Chuck the Chicken: Try This Roasted Salmon Piccata with Lemon Miso Sauce

As a young married person starting a family, I didn't often cook fish for dinner because I didn't grow up eating or cooking with it—good fresh fish was hard to come by in our small Central Oregon town. Even after my parents moved the family to Portland there wasn't much available in the strip mall supermarkets around our suburban housing development, the streets strangely named after Native American tribes. (Pawnee Path? Shawnee Trail? Sioux Court? Seriously?)

My mother was much more comfortable cooking red meat, what with her upbringing in an Eastern Oregon cattle ranching family. When we did have fish, it was most often from a can—tuna or the dreaded canned salmon, which was unceremoniously dumped in a dish, the indentations of the rings from the can still visible on its surface. Any whole fish tended to be less than absolutely fresh, requiring lots of what was called "doctoring" to cut the fishiness.

Needless to say, there was a lot I had to learn about cooking it.

Fortunately, we now have a myriad of choices for fresh-caught fish available at farmers' markets or one of many retail outlets featuring species caught off our own coast or harvested from regional waters. Recently I bought a portion of a friend's share of sockeye salmon from her Iliamna Fish Company CSF (Community Supported Fishery) subscription, several vacuum-sealed frozen fillets ready to thaw and throw on the grill or in a pan. (Check out this guide to Pacific Northwest CSA and CSF offerings.)

Since the weather was too inclement even for Dave, who's been known to stand over his grill with a beer in hand in an ice storm, I decided to try roasting it in the oven with a lemon piccata sauce that our friend Dana had made for a dinner. She'd come across a chicken piccata recipe that sounded great, but she had rockfish fillets on hand. Ignoring tradition like any creative cook, she decided to try a completely new dish on guests, subbing in the fish for the chicken. Excellent!

It seemed like salmon might be a good match, as well, so I followed her lead. Start to finish, it's ready in about half an hour…and I think you'll agree it's a winner. And it pairs nicely with my recently posted recipe for Turmeric Rice with Dried Tangerine Peels!

Salmon Piccata with Lemon Miso Sauce

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 Tbsp. garlic, chopped fine
1/2 c. fish or chicken stock
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. capers
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. white miso (optional)
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped fine, for garnish (optional)
1 1/2 lbs. salmon fillets

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a medium saucepan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add garlic and very briefly sauté until it's just warmed. Add lemon juice and stock and heat until it barely comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add capers and miso and stir to combine. Add a small amount of water to the cornstarch to make a thin paste. Add cornstarch to sauce while stirring, and allow to thicken slightly.

Place fish fillets in a 9" by 12" baking dish. Pour sauce over the top and roast in oven for 20-25 minutes until fish is cooked through.

Ap-peel-ing Suggestion for Citrus Season: Dry Those Peels!

The holidays heralded the beginning of citrus season, when the usual bins of lemons, limes, and oranges at the stores expand exponentially with an avalanche of fruit from sunnier climes. From tangerines and clementines to kaffir limes and buddha's hands, now is the time to play with them in everything from beverages to baking and even in savory dishes.

When I wrote recently about juicing and zesting those odds and ends of citrus left over from baking or cocktail-making, I totally forgot to mention that you can dry the peels from lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, clementines and mandarins, too. The method for doing so is dead simple, and after drying they'll keep for several months in a closed container with your other spices. (See drying method, below.)

With thicker-skinned citrus like oranges and lemons it'd be best to just use the outer peels, since their pith can be bitter, though with thinner-skinned fruit like Meyer lemons and tangerines (and their small round cousins) you can use the whole peels. And of course I'd recommend only using organically grown citrus, since a wide variety of toxic chemicals and sprays are used on conventionally grown citrus trees and fruit.

All that's left to do is strew the peels with abandon, since they'll add their special zing to just about anything you can think of, from seasoning mixes to teas, in baked goods and scattered on salads, in marinades and salad dressings and on chicken or fish.

