them, but you are trying to break down the fibers a little, to make the kale more tender. Set aside.

In the jar, combine a few tablespoons of olive oil, the sherry vinegar, honey, and about ½ tsp each of salt and pepper. Shake well. Taste the dressing and adjust the seasonings as needed.

In a serving bowl, combine the bruised kale, radicchio, pomegranate pips, and pumpkin seeds. Pour the dressing over everything, and toss well.

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Recipe: Savory Chanterelle and Gruyere Bread Pudding

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a recipe featured in our Fall wine club shipment. We chose to feature this recipe because it encompasses everything we love about fall food, and it perfectly compliments several of the wines we are offering in our Fall club shipment. Made with chanterelle mushrooms and delicious cave-aged gruyere cheese, this vegetarian dish is sure to delight your guests. It’s fancy enough for a holiday like Thanksgiving but easy enough to make for any day of the week. We really love it’s umami flavors and creamy/crusty consistency.

You can find Chanterelle mushrooms at your local specialty store during the rainy months. Right now we are getting Oregon chanterelles as well as Pacific Golden chanterelles. I prefer the Oregon variety because they are cleaner, have great flavor, and a better texture (in my opinion). They are smaller and more orange in color than their California-grown counterparts. Chances are you will see only one variety, so get whatever you can. You want to pick out the chanterelles that look the best. Look for firm, dry chanterelles without any red rot or raggedy edges.

Don’t skimp on the Gruyere, either. Get a good-quality cave aged gruyere from France, if possible. This should not be hard to find, as I believe even Trader Joes carries one.

Savory Chanterelle & Gruyere Bread Pudding
Adapted from 100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love by Jill Silverman Hough

Special Tools
One 2 qt. casserole dish or six 1½ cup individual ramekins

Ingredients
3 cups milk
1½ tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. chopped fresh sage
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the pan
12 oz. chanterelle mushrooms, coarsely sliced OR 2 medium leeks (white & light green parts only), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tsp. fine sea salt
5 large eggs
12 oz. crusty artisan French or Italian, with crusts, torn or cubed into ¾” pieces
8 oz. gruyere cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)

Method
Butter the casserole dish or ramekins and set aside.

Combine the milk, chopped herbs, and pepper in a medium pot with a heavy bottom. Set over medium-high heat until the milk just begins to simmer. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a wide skillet over medium heat. Then add the mushrooms and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. (If substituting leeks, cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat if necessary to prevent browning.) Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, then temper the eggs by whisking in ⅓ of the warm milk mixture. Once combined, slowly whisk in the rest. Add the bread cubes, shredded cheese, and mushroom or leek mixture and stir until well combined. Set aside for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, to let the bread absorb the liquid.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the center.

Spoon the mixture into the casserole dish or ramekins. Bake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve hot.

Seven Perfect Seasonal Foods for Fall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday, I took a drive down the coast to visit the new Bonny Doon Vineyards tasting room in Davenport. They closed down their Santa Cruz location back in May and moved up into a new space about 10 minutes north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1. The proprietor, Randall Grahm, is somewhat of a bad-ass in California wine history, and I have a lot of respect for him for popularizing Rhone wines in California. After all, some of my favorite varietal wines are made from Rhone varieties, and if it weren’t for Randall we might be in the dark about these delicious wines.

Unfortunately, the people operating the tasting room would not allow me to take any photos because they weren’t finished furnishing the place. Really guys? Your website says you are open for business and I just drove here from San Francisco! Anyhow, all I got was this crummy photo of their sign on the highway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo why is this blog post titled Seven Perfect Seasonal Foods for Fall? Well, if you’ve ever driven down Highway 1 in the fall, you know how many farm stands selling local produce there are all along the way. My travel partner and I decided to make the best of the situation and do some farm-standing along the way back home. I will review the beautiful fall vegetables we encountered along the way, along with some lovelies I came across at the Farmer’s Market this weekend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATurban Squash! These aren’t as great for eating as they are for looking at, but in the fall you will see them taking over the coastal pumpkin patches in California. They are an heirloom variety, dating back to to the 1800’s.  The flesh tastes vaguely of hazelnut and they make an excellent soup. You can also roast them whole and use them as a large soup tureen. I would probably just leave these mutant squash as-is and add them to my home as part of my holiday décor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPo-ta-toes! Boil’em, mash’em, stick’em in a stew. While these are available year-round, I tend to eat them more in the fall because they lend themselves best to hearty, warm, savory dishes. We are fortunate to have many heirloom varieties at our disposal here in the Bay Area, and every time I buy potatoes I try a new variety. My favorite way to prepare them is to wash them, leave them un-peeled, chop into bite-size pieces, toss with olive oil & fresh herbs, then roast at 375 degrees until tender and crispy around the edges. You can use these roasted potatoes in salads, as a simple side dish, as an accompaniment to eggs, or all by themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASunchokes! What the heck are these, anyway? Also known as the Jerusalem Artichoke, they are actually the tuber of the sunflower. They are ugly to look at, but if you find these rarities at the market be sure to snatch them up while they are available. They are as delicious as they are ugly. I like to chop them, toss in olive oil, and roast like I would a potato. The flavor is nutty and artichoke-like and they would be great paired with something a little sweet to offset their savory personality.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARadicchio! This is my favorite bitter leafy vegetable of the fall & winter. While it’s generally available year-round, I think it tastes best this time of year. You can slice a radicchio in half and grill it, or use it raw in a salad mixed with arugula and sherry or balsamic vinaigrette. It’s important to use a sweet-ish dressing with this in a salad, as it can be quite bitter and needs a little balance. It tastes great with bacon, too. It’s festive color is perfect for the season and will be a lovely compliment on your Thanksgiving table.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWild mushrooms! This year we have a huge bumper crop of mushrooms, and it’s only fall. Prices are at rock bottom right now and you can find some pretty exotic varieties at your local wild mushroom purveyor. These shown in the photo, above, are called Violet Chanterelles, or Pig’s Ears. They have a lovely texture and earthy/pungent flavor that is perfect to accompany roasted game birds or pork. Other delicious mushrooms to try are Porcini, King Trumpet, yellow Chanterelle, Black Trumpet, Hedgehog, Matsutake, Maitake, Pioppini, and Yellowfoot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPersimmons! While I don’t have much experience with these, I do know how prolific they are around here in the fall. I had neighbors in Oakland with a whole orchard of them in their back yard. They are gorgeous when still on the tree, as they are late-ripening and the tree loses it’s leaves before the fruit falls off, making a silhouette that looks eerily like a scraggly Christmas tree full of bright orange ornaments. I know we have two major varieties here in CA; the sweet & friendly Fuyu persimmon, and the astringent Hachiya persimmon. To make them more palatable, my dad used to put his persimmon into a coffee mug and cover it with a small plate for several days. This would accelerate the ripening process, and he would eat it when it was practically rotting. Gross, Dad. There are some varieties indigenous to the United States, and they were a staple food of the Native Americans and early “American” settlers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApples! There is no fall food more perfect than the apple, especially here in California where we have access to a zillion different heirloom varieties. Right now there is a bounty of fresh apples all over the place and there’s a reason apple pie is so popular in the fall. Some of my favorite heirloom varieties include Pink Pearl, Grenadine, Rome, Wickson and Sierra Beauty. Pink-fleshed apples like Pink Pearl and Grenadine are not only beautiful, but in my opinion the most delicious. Perhaps it’s my mind playing tricks on me because of the seductive color, convincing my brain that they somehow taste better, but that Grenadine apple really does taste just like grenadine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoodbye tomatoes, basil, sweet corn & zucchini. Say Sayonara to sweet peppers. Summer is O-V-E-R, make room for fall foods! What are some of your favorite fall fruits & vegetables?

