Grilled Summer Squash with Pistachio and Balsamic Reduction

Tapas, Vegetables

grilled squash 02

I admire food bloggers who regularly maintain their blogs. Their dedication inspires me. At least, it inspires the ambitious and more optimistic half of me. Because the other half, looming distrustfully by, is convinced that recipes become recycled, Ingredient A, Subset A, swapped out for Ingredient A, Subset B. This darker half of me slinks around a contentless blog and mumbles and mutters about the heroism in originality.

But then the optimistic half, with his hibiscus breath, interjects and says originality is not the end, but one mean, among other means, to the ultimate end of satisfaction. Shadow Half, sardonic as he is, snaps back and asks with this schmuckish grin, “The satisfaction of what, the eyes?” Rainbow Half is unfazed. He puts his finger over Shadow’s lips and asks, “Don’t we eat with those, anyway?” I mean, it’s indulgent and horrible. A whole platonic dialogue unfolds.

Meanwhile, this poor, dejected blog sits like an alder under the moss, becoming more and more lost in the thousands of other food blogs, everyday more inaccessible and less significant, blending into grey, hyperlinked connectionlessness. Just wait. You’ll see it happen sometime around autumn, when school starts, a teenage seaside love affair that dissolves into the equinox.

For now, the love affair remains aloft. And many of these summer nights have me in front of my tiny Weber grill on my tiny balcony cooking tiny portions. I’ve discovered this love of barely warm, freshly cooked food. In fact, I’d argue this might best be served at room temperature, after the salt has brought out the juices from within, and the sweet balsamic has begun marinating into the fruit. You know, at that point in the late-night phone call, inhibitions down some, when the conversation really gets saucy.

Speck & Eggplant Bruschetta

Bread, Meat, Pork, Sandwiches, Tapas

Speck & Eggplant Bruschetta 01

What a warm summer night will make me crave: crunchy, crusty artisanal toast; crispy, pillowy roasted eggplant; salty, smokey cured pork; and sweet, succulent caramelized onions. This isn’t your typical garlic- and tomato-topped bruschetta. Don’t go skipping to the wine cellar just yet. It’s going to be messy, it’s going to be oozing with all kinds of bold flavors and textures. Stacked and finished with some stinky cheese and an unsympathetic drizzle of balsamic syrup, this wild and earthy bruschetta is comforting and unabashed by whatever dirty secret you might squeal.

Japanese Pickled Garlic Scapes

Pickles, Tapas, Vegetables

Pickled Garlic Scape 01

Garlic scapes, or garlic spears, represent the birth of a flower. They whip out of the tall garlic plant, curling and facing downward in crane-like grace, awaiting the moment of bloom. As a gardener and cultivator of garlic bulbs, I carry the painful duty of decapitating them, forcing the energy of the sun back underground. This difficult act obliges me to make what use I can from the heads, as I would an animal, such as a pig. Coupled with my recent attraction to Japanese flavors, I attempt to–and, pardon the pun–give a bit more body to these severed heads.

Mackerel Smoked over Fennel

Seafood, Tapas

When I saw the luminescent skin of the Pacific jack mackerel, as if imprinted by ladders of coral and stamped by plumes of seaweed, I couldn’t resist buying them. Still mesmerized by the succulence of the smoked sardines, I decided to do a variation with the beautiful fish using wild fennel.

Wild fennel is beginning to reach its peak. While out harvesting fennel pollen, I stumbled into some of last year’s stalks, dried out to make room for the new, flowering growth. Once I got it home, I ripped it into small chunks resembling wood chips used for smoking. The wood has a subtle fennel sweetness and an earthy mushroom fragrance. Once incendiary, the greenish smoke emits an almost sweet, piney aroma.  You can imagine how well this mixes with the saltiness of the juicy mackerel meat.

Pickled Mussels

Seafood, Tapas

Each Saturday, I have found myself leaving the farmers market with a bag of mussels. They are a small and elegant shellfish native to this area. For generations, the Native Americans ate them with caution; they are very easily contaminated by red tide, an algae bloom that can make mussels dangerous to eat. These days, there is much care taken by farmers and gatherers, as well as regulations imposed by the government to prevent any accidental fatalities.

And each Saturday, with my bag of mussels, I wonder what I can do differently with them. So, this week, I pickled them. Using a Portuguese recipe  from the coastal town of Aveiro, I found that the simple ingredients combine with age to make a delectable and unusual appetizer.

Mussel Caviar

Recipes, Seafood, Tapas

The caviar in the foreground, along with whole mussels, rose petals, wood sorrel, arugula blossoms, lemon zest and threads of sorrel.

There is a cluster of mussels attached to the salty spots of my heart.  They were the first shellfish I learned how to cook when I was a teenager.  My mom and dad showed me how to dump a bit of white wine and pepper into the pot, pop them open with a boil, and drizzle their stock over them.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, we eat our mussels this way, with a bit of garlic, a pinch of salt and maybe some butter.

This very elegant and easy presentation of mussels came about by accident.  I had some left in the fridge and had to use them.  To my delight, I discovered that the broth had permeated the mussels in the most delicate and robust way.