Turmeric Rice with Dried Tangerine Peels

2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 c. jasmine rice
1 Tbsp. turmeric
4 c. chicken broth
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. thyme
1 Tbsp. dried tangerine, clementine or mandarin peel (see method, below)
2 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

Remove peels from citrus. Slice into 1" long by 1/8" strips. Place on parchment paper-lined sheet pan (or a smaller-sized pan if you're just doing a couple). Place pan in oven at lowest setting (100-150°) for 45 min. to 1 hour. Check to see if they're dry but not crispy. If they're still moist, keep drying and checking every 10 min. or so.

In a wide, flat-bottomed pan or deep skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent. Add rice and turmeric and stir to combine. Add broth, bay leaves, thyme, dried peels, salt and red pepper flakes and stir briefly to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer 20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender (add more liquid if rice isn't done). Taste for salt and adjust.

Ginger-Spiced Cranberry Syrup: Three Cocktails for the Holidays (and Beyond)

Syrups made from seasonal fruit have become a passion, one way of preserving the distilled essences of the year to enjoy during the darker, rain-soaked days of winter in the Pacific Northwest. I've made syrups from rhubarb, persimmons, elderflowers and even fig leaves, which I'll splash into sprightly spritzers, cocktails and mocktails, often pairing them with whatever spirit seems appropriate, like bourbon, gin or tequila.

Recently my friend Lynne Curry posted a ginger-spiced cranberry syrup recipe on her Forage blog, calling it "the perfect mixer" and including a recipe for a Moscow Mule and another called a Cape Codder. Since I love the tang of cranberry almost as much as Lynne does, and locally grown, organic fruit is plentiful at farmers' markets and greengrocers this time of year, I thought I'd take advantage and make some that might, with a little luck and forbearance, last us through the winter.

We've come up with three cocktails to add to Lynne's list. Do some experimenting on your own and let me know what you make!

Ginger-Spiced Cranberry Syrup

1 lemon
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. unsweetened cranberry juice
2 c. fresh cranberries
2, 1/4-inch thick slices unpeeled fresh gingerroot

Take the lemon and with a vegetable peeler, cut six 1/2" wide vertical zests about 2-3" long.

Combine the sugar with the cranberry juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes to make a simple syrup.

Remove from pan from the heat and add the lemon zests, cranberries and ginger. Cover and steep for at least 15 minutes.

Puree the cranberries and the ginger in the pot with an immersion blender or use a food processor. Pass the mixture through a fine meshed strainer into a storage jar. Discard the solids. You'll have 1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) cranberry simple syrup.


Cranberry Margarita

Makes one cocktail.

2 oz. tequila
3/4 oz. lime juice
3 oz. cranberry syrup (see recipe, above)
1/4 oz Cointreau or triple sec
Salted rim (optional)
Lime wedge (optional)

Put tequila, lime juice, syrup and Cointreau into shaker half-filled with ice. Shake 30 to 40 seconds. Pour into old-fashioned glass containing amount of ice desired.


Cranberry Old-Fashioned

Makes one cocktail.

2 oz. rye
1 oz. cranberry syrup (see recipe, above)
2 dashes angustura bitters
Orange twist for garnish (optional)

Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake 30 to 40 seconds. Strain into an Old-Fashioned glass with fresh ice. Garnish, if desired, with orange twist.


Cranberry Hot Toddy

Makes one hot toddy.

For the syrup:
4 Tbsp. cranberry syrup (see recipe, above)
3, 3" strips orange zest
3 black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
1 star anise

For the cocktail:
2 oz. bourbon
4-5 oz. boiling water
1/2 oz. lemon juice

In a small saucepan bring the syrup, zest and spices to a bare boil, then reduce the heat and simmer 15 min. Strain solids.

In a mug or appropriate toddy cup, add strained syrup to the bourbon, hot water and lemon juice. Stir.

Adventures in Vegetables: Sear that Radicchio!

Verona. Castelfranco. Treviso. Chioggia. Lusia. Rosa del Veneto. A wide range of colors from deep burgundy to pastel pink to soft yellow, and solid to streaked to brightly speckled.

Radicchio season has been glorious this year, as evidenced by the gorgeous abundance of varieties at farm stands, farmers' markets and greengrocers. Not only has the weather been spectacular for this late fall crop, but more local farmers than ever are growing these slightly bitter members of the brassica family.

