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Last Saturday at Broadway Market I saw Romanesco broccoli for sale (here it’s just called “Romanesco”). Being a sucker for stimulating sides and sundries, I naturally gravitated toward it.

Romanesco is more closely related to cauliflower than it is to broccoli, but its taste is sweeter and more flavorful than run-of-the-mill cauliflower. Besides this, it looks neat. It is namely famous for the naturally-occuring fractal patterns formed by the tiny buds on its florets.

As for cooking, you can treat this similarly to cauliflower. It goes well with sharp cheeses, cream sauces, garlic and pepper. When preparing, take care to snip off the florets rather than cutting through the center of the flower so that the shapes are preserved. Also, steam or saute rather than boiling so that the green color doesn’t fade.

Romanesco with parmesan and chili 

Ingredients (for 2 people):

1 large head of Romanesco broccoli

1 knob of butter (1-2 tbs)

2 cloves garlic, chopped

3-4 red chilis, chopped

1 cup parmesan, grated

Sea salt to taste

Directions

Prepare the Romanesco by removing the large green leaves around the flower. Then, trim the florets at their bases, chopping the larger ones into halves. This take a while but is worth the effort: you end up with little florets the shape of pine-cones that look great when cooked and served.

Next, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, taking care not to burn it. Add the chopped florets, coat them in the butter, add a tablespoon of water and a healthy pinch of salt and seal the pan, steaming the florets for around 7 minutes. Remove the top from the pan and add the chopped chilis and garlic. Saute this mixture over medium-high heat until the Romanesco crisps slightly, stirring constantly so as not to burn the garlic.

Just before serving, sprinkle grated parmesan cheese over the dish. Serve hot as a side dish with pork or fish.

At the end of my first week in London, I took a trip to Borough Market. I decided to walk there from my room in Bloomsbury. The weather was grey and damp but the market was still busy and a hot breakfast soon took care of the gloomy atmosphere. Borough Market isn’t exactly like the farmers’ markets I frequented in Chicago. If you’re looking for heaps of produce, you might be disappointed. It’s more like what you’d imagine a market in Dickensian London to be (or, at least this is what they are like in my imagination): butchers, fishmongers, cheesemongers and bakers, along with places to grab a hot something-or-other, usually consisting of bread, potatoes or meat. A cornucopia of produce it isn’t, but set amongst the backdrop of the railway viaduct on narrow brick paths, it has plenty of charm and it’s not hard to see why this remains one of the favorite markets in London.

            

Meat pies and English cheeses were more common than greens, but there was good produce to be had as well. Among the best-looking seasonal things last week were just-ripe figs and chili plants with yellow and lime-green fruits.

 

That day I ended up going for something that is really a winter vegetable but caught my eye nonetheless: purple-sprouting broccoli. Purple-sprouting broccoli is simply a version of what we in North America call broccolini. It looks nicer though, and I’ve seen it on the shelves of many-a supermarket here in London. I suppose it’s a popular alternative to boring green broccoli. So, with a “When in Rome” attitude, I picked some up. It turns out to be perfect for omelettes.

Omelettes with Purple-Sprouting Broccoli and Fresh Herbs

This is a 15-minute or less dish, and it is great not only for breakfast but for lunch and dinner, too.

Ingredients (for 1 omelette):

Several stems of purple-sprouting broccoli or broccolini (about 1/4 lb)

A handfull of fresh chives, chopped coarsely

A handfull of fresh basil and/or thyme leaves, chopped coarsely

3 eggs

Two tsp. of water

Two tsp. of olive oil

Grated white cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Prepare the stalks by removing the leafy bits and separating the bushy shoots from the stems. Choose the tenderest stalks from your bunch of broccoli for the omelette. If the florets are large, you can half them lengthwise so they form wispy bits that will fry nicely. (Take the woody stems, chop them up coarsely along with the rest of the sprouting broccoli and steam this to go alongside the omelette.

"The Wheat from the Chaff"

Heat olive oil in a frying pan, adding the broccoli stems and frying over medium heat so that they brown a bit but don’t burn. Meanwhile chop the herbs just coarsely and set these aside.Beat the three eggs together and add the water to make the mixture smooth. Add salt and pepper and whisk together.

