Adapted from Cookbook #44: The Essential Cuisines of Mexico (2000)
Recipe: Legumbres en Pipian Oaxaqueno (Vegetables in Oaxacan Pumpkin Seed Sauce)
Apparently the season for nopales is spring. I didn't know. Perhaps the requisite peas in the recipe should have been a red flag, but I am a Midwestern gringo, and I have little experience eating nopales. And once again, I have been reminded not to be a doubter. Our friends to the south have got something going on. These little cactus paddles are indeed something behold. And after beholding them, you should ingest them.
A native Brit, Diana Kennedy is a master of Mexican cooking. In fact, she is often referred to as the Julia Child of Mexican cooking, but such a moniker seems unfair to me. Why is Julia not the Diana Kennedy of French cuisine? Ah, well. Kennedy went to Mexico in 1957, and in the ensuing 50 years, she has watched and learned from villagers, urbanites, indigenous peoples and Mestizos. I must admit, my politics generally keep me from exploring Fox News, but here is a lovely interview with Kennedy. She is a goddess. And has some pretty strong ideas about how to cook. Further, with Kennedy you'll find no Tex-Mex cooking laden with cheese. Instead, you get the real deal: authentic Mexican dishes.
This cookbook is a wonderful introduction to Kennedy as it combines her first three (now classic) cookbooks in one volume. What's lovely about the cookbook are the introductions to the recipes. Including this one. This recipe comes from Oaxaca, where Kennedy and a friend of hers decided to make a pipian of nopales and peas. Kennedy says that "of course" this recipe could have poached chicken, stewed pork, or cubed zucchini with quartered mushrooms for those of us without the temerity or the resources to procure nopales.
Let's learn about the cactus, shall we? Nopales are the "cactus stems" (nopal means cactus), and specifically what you find in the supermarket is the pad of the prickly pear. Native to Mexico, the cactus was probably eaten long before the Spanish arrival. The Spanish came, got a taste for these little veggies, and took them back to Europe, where the Moors picked up the dish, and now we see nopales as a Northern African food as well.
The pads are harvested in spring (but also in late summer, so I am not too off in my procurement of them in October). To prepare the cactus, take the back of a knife and scrape the flesh, but be careful of the fine thorns--I still have one stuck in my right hand pointer finger from about a week ago when I picked my two pads up at the grocery store. Wash the pads with water and peel or trim off any discolored areas or areas where the thorns will not easily come off. Slice the pads into long, thin strips (and for this recipe, then dice them). Here is a good little website for all of your nopales paddle cleaning needs.
Pipian is a traditional, piquant Mexican sauce, served over roast chicken or enchiladas. It is part of the family of ground sauces known as moles. The key ingredient in these pipian sauces are pumpkin or squash seeds, which are roasted or dried. This seems handy as it is Halloween, and you just might have some pumpkin seeds available to you. Finally, serve with corn tortillas. Oh yes.
November 01: And I am adding an addendum from a friend of mine who told me this story after seeing this post: "Once while living on a Mexican naval base on a desert island (long story) I harvested and "cleaned" wild prickly pear pads in an attempt to have a vegetable. (I was inspired by watching a feral sheep try to remove the prickled with its hooves before giving up and eating the pad, prickled). The pads were thick and the end result was a slimy mess. The dish was reminiscent of green beans in gelatin. Yuck. Thinner pads purchased at the Mexican grocer a comfortable distance from your house is recommended." Word to the wise. Word to the wise.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 pound nopales, diced (2-2/3 cups)
8 ounces raw, unhulled pumpkin seeds (about 2-3/4 cups)
Boiling water (enough to cover the chiles)
1 ancho chile
2 guajillo chiles
1 garlic clove
4 cups cold water, approximately
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 cups peas, frozen or fresh
2 sprigs epazote
1. To prepare nopales, scrape off any spines. Cut into strips and then dice. Heat oil in large, heavy saucepan and fry the garlic and shallot, without browning, for a few seconds. Add nopales. Cover the pan and cook over low heat, stirring from time to time, until nopales are almost tender.
2. Remove the lid from the pan and continue cooking over slightly higher heat until all the sticky liquid from the nopales has dried up--about 10-20 minutes, depending on how tender the nopales are. Set aside.
3. Meanwhile put the seeds into a heavy frying pan over medium heat. Turn them constantly until they are evenly browned, keeping a lid handy, as they are likely to pop about fiercely. Set them aside to cool.
