Chestnuts in an Algarve Autumn

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Portuguese proverb………”It is Saint Martins Day, we’ll eat chestnuts and we’ll taste the wine”.

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Before the potato was introduced into Europe, the chestnut was a major source of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals in the local diet. However its position  was supplanted, it still plays a role in the seasonal Mediterranean diet that resonates today. Chefs will still incorporate these food items onto their menus via soups, pastas, purees, roasts, braises and desserts. Fine dining cooking still needs the influence of the peasants classical cooking of necessity. If you did not eat the chestnut throughout the winter months, you might starve.

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But there is still nothing like being able to purchase freshly roasted chestnuts from a street vendor. Their sweet, smoky aroma is irrestible during November in the Algarve. Braziers burn and it is quite the social moment as customers wait their turn to receive their chestnuts wrapped up in a conically wrapped piece of magazine paper.

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Chestnuts are synonymous with the Feast of Saint Martin in Portugal, as well as demarcating that fine, thin line line between Autumn and Winter. In southern Portugal, it is imperative to have the Winter seasons crop of wheat already planted and the pig slaughtered in order to make and preserve the chorizo curing during the cool Winter months. It is also a season of festivity because, right around now, one can taste the new seasons wine offerings. In Algarve, the preference is for aqua-pe or “foot wine”. Essentially, this is an alcohol made from pouring water over the dregs left over from the wine making process, much like an Italian grappa.

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Classically speaking, kitchenwise, more morthern climates associate goose with the Feast of Saint Martin. Though in Portugal, one might be more inclined to see duck, which is what I used for my dish.

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My continued celebration of the chestnut is borrowed from the classic Tuscan dish named “Castagnaccio” (made with chestnut flour). Basically, it is a chestnut dessert pancake comprised of chestnut flour, pine nuts, raisins, olive oil and rosemary. I love the use of herbs for dessert cooking. For my own personal interpretation of Mediterranean cooking, fresh herbs are a must and are used throughout the meal.

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The finished baked item is usually accompanied by a dessert wine. In Italy, where much of my cooking experience comes from, this is VinSanto or Holy Wine. But hey……. hmmmm, this goes great with Port also. Eat and drink like a peasant.

A Spring Supper

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Now is the time to make arugula pesto and that will be amongst the items for to-night’s plan of work. I have lots of arugula to pick and I can’t pick it fast enough. I’m hoping to be able to freeze and preserve some pesto for later use in sauces, soups or pizza for example. And fish too.

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I’ll have a bowl of strawberries for dessert, maybe.

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The base ingredients for risotto this evening. Garden scallions, parsley and peas. the peas are not this years crop. You can see the condensation rising. I pulled them from the back of the freezer…..my bad. The jist is that risotto made with peas in the springtime is a classic dish in the northern Italian kitchen. Risi e Pisi or rice and peas.

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Now this is what I’m talking about. Simple peasant style cooking requires minimal screwing around with fish before you get it. Here we have transparency. Not only can you see the fish in it’s sealed security wrap but there are certain details that are pertinent here. You can see the name of the vendor, Red’s Best. And they are selling large monkfish tails.You also get the name of the boat that caught the fish, their home port and the kind of gear they employed. A perfect storm of detail, so to speak. But they also have one of those smart phone doodads. The next generation of responsible fishmongers. Diggit! It helps that my friend Jason is a big part of this. It is also the freshest fish in Boston.

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Monkfish tails in garden spun wild arugula pesto. For this pesto, I used no nuts, capers or cheese. Really, just some scallion greens, lemon zest and arugula. Later, I seasoned the fish with sea salt, cracked black pepper and some of last summers spicy red pepper flakes. Just in case.

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Monkfish working on the grill. Because the fish is so fresh and has such a high moisture content, you need a high flame to sear the fish, to color it. And don’t poke the fish either once it is on your grill. Let it sear. After it is seared properly, it will be a whole lot easier to manipulate and move the pieces around. For these pieces, I’m looking at a short cooking time of perhaps no more than 7-9 minutes. The side that hits the grill first will have more colorisation than the part that you see facing you in the photo. And the last thing you want to do is overcook this delicious Massachussets fish.

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Here we go.

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Grilled monkfish, sauteed golden beets and swiss chard, arugula pesto and garden herbs.

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Spring risotto with garden peas.

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This grilled wholewheat flatbread is going to be dipped in arugula pesto.

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Seed potato. I got these as a surprise.I’m told they are called “Goldrush” but they do not look too yellow fleshed to me. But being Irish, of course I love potatoes. I’ll give these a chance and see if they live up to their name. Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.

 

 

Dear Prudence, Won’t You Kamut To Play.

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I’m all about wheat. I grew up on it. And consequently, to this day, I care not for white bread. Gimme the whole grain.
Imagine then, years later being introduced to another ancient grain called Farro. I took special delight being able to weave that particular grain into my repertoire.
Kamut is another ancient grain. And it is grown here in the United States and other points around the globe. I heard about Alce Nero after a friend had attended a Slow Foods conference in Italy. Everything they do is organic and from Italy.
This is Penne Rigate. Little pencils that are ridged. On the label, you will see “integrale”. This means the whole grain. But they also tell you that it is 100 % Kamut. Cento per cento. I wonder if they will tell how long to cook it. Sometimes the label does’nt tell you. I guess they assume everybody knows how to cook pasta the right way. Unfortunately, most people are not as confident. 8 minutes to cook. It’s takes longer to write this sentence.

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My understanding is that Kamut is an old word for wheat from ancient Egypt. It can be traced back to Mesopotamia, todays Irag in the Middle East. I believe, but could be open to correction, that the Khorasan was a region straddling todays Iran and Afghanistan. I’m interested in how food travelled over time. Food history, I suppose. On the label, you will see the words ” bronze die”. The die is the part of the pasta machine where the pasta dough emerges and its cut or shape will be determined. Here the makers removed the previous die and replaced it with die to shape or cut penne rigate. Or ridged penne. There is also a die that allows you make penne with no ridges. And then there is penne zitoni and also pennette. All variations on the form using different dies.
The makers also used a bronze die. Using a bronze die will give the pasta a more rustic look. Some pastas like look like sandpaper. This is good. It gives the pasta tooth, allows your sauce to adhere to the pasta. The industrial alternative is a teflon die. Non-stick. No need to say anymore.

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Todays word of the day is……..L’inconfondibile

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The astute eye will notice the high protein content of the grain. This is good.

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The next step is for me to find some whole grain Kamut. There is none in my pantry. I think it will become a welcome addition to my kitchen and table. A real food with a real story. Love the energy. Thanks for reading.