One reason it grows so well here is that, as Anthony Boutard has pointed out numerous times, we're at virtually the same latitude as Italy's Venezia and Piedmont regions, which means crops that grow well there will more likely than not will adapt well to our maritime climate. Luckily for us, Brian Campbell and Chrystine Goldberg, owners of Uprising Seeds in Bellingham, Washington, have caught the "bitter is better" bug and are working with several Northwest growers to develop and adapt these chicories to our climate. (To find out more, check out the Gusto Italiano Project, a collaboration between the Culinary Breeding Network, Uprising Seeds and the northern Italian vegetable breeders at Smarties.bio.)

So in late fall, my heart leaps when I see the first heads of Treviso and Castelfranco at the markets, and I can't seem to get enough of them in salads, chopped in wide ribbons and tossed with other greens and fall vegetables like black radish and fennel. I've also discovered an affinity between radicchio and our own hazelnuts—I've been crushing roasted hazelnuts and scattering them with abandon, where they bring a sweet counterpoint to the bitter notes of the chicory.

This year I've also discovered how delicious these fall beauties—particularly the tighter heads of Treviso, Chioggia and Verona—are when seared in a pan over a fire or on the stovetop. It takes just a few minutes to quarter them, sear them in a bit of hot olive oil and drizzle them with my creamy Miso Vinaigrette (below). And don't forget the roasted hazelnuts!

Seared Radicchio with Creamy Miso Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, pressed in a garlic press
1 Tbsp. white miso
Herbs, finely chopped (I like tarragon or thyme as well as chopped chives)
1 tsp. honey (optional)

For the radicchio:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 smaller heads of Chioggia, Verona or Treviso radicchio
1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts, crushed

To make the vinaigrette, combine the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk together.

Slice the heads of radicchio in quarters, leaving the core intact so the leaves will stay together. (The cores will soften while searing and be quite lovely.) Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and place the quartered wedges cut-side down and sear until very dark brown (don't worry if they look blackish…that's good). Turn and sear the other cut side, then turn onto the back and sear. Remove to a serving plate and drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with crushed, roasted hazelnuts. Serve warm.

Photo of heads of radicchio from Slow Hand Farm. Radicchio print from Culinary Breeding Network Etsy shop where you can buy lots of radicchio merch!

Waste Not, Want Not: Save that Zest and Juice

I always have odds and ends of citrus sitting on the counter or mouldering away in the back of the fridge. Dave will peel two strips of zest from a lemon for a negroni and the poor thing—I swear on a stack of Maida Heatter's books I had every intention of using it—will gradually wither from embarrassment and end up in the compost bucket.

One day it struck me that I was wasting a heck of a lot of perfectly fine fruit juice, not to mention zest, that could be used in cocktails, desserts, salad dressings and any number of other recipes. You know the ones, where they call for a teaspoon of juice or a pinch of zest or a wedge for garnish, only requiring a portion of the whole.

That's why I've taken to first zesting the fruit with a microplane grater, which shaves off only the desirable outer layer and none of the tends-to-be-bitter pith, then juicing the whole thing no matter how much a recipe calls for. What juice I don't use is poured into a container, labeled—an important step, believe me—then stored in the freezer. (An ice cube tray would work, too, and the cubes can be kept in a container or zip-lock bag. Zest can be stored in zip-lock bags or those teeny lidded containers that have no other use that I can discern.)

I can't tell you how many times we're short a mere half-teaspoon of juice for a recipe, or we'll need zest for orange currant scones, or Dave says, "Dang, I'd make a daiquiri if we had some lime juice." That's when I pipe up in my most helpful tone and say, "Hang on, I think there might be some right here…"

Cheers!

Farm Bulletin: Propagating a Tropical Fruit in a Less-Than-Tropical Climate

Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Oregon, is always up for a challenge when it comes to adapting his favorite foodstuffs to our maritime climate.

Sweet potatoes are propagated as clones; shoots are cut from the tuber and rooted. Those slips are genetically identical to the tuber, absent a mutation, and assure the next crop will have a similar look, flavor and texture. The curse of uniformity is that life, at least for some of us, becomes very dull indeed when everything looks and tastes the same.