4. Remove the seeds and veins from the ancho chile. Cover the chiles (ancho and guajillos) with water for 10 minutes or until soft. Drain and transfer chiles to a blender. Add the garlic clove and 1 cup of cold water to the chiles and blend until smooth.
5. When the toasted seeds are cool, grind them, along with the cumin, preferably in a coffee/spice grinder-until they are rather fine but still have some texture. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the remaining 3 cups of water until smooth. Pass through a strainer and set aside. Note: there will be quite a bit of debris from the husks left in the strainer.
6. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan. Add the chile sauce through a strainer, pressing down to extract as much of the juice as possible. Lower the heat and fry the chile sauce, scraping the bottom of the pan constantly, until it has reduced and seasoned--about 2 minutes.
7. Gradually stir in the pumpkin seed sauce and cook over low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan from time to time as it continues to thicken. Add the salt, nopales, and peas, and heat them through for 15 minutes longer, adding the epazote just before the end of cooking time.
8. Serve hot, with fresh tortillas.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Recipe: Pasta with Beans and Greens
Do you have bushels of kale, chard, turnip greens, beet greens, arugula, endive? Do you not know what to do with all of it because each week your CSA box comes chock full of leafy green vegetables that you know are good for you, but you have just plain run out of recipes for them? Do you walk around the farmers market in the autumn bemoaning the loss of tomatoes and the upswing of all those healthy greens? Well, do not fear. Moosewood to the rescue. This recipe will take care of a full pound of them.
This cookbook is one in a long line of publications (11 so far) from the Moosewood Restaurant. A 19-person collective working together since 1973 (with some rotation of staff), the restaurant is situated in downtown Ithaca, New York. It's most famous member was Mollie Katzen, who has since left the collective to pen her own cookbooks.
Summer 1998: By June 16, I must have just completed my graduate program in Utah and I had no prospects for gainful employment. I wanted to stay in the West. I loved the mountains. I believed buying books was more essential than buying food. I was sending around resumes and was beginning to worry about paying my rent. I worked 40 hours a week at a bookstore, but even that wasn't really enough to live on. I was looking for inexpensive food that would fill me up for the day. This recipe does the trick.
Tucked inside this cookbook is also a lovely artifact: a post-it note with my cousin's handwriting. She had written the address of a place she saw for rent in Denver--where I moved in August of 1998 because I found my first teaching job. This address ended up being my very first apartment without any roommates. Four hundred square feet and $450. My kitchen was little more than a stove, a refrigerator, and a sink. But gloriously, I had a walk in closet. I tucked books in any space, and I bought a chair and a half (which were all the rage then) because that was the extent of the wall in my living room. I needed things that were practical without breaking the bank.*
I love that this cookbook is one I come back to anytime I am looking for healthy cooking. High fiber, low fat, quirky: the recipes here will help right your diet if you have gone astray. This dish boasts a complete source of protein by pairing beans with pasta. An incomplete protein is just one that does not have all of the essential amino acids for a protein. Pair legumes with grains and you get all of them. A vegetarian dream come true. In all, I love this recipe. It's simply a take on pasta e fagioli dish (sometimes called pasta fazool in the more Sicilian or Neopolatin slang)--an Italian soup--without any broth or tomatoes. [Here's the best part about Pasta Fazool: there's even a song about it. This 1927 ditty chronicles the feats of famous people who ate the dish. Thank you wikipedia for once again making my life more enjoyable.] Anyway, Pasta e fagioli began as a peasant dish, chiefly because of the cheaply available beans and pasta. It's filling, autumnal, and inexpensive. And yet another weapon in my arsenal for combating the sheer number of greens the CSA sends my way.
*There is a second lovely artifact: a printed email from November of 1998 from a friend on how to make vichyssoise. I am sure this friend has long forgotten that she had made vichyssoise with her mother and then emailed me immediately to tell me that I would love it. Even more so, the potato and leek soup in this cookbook is also divine. To cut down on fat, the cookbook recommends using fat free yogurt instead of cream. Regardless of your own concerns about fat, I recommend this trick because the tang of the yogurt is fantastic. I have have not made potato and leek soup with cream or milk since this discovery.
