Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Turn The Beet Around

Now is the time for the comfort of old-fashioned food, fires in the evening and serious games of Scrabble; a time for hunkering down and settling into the slow change from fall to winter. A chilly snap last week had me baking up a storm; cauliflower soup, pear and cranberry bread pudding, a toffee apple sauce, apple and lemon verbena jam, slow roasted beets and local roasted spuds with sage. I embrace the quietness of the cooler months, walks with friends, hats and gloves and a big pot of soup bubbling away on the stove. Potato dishes such as Jansson's temptation will be made with great regularity providing us with the starchy sustenance that we need and desire as the nights draw in.

The trees are doing their brilliant kaleidoscopic fall presentation and my cimicifuga is flowering at the bottom of the garden, it's looks a little bit spooky at night, the white flowers shifting about behind a birch tree, but during the daytime they take on a comical pipe cleaning brush quality, anyway when they flower I know that Halloween and Thanksgiving are just around the corner. 

But it feels like spring out there, it's positively balmy, the heat has us all a bit confused; one feels like getting the flip flops out again along with that chilled bottle of rosé, but to be truthful I really can't get quite as enthusiastic as my fellow Montaukians about an Indian summer in October; I have replaced floppy hats with furry ones and light cotton fabrics with wool (and possum) all the summer clothes have been packed up along with the idea of that 'last swim' and I am ready for cold temperatures and piping hot food.

The hearty beet is perfect for roasting, the addition of these spices not only fills the kitchen with wonderful exotic aromas but adds a festive touch to this often neglected root vegetable, the skin falls away easily revealing the crimson jewel-like flesh, a feast for the eyes and the belly. We had ours with lamb chops, a creamy potato gratin, mushrooms cooked with anchovies and sherry and of course a few glasses of our 2008 Stonecrop Pinot Noir.

Roasted Beets with Spices

4 medium beets, quartered
spices - I used cloves, cardamom, cumin, allspice and turmeric
(nutmeg, chilli pepper coriander can also be used)
olive oil, maldon sea salt, freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400f, put the beets in foil (double layer) sprinkle on the spices, salt and pepper and olive oil, close foil at edges and roast for about 45 minutes or until tender. The skin peels off easily but wear gloves unless you desire cerise fingers for Halloween.

Note to NZ'er - there is no such word as looky.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Season Of Plenty

The land and sea have been generous; cranberries were picked in the dunes, pears were gathered roadside, bluefish were caught and smoked, the NZ'er caught a big striper surfcasting down at the Point, we have been harvesting bowls of big beef tomatoes and there's no shortage of herbs especially sage which I was able to supply to a friend with a restaurant who needed it desperately for her gnocchi.  

There have been some surprises in my garden; in the Spring I divided one sanguisorba and rather haphazardly planted it in various locations, now in October the garden is dotted with the beautiful droplets of blood-red flowers. A pale lemon pineland hibiscus with a deep burgundy center volunteered itself in my herb garden, what a special treat to discover it growing between the shiso. The Rosa glauca (love those hips) appeared after a two year absence, in a different spot. The lemon verbena is positively tree-like and I have been making tea with its deeply fragrant leaves. The toad lily (tricyrtis hirta) has been blooming for months it seems, as has the erigeron in the cracks of the stone path, but the longest bloomer in the garden has been the gaura, I love this little gem of a plant, it gently waves its fairy wand in the cooling Montauk breeze and mischievously continues to twinkle as others are fading and leaves are falling. As dusk approaches the tiny flowers magically light up the garden, I desire a meadow of it.

A friend told me about a pear tree in a Montauk garden, it sits on the edge of the property and right now the pears are falling, they conveniently fall on to the footpath (and not so conveniently on the road) the owners of the tree do not seem too concerned about harvesting the fruit, I hate to see good fruit go to waste or even worse become fruity roadkill on route 27, so I took a bucket and got me a hefty load of local pears.

Pear and Cranberry Chutney
Pears from Montauk - Cranberries from Napeague

about a cup of cranberries
4 pears peeled and chopped 
grated fresh ginger (I used about a 1/4 cup)
1 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
my choice of spices - a pinch or two of ground star anise and a pinch of five spice powder, you can use cinnamon or cloves, for a more traditional taste.

Put everything in a large saucepan, bring to boil then reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes, or until pears and cranberries are soft.

You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and watercraft; a certain free-margin, and even vagueness - ignorance, credulity - helps your enjoyment of these things.
Walt Whitman