Blog - market fresh
The cooler weather of fall always brings me to soups…and I really enjoy all types: creamy purées, thick lentil soups, chunky vegetable soups, clear consommés and so on. But in my opinion, the king of all cold weather soups has to be the famous Tuscan ribolita. It is a thick, stick-to-your-ribs soup filled with healthy vegetables, beans and potatoes. It is excellent when first prepared, but like the name suggests (ribolita means to re-boil), the soup improves in flavor when reheated, which makes this soup perfect for keeping around a couple of days
Most ribolita soups you will encounter are somewhat different than the original…either lacking in vegetable variety or packed full of tomato puree and cheese. My version below is very similar to the actual DOC designated recipe, which was officially declared on the 24th of May, 2011 at the Florence Academy of Italian Cuisine. The designation followed a long research period with some of the finest restaurants in Florence participating. The concluding recipe implied most restaurants in Tuscany do not serve the real version, but mere impostors.
It doesn’t take very much time these days to search for and find soup recipes made in a pressure cooker. In fact, you can even search within this blog from just a few months ago and locate my marvelous Caramelized Carrot and Ginger Soup, adapted from “The Modernist Cuisine.”
So why is there a sudden spike in popularity amongst soup enthusiasts in using pressure cookers? Well, I think the answer is simple; pressure cookers cook soups quickly and create unmatched flavors. That’s the bottom line…and that’s all that should matter.
My two newest soups this fall are based on a couple of regulars: Curried Pumpkin and Orange and Creamy Pumpkin and Chestnut.
Rhubarb crumble is one of the very first desserts of spring using fresh ingredients. It is so delicious that I think everyone should eat this dessert at the beginning of April. Unfortunately for many, making a crumble is off limits. Gluten is often included in recipes to create the tasty browned flakes. Additionally, butter and eggs are also frequently used to bind everything together and help the browning and crisping of the crumble. But is it really necessary to include gluten and use eggs or dairy products in this recipe?
I set out to create a crumble which has no gluten and is otherwise completely free of eggs and dairy products. The end result is quite satisfying…and I don’t think I will ever attempt to make another crumble with dairy or gluten.
As a variation, add sliced strawberries to this recipe…preferably waiting until the local strawberries appear. I also think I will try apricots, blackberries and apples as the season changes.
I really enjoy the flavors of spring…especially when the young greens emerge from the soil. My favorites are the wild garlic greens of Switzerland called bärlauch, young dandelion greens, wild sorrel or young blood sorrel. All of these greens have tremendous nutritional value, especially in the amount of antioxidants, which are very good to ward off any winter crud lingering in your blood stream.
I always use this type of mixture to create a nice spring salad, but lately I have decided to quickly sauté the greens in a bit of water and coat with oil after they are wilted. This method really enhances their flavor characteristics while minimizing the amount of fat you are consuming.
As for the beans… Well actually you can use any type of starch. I have used roasted potatoes as well as creamy polenta to mix with the wilted greens. I think beans are very nice if you are looking for something completely different. I prefer using fresh beans when they are available. Otherwise, just cook your beans in a pressure cooker as follows.
To cook your beans very easily, begin by soaking the dried beans in cold water with a dash of baking soda for about one hour. The beans will get a bit wrinkly after this treatment, but don’t worry, they will still cook just fine. Place your beans in a pressure cooker and cover with about 4-cm of water. Add a bay leaf to the water, then close the pressure cooker very well. Place the pressure cooker on a burner with high heat. When the pressure hits 2 bars, reduce your temperature to low and maintain pressure for 65 minutes (I find this time works best for most beans). Release the pressure by running cold water over the top of the pressure cooker. Check the consistency of the beans. If you are happy, season them well with salt and remove them from the pressure cooker to cool. If they are underdone, return the pressure cooker to the stove, cover well and bring the pressure back up to 2 bars like before. Maintain this pressure for 10 minutes and then release the pressure again. The beans should now be just about right!
I always seem to get an urge to make something with carrots whenever the first hint of spring emerges from the cold winter soil. This year, carrot soup filled my mind. But, I wanted to make a carrot soup which really represented the taste of carrots stuck firmly in my memory – a distant recollection of pulling carrots out of the ground in the garden I planted.
