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John Golden

John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post. In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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The Golden Dish with John Golden
Posted: August 13, 2014

Summer menu: The essentials are grilled lamb, corn, tomatoes, berry pie and homemade ice cream

Gazpacho is the essential cold summer soup that makes menus special.

Now is the time to put tomatoes and corn to their best use at the peak of seasonal goodness. Though true field-grown tomatoes are still on the vine, what you see at the markets are often soil-grown in hoop houses until the summer heat sweetens the field-ripened tomatoes.

Corn and tomatoes as displayed at Jordan Farm, Cape Elizabeth

Corn and tomatoes as displayed at Jordan Farm, Cape Elizabeth

Nonetheless, at a dinner on the terrace that I served recently, the stars of the show were corn and tomatoes, including a gazpacho – a great summer soup – as a first course and a wonderful recipe for fresh corn fritters to go along with grilled leg of lamb, steamed green beans and casserole of baked smashed potatoes with olive oil and rosemary. All of the ingredients were locally sourced.

A perfect evening for dining

A perfect evening for dining

This particular version of gazpacho is from Michelin-starred chef Tom Kitchins, whose restaurant in Scotland, The Kitchin,  is highly revered for its fresh approach and innovative ways.  His cookbook, From Nature to Plate (should that replace the dreaded farm-to-table moniker?), is a compendium of some rather sophisticated recipes and not a book for beginner cooks. Though the old saying, “If you can read, you can cook” holds true to guide you through many of these devises.

Gazpacho with basil oil and lemon sorbet

Gazpacho with basil oil and lemon sorbet

I first learned about Kitchins when I dined at Lolita and ordered an incredible-tasting cheesecake in a rhubarb sauce.  I asked about the dish and Lolita chef Cameron Fernald told me he adapted it from Tom Kitchin’s book.  I immediately secured a copy; I haven’t made the dessert yet, but when I saw the gazpacho recipe, I put it on the top of my list of recipes to try.

It’s relatively simple to make though there are many components and steps.  Basically you roughly puree tomatoes, cucumbers, fennel, celery, shallots and red peppers.  The other distinctive flavors include a gastrique (a simple syrup made with white-wine vinegar and sugar) and basil-infused olive oil that’s stirred in and served with a garnish of lightly sautéed vegetables and a scoop of basil sorbet.

I contemplated making the  sorbet, but it would have been one more chore too many in a dinner prep that already had enough moving parts.  Instead I used lemon sorbet from Ciao Bella, which is available at Whole Foods.

The original recipe serves at least 10 to 12 as a first course, so I will give it to you with those quantities with a few adaptations.  You can cut the recipe in half.

The corn fritters were adapted from a regional book, Essentials of Southern Cooking, written by Savannah, GA, food writer and cookbook author Damon Lee Fowler.  His recipes are inspiring.

Corn fritters and skillet corn bread

Corn fritters and skillet corn bread

I followed his basic formula for corn fritters, though I made some changes along the way.  What I liked about the fritters is that they’re not the typical deep-fried croquettes; instead pancake-like crispy rounds rely on very fresh sweet corn, green onions, nutmeg and a touch cornmeal and eggs.

For the grilled lamb an actual recipe is not necessary.  But follow these simple steps: prepare a seasoning paste  by combining parsley, garlic, rosemary, thyme, mustard, olive oil and salt and pepper and chop in  a food processor—it’s similar to a pesto without the nuts; slather it all over the lamb. You can marinate this on the counter for 30 minutes or refrigerate for several hours before grilling.  Grill over indirect high heat, covered, and add a few pieces of smoking wood like hickory, oak or cherry  for an extra flavor kick.

Food ready to be served, potatoes, grilled lamb, green beans

Food ready to be served–potatoes, grilled lamb, green beans

For the potatoes, boil new potatoes with the skin on until tender.  Mash with a potato masher, add sautéed shallots, chopped fresh rosemary, season with salt and pepper and add enough olive oil to make it fairly creamy.  Transfer to a buttered casserole and bake for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees.  Serve immediately.

