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Archive for October, 2010

OK, so everyone make their own batch of pesto? No? Just jump down to the previous post for the recipe. Don’t feel like it? That’s OK too. You can go ahead and just look at the pictures. I won’t judge.

As a back story to this, you should first know that I have been completely and totally OBSESSED with tomato, basil, mozzarella sandwiches this summer. It’s one of the only recipes of which I will confidently stand up and say that you will find no version better than mine. I’ve tried caprese sandwiches in restaurants and margarita versions in sandwich shops…nope. Mine’s better. It’s better than the version they sell at the Iggy’s stand, even.

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Now, it’s a sandwich, so I can’t take credit for it based on my culinary prowess or anything like that. It’s all about the ingredients. For the best sandwich ever, follow these steps exactly. You’ll notice that you’re at a distinct disadvantage if you don’t happen to live in the Boston area.

1). Bread: Must be Iggy’s Francese. No other bread will do. I’ve tried it. The ONLY acceptable substitute I’ve found is the Concord loaf from Hi-Rise Bakery in Cambridge.

2). Tomatoes: Fresh farmer’s market tomatoes. In August. The sandwich just doesn’t taste the same in September, and certainly not October. Sigh. I like it equally well with a standard tomato or an heirloom variety. The heirloom will be a little sweeter, the red will impart more traditional Italian flavors. Place two thick slices (about a quarter inch) on your bread.

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3). Fresh mozzarella: I strongly recommend Narragansett Creamery for your mozzarella. Don’t get me wrong, I love Fiore di Nonno just as much as everyone else, but Narragansett’s mozzarella is just in a category of it’s own. Get the balls in water if you can — they will be the softest, creamiest mozzarella you’ve ever had. And with that, I just started salivating. Put 2-3 quarter inch slices on top of the tomatoes.

4). Fresh basil: top your mozzarella with 4-6 leaves basil.

5). Dressing: another key. First, drizzle liberally with extra virgin olive oil. I tend to use a basic Filippo Berio — but I’m sure it would be even better if you had a nice expensive gourmet olive oil. Christmas is coming if anyone wants to buy me some ;) Next, drizzle balsamic glaze over the sandwich. I use Blaze and I swear by this stuff. Need to order more as I’m running low after this summer. It’s fantastic on roasted zucchini as well.

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6). Sea salt: also key! Any brand will do I suppose, so long as it comes in a grinder. You want the big chunks you get that way. Sometimes I’ll also do a little bit of fresh ground white pepper as well, but that’s completely optional.

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If you’re feeling kindly towards your meat-loving significant other, you can also make it with bacon, but that’s really just gilding the lily. Either way, serve with plenty of napkins.

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Um. Hungry Crafter? That’s wonderful, and it looks delicious, but… I thought you were going to talk about what I should do with this pesto I just made? Ah yes. I get a little excited when I talk tomato, basil, mozzarella. I needed to do it justice. This is going somewhere, I promise.

Now that you understand the depth of my sandwich obsession, you can understand what it means for me to fiddle with perfection. But fiddle I did! As soon as I made the pesto, I knew there was one thing I had to try right away. Tomato, pesto, mozzarella sandwich. Grilled.

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For this sandwich, I simply slathered some pesto on one of the slices of bread, layered on the mozzarella and tomato, and got ready to grill. No need to drizzle with oil, as there’s oil in the pesto; no need for salt, as the parmesan in the pesto provides enough of a bite. No Blaze, either — I wanted to let the pesto flavor shine. I did, however, use a pastry brush to dab some olive oil on the outside of the bread prior to grilling, to ensure a nice golden brown crunch.

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The verdict? Sometimes perfection is worth messing with.

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OK, so we’ve put pesto on a sandwich, we’ve eaten it on bread for snacks… How about a meal? Simplest thing ever: Boil water. Cook some pasta. Stir in pesto. Send your tastebuds on a trip to heaven.