For diversity, the farmer must rely on sexual reproduction which leads to a reordering of the crop’s genome. As a tropical crop, the floral biology of the sweet potato is poorly adapted to our latitude and climate, actually completely worthless, at least in terms of reproduction. Sometimes they will flower, a lovely flower at that, but seed set is beyond their capabilities. Consequently, breeders must work their magic in subtropical and tropical locations.

Jay Bost, GoFarm Hawaii

In 2016, knowing our interest and experience in growing sweet potatoes in Oregon, Jay Bost of GoFarm Hawaii and John Hart of EarthWork Seeds approached us to see if we would plant some of their seeds they harvested from their breeding work on Hawaii. We were game, so they sent us some packages. The seeds are tiny and the instructions advised that the hard seed coat had to be nicked, then the seed soaked to assess viability. If the seed started to germinate we could plant it. Following this difficult protocol, Carol managed to start 250 plants and these were planted in the field.

That autumn, we pulled the plants and identified just five out of the 250 that had potential in this climate, and we weren’t especially fussy. Most failed to produce any tubers, those that did have swollen roots produced mere rat-tails as they are termed, about as plump as a pencil. A similar phenomenon occurs with tropical races of corn, the stalks grow and grow and grow and grow and grow, as though reaching for the moon, with nary an ear maturing by the time our frost falls. The difference with this breeding effort is that the breeders specifically selected parents with potential to produce tubers at this latitude. Even so, nature maintains the house odds. Bost and Hart were gambling against the tropical nature of the crop and only beat the house two percent of the time. On par with Las Vegas casinos or the state lotteries; actually not so bad when you think of it with that perspective.

John Hart, EarthWork Seeds.

Of the five successful plants from the 2016 planting, all were white-fleshed and tawny-skinned. Although we continued to propagate the other sweet potato varieties in our stable, by this year it was apparent that only one of the old guard remained, the obnoxiously named "White Delight" (top photo, upper left), and only a handful of tubers at that. The Bost and Hart sorts had swamped our genetic stable with their vigor and contentment in our climate. As far as I can tell, three sorts dominate. On the left, there is the long, smooth-skinned tuber with few lateral root scars. The second, at the top, is plumper with many more scars and a furrowed shape. The third is very large, distinctly furrowed, rotund, with a scurfy skin. Aside from appearance, they all have good flavor and pleasant sugar levels.

We will add that this year was a stellar sweet potato moment—an unstintingly hot and long growing season. Enjoy them. Oh yes, as someone who frets at stupid variety names, these tubers are, as yet, unnamed. Oh glorious anonimity! If you must name them, "The Bost & Hart Seedling Grex" is the correct way to refer to these tubers. "No Name Yet" also works just fine, and is just as smart. 

Last year, the New York Times had an article about the quest for quality sweet potatoes, or yams as is your wont. The lesson being, forget those in the grocery store. That is precisely why we grow our own.

Top photo by Anthony Boutard. Photo of Jay Bost from the GoFarm Hawaii website. Photo of John Hart by Shawn Linehan.

More Sustainable Meat and Seafood Traceable to the Source? Bring It On!

Portland cooks and makers rejoice! After months of fits and starts on their expansion plans—the pandemic has wreaked havoc on construction schedules and state agency certifications alike—Revel Meat Co. and Two x Sea have finally filled their cases and staffed their counters at Providore Fine Foods on Northeast Sandy Boulevard.

"We’re happy to announce that after many months, the debut of their full-service meat and seafood counter at Providore is here," said Kaie Wellman, co-owner of Providore along with her husband, Kevin de Garmo and their business partner, Bruce Silverman. "The 'protein' corner of the store has been transformed into a mecca for those who want to work closely with their local butcher and fishmonger to source top-quality, small-farmed meat and sustainably caught seafood."

While the original plans calling for an oyster bar have been scotched, there will soon be seating in the new wine room—it's taken the space once occupied by the now-closed Nomad. There are grab-and-go goods aplenty, from salmon cakes, fish croquettes and fresh oysters to marinated chicken skewers and housemade sausages ready to take home and throw on the grill, and Vannatter says to look for holiday specials appearing soon.