Seasonal Foods: Artichokes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’ve been to the farmer’s market at all in recent weeks, you may have noticed a staple vegetable of California popping up at your favorite coastal farmers’ stands, the artichoke. While other parts of the country don’t see this often misunderstood and delicious vegetable until the springtime, here in California we are lucky to get a crop of them in the fall. They favor our coastal environment, growing from Half Moon Bay all the way down to Watsonville. They grow alongside their coastal friends the strawberry, brussel sprout, and broccoli. If you take a drive down Highway 1 in the fall, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a huge pile of artichokes at a farm stand.

I think artichokes get a bad rap because of their thorny, scaly exterior. They aren’t exactly a friendly-looking vegetable, but I assure you they are worth the effort of cooking and disassembling them to reach their tender, delicious core. They leaves are basically a vehicle for butter; I like to steam an artichoke whole and serve it with lemon-garlic butter. I peel the leaves off, one by one, dipping them into the butter and scraping off the tender bits with my front teeth. Once I get down to the heart, I scoop out the “choke” (the fuzzy inedible stuff in the center) and snarf down the heart and stem as quickly as I can get it into my mouth.

Cooking an artichoke is easy; simply peel off the tough outer leaves until you get to the more tightly-closed ones, then trim the spiky tips off any leaves you can reach with a pair of kitchen shears. Then, chop off 1/2″ of the tip of the artichoke (opposite the stem end). If there is a good stem on it, I use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin of the stem (the stem is edible and quite delicious). Then, pop it into your steam basket and give it a good steam until a knife slides into the thickest part without much effort. Be careful not to over-cook it. Since artichokes vary in size, cooking times will vary.

If you are lucky enough to find really tiny artichokes, you can roast those whole and eat them as-is.

Pairing wine with artichokes is quite difficult, as a chemical in the artichoke clashes with a component in many wines which make them taste bitter and metallic together. However, there are several wines that work beautifully with artichokes; Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Blanc de Blanc Champagne, un-oaked Chardonnay, Muscadet, Verdicchio, Alsatian Riesling, and Pinot Blanc. Basically you want to avoid anything with tannin or oak (all red wine and some whites), and focus on dry white wines with ample acidity.

Do you love artichokes? How do you like to eat them? Is there a condiment you like to enjoy them with best? Let us know in the comments.

Seasonal Foods: Pink Pearl Apple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI will never forget the look of shock on my step-father’s face the first time he saw the flesh of a pink pearl apple I was eating while we were out on a hike. They are bizarre, for sure, these rosy-fleshed treats. What’s more surprising to me is not just the color, but the great flavor of the Pink Pearl apple. They are tart, sweet and crisp – the perfect fruit.

I never knew these existed until this year when I saw them on display at Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco. Surely they couldn’t taste as great as they looked, so I picked up a few to try out. I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious they were, and later came to find out that they are Colleen’s favorite apple (no surprise there, she loves weird things in nature).

According to Wikipedia, the Pink Pearl apple is a cultivar developed in 1944 by Albert Etter, a northern California breeder. It was the seedling of the “Surprise”, another red-fleshed apple. If you ever read or watched The Botany of Desire, you may remember Michael Pollan’s chapters on apples. He explains how the seedling produced from the seed of a tasty apple is never a genetic match and usually produces apples only suitable for making hooch. Apples are weird like that, so Mr. Etter must have been pretty stoked when his seedling started producing these amazing apples.

Most heirloom varieties of apples have been wiped out and replaced with commercial apples such as Fuji, Pink Lady, McIntosh, Red Delicious, and the likes. We are fortunate to have so many heirloom apple varieties here in California, and I take full advantage. The apple season is reaching full swing with the onset of Fall, so I highly recommend going to your local farmer’s market and picking up some of these beauties before they are gone.