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My only recommendation is to use a pasta shape that will hold the sauce well — think ridges and cupped shapes. See how you get little pockets of pesto with the Farfalle Rotonde? Be sure to pass some grated parmesan at the table as well. There’s no such thing as too much cheese.

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What a great food year it’s been! I’ve discovered that I do in fact like fennel and chowder (and fennel chowder), learned better ways to chop peppers and onions, explored the wonders of the fava bean, eaten my first zeppoli, developed an unhealthy obsession with Iggy’s Francese bread, and forever banned Vlasic pickles in favor of Claussens. As an aside — seriously? I have been MISSING OUT for years! I had no idea the difference between the shelf-stable, ho-hum excuses for pickles you find in the middle aisles of the grocery store compared to the crunchy, tasty, lip-smacking goodness of a pickle from the refrigerated deli section! If you haven’t made this discovery yet, RUN, do not walk, to your nearest grocery store and do a taste test. May I never eat those things I used to call “pickles” ever again. Pickle rant aside…What’s the point of all this, you may wonder? On to my latest revelation: I like pesto! When it’s done right, that is.

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It all started with the basil, of course. After sampling several vendors, I can safely say that the Siena Farms stand is THE place to get your basil if you frequent the Copley Square Farmers Market.  For one, their bunches are big, full, and include more stems in each bunch than most other stands. More importantly, they’re the only stand I’ve found that give you the entire stem — including the root! What this means is that your basil — kept in a cup of water on your kitchen counter — lasts twice as long as a bunch without the roots.

Inspired by the abundance of basil (and emboldened by my many new taste acquisitions of the year), I decided that I needed to give pesto another shot. I do love basil, after all; it was the pine nuts that made me squeamish before. For this adventure, I knew I didn’t want to mess around. I wanted to go to a proper authority for the recipe to get the best pesto possible. In my mind, this means one thing only: the good folks over at Cook’s Illustrated. If you’re not familiar with them, they approach recipe writing like scientists, doing lab test after lab test until the final recipe is perfected. They did not let me down.

Classic Pesto

Abridged from Cook’s Illustrated, The Best Italian Classics

  • 1/4 c. pine nuts
  • 3 med cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 c. packed fresh basil leaves
  • 7 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 c. finely grated Parmesan cheese

Toast nuts in a small, heavy skillet over med heat, stirring frequently, until just golden & fragrant, 4-5 minutes. Set aside.

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In same pan, toast the garlic cloves, shaking pan occasionally, about 7 minutes. Cool, peel, and chop.

Place basil in a large ziploc freezer bag, and use meat pounder or rolling pin to bruise all leaves.

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Combine nuts, garlic, basil, olive oil & salt in a food processor; process until smooth.

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Transfer mixture to a small bowl and mix in the Parmesan; add salt as needed to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and use within 3 days.

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It was so very, very good. As in, it’s all I can do to keep myself from running back out to the market and buying out their entire inventory of basil so I can make this by the bucketful. I was talking pesto with my mom prior to trying out the recipe, bemoaning how most jarred pestos tend to be overly oily at best, cloying in taste at worst. Not this pesto! Even the resident picky eater of the house liked it, and we happily slathered it on bread (Iggy’s Francese, of course) as snacks in between using it for meals. Next blog post: what we DID with the pesto! Get your food processors out and make some up so you can join in the fun!

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This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of heading down to the first annual Boston Local Food Festival on the wharf in Fort Point. Now, before I go any further, let me stop right there and take one of my patented asides to address the question half of you are wondering:  Huh? What’s a Fort Point? Where’s Fort Point? I’ve lived in Boston for <<insert number of years here>> and I’ve never heard of it.

For the uninitiated, Fort Point is simply a specific section of South Boston, aka “Southie.” Southie should not be confused with the South End and certainly never confused with the South Shore. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the South Shore. I live there. But it sure ain’t Southie.) Fort Point’s also conveniently across the bridge from South Station. Got it, Southpaw?