The idea of caramelizing the carrots seemed like a good place to start, but I didn’t want the roasted notes to overpower the flavor of the carrots. Plus, roasting the carrots in the oven adds to the overall sweetness – something I wanted to avoid. So I settled on a different technique of caramelizing the carrots, which I found in the wonderful book, “The Modernist Cuisine” (also great stuff on the web). After reading the recipe, I was convinced that using the pressure cooker would achieve something different – caramelized carrots without drying them out. But, I wasn’t too thrilled with their recipe because I felt it was more complicated than necessary. I wanted simplicity…and elegance.
I decided to add the ginger to the recipe, which I felt would balance the overall sweetness of the carrots…and after tasting the results, I was pleased with the slight tickling in the throat from the ginger…but the soup still lacked acidity. My response was simple. I felt inspired from a favorite Moroccan style salad of carrots and oranges, so I added the orange juice to just give the soup enough acidity to create a nice balance in the mouth.
I also replaced the butter with olive oil and added a splash of sherry wine (I used an Oloroso). And that was it…the total time in making the soup was about 45 minutes and the results…well, I think this is one of the best soups I have made…or even tasted.
I really enjoy shopping at the market just after winter and before the explosion of fresh ingredients arrive in the heat of spring. I think this period is quite interesting – especially in Switzerland where it is very simple to find products coming from the southern part of Italy. And when I shop…I get inspired to come up with something very fresh and very quick!
During my latest trip to the market, I was inspired by the selection of Italian artichokes, which were both large and small. They are especially good right now and perfect to prepare in so many ways. I elected to use the carciofini (the small ones, which are fully mature, just smaller because they grow on the bottom part of the plant), because they are really tender at the moment. It may seem like you are removing too much of the small artichoke, but in reality, the entire flower is edible. I just remove the outer 1-2 layers and any green bits that remain…as well as those nasty little stickers. I also ran across some delightfully large artichokes with very long stems still attached – a gold mine for those in the know! I really enjoy eating the artichoke marrow which is easily revealed by trimming away the outer part of the stem. The flavor is very similar to the heart and a part of the artichoke which is usually discarded…at least outside of Italy (Italians are always clever in finding the tastiest bits of food).
I am pretty certain most people have never heard of schupfnudeln before…and I am equally confident my new pumpkin version is even more anonymous!
This lack of attention does not bother me…in fact, I rather enjoyed serving this unknown entity recently to curious friends, and I really enjoyed making them in our monthly what’s in season cooking class and watching the happy participants devour the little pumpkin dumplings. These recent food experiences were a refreshing reminder of my first encounter with schupfnudeln while working in Kaiser’s Reblaube about ten years ago, and why they remain one of my favorite recipes.
I was working the entremetier station and in charge of all vegetables and starches. I was not terribly experienced in European products at that time and I didn’t feel too confident as I checked the new menu the chef had recently posted on the kitchen white board. Schupfnudeln? What were these, I asked myself…and furthermore, how do you pronounce it? One of the other cooks told me they were a lot like potato gnocchi…just shaped differently. I was relieved to hear this news because I just finished working several months in Italy and I was quite sure I could make some dazzling gnocchi.
I quickly found out schupfnudeln were not the same as gnocchi…they were much more difficult to master. They were also incredibly popular and irresistible with the guests and kitchen staff, which meant I needed to make them every single day for a couple of months.
Making pumpkin rösti in Switzerland just seems like a good idea.
There are plenty of fresh pumpkins to find nearly everywhere you look – especially those starchy kabocha varieties which combine the nutty pastiness of chestnuts with the sweet earthiness of sweet potatoes…oh, and with a little pumpkin thrown in as well.
Then, there are those incredible October potatoes to experiment with – and not just any potato will do! In Switzerland, a proper rösti is only made with…eh, a rösti potato of course. You can follow my lead and look for the Urgenta or Victoria varieties if you are in Switzerland, otherwise select a potato that is more on the waxy side with less starch.
