[ vegetarian improvisational peasant fusion cuisine for the 22nd century ]

Friday, October 13, 2006

cooking can be god through Nash's Farmshare Recipes, October 13th 2006

A few days safely after the new moon, longtime farmworkers Nash and Patty will lay down their shovels and head to Italy for the Slow Food movement's Terra Madre festival. It's a chance for the Farm – and our entire community – to share knowledge, experience, struggles, and wine with hard-working compatriots from around the world. To facilitate jet-fuel expenses and customs bribes, local chefs from Cultivated Palette catering and the Alderwood Bistro are preparing a six course wine-paired feast from (naturally) the farm's organic produce.

Tickets to the benefit dinner for the Sunday 6pm dinner (at the Bistro) started at a clean hundred dollars, and can be ordered through Micaela at 360-385-3283 or your neighborhood scalper.

In honor of Nash, Patty, and the heap of drowned bones in the Lago de Pieta, we're going to vary a risotto. Traditional risotto involves drinking as much wine as it takes to stir a few handfuls of plump arborio rice into a creamy interchange of texture and flavor, in which every grain preserves its advertised individuality while making a lasting contribution to the p(l)easant whole.

Well, rice breaks both the Atkins (may he rest in peace) and the 100-mile (may we see some peace) diets, so I'm going to take a cue from local chef Aaran Stark and suggest a new-world variation:

-- Potato Risotto --

2 tablespoons of oil, 1 tablespoon of butter
1 large onion
1 medium-to-large potato for 1 medium-to-large person
1 cup of stock, milk, or linear combination thereof, per person
6 wide, healthy leaves of arugula
some broccoli and corn

I've found two keys to risotto – techniques that make the dish worthy of baptism and more than overcooked rice. The first is the type of rice and we're avoiding that issue altogether. The second is the initial toasting process, to brown the rice in oil or butter, thereby infusing extra flavor and precooking the rice. And the third is the stirring.

Rather than the obvious and sensible method of cooking a grain, in which you combine your chosen grain with your chosen water, set to boil, and wander away, risotto requires attention. The large-hearted, old-world grandmotherly attention of adding your cooking liquid one splash at a time. Beyond any pretensions of figs, prosciutto, wild mushrooms, or (gasp) organic greens, it's the love that really counts. And before (and during, and after) time was money, time was Love. So stir. And stir again. And smile. And smile again. And, yes, stir again.

Explicitly now: Dice your potatoes finely and cover with water as you go. If you have a slicer or mandoline, use her for the first stage and then cross-dice your slices. You want the potato pieces to resemble rice as much as you can tolerate chopping. Be careful and save the infamous red risotto only for the most hallowed of guests. When the potatoes are happy, dice an onion. At this point, it should be no problem.

Then, heat your stock in one pan and your olive oil in another. Make sure your stock is carefully salted and peppered – treat it like a failed soup. Add the onions to fry on medium heat in the pan, stirring occasionally until they soften. When soft, add the potatoes and toss well, coating them with the onion's inherent goodness. They will all cook together until dry and you can sense them start to toast.

As you're patiently waiting, shuck the corn and deflower the broccoli. When the stock boils drop in the corn and broccoli to blanch. Cook only briefly, until the broccoli turns the most vibrant of greens, and extract quickly with a slotted spoon (or strain, saving the stock), rinsing quickly in cold water to prevent heatstroke.

Accoutrement ready, stir the risotto and add your first ladle (pour?) of stock. Typically the first ladle of liquid is wine, but until we're out of Ramadan I won't ask you to do that. Wink wink. When the steam and sizzle clears you'll still be stirring, slowly, in a figure-eight pattern, invoking through your slow breathing and calm demeanor the gentle spirits of Piedmontese homemaking. When the potatoes graciously absorb the water and relax their inhibitions, add another ladle. Stir. Continue ad terminus, when the starch from the potatoes plays Garibaldi to a dish of united creaminess. For the final moments, add another ladle of stock (to help the risotto stay moist on the table) and the arugula you've carefully rolled up and thinly shredded, stirring once again.

And, indubitably, the butter.

Freshly grated parmigiano cheese atop, shocked broccoli and corn in an intricate mandala around, and flecks of freshly minced parsley all provide a nice presentation for the each plate's tender mountain of risotto.

Optional first-date tricks include cooking shittake mushrooms or apples along with the rice and last-minute additions of toasted pinenuts or warm drunken figs.

-- A typical cabbage curry --

If that's not enough for you, read on. Tonight, with fewer than ten minutes to cook before exhaustion and the ever-present spectre of the Internet overtook me, i handed together a simple gujarati-style curry to a few willing spices, and ended up ready to serve by the time mom had gone through the mail.

An equal amount of green cabbage and white turnip or, some other week
An equal amount of white cauliflower and red cabbage or, perhaps in the future
An equal amount of red beets and gree romanesco
and a tomato, so small its optional

one healthy tablespoon of sesame oil (not toasted)
one teaspoon of mustards seeds
one teaspoon of ground cumin
just not two teaspoons of ground coriander
a pinch of ground turmeric
a pinch of ground cayenne pepper
salt, brown sugar, and lemon juice to taste

You know it's Indian when the spice list beats the vegetables.

Cut the vegetables to small. You can even pulse them in the robot. I like the cauliflower or romanesco to be almost crumbled, and the cabbage to be very thin but long (more than a joint) strips. High heat the pan, ready the spices, high heat the oil, ready a shield and add the mustard seeds. When they blister and pop lower to medium heat and defend yourself with the lid until they've had their way, then immediately add the cumin and coriander. Brown the spices until you:

a) can't smell anything else
b) start spontaneously chanting the thousand names of God
c) strew plastic bags all along the linoleum floors.

Congratulations, you have arrived.

Add the vegetables and stir well, risotto-style, to coat with the accumulated goodness. After the initial two minutes of sizzle-fry, add the chopped tomato if you have it and some water if you don't. Dissolve the turmeric, cayenne, and salt in the ambient liquid, lower the heat, and lid the pan.

It'll take between ten and fifteen minutes – worry not, Indian food is meant to be overcoooked – to finish properly. When you've finished making a few chappatis (no space for the recipe; you'll have to read my book...), add the final touches and serve. The final touches being a hint of eager sugar and a squirt from a passing, willing, lemon.

Some chopped cilantro on top would be make the old world happy, but at this point, they've got enough on their plates to be worrying about.