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« July 16, 2006 - July 22, 2006 | Main | July 30, 2006 - August 5, 2006 »

July 27, 2006

Pesto paradise

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The summer has produced fine basil -- the incessant rain was good for something. Farmers' markets are full of the herb right now as are greengrocers and my garden. Time for pesto. Although the deep green, garlicky paste has become so popular that you can buy it commercially made year-round, it's extra delicious made at home. And so easy, it seems criminal not to do it.

One recent morning, I grabbed the farmers' market haul out of the refrigerator, added some I'd picked that morning from my garden, and tossed it all in a food processor. I added garlic, pine nuts, sea salt, and pepper, and whirred it until chopped fine. Then I slowly poured olive oil in through the feed tube. The color was brilliant green and a little chunkier than what you can buy. If I'm using it on pasta, I add Parmesan or a combination of Romano and Parm, but my husband likes it as a sauce without the cheese.

One evening I sauteed halved cherry tomatoes and garlic and then added spoonfuls of the pesto along with penne to accompany some herb-marinated chicken breasts. Last night I wanted something really quick, so I toasted homemade bread, slathered it with pesto, stacked slices of goat cheese and juicy tomatoes on top and then popped the open-face sandwiches in a toaster oven for a few minutes. Heaven, and less trouble than ordering takeout.

Pesto
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 bunch (about 2 cups loosely packed leaves) fresh basil, stemmed
3 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 teaspoon sea salt
Few grinds of black pepper
3/4 to 1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

1. In a food processor, combine basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Work until fine. Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and pulse again.
2. With the motor running, begin adding the oil in a slow stream until the mixture emulsifies. Add only enough oil to get a thick sauce, not an oily mixture. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Stir in the cheese.

Posted by Alison Arnett at 05:57 PM
July 27, 2006

Fresh from Provence

Arts editor Scott Heller was in Avignon, in the south of France, attending a theatre festival, and went on to Aix en Provence afterwards. He bought the staff a box of Provence's famous calissons.

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These candies -- they come in a diamond shape like the almonds they're made with and they're always packed in boxes of the same shape -- are all over the region, which is known for its nut trees. Some people look at calissons and think they're going to eat glazed almond paste. And yes, the candies are in the almond-paste family, but the nuts have been harvested right before the confections are made and they hardly need any sugar to become meltingly good.

I walked by the little table at work where all the food offerings of the day are set and had to smile when I saw the calissons. When I go to the South of France I immediately buy a box, and also get some of the region's other famous sweet: nougat, or nuts embedded in caramel.

Nuts and caramel is another blog for another day.

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 12:17 PM
July 26, 2006

The year of the tuna

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The Food section's Maine correspondent tells me that the fishermen up there say this is one of the best fresh tuna years they've ever seen. Well, I've never met a tuna steak I didn't like, so I wondered how much better it could get. This afternoon, in Jim Scherer's photo studio, where I my Globe magazine co-author and co-stylist Julie Riven and I meet every Wednesday -- joined today by magazine designer director Brendan Stephens -- we tasted tuna that was so extraordinary we could hardly believe what we were eating.

The dish for the photograph was seared tuna, so it was still quite rare, garnished with a Nicoise salad: tiny yellow potatoes, French haricots verts (pencil thin green beans), and capers, all tossed with olive oil and good wine vinegar.

Julie bought sushi-grade tuna at Legal Sea Food (I won't tell you how much it cost in case my editor is reading this), and then we fired a cast-iron skillet and seared those beauties. One of the cardinal rules of food styling is not to taste until the photo is done. We were salivating! When we dug in, we found sweet meat, not the least bit "fishy," so full of sea taste. The leftovers went home with Brendan.

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 06:53 PM
July 26, 2006

Honest-to-hotness Texas salsa

salsa2.jpg salsa1.jpg

When I wrote about Austin's Hot Sauce Festival recently for the Travel section, just the memory of all those amazing salsas sent me to the Internet to stock up. From Tears of Joy, a shop there that sells salsas on its website, I ordered two jars that I've been scooping into every night when I come home from work. The Smoky Hill Salsa packs quite a punch, but I love the taste of smoke, and it's got smoke for days. The Texas Gourmet fire-roasted serrano is milder, but no slouch when it comes to taste. I hate to say it, but both of them beat anything made around here. Hands down.

July 26, 2006

Hungering for oysters

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My editor, Fiona Luis, raved today about oysters she ate last night at Neptune Oyster on Salem street in the North End. She couldn't quite remember the name, just that it had something to do with bees. So I called Neptune owner Jeff Nace, who said the varity is Bee's River from Eastham. They're favorites of his, too, he said, because of their higher salinity.

Nason also loves those from Katama Bay on Martha's Vineyard because of the oysters' "roasted corn finish." I'd never heard the flavor of oysters compared to roasted corn, but the discussion of bivalves made me hungry for oysters. Plump oysters, salty oysters, slippery-down-the-throat oysters.

And made me remember something else. This weekend, an Ogunquit restaurant listed oysters for $3 each or $17 for a half-dozen. Nace says his range, depending on availability, goes from $1.80 to $2.70, and that he hasn't seen $3 prices here. Could the price of oysters be tied to the price of gas? How high can an oyster go?