Another consideration is everyone in Switzerland seems a bit pumpkin-crazed during the month of October…and always rösti-crazed. So, as you can see, the idea to make a pumpkin rösti just works…and I have received quite a lot of requests for this recipe.
So here’s how I make enough for about two rösti:
makes enough for about 2 Rösti
Place about 300 grams of mostly waxy potatoes (Urgenta or Victoria in Switzerland) in a pot and cover with cold water. Cover the pot and bring the water slowly to a boil over medium heat. Boil the potatoes for 8 minutes, then immediately remove them from the pot an allow them to completely cool. I actually like to refrigerate the cooked potatoes for one night, which makes peeling and grating the next day considerably easier. So when you are ready to prepare the rösti, go ahead and peel and grate the potatoes using the large holes of a grater (or box grater). Place all of the grated potatoes in a bowl.
Now, you will need to grate 300 grams of raw pumpkin into the bowl using the same grater. I like to use a very starchy kabocha variety for making these rösti, but beware…they are not easy to grate. Take your time with this and guard your knuckles a bit. Toss the pumpkin and potato together, and season with about one tablespoon of sea salt and some roughly chopped fresh lemon thyme. That’s it on the preparation…here’s how to make the rösti.
Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small non-stick pan (about 15-cm) over medium heat. Add about half of the pumpkin-potato mixture to the pan and shake it a bit, then gently press the rösti down to fit the mold of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the edges are golden. Add a bit of olive oil around the sides of the pan as needed to prevent the rösti from sticking in any way…it should gently slide around as you swirl the pan a bit. Flip the rösti by covering the pan with an inverted plate, turning the rösti over onto the plate. Don’t hesitate…just flip it confidently. Slide the rösti back into the pan – cooked side now facing up. Add some more olive oil and cook gently for another 5-10 minutes. Flip the finished rösti onto a cutting board and cut into wedges. Enjoy the rösti warm.
Also check out our friend Kerrin’s wonderful MyKugelhopf blog report on buying pumpkins near Zürich: A Gaggle of Gourds
I am faced with the same question every summer, ‘I wish I could find some decent tomatoes here, where do you buy yours?’ To which I answer…and this predictably creates a confused, often contorted facial reaction, ‘The best tomatoes in Switzerland are between March and May!’
Ok, I will admit summer time is the best time for tomatoes – but only if you’re growing your own and live in an area blessed with a lot of summer sunshine. I will also admit the tomatoes I am referring to are not Swiss at all, but in fact they are Italian – and mostly from Sicily or Sardegna where the people know a thing or two about growing (and eating) tasty tomatoes.
Tomatoes need plenty of sunshine to develop their full flavor potential …and I’m not talking about the sugars which usually only account for about 3% of the total weight. No, what makes tomatoes so appealing to many are their high levels of glutamic acid – a savory acid more common to meat than plants. It is precisely this acid which creates the necessary balance of sugars and aromatic compounds. Without glutamic acid tomatoes taste…well, really bland and almost starchy.
Early season Italian tomatoes thrive under a warm winter sun – especially on the islands of Sicily and Sardegna, where the mineral-rich sandy soil, warm winds and rare early frosts help tomatoes mature very early in the year. These tomatoes are planted in August and ready for harvest from February through May – perfect timing to fill an obvious void and meet a large demand from discerning Italians. Contrast these growing conditions with Swiss tomatoes: planted in the Spring, lots of early-season frost, limited sunshine with rapid maturation during the hot summer and a harvest in July and August. The Swiss tomatoes generally do not have enough time to fully develop their acids and instead burst forth with sugar and water in June and July. This is the main reason many Swiss tomatoes may taste…well, rather neutral.
I will be one of the first to admit the most succulent and flavorful tomatoes are vine-ripened. Unfortunately, vine-ripened tomatoes are also highly perishable, which is why supermarkets almost always carry tomatoes which have been picked immature, then artificially ripened from a blast of ethylene gas in special warming rooms. Artificially ripened tomatoes never have the texture, aroma and taste of vine-ripened fruits…and they never have a chance to develop that important glutamic acid.