Dessert was blueberry cherry pie (see August 6 post)  served with a very special homemade vanilla ice cream.

Blueberry-cherry pie a la mode

Blueberry-cherry pie a la mode

Gazpacho with basil olive oil and lemon sorbet

A special garnish of quickly sautéed red pepper, chopped tomato, diced green onions, yellow pepper, chopped basil and sorbet crown the dish beautifully. You can cut the entire ingredient measurements in half for a smaller serving yield.

Servings: 10 to 12

Gastrique

1/2 cup white wine vinegar

Scant 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar

Gazpacho

10 tomatoes

2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and roughly chopped

2 large red peppers, seeds removed, cut into pieces

1 large shallot bulb, peeled and chopped

1 medium cucumber, unpeeled and cut into chunks

2 tablespoons tomato puree

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Salt and pepper

1/2 to 3/4 cup basil infused olive oil, or to taste

Generous amount of freshly ground salt and black pepper

Garnish

1 large red pepper, seeded and diced

1 large yellow pepper, seeded and diced

1 to 2 tablespoons tablespoon olive oil

1 scoop lemon sorbet for each serving

1 peeled tomato, seeded and diced

1 large spring onion, white and green parts, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

Chopped fresh basil leaves

Salt and pepper

Gastrique. Put the vinegar and sugar into a small saucepan and bring to the boil   Cook, stirring, until the sugar is fully dissolved, about 1 minute at the boil. Set aside to cool.

Gazpacho. Chop the tomatoes roughly, removing the core. Prepare the other vegetables and in three batches pulse  the vegetables in a food processor  with the gastrique, basil olive oil, tomato puree and Sherry vinegar until fairly smooth (a few small chunks are OK). Transfer each batch to a large mixing bowl.  Taste and season accordingly with freshly milled sea salt and black pepper.  Chill, covered, for at least 2 hours.

Garnish.  Meanwhile prepare the garnish by sautéing the vegetables in olive oil for 1 to 2 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool completely.

When ready to serve, ladle the soup into chilled bowls and using   a runcible spoon put generous dollops of vegetable garnish in each bowl and add a small scoop of sorbet; sprinkle the top with chopped fresh basil and pour swirls of more basil olive oil over the soup decoratively.  Serve immediately.  For wine pairing, the acidic nature of the soup is hard to match with wine, though the gastrique lessens the bite.  I served a chilled Vouvray, which l paired very well and an Argentine Malbec with the lamb.

Butter-rich skillet corn bread

What sets this corn bread apart is the large amount of butter and artisanal stone ground fine white cornmeal (available from Anson Mills).  For the flour I used commercial soft-wheat King Arthur self-rising flour.

Servings: 6 to 8

1/2 cup stone ground fine white corn meal

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup self-rising flour

4 ounces (1 stick) butter

1/2 cup fresh buttermilk

2 eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Put an 8-inch black cast-iron skillet and butter into the hot oven to melt the butter; careful that it doesn’t burn.

Meanwhile, mix together the cornmeal and leavening agents, then whisk in the self-rising flour until well blended.  Add the beaten eggs and buttermilk; stir just to combine, not over mixing. Set aside.

Using oven mitts, remove the skillet, swirl the butter around the sides and pour into the batter.  Stir to combine.  Pour the batter back into the hot skillet.

Put the skillet on the middle rack and bake for 1 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through; then put the skillet on the upper third high shelf and bake for a further 5 minutes or until nicely golden brown.  Serve warm from the skillet cut in wedges.

Fresh corn fritters

Adapted from Damon Lee Fowler’s book, Essentials of Southern Cooking, this is one of the finest corn fritter iterations that I’ve found.  Use only the best, freshest corn.  Several favorites are from Jordan’s Farm, Harris Farm and Beth’s Farm Market , all of whom produce the sweetest varieties. Also look for the heirloom variety of all yellow corn. It’s not readily available, but if you come across it at stands or farmers’ market, go for it. It has a cornier flavor and is very sweet.