When the broccoli has gone a bit brown but still retains its purple sprouts (see above), add the chives and other herbs to the pan, toss lightly and immediately add the whisked eggs. As the eggs cook, use a spatula to drain the runny part to the edge of the pan so that you get a thin, even omelette with the vegetables incorporated into the body.

When the top of the omelette is still just a bit runny, add the cheese and fold the omelette over. Turn the heat to low and cook the omelette for 2-3 more minutes, flipping it around so that the outside edges don’t burn.

Serve the omelette with the rest of the steamed broccolini and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

 

Today is the beginning of week 2 for Cesar, who is attempting to eat local in Chicago for a month. It’s been going alright so far, but he’s beginning to come up against some issues regarding costs and the availability of local food.

Read his updates, offer suggestions or weigh in on the project here.

Speaking of staying on a budget: I’m finding it hard to eat well in London on a few quid, but I’m doing my best to make it happen. I’ve been checking out some of London’s larger outdoor markets, and I’ll have a report for you on that shortly, so stay tuned.

Pepper season is just arriving, and Sabasalads is very excited about that. Although I’ve already arrived in London (the pepper options are quite different here), I thought it best to do one last North-American post before beginning to blog about my cooking experiences in the U.K. What follows is a simple recipe that is nonetheless a crowd-pleaser and is absolutely perfect for summer barbecues.

Stuffed Güero Peppers

We love stuffed güero peppers, and although they’re always better when Cesar’s mom makes them, we are going to offer a recipe here as it’s simple enough for us, and you, to make too.

Güero is the Mexican-Spanish name for long, bright-green chili peppers. In the U.S., they are called banana peppers, hungarian wax peppers and cubanelle peppers- we’ve seen all three names listed in Chicago grocery stores. They are supposed to be very, very hot, but the ones we picked up while we were in Opelika weren’t and we assume there must now be different sub-varieties that range from mild to hot. We think that they’re better hot, but this is a matter of preference.

The other key ingredient is the cheese that goes inside the peppers. The best type to use is queso Chihuahua or queso Oaxaca, both are Mexican cheeses of the mild, white variety that are made to be melted. Obviously if you can get the real thing instead of the packaged types that are always rubbery then go for it. You can even use mozzarella in a pinch.

Ingredients:

6 güero peppers

1/2 pound queso Chihuahua

Sea salt to taste

Directions:

Remove the cores, seeds and veins from inside the peppers by making a slit down the center and a slit across the top of the pepper, making a T-shape. You can hack off the core with a paring knife and then use a less sharp knife to run along the veins, which come out quite easily. Make sure to wash your hands after you do this and don’t put them in your eyes or around your nose- this will be painful.

Next, divide the cheese into rectangular-shaped chunks and place 2-3 in each pepper. If they don’t close all the way, that’s fine.

To cook the chilis, cover a roasting pan with aluminum foil and set your broiler to high. Place the peppers face cup on the aluminum, sprinkle them with a bit of sea salt, and broil for about 7-10 minutes until the cheese begins to turn golden brown and the peppers are soft and wilted.

Serve these with steak, barbecued pork or chicken, or use them as filling for vegetarian tacos along with roasted potatoes and/or rice.

Dear readers,

This post begins a series of entries by Cesar Torres, who has remained a quiet but ever-present part of Sabasalads up to now. As some of you may know, I have relocated to London for the moment, so for the next 10 weeks, there will be posts from both sides of the Atlantic coming your way. From the UK, you can expect reports of new markets and recipes, along the same lines of what has come before. From Chicago, Cesar has a special project that he will be updating here. Watch to see how it unfolds!

Yours, MDS

How to Eat “Local” in Chicago for One Month

  

It’s easy as of late to toss around the word “green” to impress folks at a cocktail party, or to imply a commitment to sustainability. However, how often are we held accountable to being “green”? What’s more, what does it really mean to eat “local” when one lives in a large city like Chicago?

For those of us who might label ourselves sensualists in the sense of taste, thinking local doesn’t always figure as prominently in our psyches as you might think. Sure, I can pick up organic kohlrabi and plums at Whole Foods, but the fuel costs and other resources used to transport it from California soon breaks down the sustainability of that food choice. This lovely ingredient may be organic, and it may be good for my nutrition and immune system, but is it good for the environment?