A huge problem with our food system is that shoppers are often misled about what they're buying. Tilapia, a common farmed fish, is mislabeled as more expensive snapper—an analysis by the Guardian newspaper of 44 studies found that "nearly 40% of 9000 products from restaurants, markets and fishmongers were mislabelled." The same misinformation is presented to consumers regarding the sourcing, feeding and slaughtering of beef and pork.

Both purveyors have a stated mission to offer transparency and traceability to Portland cooks. Want to know where a piece of fish in the Two x Sea case comes from, the name of the boat that caught it and how it was caught? Just ask. Lauren Vannatter of Two x Sea said, "We'll tell you the real story instead of the made-up story."

Similarly, Revel's Ben Meyer is committed to tossing out what he calls the "smoke and mirrors" of the meat business, including being able to tell shoppers the name of the farmer that raised the animal, how it was raised, what it ate during its lifetime and when and how it was harvested. Like butcher shops in your grandparents' time, you'll be able to see Revel butchers breaking down primals and sub-primals of beef and pork into steaks, chops and roasts, and even butchering a whole lamb.

How about braising a beef neck, buying a whole pork belly for bacon or pig trotters to simmer with a pot of beans? You'll be able to preorder all of those and get them in a day or so. (Me, I was excited to hear that after the holidays—please let it be true, kitchen gods—I might be able to obtain the main ingredient for Hank Shaw's blood sausage, and even order the fourth stomach of the cow called the abomasum, so I can tempt my friend Paolo to make his favorite Tuscan sandwich, lampredotto.)

Calling Providore's partnership with these two purveyors a "perfect marriage," Wellman added that "their sustainability standards are unmatched anywhere. These guys walk their talk."

When the founding partners launched Providore, Wellman said that it was intended to become a vortex for people who love to cook and who care about where their food comes from, and this latest expansion is the long-planned next step in its evolution. "It's a community of like-minded businesses and business owners," she said. "It's the antithesis of a grocery store experience. It's a place where customers come in and are surrounded by real food and high quality products from small producers they can't find elsewhere."

Providore Fine Foods is a sponsor of Good Stuff NW.

Before I Forget: Deconstructed Ratatouille

My first efforts here at Good Stuff NW were to simply record things I came across, from a new-to-me charcutiere in Seattle to a road trip south to Redding, California—which we promptly named after the Robert Mitchum classic "Thunder Road"—to a profile of our first Cardigan Corgi, Rosey. All themes that have remained mainstays of what has become my second career.

Northwest seasonal bounty in spades!

You see, GSNW—so much nicer than just "this blog," isn't it?—is also a record of sorts of my journey through food. It's chronicled my sense of betrayal when I found out how my until-then-beloved Tillamook cheese actually sources its milk, to discovering the true meaning of nose-to-tail eating through a pig named Roger. It included finding out that we do indeed have a "food system" here in the Northwest that impacts our health, our communities, the environment and the climate. Wow.

What does that have to do with ratatouille, you might rightly ask? Good question.

Since the beginning, I've also recorded favorite recipes* from the basics like a quick tomato sauce and mustard vinaigrette to what to do with leftovers (a series I call "The 'L' Word") to a yearly Crustacean Celebration of our world-class Dungeness crab. It's been a boon to scroll through this list on those I-have-no-idea-what-to-have-for-dinner nights and find something that will fill the bill of fare.

Which brings me to ratatouille. (Finally!)

I love eggplant, whether in a ginger-rich Chinese sauce or an Italian Parmigiana. But ratatouille, that Southern French simmered melange of vegetables, has never broken my top ten eggplant dishes. Maybe it's the color of the finished dish, which tends to turn to the drab side of the spectrum when finished, or that the vegetables lose their individual flavors in the stew, especially sad when the members are fresh from the farm, vibrant in color and hardy in texture.

But then…

I'd just picked up our CSA share one week and there it was (above, left). Deep purple-to-pale-lavender eggplants, yellow and green summer squash, and tomatoes fresh off the vine. It took no urging to get Dave to fire up the grill, and I pulled a couple of chicken thighs out of the fridge to throw on with those gorgeous vegetables. Tossed with a caper-studded vinaigrette, it was a definite keeper.

