Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Duet: Chanterelles and Prosciutto

Operatic is not a word I would often use to describe pizza, but it's accurate for a recent effort. This is worthy of writing Wolfgang Puck - if he’s still creating pizza. Perhaps it tastes so good because I haven’t had pizza for a while, but I doubt it.

It’s true; I do love a good pizza. When my children were growing up, our idea of a big night out was pizza followed by ice cream. In those days, I considered the crust only a vehicle to carry the toppings. I would often nibble on the toppings and leave the crust behind. When I began making my own crust I had to reconsider this behavior; if I’m going to all the trouble of making my own, I might as well eat it. Plus, it no longer resembled cardboard; it was tasty!

It all began with fresh chanterelle mushrooms given to me by my friend Lee, the great forager. He returned from his favorite patch near the coast with more than he could handle, if that’s possible.

Even though they sat in my fridge overnight before I had time to examine them, they were still firm, golden, and glorious. I took a whiff and caught a hint of their clean, woodsy scent with a lingering whisper of apricot. I was in a rush and the best I could do was give them a light sauté in butter, olive oil, a bit of garlic and finish them with a drizzle of lemon juice, fresh thyme, savory, and chives. Yes, they were meaty and mild, but I’d have to think more on stage two later.

Visions of chanterelles danced in my head all day as I mulled over my dinner prospects.  They are a rare treat, and I wanted them to shine; to pay homage to the chanterelle’s slight fruitiness, I imagined them with pork and a flavorful pepper. Yes, I recalled I had wheat pizza dough in the fridge ready to go. Also, I had my standard stash of Romesco sauce, the one with roasted red peppers, garlic, and smoked Spanish paprika.

On the drive home I was beyond ready for my "mushroom" pizza. But first, I’d make a quick stop at my favorite deli and consider the ham offerings. Once inside, I eyed the imported prosciutto and danced an inward jig over a few lovely paper-thin slices. Oh, yes, just enough. In my head I did a quick inventory: I surely had some type of cheese that would work, but I'd best pick up a few Nicoise olives.  That's it. This was not the time for a garbage pizza - or the gentle chanterelles would be utterly lost.

At home, as I built my dream pizza, I stayed true to the plan and only further embellished it with thin rounds of poblano peppers - no onions. I was ok with a mild meltable Muenster and an aged Asiago cheese. I even nixed further flavorings; the herbs in the mushrooms were plenty pronounced.

I was absolutely right. The wheat crust offered the slight sweet nuttiness that not only provided the perfect vehicle for the toppings, but elevated it to an integral member of the team. The Romesco was smoky with an earthy sweetness riddled with garlic. The meatiness of the mushrooms was balanced and lightly brightened by the citrus and herbs. The few olives gave a rich accent of winey fruitiness. The Muenster offered the mellow cheesy gooey-ness I was looking for, and the Asiago was the crowning touch with its golden crisp nuttiness.

What can I say without ranging into double superlatives? All of these players blended into one triumphant melody line, a chorus for our stars, the elegant chanterelles and Prosciutto. Together, they soared and hit flavor notes previously unheralded. What a classy pair.

Chanterelle and Prosciutto Pizza
The Mushrooms:
3 cups chanterelle mushrooms, brushed clean, trimmed, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 lemon, juice of
salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon savory
1 tablespoon chives

The Pizza:
1 recipe whole wheat pizza dough, prebake pizza dough to set but not brown
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup Romesco Sauce , approx. (see recipe), or favorite pizza sauce
1 poblano pepper, seeded, thin rounds
1/4 cup Nicoise olives, pitted, sliced
1 1/2 cups muenster cheese, shredded
2 ounces Prosciutto, approx.
1/2 cup Asiago Cheese, or Parmesan, grated

Prepare the mushrooms: In a saute pan heat olive oil and butter, add the smashed garlic cloves and add to pan and allow to become aromatic. Add the chanterelles and toss to soften, 4 to 5 minutes; add the lemon juice and toss, add salt and pepper and toss. Add the fresh herbs and heat briefly; allow to cool, and remove the garlic cloves.

Heat oven to 475 degrees. Place pre-baked pizza crust on pan, and brush lightly with olive oil. Spread Romesco or pizza sauce lightly over top. Sprinkle the pepper rings evenly, add a layer of muenster cheese, then top with mushrooms, olives, and the Prosciutto. Finish with remaining muenster and Asiago or Parmesan.

Bake approximately 10-12 minutes or until bubbly. Cut and serve hot. Serve 4 ~~

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Market Farewell

Friday ended my tenure working with the volunteers of Springfield Farmers' Market. I completed my projects and I have finally turned my position over to Sarah, my replacement.

It's not that I won't visit again, but it's still bittersweet, because I will miss my weekly involvement and the bond with friends I've made there. Each week I have returned home from the market with special memories and treats that would make me smile for the next several days - and remind me of the folks from which they came.

My heart goes out to our regular farmers and vendors who work long hours to follow their dreams, and in turn, make the market a magical place. I wonder if shoppers think their some times slim offerings mean that the vendors don't care - or perhaps they simply had better things to do.

