Cauliflower Soup from a Vermont Kitchen

January 17th, 2012 / comments 2

soup tureen c egbert Cauliflower Soup from a Vermont KitchenIt’s been a long time coming but snow has arrived. The garden is white, the branches of the trees are accented with white. Winter has arrived and, in my mind, winter is soup season. I think a meal should have a balance of colors as well as a balance of flavors. Purple-red borscht topped with a scoop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill leaves has that balance of color and flavor as does green split pea soup with sunny carrot dice cubes and pink cubes of ham. But, the snow reminded me of a Saturday lunch we shared last winter and I made a white dinner and to celebrate the arrival of the snow.

Last January, after our friends Kathy and Rick had spent weeks packing, snow shoveling, ice dam cursing, moving and unpacking, they invited us to lunch. We sat around the granite island in their new kitchen and savored, steamy bowls of cauliflower cheese soup. … read more

Mushrooms #2 – Souffle

April 29th, 2010 / Comments 0

With Julia’s method, I was able to sauté mushrooms to add to omelets, soups, pastas, pizzas and more.

chantarelle souffle Mushrooms #2   Souffle

I made a mushroom soufflé for lunch to thank a friend who took care of my mail while I was away. We chatted about my adventures in Italy and her experiences with late winter in Vermont while the soufflé baked. A soufflé sounds complicated but it is just a seasoned white sauce lightened with egg whites that is baked. Here’s how I made it: … read more

Mozzarella Torte – Cheese Maker in Sicily

March 9th, 2010 / comments 14

cb provolone 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in SicilyWhen I was shopping in the market on Friday, I bought a chunk of flavorful, slightly aged provolone at the stall that also sells fresh mozzarella, ricotta, cannoli, ricotta salata and other cheeses that I look forward to being introduced to. Gaetano, the man behind the counter with a scruffy beard and fairly good English, saw me looking at the cauldrons in the small, utilitarian workroom behind the counter.

He explained that most mornings, he and his father Andrea Borderi, the man with the blue silk tie, the sunny smile and the big knife, made ricotta and mozzarella.

I hesitated for less than a minute before I asked if I could watch the next time they made cheese. He frowned, shook his head and said “No,” and then with a smile he said, “Ma (but), you can come and work if you come at seven on lunedi.” I said yes, of course, I would come. A quick check in the Italian/English dictionary confirmed that I had a date for Monday morning at seven.

cb Andrea 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

I started the day by watching the sunrise over the sea. The colors would have inspired Maxfield Parish. Then, Charles and I had to hurry across the empty Piazza Duomo to the cheese shop. We were greeted with smiles, and with a sweep of his arm, Andre invited us into his kitchen. He quickly looped an apron over my head and tied it around my waist. Charles stepped back from the action, camera poised so as not to miss a shot. I washed my hands and was ready to work.

cb ricotta curd 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

My first task was to help with the caldron of ricotta. We used ladles to skim the warm curds into slotted, one liter, plastic containers that were then put on trays. When full, the trays were put into the refrigerator. When ricotta is sold, the slotted container is put into a double plastic bag and the whey continues to drain from the curd making it thicker each day until it has all been eaten.

The curds for the mozzarella had been started before we arrived. Whole milk and rennet had been mixed in a huge stainless steel pot and then heated slowly until it reached 32 degrees centigrade or 88 degrees Fahrenheit. It took about 15 minutes for the curd to form. The curd was in a bucket, a dense mass covered with whey. It was large as a watermelon with texture similar to raw liver. Andrea handed me a knife with a blade that was at least two feet long. To cut the curd, I held the knife with its blunt tip resting on bottom of the pail and pulled the blade through the curd again and again. When it had been to cut it into irregular pieces that were about the size of walnuts, it was drained and put into a large basin.

cb curd 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

Andrea asked me to knead ottocento (800) grams of sea salt into it.

cb curd kneading 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

When he decided that it had been sufficiently kneaded, the curds were rinsed with  water until his taste test determined that enough salt had been washed away.

cb curd rinsing 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

The next step involved stretching and shaping. The curd was covered with very, hot water and I was given a three-foot long wooden tool. I mistakenly thought that what looked like the handle was a handle.

cb curd testing 02 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in SicilyAfter Andrea turned it around, he placed my hands on it, put is hands over mine and together we stretched and squeeze the curd until “Ecco!” The curd had become stringy, tender, fresh mozzarella.

With amazing speed and skill Andrea stretched, cut and braided cheese to form ten braided loaves called treccia. It would be smoked later that morning and offered for sale as affumicata the following day.

cb curd shaping 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

Then he pulled a coconut-sized piece of cheese from the mass still in the basin and indicated that I should flatten it into a disc as thin as I could manage. My memory of Lucy and Ethel trying to twirl pizza dough in the air provided the restraint that kept me from trying to do the same thing with this piece of cheese.

cb curd stretching 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

I patted, poked and pulled it until Andrea indicated with a quick nod that it was a good size.