For some time now, Fort Point has been hyped as the next “up and coming” area of Boston, and has become a trendy spot for artists, loft dwellers, and foodies, thanks in no small part to the efforts of local superstar chef Barbara Lynch. (More on her another day. Suffice it to say “GODDESS”). Fort Point’s most recognizable resident, however, is the giant Hood milk bottle that stands watch over the Boston Children’s Museum. Check out the Friends of Fort Point Channel website for more info on the neighborhood.
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Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on to the festival. If, like most folks, you judge the success of a festival by the number of attendees, then all I can say is that this was a resounding success. It was CROWDED! Yup, the local food movement has Boston all wrapped up in a tizzy. A tasty tizzy, inspiring an event that was pure Boston, through and through. In a move that brought a smile to my face, they even trotted out Mayor Mumbles (as we affectionately call him) for some grammatically incorrect opening remarks.
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The festival had a little bit of everything, from food to demos to games:

  • free food samples
  • butchering demonstrations
  • food vendors and trucks
  • non-profit orgs and charity crop sharing
  • slow food twister
  • cider pressing & butter making*
  • chicken coops & container gardens
  • a competitive seafood cooking throwdown
  • live music
  • beer tasting

*The butter making was super cool — maybe because I tend to enjoy kids activities more than most kids (or certainly more than an adult ought to). Basically, you take whole cream, put it in a Mason jar, shake it for about 20-25 minutes, and it separates into butter and buttermilk. Seriously, isn’t that COOL????

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In no particular order, some of the things I especially enjoyed were:

Pickles from Grillo’s. Seriously? I couldn’t get a picture of the pickles without someone’s hand in it because there were that many people jockeying about for a taste.
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Pig butchering demo by Chef Matt Jennings. Folks were NOT sticking their hands in THAT photo, but I still couldn’t get close enough for any gory pig photos. You’re crushed, I know. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Matt is the chef at Farmstead down in Providence, which has been on my “To Eat” list for far too long! Marcy, it’s time for another food trip to R.I.
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Fish cooking demo by the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association. You all know how to say “Gloucester,” right? Yeah, it’s “Glosstah”. Angela Sanfilippo (at left) was just fabulous to listen to. Very engaging. I loved hearing her stories of how the organization got started and her own involvement in helping to protect the local fishing industry here in Massachusetts.
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Bobby O’s pita chips. Pretty self explanatory, really. They tasted fantastic, so I snapped a photo in lieu of a business card (it was a “Zero Waste” event, after all!). Go buy some.
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Alternate grains from Four Star Farms. WARNING! About to expose myself as a super ultra geek. I had to buy a bag of the triticale flour because (gulp) in the Star Trek “Trouble with Tribbles” episode, the Tribbles were gorging themselves on the ship’s supply of quadrotriticale. I like that episode. Moving right along now…
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Olive Berries! Never seen/heard of them before. Chef Didi Emmons brought them out during the seafood throwdown and let us give them a try. Tart! (The berries, not Didi). Aren’t they beautiful?
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Didi’s apron. Lovely, eh? Check out the embroidered pocket… It’s a teacup. Sweet!
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THE FOOD. Rightfully, the star of the show.
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We ended up eating the pork and heirloom tomato sandwich from Sportello for lunch, but unfortunately in my haste to consume, I forgot to take a photo of the sandwich itself! Ah well, you can take a look at the preparation, instead.
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All in all, the Boston Local Food Festival was THE hip place to be on Saturday. A complete list of vendors is on the Food Festival site — help support local food!
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My one regret? Supposedly David Coffin (of Christmas Revels fame) was doing a roving performance of sea shanties and the like, and we missed him. We thought we heard him off in the distance at one point, and tried to steer our ship his way. The throngs of people proved too strong for our tired vessel, so we turned alee, never to find out if he in fact wears something other than tights outside of the Christmas season. Perhaps it’s just as well. I like the idea of Mr. Coffin being perpetually in tights. But that’s another story.

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