Which, because of the post you are reading, I'll now have to refer to the next time I find myself in need of dinner ideas.

Grilled Ratatouille

Eggplants
Italian peppers (red, yellow and orange, or any mix of those)
Summer squash (yellow and green zucchini, patti pan, crookneck, etc.)
Tomatoes

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1-2 Tbsp. capers
Salt and pepper to taste

For the vegetables, mix and match amounts and types as available and adjust amounts for the number of people you're feeding.

Make a fire in the grill (we use a chimney for that purpose). While coals are heating, make the vinaigrette by combining all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and whisking them together. Then chop or slice all the vegetables except the tomatoes into larger grill-able pieces. I usually cut larger eggplants into 1" slices and halve the zucchini. Usually the peppers can be grilled whole then seeded before using. DO NOT OIL VEGETABLES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES prior to grilling. When coals are white-hot, dump them out and spread evenly in one layer. Place vegetables on the grate over the fire and cook until tender, turning as needed and pulling them off the fire onto a platter as they become done.

When all the vegetables are cooked, chop into bite-sized pieces, including the fresh tomatoes. Place on platter and drizzle with vinaigrette. Serve warm or at room temperature.

* Find more recipes for leftovers, or get the whole massive list here and here.

Farm Bulletin: Otello's Pebbles, Stewarding a Bean's Genetics

Contributor Anthony Boutard writes: "Here is a note I prepared regarding Otello’s [Pebbles, one of the dried beans Anthony grows at Ayers Creek Farm]. On my restaurant availability list, I usually include a 'photo of the moment' followed by a note placing it in context. One week I didn’t have time to comb my photo files and draft a note, so I simply stated that due to a lack of a sponsor, there was no photo. That led to a series of fictitious sponsors."

Photo of the Moment
Generously Sponsored by: Bard, Rossini & Verdi Concepts™
Cantiamo, Salce

In 2015, we were sent an irritatingly small package of beans by Nancy Jenkins, a food writer and olive oil maker. People often leave kittens and cats at farms assuming they will be cared for in some unspecified way; mostly and fittingly, the caregivers are the farm’s coyotes or bald eagles always looking for a meal more exotic than the usual fare of mice and voles.

None
The label for Otello's Pebbles…is that the eponymous Otello?*

Likewise, small packages of pretty beans are sent or given to us in the hopes that we will become their genetic stewards. Sometimes, an endearing note explains that the beans are a family heirloom and were found in a late aunt’s garage where they had been stored for five years in a mason jar. As a further tug on the heartstrings, and doubling down on their pedigree, a charming name is given to them. A name in a tongue from the old country amps up the hype. Somehow, sending them to us assuages the custodian’s guilt of not carrying on the family tradition themselves. Despite claims made by various wags about sacred beans found in some ancient granary, garden beans are viable for about two years, after that their vitality drops off the cliff. Such claims are just as likely as the old temple cat that is still haunting the pyramid some 5,000 years later.

The package in question had a note, written by another person in the chain of stewardship. It noted that the bean was grown by someone called Otello who died early and had praised the bean as growing well in poor soil. Not much of an endorsement, and not a word about its culinary qualities. Worse, the package contained what appeared to be an assortment of types, something bean growers work hard to avoid. The custodian’s tag noted they were named "Fagioli bianci • grigi," again no first-hand endorsement of their culinary merit.

The package would have been relegated to the ACF seed museum (i.e. compost) except that Myrtha Zierock [an intern at the farm that year] and I were planting a block of soy and had space for a few more seeds. Some beans are promiscuous and will contaminate a field of a carefully managed commercial crop. Soy and garden beans do not cross pollinate so there was not harm in filling out the row. We joked that the beans looked like little pebbles and tossed them into the seeder. At harvest, we cooked up the beans and found they had their redeeming qualities. Because of their appearance, we named them Otello’s Pebbles.

In preparing for the 2020 harvest, we went out to select the 2021 seed crop and discovered the beans had drifted away from the original beguiling mix that prompted our impulsive sowing, and were now almost entirely white or light gray. The translation of Otello’s name for them was "beans white • grey", so they were probably closer to his beans than the “pebbles” passed on from their custodian—those we received in the mail. We combed the field looking for every plant that produced something other than white and light grey. In the lower dish (top photo), you can see the restored variation which is close to those in the seed package Jenkins sent to us.