1 cup chopped onions
5-6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound fresh greens, such as chicory, endive, or escarole, rinsed and chopped
3 cups cooked Roman, pinto, borlotti, kidney, or pink beans (two 15-ounce cans drained or 1 cup of dried beans, soaked, drained, and then cooked in fresh water for 1-2 hours)
1/2 cup finely chopped basil
1 pound short, chunky pasta, such as ditalini, penne, tubetti, or orecchiette
salt and ground black pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon
1. Bring a large covered pot of water to a boil for cooking the pasta.
2. Meanwhile, in a skillet or nonstick saucepan, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil over low heat until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the greens and 1 cup of water. Increase the heat to medium, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the beans and basil and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Using a potato masher (or the back of a fork) mash some of the beans right in the pan. Add more water if the sauce is too thick.
3. When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta, stir and cover the pot until the water returns to a boil. Stir the pasta and cook, uncovered, until al dente. Drain the pasta and toss it with the beans and greens. Add salt and pepper to taste and squeeze on some lemon juice.
4. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Recipe: Good Earth Bread
Bread. Bread. Bread. Slowly, surely, steadily, but not quite entirely, I am becoming a much better baker. It has just taken some patience and confidence. And much help from the husband, who is quite a good baker. Mostly because he has patience and confidence.
It took a long time for me to figure out just the right temperature of the liquid (water usually, but milk in this case) not to scald the yeast and yet allow the yeast enough heat to "wake up" (that temperature is body temperature, it turns out). It took a long time for me to figure out just how much kneading was needed to break down the bonds in a bread (more than you think, but less than would break a sweat). It took a long time to be confident that the bread had risen enough (yep, that much right there is enough). But here I am, baking bread.
Now, Good Earth bread is not for everyone. It is heavy in, well, earnestness. Good Earth was/is a restaurant chain that found its glory days in the 1970s, when wheat germ was all the rage. Add to the wheat germ some rolled oats, cracked wheat, and whole wheat flour, and you have yourself some very, very wholesome bread. Luckily such sincere bread is all the rage again.
Good Earth the restaurant may have come from the grocery store that heralds from dear old Fairfax, California. This grocery store has been open since 1969 and has been committed to organic, local foods since its inception. Yes, a full nine years before Whole Foods began doing the same thing. The restaurant and grocery store are part of the "silent revolution of the American palate"--as Evan Jones suggests--that happened in the 60s and 70s, and we're still reaping the benefits. Nowadays, we have expanded our wholesome palates beyond just a pot full of groats with mushrooms, and this bread is a testament to the joys of healthy and hearty cooking. All this said, however, I can find very little about the Good Earth restaurants online. Good Earth is also the original makers of Good Earth Tea, a sweet, spicy, rich tea (made with cinnamon, jasmine, peppermint, chamomile, ginger, orange peel and MORE) that I love.
This cookbook also comes from the 1970s. It's a great little book, as its subtitle promises to explore "what we've cooked, how we've cooked it, and the ways we've eaten in America through the centuries." In fact, we're lucky to even have a recipe on page 210, as the first nine chapters (and 184 pages) walk you through the culinary history of America. This is a cookbook that takes American gastronomy quite seriously.
The cookbook's author, the late Evan Jones, was married to Judith Jones, who "found Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl and pushed it toward publication" (see here). A senior editor at Knopf who polished the work of Claudia Roden, Jacques Pepin, and Madhur Jaffey, she is most well known for taking Julia Child's manuscript Mastering the Art of French Cooking under her wing. No slouch, she has worked to publish all of John Updike's works, as well as translations of Camus and Sartre (where she got her start as an editor at Knopf in 1957). Her blog is lovely, and the title comes from her maneuvering the world of cooking for one after the loss of her husband in 1996 and rediscovering the joys of pleasing only the self. Given all of her accomplishments, maybe when I am all grown up I can be Judith Jones.
Anyhow, this bread smells amazing, as most breads do, as it cooks. While it's fall for most people across the country, it's not quite fall here in Northern California yet--well, technically it is in that we have our hot weather and we're all aching for the rain. But this bread makes you feel homey, ready for a rainy day. (On a side note, if you need a beautiful story about bread, may I recommend "A Small, Good Thing" by Raymond Carver. Breathtaking.) I ate it for dessert this evening--half a slice with butter and a little salt and another half with cherry jam on it. I am not a huge fan of heavy breads for sandwiches, but I love them toasted and spread with something savory or sweet. This week is going to be one of very good and very sincere breakfasts of toast and jam. Happy fall!