I followed him and the cheese to the large cutting board where he handed me two tomatoes, a handful of mixed olives, a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley and a knife longer than my arm. He covered the cheese disc with two thin slices of ham, used signs and smiles to indicate that I should cut the tomatoes, seed and chop the olives, chop the parsley and put it all on top of the ham.

cb curd filling 01 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

When I had finished, he splashed it with olive oil, and it took four hands, his and mine, to lift the cheese and its toppings onto a large piece of foil. The last step was for me to tightly roll the cheese into a cylinder with the ham and vegetables inside. That done, he put the cheese roll in a bag and gave it to me.

cb mozzarella roll 08 Mozzarella Torte   Cheese Maker in Sicily

I shared it and the story of its creation with two new friends who came to our first dinner party in Sicily.

If you would like to recreate the tastes without the travel you could make a mozzarella torte by layering the freshest mozzarella you can find, with the tastiest bits of vegetable and/or cured meat you can imagine, in a straight-sided bowl. Covered, weighed down and chilled it will be perfect served with a smile and a toast to Andrea, THE premier cheese artisan of Siracusa.

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Cheese Strata – Memories of my mother

December 30th, 2009 / comments 4

My mother had a creative approach to language.  In her alphabet, the sequence was – l,m,n,o,p,q, U because “ q is always followed by u”.  She called guacamole Glocca Morra because she knew that Glocca Morra had something to do with Ireland – mashed avocados were green – green was the color of Ireland. Perfect logic!

Pta Chicken c egbert Cheese Strata   Memories of my mother

On New Year’s Day she always served what she called “la Strada” – an Italian specialty that she thought was named in honor of the Federico Fellini film of the same name.   She had the Italian part right but actually it’s called strata because this mock soufflé is made up of layers of bread, cheese, vegetables, and meat. Even though she had the name wrong, the recipe was right and  I think of her whenever I make it.

ZPV Scallions c egbert 02 Cheese Strata   Memories of my motherCheese Strata is a friendly and flexible recipe.  I modify it depending on the contents of my fridge, the pantry and the preferences of my guests.  It can be a cheese, cheese and vegetable, or a Fellinesque extravaganza. Since it must be put together at least twelve hours before being served, it is the perfect centerpiece for a holiday brunch whether or not it follows a holiday eve of merry making. Here’s how my mother made it:

… read more

Going Metric – The One Centimeter Rule & Crackers

October 21st, 2009 / comments 8

When the ingredients list on the side of the box of any prepared food is longer than a centimeter (half an inch) I don’t buy it. This pronouncement was the beginning of a grocery store game for my sons when they were too young to “sound out” words like disodium inosinate or monoglycerides. Rather than dealing with arbitrary decisions like, “No,” imposed by a tyrant, (me), the ingredients list was undeniable. My sons are grown now and my grandchildren play the game and I still check the length of ingredients lists.

The cracker aisle at the market is a special challenge. The ingredients list for simple, no frills saltine crackers is longer than three centimeters (one inch) and includes partially hydrogenated cotton seed oil and high fructose corn syrup. Not what I want to serve with soup made with carrots, onions and dill from my garden and milk from a nearby dairy.

According to the Farmers’ Almanac, hardtack, the predecessor to crackers, originated in New England in the 18th century. It is a simple cracker made from flour and water. Baked hard and dry and stored properly, it lasts forever, or at least long enough to be a dietary mainstay on long sea voyages.

Legend has it that crackers were the creation of Massachusetts’s baker, Josiah Bent. He combined a common kitchen mishap, over-baking a batch of biscuits, with Yankee ingenuity.  Inspired by the sound they made when chewed, he introduced the crisp biscuit as a cracker.  More than two hundred years later, the G. H. Bent Company in Milton, Massachusetts is still baking hard tack with just two ingredients, wheat flour and water.

Alas, the cracker has changed radically since it simple beginnings. There are whole grain, gluten free, low fat, no fat, salt free, cheese, herb, poppy seed, sesame seed, naturally flavored, and artificially flavored crackers waiting in the cracker aisle hoping for a ride in your shopping trolly.

rye cheese twigs Going Metric   The One Centimeter Rule & Crackers

You can turn away from the fancy boxes and follow my centimeter rule if you make crackers rather than buy crackers made by faraway food corporations. You can say no to crackers shipped hundreds of miles, in excessive packaging, supplemented with un-pronounceable ingredients and preservatives and sold at prices that rival designer chocolates. Homemade crackers are delicious, simple to make, and won’t make a shocking dent in your food budget.

Crackers can be seasoned and shaped to suit the occasion. Served with local cheese they are an elegant snack. Homemade crackers spread with butter and jam will be welcomed with a smile. Rye cheese sticks and a glass of wine say welcome to friends. I have two cracker recipes that I modify to suit my needs. Here’s how I do it. … read more

Garden Frittata

August 14th, 2009 / comments 2

It has been a busy, busy week for me. We picked blueberries, I sold an oil painting, friends came for a short visit, the tree man came and took care of our huge sugar maple, I saw and loved Julie & Julia, I submitted my first newspaper article and am working on my first food magazine article.

Garden+Tableau Garden FrittataAll good things – some stressful. I’m trying to figure out how to balance the write, paint, cook, play, parts of my life.

My garden is lovely, (I’m not looking at the weeds), and was the source of potatoes, parsley, patty pan squash and squash blossoms, for a breakfast frittata before our friends, Annie and Andy, headed home.

Fritatta+01 Garden Frittata
The goat cheese, eggs, tomato and onion came from the farmers’ market – everything else I needed was in my pantry.

This is not a recipe with exact amounts or ingredients. Here’s how I made it: … read more

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