Classic Bruschetta

OK, well tomatoes are coming, and I have seen the variety and tasted the quality, so y’all are up for some wonderful treats! We’ll start into tomato dishes with a classic Bruschetta, perfect for a summer evening.

Classic Tomato Bruschetta

3 or 4 ripe tomatoes of your choice
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tblspns extra virgin olive oil
1 tblspns balsamic vinegar
3 or 4 leaves fresh basil, chiffonade cut
Salt and pepper to taste

To chiffonade:
Stack your leaves so they’re all lined up the same way. Now roll the leaves into a nice, tightly rolled bundle. Start at one end with a sharp parking knife and make cuts clean through the roll, about 1/8″ apart – The tighter the roll, the finer your cut – You can go thinner than an 1/8″ as you see fit!

1 loaf of Focaccia, Ciabatta, or French bread

scald your tomatoes by dropping them in water that you’ve just brought to a boil and then removed from the heat. Let ’em sit for about a minute and then pull ’em out and pat ’em dry. use the edge of a paring knife to peel the skins off the ‘maters.

After you’ve skinned ’em, cut the tomatoes into quarters and remove the centers and seeds. Now cut your bounty into a rough 1/4″ dice.

Combine the minced garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and basil in a non-reactive bowl, toss to coat everything thoroughly, cover and let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Slice your bread into nice, grab-able slices and arrange on a cookie sheet. Brush each slice lightly with extra virgin olive oil and put ’em under your oven broiler until golden brown.

Keep the bread and bruschetta separate, so that folks can spoon up their own, and to keep the bread from gettin’ soggy.

Serve with a nice, cool bottle of white wine and enjoy!

Chileheads of the world, unite!

Just got the pepper list from the gang; didn’t really need it myself – When we were up the other week, Grant asked, “Wanna come look at the peppers?”
Answer; do bears poop behind trees?

I nosed all through the little buggers, and I promise you, they are magnificent and we are gonna have a ball with them. Gonna just publish the list here in a sec, but a few words first: We LOVE chiles and peppers, and we want you to also! We are gonna do a good few entries on chiles covering cooking with fresh, preserving, using for spicing and anything else we can think of or you ask until we exhaust the topic, (FAT chance!)

OK, so for now, the list, and then onward and upward in a little bit!

THE NEIGHBORHOOD GARDENER-KING GARDENS PEPPER LIST FOR 2010

We grow all of the major types of peppers, but there are many more varieties in each category than we could ever grow. There is a lot of variation in flavors, texture, thickness and thinness of walls, heat, etc. If you are not familiar with a particular type of pepper, start by tasting a small piece raw. Then consider various uses (suggested below) and sauté a small piece to judge texture, flavor, and toughness of skin for the use you have in mind.

About HOT Peppers:
Capsaicin is what gives chiles their heat. Pepper hotness is rated in Scoville Units or the Heat Scale. The Scoville scale is somewhat subjective, and rates peppers in multiples of 100. The Heat Scale is determined by HPLC (high-pressure liquid chromatography). But—and most important to the cook—heat can vary widely within any category of chile due to variety, growing conditions, etc. and the amount of heat in a pod can vary from pod to pod on the same plant! Always taste your hot chiles first and adjust accordingly. Remember, you can always add more!

Although we equate hot peppers with Mexican cuisine, you can use them with many other types of cooking such as Cajun, Indian (think hot curry), Chinese, and South Asian.

What to do if a chile is too hot to use in a particular recipe?

Removing the placental tissue (seeds and those white inner membranes) will reduce the heat considerably. If you are using with tomatoes, increase the amount of tomato products. Add sour cream or yogurt. Soak the chiles in salted ice water before using. Add Bell peppers.

What to do if you’ve already eaten something too hot?
The absolute best solution is to immediately eat dairy products such as sour cream, yogurt, or ice cream. Starchy foods such as bread or potatoes will also dilute or absorb the capsaicin. In India you will find bananas on the table to quench the fire of curry. And if you drink enough beer or margaritas, you won’t care how hot the chiles are!