2 loaves [I halved all of this, and it turned it well]
2-1/4 cups boiling water
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup cracked wheat (bulgar)
1/4 cup wheat germ [I used about 1/8 wheat germ and 1/8 flax seed]
2 tablespoons better, melted
1-1/2 tablespoons salt
4-1/2 teaspoons yeast (2 packages)
1 cup milk, warmed [to about body temperature, it turns out]
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups stone ground wheat flour
2 to 3 cups unbleached flour
1 egg white mixed with water
1. Pour boiling water over rolled oats, cracked wheat and wheat germ. Add molasses, butter, and salt; mix well, let cool to body temperature.
2. Meanwhile, dissolve yeast in milk, add sugar, and let stand until mixture swells.
3. Add whole wheat flour and 1 cup unbleached flour to yeast mixture. Then add steeped oats and mix well.
4. Turn out on a floured surface. Let rest for a few minutes, then start kneading, adding some of the rest of the flour to achieve a firm, pliable consistency; it will be sticky don't do much kneading at this time.
5. Place in a well-buttered bowl and turn to coat with butter all over; cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch down, turn out onto a floured surface, and knead well this time--for 8 to 10 minutes--adding more flour as necessary.
6. Divide into half and form 2 loaves; place in buttered (9x5x3) loaf pans; dough should fill pans about two-thirds full. Let rise again until almost doubled; dough should swell over tops of pans.
7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
8. Brush dough with wash of egg white mixed with water. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking for 30 to 40 minutes, or until bread sounds hollow when tapped. Remove loaves from pans and return them to oven. Turn off heat and let bread cool in oven.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Recipe: Stuffed Beef Tenderloin with Whole-Wheat Couscous and Black Olive Vinaigrette
Four years ago, the husband and I got married. This year, to celebrate we're heading up the California coast to a little town called Gualala for some relaxation. However, because of availability of the lodge we're staying, we have to wait just one more week before we can (hopefully) get fogged in at some local bar watching baseball.
In the mean time, I made beef.
Admittedly, I always confuse Charlie Trotter with Thomas Keller. The double letters followed by the -er, and I cannot keep the men straight. Both have masterminded some great restaurants, and both geographically speak to me: Keller with his California cuisine, Trotter with his Chicago palate. As a Midwestern transplant, I appreciate a Midwesterner's point of view. And while I have never actually been to his restaurant, I happily cook from this cookbook.
I deconstructed the "stuffed" part of the tenderloin, and we ate the eggplant and peppers as a side dish to the beef, which we sliced thinly over the couscous. I also sauteed some kale and chard with garlic to serve on the side. As the capper, we ate cupcakes from Katrina Rozelle, the bakery that made our wedding cake. Oh, sweet Jesus, those were good cupcakes.
Yes, this seems a far cry from other Chicago-style fare (you know, deep-dish pizza and foot-long hot dogs), but Charlie Trotter adds an elegance to Chicago. Thank you.
The husband and I engaged in one of our favorite activities--watching playoff baseball--while we ate this fine dinner. While the Giants sadly lost, we love baseball. Before we go further, let me be clear. First and foremost, I love the Cubs, but the Giants will do in a pinch as my beloved team, seeing as we live in the area.
Overall, baseball has played a prominent role in our relationship. Thirteen years ago, we used to get beers at Squatters and watch baseball, talking about those halcyon days when Jack Clark was a Cardinal. Ten years ago, we holed up a church-turned-bed-and-breakfast in Vernal, Utah, to watch Olympic baseball. In 2002, we bellied up to a bar high in the Sierras to cheer ourselves hoarse as the Giants won their division. Last year, we stayed up late at the hotel in Grass Valley to bemoan the stupid, stupid Yankees.
We're willing to travel to satisfy our baseball-based desires. We have been to games at Coors Field, Safeco Field, the Coliseum, AT&T Park, and Camden Yards. We have fantasies of a baseball stadium tour of the US and Canada (Cleveland, here we come!).
Further, baseball showed up in our wedding vows in the guise of Tobias Wolff's masterful short story "Bullet in the Brain." A story about the heady charm of language and the sweet stillness of baseball: "This is what he remembered. Heat. A baseball field. Yellow grass, the whirr of insects..." The husband then vowed to always bring me "heat"--even in the form of an extra blanket in the middle of a January night.
