Eat Your Christmas Tree!

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Or, in this case, drink it. Above, a Grand Firtini.

This year, Bainbridge’s Town & Country Market (aka “the T&C”) had Grand Firs, and Grand Firs only, for Christmas trees.  Good news for me, because they’re the most fragrant, and most delicious trees I know, with a tangerine-like bouquet that is easily extracted.

Coastal Salish tribes were fond of Douglas Fir tea, a great source of vitamin C, and Doug Fir sorbet has been around for a while, thanks to Jerry Taunfeld, who served it as an intermezzo at the Herbfarm in Woodinville. But the Grand Fir is the one for me.

Two cups of Grand Fir needles (or tips if you can get them – the trees at the T&C were “shaped”) in 3 cups of water and a half cup of sugar, bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes, strain & chill.

Make sorbet.

Scoop some into a martini glass, add some Citron vodka, the juice of a Meyer lemon, garnish with cedar tip.

Chill.

And here’s our tree:

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No Thorns, No Heart

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That’s what they say in Castroville, CA, home of the Artichoke Festival, where they celebrate all things artichoke. I celebrate when I see nice big ones on sale and I do it by making Artichoke Sauce.  Look for chokes that feel “heavy” and have tight leaves and long thick stems, since the core of the stem is as tasty as the heart. To judge freshness, bend back a leaf, it should “snap.” Ignore brown patches on the leaves, that’s just harmless frost damage.

Prepping the chokes is the hard part, but it’s worth the effort. Have a bowl of acidulated water nearby – that’s just water and the juice of a lemon. Bend back and snap off the outer leaves until you reach the pale green or white ones, then cut those off just above the heart. Cut off the very bottom of the stem and using a vegetable peeler, remove all the green on the stem and the heart. Quarter the artichoke and remove the actual choke from each quarter, then cut each one into four pieces: two with stems and two without. Place in acidulated water to prevent browning.

Sauté a few cloves of diced garlic in about 1/4 cup of olive oil until soft, then add a tablespoon of fresh oregano and the artichokes. Add a cup of water, cover and cook for 5 minutes, then uncover and cook for another 5 minutes, until most of the liquid is gone. Add a 28 ounce can of Italian tomatoes for every 4 artichokes and simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes until the chokes are tender.

Here are my favorite uses for the sauce:

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Fettucine con Carciofi

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Frittata con Carciofi

Porc au Pruneaux

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It’s been cold here on the Island lately, so it was time for a French Winter classic, Porc aux Pruneaux et Cidre.  There are some excellent local hard ciders these days, especially from neighboring Jefferson County, but I used Chelan Gold from Eastern Washington this time. Soak  a cup of prunes in Hard Cider over night, then take a pork shoulder and insert the wrong end of a wooden spoon almost all the way through it horizontally three times, then stuff those tunnels with the prunes. Then brown it in a Dutch Oven with some shallots, garlic and carrots and braise it in hard cider for about 2 hours until 165°. Remove solids to a cutting board and tent with foil. Remove as much fat as possible from the pan and reduce to a thick sauce. Here it is, ready to slice:

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Great with Thyme-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes. I get all my spuds and garlic from Betsey Wittick at Laughing Crow Farm here on Bainbridge. Halve potatoes horizontally, toss with olive oil, salt & pepper, a garlic clove and a few branches of English Thyme. Roast cut side down, covered for 30 minutes at 400°, remove thyme, turn the fingerlings over and cook uncovered for another 15 minutes.

Here’s a great shot of Betsey at the Bainbridge Island Farmers’ Market:

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And she’s got a terrific blog of her own, right HERE.

Roasted Squash Soup with Sage, Chile Ancho and Creme Fraiche

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Kabocha is a Japanese squash, sweeter than a Butternut, with a chestnut-like texture. Widely available at Farmers’ Markets and even supermarkets. The deer got my kabochas this year, so this one was from the Bainbridge Island Farmers’ Market, as were the leeks.

1 Kabocha squash, 2-3 pounds
2 leeks, white part only, 1 inch pieces
4 T butter
4 cups stock
2-3 t ancho chili powder
1/2 cup creme fraiche
12 small sage leaves

Halve the squash and remove the seeds and strings. Place cut side down on a foil-covered baking sheet in a 400 degree oven and roast for about 45 minutes until soft. Scrape out flesh.