The worst thing to do: drink water. It will only spread the capsaicin around in your mouth. Water does not dilute the hotness of capsaicin!

PEPPER HANDLING TIPS

Always wear gloves when preparing very hot chiles, such as Habaneros, Serranos, or even Jalapenos. You can get a very bad burn from hot chiles and you can also spread the capsaicin to your eyes or things such as doorknobs and switches.

If you do get capsaicin on your hands, rubbing with oil (not water) will help the most, as capsaicin is oil soluble.

Most hot chiles will cool down a bit after cooking, pickling, or melding into a dish. If you add some minced Jalapeno to cold slaw, for example, you may want to taste it again before serving to see if you want to add more.

Most New Mexican varieties and sometimes Ancho/Poblanos are peeled before being used in cooked recipes. You can blister the skin over a gas flame on your stove, over a grill, or in a broiler. Blister then all over. A little charring is fine, but don’t let them blacken too much. Wrap in a damp towel and let steam for a few minutes. If you want them to be crisper and less cooked, put them in cold water right away. You can peel the skins off by rubbing with your hands or the blunt side of a knife. Don’t worry about getting every little bit of the skin off—a little smoky charred flavor tastes great. You can then freeze them for future use. This is also a good way to prepare Sweet Italians, or even Bells. After you’ve removed the skin, cut into pieces and freeze in olive oil for a great appetizer with crackers.

You can freeze bell peppers or smaller hot chiles very easily. Just wash small chiles and freeze whole. Chop bell peppers, freeze on a cookie sheet and then transfer to a freezer bag.

All peppers pickle well. Check out any pickling/canning book.

You can use chiles in vinegars or make chile oil. The uses for peppers are endless!

OUR VARIETIES:

SWEET PEPPERS

BELL
Various kinds, most are sweet with no pungency at all. We grow kinds that are green, light green, red, brown (aka “chocolate”), orange, yellow, cream, purple, and multicolored. You undoubtedly already know how to use these.

SWEET ITALIAN
Sweeter than most bells, even in the green stage, and without the aftertaste that most bells have. They are generally more elongated than bells, with a tapered end, and have a nice thick flesh. The candy of sweet peppers! They start out green and turn red, yellow, or orange as they ripen. They are rarely found in supermarkets.

CUBANELLES
Similar to Italians, but not as sweet. The Gypsy pepper is probably the best known in this category, but we usually grow a couple types. They are perfect for salads. Most are a light green, ripening to reddish, and are elongated like Sweet Italians but are smaller and have thinner walls.

ITALIAN ROASTERS
These are all heirloom types, not found in supermarkets. They are long and skinny and sometimes have a little zip to them, but are really neither sweet nor hot. They are the pepper you find on Italian sandwiches if you go to an authentic Italian restaurant. They are typically used for frying and roasting. You do not need to remove the seeds in these. These peppers are thin-walled and cook quickly. Use either green or red.

PEPPERONCINI
The salad bar pepper. Makes a wonderful overnight pickle. Just slice in rings and marinate in pickle juice from a commercial pickle jar, or mix salt, vinegar, and spices. Often canned whole when they are small. Like Italian Roasters, they are neither very sweet nor pungent and have thin walls. Also good used like Cubanelles in salads.

MODERATELY HOT

PASILLA
When used in the fresh stage, these are called chilaca, and when dried, they are used in mole~ sauce. Use them in enchilada sauces or most any Mexican type sauces where they will add a depth of flavor. They measure between 1,000 and 1,500 on the Scoville scale and 3 on the Heat Scale.

ANCHO/POBLANO
In the US, the green fresh chile is called Poblano, while its mature red version (usually dried) is called Ancho. However, in Mexico it may be the other way around, and in most of California both green and red pods are called Ancho. Whatever you call it, this is one versatile pepper. It’s our favorite hot pepper. These can be stuffed for chiles rellenos, or used in casseroles and sauces. We recommend removing the skin by blistering it first. They are approximately 1,000 to 1,500 Scoville Units or 3 on the Heat Scale.