While this entry has strongly veered away from beef tenderloin and taken a turn into baseball and romance, this dinner was a fine way to watch the Giants and to celebrate four years of marriage to a fellow baseball fan. And hopefully next year, we can celebrate in Chicago style with a Cubs win. This, of course, is said as a true Cubs fan. There's always next year.
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives, plus 1/4 cup of their brine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
Salt and Pepper
1 small eggplant
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 roasted poblano chile, diced
1 roasted red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp capers
Beef and Couscous
2 12-ounce beef tenderloins
Salt and Pepper
5 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup whole-wheat couscous
1 large red onion, julienned
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
To Prepare Vinaigrette
1. Whisk together the olive brine and the balsamic vinegar in a small bowl, and then slowly whisk in the olive oil and olives. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
To Prepare the Stuffing
1. Prepare a medium-hot grill, Peel the eggplant and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices. Rub with the canola oil and grill for 2 minutes each side, until done. Dice the eggplant, place in a small bowl, and toss with the poblano, red bell pepper and capers.
To Prepare the Beef
1. Starting from the end of each tenderloin, cut a slit all the way through the center of the tenderloin with a long, thin knife. Rotate the knife 90 degrees and insert in the same spot, making an X. If the knife is not long enough to reach the far end of the loin, repeat the process starting from the other end. Insert the handle of a wooden spoon through the incision to help stretch the hole.
2. Using your finders and the handle of a wooden spoon to keep the incision open, stuff as much filling as possible into each tenderloin.
3. Season the tenderloins with salt and pepper and rub with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
To Prepare the Couscous
1. Place the water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the couscous and bring back to a boil. Cover, remove from the heat, and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed.
2. Cook the red onion and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until caramelized.
3. Stir in the couscous, parsley, and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and cook for 10 minutes, or until warm. Season to taste with salt and pepper and keep warm.
To Cook the Beef and Serve
1. Grill the tenderloin for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until medium-rate. Let rest for 5 minutes, cut into 1/4-inch slices, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Spoon some of the couscous in the center of each plate and top with some of the beef slices. Spoon the vinaigrette over the beef and around the plates and top with freshly ground black pepper.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Recipe: Liver in Whiskey Cream Sauce
Okay, I said I would make this.
The whole point of beginning this blog was to get me out of my comfort zone and to use (really use!) the cookbooks that I own. It was meant to inspire me to cook again, to try something new.
When I bought this cookbook, I never knew it would lead to this: Liver. Onions. Whiskey. This cookbook proudly has an entire chapter devoted to offal, the subtitle of which is "The Irish Touch." Isn't that fabulous?
The book admits that many Americans do not eat offal, in part because we no longer have to eat it (McDonald's has made short order of that). Thus we discard the tongue, the liver, the kidneys, or we grind them up into sausages so we don't have to confront what they truly are. This chapter suggests we might do well to change our ways. We're missing out on the glories of Chicken Liver Pate, Crubeens (Pig's Feet), Collared Head (yep, made from 1 pig's head, halved from top to bottom and brined), Black Pudding, and Sweetbreads Wrapped in Bacon. The final page in the chapter is for Lamb's Liver in Whiskey Cream Sauce.
I turned the page.
I cooked boxty instead.
But then, I reminded myself of the whole point of this little enterprise. And then I took some faith in Leopold Bloom, who "ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls."
Many of you know that last year, my project was to read Ulysses, a book that changed my life. In the first chapter in the Bloom section (Calypso), we walk with Bloom to the butcher's shop (where "a kidney oozed bloodgouts on the willowpatterned dish") to buy a pork kidney, which he then prepares (and burns slightly) for breakfast. Why did Ulysses change my life? Every Saturday morning, I would make myself a pot of tea, and I would settle in to read for two to three hours. I did this from September to April, as I read 30 pages a week with two of my students. I rediscovered the joy of layered meaning, the delight of reading closely, and the awe in what an author can do. Yes, yes, Bloom was a bit of a dirty bird, but so was his creator. But both present distinctly human yearnings--each is hungry for something more than the surface level, for the human connection, and in their own ways, the ability to say yes, even if it is Molly Bloom who is the one to offer up this assertion.
|Not a good picture, but I did set the skillet on fire (on purpose!).|
This brings me back to the liver. I said yes.