Does it matter? I think so. We grow many carefully managed beans, but for a bean suited to the stew pot, a bit of a topsy-turvy mix of flavors and textures make for a far more interesting ingredient. I assumed that the genetically chaotic mix would take care of itself, but I was wrong. We have to be just as diligent in our pebbled seed selection as we are with zolfino, for example. It is a bit more of a challenge because we need to make sure we have a full and balanced selection of the original colors, as opposed to selecting for just one color.

We have tried the new selection on the plate and last September’s work was worth the effort. The restructured variety is head-and-shoulders better flavored than the "white • grey" mix corresponding to Otello’s original bean. Frankly, it is no wonder Otello failed to rhapsodize over their quality. Indeed, it is now up there with the all of our other beans, even better than that first harvest that caught our attention. If you think Italian makes the bean sound sexier, then call it sassolini di Otello delivered in the style of Keven Kline, all the same to me. But be sure to try them. You won’t regret heeding the farmer’s suggestion.

Note: The sponsor’s motto is based on Act 4, Scene 3 of Othello when Desdemona sings the Willow Song in her distress and betrayal. The words are condensed from Verdi’s version “Salce, salce, salce, cantiamo, cantiamo, cantiamo, salce, salce, salce (willow, let us sing). I am partial to Rossini’s version, though. Here is a beautiful version in recital by Joyce DiDonato accompanied by David Zobel.

Top photo: Otello’s Pebbles, 2020 (upper) and 2021 (lower) by Anthony Boutard.

* In an exchange about the label (above), Anthony clarified that, alas, the farmer is not Otello: "Otello was long dead when I received the beans. The Otello's block is influenced by the simple, bold renderings of the early 20th Century Mexican woodblock prints, particularly those of María Izquierdo and David Alfaro Sigueiros."

Broke Leg Scones: Think of Them As Delicious Occupational Therapy

First, I want to thank everyone who has contacted me to ask how Dave is doing after his accident. He's healing and making progress with help from his physical and occupational therapists from Providence Home Health, a benefit we never imagined we'd need but one we're incredibly grateful to have. Second, an apology for not posting much since then—caregiving, as many of you already know, is pretty much a full-time gig or, as our friend Chad said, "you just take it one hour at a time."

The sourdough is back!

Thankfully, by now we're at the point where we're taking it a day at a time, and each day shows small improvements over the one before. He's been able to go back to making his stunningly delicious sourdough bread even though he's still confined to a wheelchair—we've dubbed it "Wheelchair Sourdough"—and this morning I encouraged him to take a stab at his orange currant scones.

Yes, it is admittedly a self-serving suggestion, but I prefer to think of it as fitting into his occupational therapy regime. (His OT therapist, Debbie, I'm sure would agree, since she was very excited to learn he loves to bake.)

If you'd like to take a stab at making them, from a sitting position or not, I can guarantee you're going to feel so much better!

Dave's Orange Currant Scones

3 c. (390g) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. sea salt
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 c. (1 stick) frozen unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg
1/4 c. sour cream
3/4 c. whole milk
1/4 to 1/3 c. currants

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a baking mat.

In a large mixing bowl, toss dry ingredients and zest together with a fork. Transfer mixture to a food processor and add the cubed pieces of butter. Pulse several times until the texture is slightly coarser than cornmeal. Put the mixture back in the mixing bowl and add currants, tossing with the fork to combine.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the egg, sour cream and milk and mix thoroughly. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in egg mixture. Mix ingredients together with a spatula until a loose dough forms, then press dough into a large ball. Turn out onto floured surface, cut the ball in half and knead each half four or five times with your hands.

Pat each half into a 6-inch circle. Using a knife or metal-bladed bench scraper, cut each disk into quarters. Place them spaced apart on the baking sheet. Bake until light golden brown, about 22 minutes; rotate the pan front to back halfway through.

Leftover scones—it happens, but rarely—can be placed in a zip-lock bag and refrigerated or frozen for later.