That’s the question I have asked myself for some time. In order to put my money where my mouth is, I will be eating local in Chicago for one month. Here’s my short “local” philosophy that will help drive this experiment:

“Local foods are my top priority. This experiment doesn’t necessitate becoming vegetarian, but it advocates eating ethical meats. When an ingredient becomes indispensable and no local option is available, the priority will be on supporting a local business.”

I expect this experiment will help my waistline, but I worry it will impact my budget. After all, who visits farmers markets? Yuppies. Therefore, I am going to keep my budget the same so I can see if I can eat adequately.

My weekly budget:

$80 a week

I think it’s also worth mentioning some of the places I will and won’t frequent for my grocery shopping. Look in this series of blog posts for those places, as well as a list of typical ingredients I will be able to buy (and some I won’t be able to eat at all. Sorry, citrus).

I’ll also be blogging this jointly with Sabasalads, so look for tasty recipes derived from my ingredients. I will post items and prices for things I buy. I also want to hear from you, so give me a shout with your comments.


The second leg of Sabasalads’ cross-country trip took us to Auburn, Alabama to visit the Sabas. This time, fried chicken was on the menu so we drove to the Opelika Farmers’ Market in search of something appropriate to go with it. The market was full of delicious midsummer produce: white and purple eggplant, okra, peppers, corn, figs and assorted field peas.

Field peas come in hundreds of varieties and go by many names, including crowder peas, cream peas and zipper peas.  They are common table fare in the south, but are rarer in other parts of the U.S. Only the most popular variety, black-eyed peas, appears on a regular basis in Chicago, and almost always canned or dried. At Opelika we saw mostly pink-eyed peas with purple and green hulls (you can see them with their hulls in the top photo above).

Fresh field peas are usually cooked in water flavored with pieces of pork and served just like that. But since the corn and peppers also looked great this weekend, we decided to combine the three in a slightly modified version of succotash, a classic combination of corn and beans. We especially enjoyed being able to pick fresh thyme from the backyard herb garden to use for this meal.

Succotash with Field Peas

Ingredients

3 cups fresh field peas, hulls removed

4-5 ears of corn (use white if you can)

1/2 sweet yellow onion onion

1/2 sweet red pepper

2 serrano chilis

2 cloves of garlic

fresh thyme

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil or butter

Directions

First husk the corn and bring a pot of salted water to the boil. When boiling, cook the corn on the cob for around 5 minutes, until just under done. Set the cooked cobs aside to cool.

Meanwhile, mince the thyme and garlic and finely chop the chilis, sweet pepper and onion. When the corn has cooled down, remove the kernels from the cob and set aside 1 cup of kernels for the succotash.

Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil or butter in the bottom of a saucepan. Fry the onions until translucent, and then add the garlic, chilis and thyme, cooking just until they become fragrant. Add the peas and corn, coating them in the mixture, then add salt  to taste and plenty of black pepper, and finally add enough water to just cover the beans and corn.

Bring the water to a boil and then turn heat to medium and simmer until peas are soft. This should only take around 20 minutes. If the water evaporates, add a bit more. There should be a bit of broth remaining when you serve the succotash. About 5 minutes before serving, add the chopped sweet red pepper and stir.

Serve hot with tabasco sauce or hot pepper vinegar. Succotash is of course good by itself, but it’s better with fried chicken, sliced tomatoes and other summer produce.

  

  

Epilogue: The Crawfish Shack, Atlanta Georgia (July 7, 2011)

Our trip south had a delicious ending in Atlanta Georgia where we enjoyed boiled crawfish, soft-shell crab po’ boys and sweet tea at the Crawfish and Seafood Shack on Buford Highway. If you’re in the Atlanta area and are craving seafood, go there!

For the last two weeks, Sabasalads has been traveling the highways, byways and airways in order to savor some quintessential America before our departure to Europe for extended dissertation research. This means that we haven’t had much of a chance to cook, but we have seen some exciting new markets and tried some excellent regional delights. You’ll notice that posting has also been scarce over the last 3 weeks. Last minute preparations for relocating to London have made regular posting hard, but this week I am posting two lengthier backlog accounts of our trips to Wisconsin and Alabama.