Servings: 4 to 6

4 to 6 ears corn (enough to yield about 2 cups kernels cut from the cob

2 scallions, green and white part, chopped fine

1 small sprig fresh thyme, leaves snipped

Freshly milled sea salt and black pepper, to taste

5 to 6 gratings nutmeg, or about 1/2 teaspoon

1 large egg, beaten

1/4 to 1/3 cup fine white cornmeal

1 to 2 tablespoons butter

To take the kernels off the cob, there are two methods.  Scrape the cleaned silk-free cob over a box grater set in a large mixing bowl; then take a sharp paring knife and remove whatever kernels remain; go in the opposite direction and scrape the cob to release more of its milk.  Alternatively use a knife cutting down the cob into a bowl; then reverse motion scraping the cob to release its milk.  The grater method produces more liquid. If you like do half the amount of corn using the grater method and the other half with the knife; this will give you more kernels in the fritter mixture.

Add the onions, thyme, salt and pepper, nutmeg, egg and cornmeal.  The consistency should be nearly as thick as heavy cream.  Add a little more cornmeal if necessary.  Or if it’s too thick, add drops of milk.

Heat a large skillet with butter and spoon the batter into the hot pan for 3- to 4-inch round pancakes.  Cook over medium high heat until browned on one side; flip and cook the other side.  Serve immediately or put on a parchment lined baking sheet and put into a 250 degree oven to keep warm.

Very special vanilla ice cream

Among the many ways to make ice cream, this custard base relies on a mousse like mixture in the manner of a sabayon.  It produces an exceedingly rich, creamy ice cream.  If you can, use raw cream for the purest flavor.  Otherwise a good farm-fresh pasteurized heavy cream will suffice.

Preparing the ice cream custard base

Preparing the ice cream custard base

Servings: about 1 quart

2 cups heavy cream

1 vanilla bean (Madagascar or Tahitian), split lengthwise

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, optional

5 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

2/3 cup water

1 tablespoon vodka

In a medium-size heavy-bottomed saucepan, scald the cream just until little bubbles form around the sides.  Take off the heat and add the split vanilla bean.  Let infuse until the cream is completely cool. Take out the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the cream.  Add the extract and vanilla bean paste. Set aside.

Meanwhile in a large mixing bowl beat the yolks and sugar together using a whisk until well blended and slightly thickened. Set aside.

In another saucepan heat the sugar and water together, stirring, until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Then boil vigorously over high heat until it registers about 200 degrees on a candy thermometer; if one is not available when it reaches that stage the bubbles will get very small and a few drops put onto a dish and pinched with your fingertips should feel sticky and have a slight thread when you pull your fingers apart. Allow to cool for 1 minute.

Then beat the yolks with a hand held mixer set on high speed and very slowly pour the syrup mixture into the yolks, beating until the mixture becomes fairly thick and ribbons form as you beat.  It should have the consistency of a mousse or slightly thinner.  Whisk in the cream.  At this point you can add 1 tablespoon vodka (keeps the ice cream very creamy after it’s been frozen and acts as a stabilizer).  Put the bowl into the refrigerator and chill for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

When ready, pour the custard through a fine-meshed strainer into an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Then transfer to storage container and put in the freezer to firm up or serve from the canister as a soft-serve ice cream.

Local sources

Locally raised pastured  lamb, Bisson’s Meat Market

Heavy cream, Misty Brook Farm

Eggs, Balfour Farm

Corn, Jordan’s Farm and Harris Farm

Buttermilk, Balfour Farm

Tomatoes, various vendors, Portland Farmer’s Market

Butter, Maine Country Butter

Corn alert: Yellow heirloom organic corn is available today at Freedom Farm’s stand at the Monument Square farmer’s market.  Try it.  The corn is a rich tasting, delicious variety, sweet with great texture.

Yellow organic corn grown by Freedom Farm

Yellow organic corn grown by Freedom Farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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