In a stockpot, saute leeks in 2 T butter to coat, add stock, squash and ancho powder, bring to low boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Puree and return to stockpot. Adjust seasoning.

Melt remaining butter in small saucepan over medium heat until foam is gone, add sage leaves and briefly saute, turning once, until they start to crisp. Turn off heat, remove sage leaves to paper towels to drain.

Serve the soup in warm bowls, adding a dollop of creme fraiche in the center of each bowl, drizzling with browned butter and sprinkling with sage leaves.

Death Trumpet Pizza with Black Truffles

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Black Trumpet mushrooms (craterellus cornucopioidesare) also called “trompette de la mort” and they’re a late Fall and early Winter staple here in the Pacific Northwest. Often called the poor man’s truffle, they are among the most delicious of the wild mushrooms, but I find that their flavor is greatly enhanced by combining them with actual fresh Black Truffles.

I buy both from Jeremy Faber at Foraged and Found at the University District or Ballard Farmers’ Markets. Jeremy is the subject of a large part of Langdon Cook’s new book, The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America.

I saw death trumpets at Poulsbo’s Central Market last week, but they were pretty pricey at $30 a pound.

For last night’s pizza I used a quarter pound of death trumpets and  a half ounce of truffle, sliced paper-thin on my Italian truffle slicer, shown below. That’s a lot of flavor for less than $10.

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Cider-Braised Delicata Squash

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Delicata is the most approachable of the Winter Squashes: easy to hold, easy to cut, easy to clean. The thin skin is ivory-white with green or brown striations, and delicious. The soft flesh cooks quickly, isn’t too sweet and is reminiscent of sweet potatoes.

Here, the squash is sauteed in butter and Winter herbs, then braised in apple cider brightened with Sherry Vinegar (Vinagre de Jerez). This is terrific with pork chops or roast chicken, and it will have a place on my Thanksgiving table.

1 large (about 9″) Delicata squash or two smaller ones
1 T butter
6″ branch of rosemary, roughly chopped
18 medium fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup water
1 t sherry vinegar
1/2 t salt
Pepper

Cut off the ends of the squash, cut lengthwise, scoop out seeds and cut into 1/2 slices.

Melt butter in large skillet over low heat, add herbs and cook for 5 minutes, stirring.

Add the squash and stir to coat. Arrange into single layer

Add cider, water, vinegar and salt. Cook uncovered over medium heat at a low boil until squash is tender and the liquid has reduced to a glaze, 20 -30 minutes. Adjust seasoning.

Risotto con Radicchio Trevisano

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When the weather gets cold, the radicchio turns red. Radicchio is Italian for a large group of chicories, both red and green, most of which are named after towns in the Veneto region of northern Italy. They can have an almost fleshy consistency, and are fairly bitter. In this country, the most common is the ball-shaped Rossa da Verona, and is usually seen raw in salads or as a trendy garnish, but in Italy, the most commonly eaten variety is the elongated Tresviso, and it is always cooked.

Both of these are forced-growth, meaning that after the first heading is removed, the root and all are moved to a dark shed to be forced, just like Belgian endive. There are also field-grown varieties which are the ones I grow, usually Chioggia and Castelfranco. Seeds for almost twenty varieties, including all these mentioned here, can be found at Seeds of Italy (http://www.growitalian.com/search.php?search_query=radicchio&x=0&y=0).

Several farmers at the Bainbridge Island Farmers’ Market grow Treviso, and you can often find it at The Town & Country Market on Bainbridge or at Whole Foods in Seattle. But the little round red one will work just fine for this risotto.

2 T olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 head radicchio, 1/4 inch slices
1 cup risotto rice (Arborio, Vialone Nano, or Carnaroli)

1/2 cup red wine
4 cups broth, low boil
1/3 cup parmesan
1 T butter

Heat olive oil over medium – medium high heat in a saucepan.

Add shallot, stir/cook until softened, add radicchio, stir to coat.

Add rice, stir to coat and let it “toast” for 2 minutes. Add red wine, stir to evaporate the alcohol.

Add one ladle of broth, stir constantly with a wooden spoon until almost dry, then add another ladle. Continue adding full ladles when dry for about 20 minutes, then start using half ladles until rice grains are swollen but still al dente. Remove from heat.

Add butter and cheese, mix and serve.

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