It has been an exceptionally cool summer so far, and crops have been slow in ripening. Tomatoes  tend to look a bit puny and lack their normal brilliance. Blueberries that should have been completely picked by now are still on their branches.

For our farmers, the planting and constant vigilance over their crops is only the beginnning.  Week in and week out they contend with the pre-market picking and careful packing. There's the transport to and from, plus the set up and creation of attractive displays that will draw shoppers in. They wait, in hopeful expectation that there will be enough shoppers to sell what they have brought. I respect their tenacity, their commitment, optimism and drive.

Our bakers arrive with trays piled with their specialties; for me it's an indication of the long hours they have worked in order to provide the freshest products possible. Barbara, our French baker, takes pride in creating mouthwatering tarts, molded cakes and cookies - she tirelessly fusses and fills her platters, not a crumb is allowed out of place.

I will miss our shoppers who return regularly and support our small market. Some pick up their weekly CSA's; they give a preliminary peek inside their box, and share their appreciation and excitement. Others arrive, shop and linger, chatting up vendors and friends; they may find a table and sample the food, have a cool drink, and enjoy the music. There's a much needed sense of community generated here, thanks to them.

I will miss our loyal volunteers, who show up with smiles on their faces, rain or shine. Each week, they do whatever it takes to make the market a pleasure for shoppers and vendors. They bring their enthusiasm and willingness; their energy, too, is reflected in the ebullient spirit of the market.

Thank you for the joy you have given me each week. I will miss each and every one of you.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Rock Garden

My mother's rock garden has taken many forms over the years. No doubt it began as a way for her to accommodate a semi-shaded space in the back yard where no grass would grow. She always loved rock gardens. When I was little I remember her industriously working with a difficult slope on the rocky edge of our small front yard. I suspect it made perfect sense to a woman who loved form, color, and natural settings.

I didn't spend much time dwelling on her latest rock garden when I visited her on summer vacations, because it was always there. In fact, she loved exploring the nearby river banks, and I suspect many of the smooth, polished rocks were finds brought home from those walks. There were also pitted and jagged lava rocks relocated from the volcanic flows further upcountry.

Early on, I remember she thoughtfully planted an angular juniper bush to one end of the garden, which became part of its basic structure. About the same time she also dragged home a weathered Douglas fir log, which she carefully positioned near the juniper for added focus and texture, and with these simple elements the garden gained a graceful kidney shape. The larger rocks spilled out from the elevated juniper and drew the eye at an angle along the odd shaped stones that tumbled and flowed downward.

She loved her hens and chicks, and the succulents were abundant in her early garden; a wise choice because they require little watering and maintenance. Overnight they wantonly pop up among the rocks in surprising spots; mom called them her volunteers.

On one of my trips home from Florida, where I was likely living on the water, I thought her garden needed a water feature. We spent much of that visit locating a tub suitable for a small pond, plus the circulation pump, electrical cords and all the other odds and ends to make it happen. We tore into her nicely defined rock garden, trading off while we dug an enormous hole deep enough to hold the tub.

My mother never talked about this major disruption to her plan. The tub sat there for years, an odd appendage that made no sense. Perhaps she was hoping I would return someday and correct the awkward mess that only served to collect leaves and attract mosquitoes.

Over the years the hens and chicks grew and multiplied and she tucked a few new plants into the rocks, but it didn't change much after that. One year my brother took up the cause and presented her with two tall hand crafted copper flowers to add to the mix. On visits, we would stand out by the garden and move the copper flowers, as if they might multiply at will when placed in the right location.

In the final months of her life I spent considerable time at her home. One of the tasks I finally took on was resurrecting her rock garden. I'd tinker there and add my own touches. I planted herbs among the rocks: oregano, thyme, rosemary, and sage and to my amazement, they took hold and settled in.

One day, when I could avoid it no longer, I tackled the removal of the bizarre brown tub. It was firmly embedded in its hole, but with unrelenting resolve, I finally yanked it out. I eyed the cavity left behind, and with waning strength I wandered about the yard and gathered up all the loose rocks I could find and filled it in. Amazingly, it formed a gentle dry river bed that looked as if it had come to an end, of its own volition. Over the top I scattered a collection of memorable stones she had set aside and never used.

It was later that same summer, and we had scattered most of Mom's ashes about her favorite haunts: along her beloved river, and at a private waterfall closed to where she was born. One night, when the moon was full, I took one last handful of her remaining ashes outside and sprinkled them over her rock garden, where I knew she would have finally approved.

It's no surprise that the herbs now flourish, and for me, the garden has become a mysterious attraction and a source of tremendous renewal. On any sunny day, if you were to look out onto the rock rimmed herb garden, you'd likely find butterflies and birds darting and dancing about the rocks and hovering over the lush beds of rosemary, sage, parsley and thyme.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Maturity no longer in doubt,
It is here.
Voluptuous youth:
Seductive, undulating, juicy,
Ready for the plucking.
No  dream,
This dazzling truth.

We endure frustration and defeat
No earthly lovers can compete,
Tempting, barely beyond reach.
When regained,
So sublimely sweet
Exceeds any wild wet breach.
When again,
At last, we are complete.

Satiated, fueled, restored.
The promise
Sustains, remains, stains
 our lips evermore.


Related Posts with Thumbnails