NEW MEXICAN (aka ANAHEIM, HATCH)
This is the state vegetable of New Mexico. We love this pepper! They can be used in chili, sauces, salsas, stews, casseroles. You can stuff them for chiles rellenos, where we recommend removing the skin by blistering first. This chile is a must-have for any Mexican type cooking. Use them green for a classic green chile sauce. They have a wide range of heat—between 100 and 10,000 Scoville Units, or 2 to 4 on the Heat Scale. If adding to casseroles or salsas, be sure to taste first. If stuffing for rellenos, you’ll just have to take your chances—one person might get a very mild pepper while the next will be reaching for the beer.

WAX OR “HUNGARIAN WAX”
There are many different varieties, usually yellow maturing to orange or red. These are great in salsa and make a fantastic pickled pepper. These have the widest heat range of any chile. Some have no heat at all, others may range from 3 to 8 on the heat scale. We grow the Hungarian Wax and Volcano types, which are similar in heat—generally less than a jalapeno, or about 4 on the Heat Scale. Be sure to check the heat in each pepper before you use it.

HOT TO REALLY HOT

JALAPENO
Can be used fresh, pickled, or smoked (then called chipotle). The main hot pepper used in salsas in the USA. Can be stuffed and baked or grilled, sliced into rings and pickled, used as a topping for nachos, minced and added to cold slaw—a million uses. Heat will vary by variety and where it’s grown, so always check before adding to a dish. 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville Units, about 5 on the Heat Scale.

SERRANO
Small green or red, commonly used fresh in salsa. Be sure to mince finely. Great in sauces of all kinds. 10,000 to 23,000 Scoville Units; 6-7 on the Heat Scale.

CAYENNE
We grow a number of oriental peppers that are cayenne types. Can be used fresh, or dried or powdered. An essential ingredient in Cajun cooking and in many Asian stir-fries. To use in Asian dishes, fry in oil, then take the pepper out and use the oil. Very hot—30,000-50,000 Scoville Units or 8 on the Heat Scale. Only Habanera types are hotter.

HABANERO
Sometimes called Scotch Bonnet or Bahamian. It is the main ingredient in jerk sauces, and is generally made into hot sauce. It has a distinct fruity flavor. It’s the hottest: 200,000 to 300,000 Scoville Units, or a 10 on the Heat Scale.

Now a brief postscript: TAKE HEED of the warnings regarding heat, and especially the fact that almost any chile with heat potential can go nuts now and then; two of THE hottest chiles we’ve ever had were jalapenos, which we eat like candy and expect to usually be moderate in heat at best – One of them literally drove us OUT OF THE HOUSE when cooking; we had to open all the windows and doors and vent liberally before we could even breathe in there again, no BS! SO, test BEFORE you use, and unless you’re a real glutton for punishment, when using hot peppers, vein and seed them before use!

Beans, Beans, they’re good for your heart…

Sorry, couldn’t resist…

OK very first question for the chef blog, and here we go:

“This week it’s a bean glut if you are eating locally here in Northern Minnesota. Our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members and customers at our market stand will find lots of just-picked green, purple, and striped fresh beans available.

Of course, the first green beans of the season deserve just steaming with some butter on top, but after that—what to do with pounds of them? How about some suggestions for all of us snap-bean-lovin’ locavores? Maybe some ways to spice them up a bit? We know that’s right up your line!”

Indeed, it IS!

Beans aren’t just fun to look at, they’re great food and can take on a bunch of roles in a meal, from the common to the exotic. As the question notes, one thing you MUST do is present them as plainly as possible when they’re at the height of freshness:

Ever heard of an amuse bouche? This is a little one or two bite gourmet introduction to a meal, and really, is also a pretty good introduction of the chef: If you’re serving a certain nationality, announce, (Or maybe just hint at), what is to come: Here’s a quick and easy one to try with any of the varieties the gang has ready right now:

Beans Provencal

Choose 2 or 3 nice beans for each guest, cut the ends off leaving roughly even lengths of bean.

