Juicy onion marmalade – and other condimentary notes

June 26th, 2010

Ready for a zesty marmalade?

Juicy onions, valencia oranges, and plump, clean lemons are the basics for a tangy marmalade to accompany summer fare.  In this season of condiments to enjoy with sandwiches or chicken wraps, or to accent grilled fish or pork, a savory marmalade offers a new set of textures.  Add it to the regular line-up of relish, picalilli and salsas, even lime pickles, or mybe….garum?  This is not in the regular line-up, of course, but the fermented salty fish mash called garum was a staple condiment on ancient Roman tables.  The Latin source of condiment, condire, means to season, spice, preserve or pickle.  Old French and Middle English references to these savory sides have been traced back to the early fifteenth century:  clearly, condiments have complimented the food on our plates for some time.

When the new, sweet onions rolled into the market, I initially thought about just chopping them up to accent spicy merguez sausages.  Then it seemed better to cook some with a dash of lemon to keep for another meal.  One gesture leads to another:  the plot thickened as I poured more than a dash of local Bergerac sauvignon into the mix.  Each batch of marmalade has its own twist: to accent the lemon, add a little Greek Seasoning (from Penzey’s spices – more on this resource in July), to bring out the sweet onion notes, add nutmeg, and to make the orange element sing, grate a little ginger into the mix. Be sure to use new crop onions, not winter’s left-overs that are beginning to sprout.  Stir it up in the cool hours of the morning and if there is more than today’s meals call for, ladle it into hot, sterile jars for another season – and do save one for a friend who shares your fascination with condiments.  Step one, blanching the peel is quick and essential to avoid a bitter aftertaste.

Add the blanched strips of zest to the pot last

Ingredients: 2 lemons, peel shaved off with a vegetable peeler.  Remove      white pith and slice lemons very thinly, slice peel into slivers;                 reserve  2 Tablespoons juice.

2 large navel oranges, shaved as above, pith removed, sliced thinly & peel sliced into thin sliver/strips.

2 white, sweet onions (500g/2 cups) trimmed and sliced lengthwise

4 to 5  fresh bay leaves

83  g./ 1/2 cup sugar

625 ml /2  1/2 cups white wine, such as Sauvignon blanc/Semillon

1T. fresh thyme, chopped fine

2 T. butter (unsalted), cut into pieces

sea salt & freshly ground white pepper

Stir it up: Boil 2 cups water in a large saucepan, add the lemon & orange peels and simmer for 3 minutes to blanch.  Lift out the peels, empty the pan and pour in the wine, sugar, sliced onion, bay, 2 tsp. sea salt, the sliced citrus and last, the peels.  Stir and simmer this to dissolve the sugar, then reduce heat and let cook over a low-moderate heat, uncovered for about an hour (it could even take a little longer on a low simmer), until all liquid is cooked away; the onions become transparent.  Add the thyme, the butter and cook another 15 minutes, stirring so the marmalade doesn’t scorch at the bottom of the pan; adjust seasonings and add the lemon juice. To taste for seasoning, let your spoonful cool to room temperature. Remove the limp bay leaves.  Yield:   3  1/2  cups.

A savoury touch of marmalade compliments cheese

Serve at room temperature with grilled meat or fish…and try it with a wedge of  Cantal or other mountain cheeses.  Credit for the basic proportions in this recipe go to Mathew Card on www.culinate.com, an inspiring and informative site.

Market on the Bay, San Francisco style

June 12th, 2010

A familiar, favorite ferry boat ride recently delivered the vagabond to the Saturday market at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza.  As the Larkspur ferry from Marin hummed across the brilliant, fogless bay, I reviewed past trips on this boat.  Its course always heads straight toward the clock tower in the foreground of  ‘Frisco’s impressive city skyline.  Every week, 25,000 shoppers converge on this space on the port to buy dewy fresh seasonal vegetables and an increasing variety of artisanal products.  Saturday, from 8:00 to 2:00 the produce vendors by the port and on the Embarcadero Street side are on hand – whatever the weather. Tuesday and Thursday, from 10 to 2:00 they are set up in front of the Ferry building.  And inside?  Well, whether you are after mushrooms, looking for cheese, bread and wine (the triumvirate in good supply) or sniffing around for fine chocolate and Italian gelato, the indoor shops have it all.  Since  my visit to this gastronome’s wonderland a year ago, what changes might be found?

Changes begin with more emphasis on "Farm Fresh"

The long Ferry building, designed as an efficient transit terminal in 1898, stood empty for over fifty years before interest in both reviving the neighborhood and restoring the building brought it back to life early in the twenty-first century.  Fresh, quality foods are featured inside and out. Inside, the Hog Island Oyster Bar offers a tasting – at $1.50 per oyster – and the Cowgirl Creamery is still going strong with its dizzying selection of local and imported cheeses.  Their stall in the portside  marketplace is a satellite of the huge central position inside.

Chèvre from Sonoma, Gouda or Cheddar...?

The diversity of shops is still boggling, though I found some empty, papered spaces where merchants had closed their doors.  At Boulette’s Larder, we had hoped to have breakfast, but found that was only possible from 8:00 to 10:30, Monday through Friday.  Next round, I will plan to come early to sample their Canelé de Bordeaux – only a dozen are made each day.  But a taste of Anna’s Daughter’s Rye Bread would draw me back as well after a sample and conversation with a Danish woman as she cheerfully passed around a plate of crisped rye.  This, too, is on the Boulette’s Larder menu.  At the other end of the building is the Asian restaurant, The Slanted Door, where people begin their wait for a table before noon.  In between these two very different eateries, all sorts of libations – from tea to fruity wines – tempt Saturday shoppers.

Wine? Tuscan olive oil? More temptations...

My shoulder bag was heavier after this foray, so we hopped on a bus up Market Street toward Union Square.  The brilliant light of a June day flooded the cafés lining the square, where relaxation was the theme song  (no steel drums, no guitars this time around). But the vagabond was thinking of coffee, real coffee in an uncharted, non-hyped neighborhood café.  Voilà:  Caffè Amici, off the beaten path, with Italian pastries and dense, fragrant espresso from Seattle’s Caffè Umbria roasters was a short walk from the busy square.

Market Street's mix of styles

We strolled along Market Street toward the landmark clock tower, to wait for the afternoon ferry.  After a cooling pause at Ciao Bella Gelato, there was time for a last stop at the Book Passage. Not one but three books leaped off the shelf into my bag…. if I were a San Francisco resident this would be a weekly ritual.  And IF we had another week, on Thursday June 17th at 10:00, the vagabond would be there for a book signing of his vividly honest Medium Raw, by Anthony Bourdain.  But the ferry was at port and we boarded with the afternoon crowd.  Lingering at the back of the boat, I watched the clock tower slipping away and projected the next trip to Ferry Market, wondering if  Happy Girl Kitchens will still be there with their pickles and jams, marvels in a bottle. I hope that the Hodo Soy Beanery with healthful soy products will continue to find a good clientele at the Ferry Market.  And the sprout-seller, and the young, enthusiastic almonds vendor – will you all be there next year?  I do hope so!

A skyline worth a thousand words

Details to be found at:  www.ferrybuildingmarketplace.com and www.cuesa.org, as well as www.bouletteslarder.com. For coffee in the Financial District, tiny Caffè Amici is at the corner of Montgomery and Bush.