Posted by Alison Arnett at 01:30 PM
July 25, 2006

Butter-colored walls and white chocolate trim

My friend stayed at someone's house recently and noticed a stunning paint color in the guest bedroom. Walls were the color of unsalted butter, with trim in white chocolate. (Honestly, that's the Benjamin Moore paint name!) I've always envied the people who get to name paints. Look at the vast array of things on earth to choose from. Yet, so many are named for foods.

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Years ago, when I moved into my house, and put new counters in the old-fashioned space, a designer friend told me to go to Home Depot and select a color from any sample chip not at eye level. Her theory was that the chips around the rim are the odd (preferred) colors. True enough, a color called aubergine (eggplant's name in Europe), was sitting at the edge. I chose it, painted the insides of the cabinets (several are open) butter yellow, and used sage for the cabinet doors and trim.

I'm not giving you the real names for the paint colors (I can't remember them). But I have color-naming envy, so I use food to describe what I mean. Doesn't everyone?

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 07:38 PM
July 25, 2006

What I cooked on my summer vacation, part 6

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By far, the most dramatic thing I cooked during my recent week in Truro was a plum tarte tatin from Suzanne Goin's "Sunday Suppers at Lucques." I love stone fruit of all kind, and I love caramel, and I love puff pastry, so this was an obvious thing to try. I adapted it a bit, cutting corners here and there, and it worked like a dream. (Suzanne's brilliance is to have you completely cool off the plums in their caramel sauce before putting the cold pastry on top of it and baking it. That keeps the pastry crisp.)

The drama came when we ate it. My friend Stephen has some gorgeous furniture, including a stunning modern sectional couch with pale green fabric. After I cut the tart and served it with whipped cream (we didn't have creme fraiche), we sat back to watching "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." After only a bite or two, I pushed too hard with my fork, and the entire plate flipped and, you guessed it, a piece of that dark purple fruit smeared right on the couch. All heck broke loose as we rushed to get seltzer and dab, dab, dab, and finally it seemed to fade out. Whew.

The worst part, of course, is that the accident (and the resulting tension) overshadowed the fabulosity of the dessert.

I had to make it again. So I took the opportunity of my friend Rachel's cookout last weekend, but when I tried to cut recipe corners even further, it was a disaster. Suzanne knew what she was doing when she called for letting the plums sit for a half hour in sugar to get rid of the extra juice; don't skip that step. I did, and there was so much liquid I had to scrap the whole thing. All was not lost, though. I fished out the crust from the pool of fruit, wrung it out, threw the fruit and liquid in the blender, and froze it into a pretty amazing sorbet.

Plum tarte tatin with creme fraiche

3 pounds plums, halved and pitted
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 sheet frozen all-butter puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
1 cup creme fraiche

1. Toss the plums with 1/4 cup sugar and let sit at least 30 minutes. Drain, and discard juice or use for another purpose.
2. In a 10-inch cast-iron or other oven-proof skillet, heat the butter until foaming, then add 3/4 cup sugar. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, swirling the pan often, until caramel is a deep brown. Remove from the heat.
3. Arrange the plums, cut side down, in tight concentric circles, in the pan, overlapping them slightly if necessary.
4. Return the pan to a medium-low burner. Cook the plums without stirring for 20 to 30 minutes, or until soft. Allow to cool completely. (For best results refrigerate for at least 2 hours.)
5. When ready to bake the tart, set the oven at 375 degrees. Remove the puff pastry from the freezer and leave to thaw just until you can handle it. Cut an 11-inch circle from the pastry, pierce it in a few places with a fork, and place it on top of the plums, tucking in the edges. Brush it with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.
6. Bake the tart for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the pastry is deep golden and cooked throughout. Cool it on a rack for 30 minutes.
7. When ready to serve, invert the tart onto a serving plate, readjust plums if they have fallen out of place, and serve with creme fraiche.

Adapted from "Sunday Suppers at Lucques"

July 24, 2006

Dept. of nonessentials

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Steuben Glass is advertising a $3,700, 5-pound liquid crystal rendition of a lobster, shaded a delicate rose-pink. The slick press release includes a passage from Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time," about eating lobster a l'Americaine to get you in the buying mood.

The sculptural piece, by designer Taf Lebel Schaefer, would be a perfect complement to -- well, to what? One might ponder the need to spend $3,700 on a crystal crustacean with very sharp-looking antennae and claws when the real thing would be so much more delicious. And, despite lobster's luxury prices, so much cheaper. A paperweight, perhaps? Something to anchor the paper napkins on the poolside table? A hefty object to throw at the guest who's misbehaving or the husband who's a cad?

We could go on and on, but instead we'll wait until Steuben issues a web photo of the brand-new crystal objet d'art. This photo of a real lobster doesn't do it justice.

Posted by Alison Arnett at 04:44 PM
July 24, 2006

Outstanding pizza

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We dashed between the rain drops on Friday night, from drinks at The Harvest (corked wine, ugh!) to Cambridge 1 for grilled pizza. The hostess said it would be a 35-minute wait and when we turned to head out, she quickly pointed to three seats at the bar.

Potato pizza and two flat screens with Tour de France cyclist Floyd Landis was an unbeatable combination. We've all been talking about his carbo-heavy but otherwise lean diet that ran in last Wednesday's Food section. I certainly don't burn up the same 10,000 calories a day he was while riding, but I'll bet I eat more (without the carbs). At least I did on Friday night. What pizza!

Posted by Sheryl Julian at 04:12 PM
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