Core, seed and dice a ripe tomato

Mince about 3 tablespoons of onion or shallot.

Prepare a dressing of the following:
1 tblspn white wine vinegar
2 tblspn olive oil
1 tblspn grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tspn basil
1/4 tspn thyme
small garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Steam beans until just al dente, (Crisp-tender, if you will).

Combine beans, tomato and onion in a bowl and pour the dressing over them, toss everything to incorporate, serve right away.

If you want to be a bit fancy, tie 2 or 3 beans together with a piece of chive and serve on a small plate with a basil leaf – Looks great, tastes better!

OK, enough of the small stuff; part of the question was “what to do with pounds of them?” Monica’s not here right now, but I know, KNOW that if I didn’t pass this along, she’d kill me…

Any Bloody Mary fans out there? Thought so… Well, if you like those and/or pickled stuff, (And who doesn’t?) then you MUST make pickled beans! They’re the cat’s meow in a Bloody Mary and darn fine munching any other time. Here’s a quick and easy recipe for making your own.

Quick Pickled Beans:

1 lb whole beans, ends cut off and rinsed.
1 red bell pepper, veined and seeded and cut into strips
2 cloves of garlic, cut into quarters
2 bay leaves
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups white wine
2 cups water
2 tbspns sugar
2 tbspns salt
2 tbspns whole coriander seed
2 tbspns whole mustard seed
2 tbspns whole pepper seed

Put beans, pepper strips, garlic and bay leaves in a non-metallic bowl large enough to hold that and the liquid you’re gonna use.

Put everything else in a sauce pan and bring to a boil, stir until salt and sugar dissolve. reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Pour the mixture over the beans and make sure they are completely covered; if they’re not, add water until they is!

Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 48 hours. Beans will keep, refrigerated, up to a week. If you want or need longer than that, then it is canning time, and that is a good thing! Pickled beans can be canned via hot water bath, but if you’re gonna do fresh beans, (Which you really SHOULD do), you’ll need to pressure can them – We’ll talk more about canning towards the fall, unless questions come up sooner.

Now another part of the questions was, “Maybe some ways to spice them up a bit?” and pickled beans is a GREAT way to do just that. Our gardener pals have some fantastic hot peppers as well, you know, (Anybody who was around for my roasted corn pico de gallo the other week knows I ain’t lyin’…). Just take a couple of your favorite hot peppers, (From 1 to 4 per batch, depending on the pepper and your tolerance for heat), and add that to the mix and bingo, you got spicy pickled beans! Seriously though, if it’s habaneros, 1 is gonna do it; jalapenos, you could get away with 3 or so, but TEST THEIR HEAT BEFORE YOU COOK – Ain’t no fun making great stuff that’s too hit for anybody to eat, right?

Last offering for beans is a southwestern take on the classic American Three Bean Salad, tweaked for string beans – This is a great summer cook out dish and always a hit at a potluck. The slight smokiness of the paprika and the tang of fresh cilantro are a real treat!

Eben’s Southwestern Three Bean Salad

1 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed.
1 15 oz. can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
1/2 pound of string bean of your choice, steamed al dente
2 stalks of celery, finely diced

1/2 red onion, finely diced
1/4 cup fresh, finely chopped cilantro
Optional: 1 ear roasted corn, kernels cut off the cob
Optional: 1 medium jalapeno pepper, chopped fine

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 tspn smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix beans, celery, onion, and cilantro and corn

In a separate bowl, mix everything else together and whisk to incorporate; add the dressing to the bean mixture and toss to coat. Serve chilled.

OK, that’s all for now – Feel free to ask questions, etc and see y’all next time.