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15 Jan 2010 - 18:53
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Archive for November 2009

chestnut pear soup

Friday, 20 Nov 2009 | recipe inside

Roasted, candied, whipped into a gelato, pureed into a soup-- I salivate for chestnuts in any fashion, at any time.  Throughout the streets of Europe in the fall and winter, you'll find vendors on every corner selling freshly roasted chestnuts.  I love to snack on these-- they are tasty and nutritious, and I somehow feel virtuous for choosing to munch on them.   

We spend quite a bit of time in the northern Adriatic Istria region.  El Burrito is from Slovenia, and when we're there, we like to cruise around sniffing out the choicest spots for snacks and drinks in the area.  There's a gelateria in Trieste, Italy named Zampolli. No matter how cold it is, when it's chestnut season, you'll find me asking for scoop after scoop of their sensuously creamy candied chestnut gelato if I'm anywhere within 100 kilometers on any given day.  The arrival of candied chestnuts (marron glacé, castagne candite, whatever you choose to call them) is just about the only thing that soothes me when I start freaking out over the fact that winter is coming.  Gelateria Zampolli doesn't have a website, but if you ever find yourself in Trieste, make your way to Via Carlo Ghega No. 10, just a couple of blocks from the train station. I've professed my loyalty to the candied chestnut offering, but I can heartily recommend pretty much everything they make.

A while back I set out to make something incorporating this seasonal favorite but that wouldn't send me into glycemic shock.  So, a soup was born, and though it has a hint of sweetness, this chestnut-pear combo provides a perfect savory start to a homey fall meal.  It's creamy but not heavy, hearty but completely unique.  It's not your everyday combination, and I think you'll find it incredibly comforting and exciting to your palate in equal dimensions.  You have various options for the chestnuts. Most difficult: start with raw, whole nuts. Easiest: use pre-peeled, vacuum sealed, par-boiled nuts.  For an additional flavor profile, you can roast some chestnuts in your fireplace or just buy some roasted nuts from your favorite street vendor.

Chestnuts are the only nuts that contain Vitamin C, and they are full of fiber and low in fat.  Pears have these same qualities, and their pairing in this soup gives you a welcome boost now that the sniffle season is revving its motor.  Served in shot glasses, this could be an unconventional amuse-bouche for a funky Thanksgiving meal.

amaranth with rose, fig & fennel

alegrías de amaranto con rosas, higos, y anís

Friday, 13 Nov 2009 | recipe inside

We celebrated the Day of the Dead on November 1 in Mexico.  It's a beautiful celebration-- where those who have passed are welcomed back home to hang out with their buddies and loved ones, and where as the guest of honor they are treated to a night of gluttony and debauchery and encouraged to feast on their favorite dishes, drinks, and vices.  On the evening of November 1st we visited the village of Ocotepec, Morelos, just a few minutes and an underpass away from Cuernavaca, about an hour south of Mexico City.  The town breathes with tradition, not having yet allowed the imported Halloween motifs to usurp traditional celebration.  In Ocotepec, elaborate shrines, known as ofrendas nuevas, are set up in homes where a loved one passed away in the preceding year. 

No expense is spared in welcoming the departed back home; families spend weeks preparing the shrine and cooking up a luxurious battery of the departed's most beloved dishes. Homes are opened to the public, villagers and tourists alike, to pay their respects and partake of the bounty.  Visitors bring candles and prayers, and the hosts offer a drink-- usually coffee, sometimes mezcal-- and a bite to eat-- usually bread, if you're lucky tamales.

A delicious bread is baked around the country at this time of the year. Known as Pan de Muertos, or Bread of the Dead, these yeasty-eggy loaves are delicately flavored and sweet.  Most recipes include anise extract and orange flower water, but my grandmother taught me a variation with rose water instead. It's sublime.

I wanted to come up with a treat that incorporated these flavors but that was a touch more healthful.  Perhaps you have tried alegrías: the amaranth sweets sold in the streets and markets of Mexico.  Alegría is also the word for joy.  They are a traditional sweet made of amaranth and piloncillo, an unrefined sugar product that you should be able to find at any Latin food store.  The alegrías are shaped into small bars to be eaten as snacks and can be found everywhere, from street vendors at busy intersections in Mexico City to in-flight snacks on Mexico's airlines.  It's Mexico's traditional granola bar- easy, tasty, and full of protein!  Amaranth is an ancient grain that was a key nutritional component of Mexico's pre-Hispanic diet, and much like quinoa, it's a grain that has been neglected in modern times to our detriment.  It's a good source of protein, containing the full chain of amino acids, the iron I'm always looking for, and is also gluten-free.

In Mexico, it's almost impossible to find raw, untouched amaranth grains.  The grains you can get come air-popped like popcorn, but without oil.  Amaranth is almost weightless and doesn't have a pronounced flavor, so it can be a versatile and wholesome addition to your kitchen.   In the US and elsewhere, it's easier to find the raw grain, but you'll have to air-pop it yourself in order assemble this snack.