Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Pumpkin Time

Prior to grocery shopping last weekend I was looking through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalls River Cottage Cookbook and came upon a stuffed pumpkin dish that I knew I had to try. This is pure, rustic, autumn country cooking at it's finest. He had hollowed out a medium sized pumpkin, filled it with Gruyere cheese and cream, then baked it until the pumpkin flesh was cooked through and the inside molten. Pretty simple.
I found miniature pumpkins at the market and decided to localize the ingredients by using aged Vermont Cheddar and dried cranberries but then then threw the whole localvore gimmick out the window with the addition of Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Tartufo.

I used 3 parts Cheddar, 1 part Parmigiano and 1 part Pecorino. I mixed in grated nutmeg, black pepper and a little salt with the cheese.
After deseeding the pumpkins I put a layer of dried cranberries in the bottom, filled them with the cheese mixture to the top, added cream, also to the top. placed the lids back on and baked at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes until the flesh pierced easily with a fork. As I said, this is about as easy as it gets to obtain something that tastes so good.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Inspiration for Oysters

A few days ago I purchased the book The Oysters Of Locmariaquer by Eleanor Clark.


Though first written in 1964 it is a book that I had not read before. I purchased a 2006 softcover edition with an introduction by Mark Kurlansky whose book, The Big Oyster, History On The Half Shell, is a more recent tome dedicated to humanity's favorite bivalve.
Written at a time closer to World War Two than present day, this book does much to capture an era and cultural lifestyle in Brittany that has come to pass.
The prose are in a style similar to that of M.F.K. Fisher sans the self importance and sense of entitlement. After reading this particular passage, quoted below, I was compelled to head over to my local fishmonger, New Deal Fish Market, and purchase a couple of dozen.

"It is briny first of all, and not in the sense of brine in a barrel, for the preservation of something; there is a shock of freshness to it. Intimations of the ages of man, some piercing intuition of the sea and all its weeds and breezes shiver you a split second from that little stimulus on the palate. You are eating the sea, that's it, only the sensation of a gulp of sea water has been wafted out of it by some sorcery, and are on the verge of remembering you don't know what, mermaids or the sudden smell of kelp on the ebb tide or a poem you read once, something connected with the flavor of life itself..."

The author is writing about the Amoricaine or Belon oyster, the flat one, the most prized and arguably best oyster in the world, the one which most Americans have never experienced. I knew that I couldn't get those but New Deal happened to have Island Creek Oysters of Duxbury Massachusetts on hand, a briny, buttery variety that garners much praise and attention from oyster aficionados.
I returned home with the idea of doing oysters several different ways. raw, roasted poached and fried but opted instead for the simplest most direct method for the ultimate in oyster enjoyment; on the half shell with a mignonette.

Ponzu pickled ginger mignonette
3/4 C seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/4 C ponzu
3 T minced shallots
1/4 C minced pickled ginger
black pepper to taste
2 dozen oysters

I hadn't had oysters in a couple of months, a negligent oversight on my part for which I have no excuse. Whether it's been 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months or 2 years the effect of a freshly shucked oyster on the palate is an unrivaled taste sensation that I never grow tired of.