And I am glad I did. I like liver. I didn't know.
1 lb lamb's liver, membrane removed, sliced crosswise into 1/4 inch slices [I used calf's liver because it was easier to find]
2 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
1 onion, minced
2 tbsp Irish whiskey
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp whole-grain mustard
1 tbsp freshly chopped chives
1. Put the liver into a shallow dish large enough to hold it in a single layer; then cover with the milk and sprinkle lightly with salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. Rinse the liver, discarding the milk, and pat dry with paper towels. Melt half the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the onions, stirring frequently, until soft and beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the onions from the skillet with a slotted spoon and set aside.
3. Melt the remaining butter in the same skillet and sear the liver over high heat for about 1-1/2 minutes on each side. As the liver is done, transfer to a plate and set aside.
4. Pour the whiskey into the pan, warm it for about a minute, then carefully ignite it [!] with a kitchen match [I did, indeed, do this step, but I think you can skip it or cook it a little longer to burn off some of the alcohol. Your call.] When the flames die down, stir in the cream and mustard, scraping up any brown bits form the bottom of the pan. Cook for about one minute, then return the onions and liver to the skillet along with any juices that have accumulated.
5. Stir well, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until the liver is heated through. Garnish with the chives.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
The Country Cooking of Ireland (2009)
I am cheating right now. I admit it. I am offering you not one but two recipes from this cookbook. I am supposed to cook liver from page 210. And I will. But I have to soak it overnight in milk (?), and in the meantime, I decided to make the next entry in the cookbook--Boxty. Don't worry. The liver is next. And I will have a lot to say about it.
In a chapter devoted entirely to potatoes, the opening entry is on boxty. And it turns out, my boxty ensures that my marriage is no longer a sham. For you see: "Boxty on the griddle,/ Boxty in the pan,/ If you can't make boxty,/ You'll never get a man." Well! Thankfully, I make a mean boxty.
Eaten in the north of Ireland and in Northern Ireland--Fermanagh, Derry, Tyrone, Cavan, Mayo, Sligo, Donegal--boxty is similar to a thick pancake composed of mashed potatoes, shredded potatoes, flour, and baking soda. Boxty may derive from the Irish bocht, meaning "poor," and is said to have originated during the Irish Famine.
The Great Famine occurred roughly from the mid-to-late 1840s to the beginning of the 1850s. During the Famine, the population fell by 20 to 25%, reduced by starvation, disease, and emigration. A third of the population was dependent upon the potato for food, and when blight ravaged the crops, up to 75% of it was lost, and the people suffered. Add to that the political refusal of the English to supply support and the ill-conceived English importation of food from the Irish, and you have a full blown tragedy.
At the beginning of this year, I had to plan (roughly) when I would make which meals, as I didn't want to be making peach dishes in January or chard dishes in June. I always knew I would make boxty the day after the Nero Wolfe meal when I would have leftover mashed potatoes. But here's the problem: I am still stuffed from last night's dinner, and these pancakes, also called poundy, are heavy. You can see why these would be an attractive component to a hungry person's meal. While these are heavy, they are surprisingly tasty (butter, potatoes, salt? How can you go wrong?). A very, very tasty brick that sits at the bottom of your belly.
The husband mocked the purchase of this cookbook, but I knew that it had to be mine the moment I saw this book last year. It is part of a new series of cookbooks from Chronicle Books, including The Country Cooking of France. While Ireland may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think cooking, let me remind you of the cheeses, the lamb stew, the scones, the soda bread, the butter. These are the building blocks of civilization, people. The building blocks.
I spent a semester abroad in Galway, as I mentioned here, but in 2004, I returned to Ireland to attend the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo, where I turned up late at the folk dancing class because I really, really wanted to meet Colm Toibin (which I did) and made a fool over myself fawning over Seamus Heaney (but I bet he gets that a lot). However, the two weeks in Sligo were not the highlight of my summer of 2004. No.