Part I: Wisconsin

A weekend trip to central Wisconsin was a perfect antidote from the hectic scanning of library books and packing of boxes in Chicago. Our ultimate destination was a wedding in Sauk City, just north of Madison, but we went early to do some exploring in the area.

Having just spent three plus hours on crowded I-90, we speedily threw our luggage down, returned to the car and drove for another 45 minutes north to the town of Poynette, Wisconsin in search of dinner. That night we were after one thing and one thing only: a Wisconsin summer Friday-Night Fish Fry.

It seems that every small town in Wisconsin worth its salt has a local place that serves fried fish on Fridays. According to our native sources, the fish should be cod or perch and is usually covered in a light breading or sometimes beer batter. You can expect it to be served with fries, tartar sauce and lemon wedges, and usually some staple sides such as cole slaw, baked beans and rye bread. Apparently, we missed out by not ordering the salad bar for $2 extra, since this might have included liverwurst, corn salad and bean salad. (Although one should always check the salad bar first as quality can be highly variable. Either way, don’t expect much green to appear there.)

We had heard good things about a fish-fry place in Poynette, Wisconsin called the Owl’s Nest. It’s located right in the middle of town and has a huge neon sign that makes it nearly impossible to miss.

From this picture, you can’t see the huge line of hungry fish-fry fanatics queuing outside the front door. On a summer’s night in Wisconsin, you’re going to have to wait about an hour for dinner, but as we found out, it’s worth the wait.

The wait at the bar led to our discovery of some cocktail traditions previously unknown to us. We realized that things were done differently at the Owl’s Nest when we ordered a Manhattan and were asked if we wanted olives in it.

Olives? Now, we’ve always thought that Manhattans were a touch too sweet, but we never thought to do anything about it, and are used to getting a candied cherry. Olives, though they sound like an unappealing parter to whisky at first, turned out to be a perfect solution. But Manhattans aren’t the drink of choice at Wisconsin fish frys. That position belongs to the Brandy Old Fashioned, and at the Owl’s nest, everyone was ordering them “sweet, with olives.”

Not wanting to leave without trying this strange drink, we ordered ourselves “Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet with Olives.” This is a regional twist on the Old Fashioned, which would usually consist of Bourbon or Rye with a dash of bitters and perhaps an orange slice. In Wisconsin, Brandy (preferably Korbel) is substituted for the Bourbon and a splash of seven-up is added to the mix. It proved to be a wonderful beginning to the fried fish dinner that we thoroughly enjoyed.

We found the Owl’s Nest at this site, which has extensive descriptions of many fish frys in the Madison area. Next time you’re in Wisconsin, check it out.

Brandy Old Fashioned Sweet with Olives

Ingredients:

2 shots Brandy

7-up (you can also use club soda for a less sweet version)

1 sugar cube

5 dashes Angostura bitters

cocktail olives

ice

Directions:

Place the sugar cube in a lowball glass. Add bitters and a touch of 7-up, just to dissolve the sugar and mix in the bitters. Once mixed, add ice and brandy and give the drink a good stir. Then top off with 7-up and add a 3-4 olives on a toothpick. Enjoy!

Epilogue: the Madison Farmers’ Market (June 25, 2011)

The next morning, we got up early to make a trip into Madison for the weekly farmers’ market. It turned out to live up to its reputation of being the region’s largest farmer’s market and that means you should get there early (before 9 AM) unless you want to be overrun with crowds.

Among the produce, we saw lots of good looking kale and some great root vegetables.

    

    

Seeing all of these nice things had us wishing that we could make a sunday roast with potatoes, parsnips, carrots and beets, but since we were on the road there was neither time nor space. Instead, we’re going to give you links to two of our favorite recipes for roast chicken and a tip: prepare your root vegetables by par-boiling them in salty water (the length of time will vary according to the vegetable, but they should be just soft). Then, add them to the hot roasting pan and finish them off in the oven with the chicken. This way, they’ll be crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and will have absorbed some of the wonderful juices from your roast chicken.

Invite some friends over for this roast and serve a round of brandy old fashioneds while the bird is finishing and you’ve got the makings of a memorable sunday afternoon.

Two articles on roasting chicken:

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s notes on chicken roasting and stock

Jamie Oliver’s Perfect Roast Chicken