When buying tomatoes at the market, always chose firm, well-shaped tomatoes with fragrant aromas and bright colors. They should always be free of blemishes, heavy for their size and give ever so slightly to a bit of pressure. When you get your tomatoes home, always store them at room temperature…they should never be refrigerated because the cold temperatures will make the flesh pulpy and the flavor will noticeably diminish. Tomatoes keep just fine at room temperature for 3-7 days depending on the maturity of the tomato and the warmth and humidity of your environment.
There are many varieties to look for throughout the year in Switzerland. Here are some of my favorites beginning with those which are available early in the year:
Pachino Marmande or Costoloto
These are perhaps the tastiest of all tomatoes. The name Pachino comes from a small town in the Syracuse region of Sicily. The Marmande and Costoloto varieties are ribbed and often best purchased when the tops are green and the bottoms red; they will turn completely red after a day or two at room temperature. They have a sweet flavor with noticeable acids, and a very long shelf life – especially the early-season ones. These tomatoes are not cooking tomatoes. Enjoy them raw for maximum flavor, and to benefit from their high vitamin C content and rich antioxidant properties.
These little sweet gems also come from the Pachino region…and are one of the few Italian varieties with an AOC declaration. They are grown and harvested the entire year, but the ones reaching Switzerland from April through May are the best. I consider these little delights as the perfect salad tomato, although they are also excellent when quickly sautéed and added to a pasta dish or served alongside fish.
As the name may imply, these tomatoes come from Sardegna. They are small- to medium-sized round tomatoes. They are best from March through June. Like the Marmande and Costoloto varieties, these tomatoes are best purchased with a bit of green on the top, then allowed to mature to a completely red color. They have a thick skin – which can be annoying to some, and a high amount of acid, which pairs very well when enjoyed with a fat (cheese, oil, etc.).
A special Swiss variety available for only a month or so from July through mid-August. They are large, pinkish-red round tomatoes with incredible sweetness and little acid. They are pleasant and refreshing to eat raw.
These large meaty tomatoes are quite flavorful…they also have quite a lot of acid which is surprising to find in a Swiss tomato. They are available from July through September.
These tomatoes are large – I’ve actually seen one weighing-in over 1 kg. – bright red and slightly elliptical. They are quite useful in making tomato sauces. The optimal time to buy them is from July to September.
Plum Tomatoes (Peretti or Pelati)
These egg-shaped red or yellow tomatoes are the ones typically used when canning tomatoes or making sun-dried tomatoes. They can have a nice pleasant taste, but too often, they are mass produced in large greenhouses and turn out rather tasteless. The Italian version is called San Marzano, which will occasionally make it to Swiss markets. They are best later in the year – from July until September.
There are always plenty of small tomatoes on hand…and many different varieties as well. They can come in various shapes and colors and often differ quite a lot in their flavor. If shopping at the market, always ask to try one before buying…your taste buds will guide you in your ultimate buying decision.
If you have the room and want to try your hand in growing your own tomatoes, then perhaps you may want to consider a different variety. One place to look for seeds is the wonderful Tomandi.ch website, which sells several hundred types of tomatoes…My favorite (although I’ve never tried one) is the Viagra tomato found under the Fleischtomaten section…but it already sold out this year.
Rhubarb has a flavor somewhere between apples and cherries, which is where I found inspiration to create my own version of rhubarb pie.
I generally avoid spending endless hours scouring the net looking for ideas, inspiration or recipes. Books still seem a better option when I need to research anything food-related, but I do enjoy following several food blogs…and I have noticed a developing theme this spring – rhubarb is in!
David Lebovitz, pastry chef and entertaining author, recently offered his version of rhubarb tart in his popular blog, which relied on a simple compote of rhubarb and strawberries. Meanwhile, Kerrin Rousset wrote about a rhubarb ‘fruit’ roll-up in her award-wining blog MyKugelhopf. Visit some of the other major foodie sites, and I guarantee you will find plenty more how-to-make rhubarb ideas for compote, pies, tarts, fools, crumbles…
So why write about something that is already getting enough attention in the internet food world?
Well…I’ve always enjoyed rhubarb, but somehow it’s been more of an acquaintance to me rather than a true culinary friend. So now I’m taking another look…and I like what I see. read more