For about ten days before this summer school, I traveled around Donegal County and on to Derry--parts of Ireland and Northern Ireland I didn't have the chance to spend time in when I was abroad in the 90s. I spent four days in Donegal Town staying by myself without the benefit of a change of clothes (Aer Lingus had lost my luggage). It was truly a wonderful experience. I wandered the castle, rode a bike to Lough Eske, and drove a waterbus in the bay. Yes, you read the correctly. I took a waterbus one afternoon around the bay--it was a total tourist attraction, but what else did I have to do? And the waterbus driver asked me if I wanted to drive the bus. How could I pass that up? Really. I spent an afternoon at the Ballyshannon Music Festival where I accidentally ended up in a darkened pub with three other people for a fiddle lesson. (I don't play the fiddle.) In Derry, I walked among the murals in the predominantly Catholic Bogside area, poked into a city-center Protestant church that boasted the best hydrangea bushes in Europe (seriously, a woman at the church did boast about them), and finally broke down and bought a new set of clothes. I say all of this for no reason or connection to boxty--although I did eat a lot of potatoes while I was there--but as reminiscence. Thank you for indulging me.
But to bring us back to the boxty, this is really quite tasty. While boxty are generally meant to be served as a side dish to meat, you can get quite creative--anything you would top a latke or a blini with is fair game for the boxty, and more and more restaurants are serving them with higher end foods such as crab, lobster, and even caviar. However, I was perfectly happy with a little extra salt, pepper, and butter.
Finally, I give you a poem from Seamus Heaney; he says all there needs to be said about the potato:
A mechanical digger wrecks the drill,
Spins up shower of roots and mould.
Labourers swarm in behind, stoop to fill
Wicker creels. Fingers go dead in the cold.
Like crows attacking crow-black fields, they stretch
A higgledy line from hedge to headland;
Some pairs keep breaking ragged ranks to fetch
A full creel to the pit and straighten, stand
Tall for a moment but soon stumble back
To fish a new load from the crumbled surf.
Heads bow, trunks bend, hands fumble towards the black
Mother. Processional stooping through the turf
Recurs mindlessly as autumn. Centuries
Of fear and homage to the famine god
Toughen the muscles behind their humbled knees,
Make a seasonal altar of the sod.
Flint-white, purple. They lie scattered
like inflated pebbles. Native
to the black clutch of clay
where the halved seed shot and clotted
these knobbed and slit-eyed tubers seem
the petrified hearts of drills. Split
by the spade, they show white as cream.
Good smells exude from crumbled earth.
The rough bark of humus erupts
knots of potatoes ( a clean birth )
whose solid feel, whose wet inside
promises taste of ground and root.
To be piled in pits; live skulls, blind-eyed.
Live skulls, blind-eyed, balanced on
wild higgledy skeletons
scoured the land in 'forty-five
wolfed the blighted root and died.
The new potato, sound as stone,
putrefied when it had lain
three days in the long clay pit.
Millions rotted along with it.
Mouths tightened in, eyes died hard,
faces chilled to plucked bird.
In a million wicker huts
beaks of famine snipped at guts.
A people hungering from birth,
grubbing, like plants, in the bitch earth,
were grafted with a great sorrow.
Hope rotted like a marrow.
Stinking potatoes fouled the land
pits turned pus into filthy mounds:
and where potato diggers are
you still smell the running sore.
Under a gay flotilla of gulls
The rhythm deadens, the workers stop.
Brown bread and tea in bright canfuls
Are served for lunch. Dead-beat, they flop
Down in the ditch and take their fill,
Thankfully breaking timeless fasts;
Then, stretched on the faithless ground, spill
Libations of cold tea, scatter crusts.
1 peeled, medium russet potato, grated on the large holes of a box grater
1 cup freshly made mashed potatoes (preferably made with heavy cream and butter)
1 cup white flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp baking soda
2 to 3 tablespoons bacon fat or butter
1. Wrap the grated potatoes in a clean tea towel or several thicknesses of cheesecloth. Working over a medium bowl, tightly twist the ends of the towel in opposite directions, to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Set the bowl of potato water aside for 10 minutes.
2. Put the grated potato into a large bowl, add the mashed potatoes, and mix well to combine thoroughly.
3 Carefully pour off an discard the liquid from the bowl with the potato water, leaving a layer of thick white potato starch at the bottom. Add the starch to the potato mixture, then add the flour and baking soda and season to taste with salt. Transfer the mixture to a lightly floured surface an kneed for 1 to 2 minutes or until a thick dough forms.
4. On a lightly floured surface, press the dough with your hands into a disk, then roll it out into a circle about 3/4 inch thick. Using a cookie cutter or the floured rim of a drinking glass, cut the dough into 3-inch rounds.
5. Melt the bacon fat or butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the boxty in a single layer and fry for 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown.