Arugula Pesto

Sauces & Spreads, Vegetables

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Lori and I are preparing to leave for a couple weeks. Just about everything is done. Even the weather has taken a turn for the worse, so I don’t feel so bad about leaving Seattle in the summer. I was feeling sort of guilty because one of the places we’re going to is colder and rainier than Seattle. (Yes, it turns out there is such a place. And, no, it’s not Olympia.)

But there is still some food we need to eat or preserve. We go through pains to use food, me probably more so. I think I am just more fearless when it comes to eating old food. That’s how I’ve fortified my gut against bacteria like Mithradates protected himself against poison. (Except that one time in Syria, but that was Syria!!)

Arugula was one of those foods. But how do you preserve arugula? You can freeze it, but then you have to blanch it and pack it and–eew, I have to stop myself. A better way is by whizzing it into pesto. Arugula can be dangerous, though, in amounts too high, like cilantro. It gets bitter.

We went for it, anyway, and the result was amazing, like arugula essence but with tact and self-awareness and manners. Walnuts keep the arugula grounded; parsley takes off some of the edge.

Warm Pasta Salad with Crab & Heirloom Beans

Beans, Pasta, Seafood

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Why do hummingbirds hum?

This was the question put forth by a young girl to her mother a couple days ago. I overheard the question while I was eating lunch. It was casual and, most likely, the girl asked it to ask it, nothing but playful chatter.

Because they forgot the words.

This was the mother’s response. It was simple, unexpected, playful, and it contented the curious girl. Then they were gone in a flight to the parking lot, as quickly as a hummingbird at a feeder of nectar.

When I saw these dragon tongue beans at the store, I knew I had to cook with them. Seasonal heirlooms? How could I not? But I also knew I had some crab sitting in the fridge. Then I was reminded of this little Q&A.

The little girl’s innocent, loaded question, which she conjured from her busy imagination, represented something meaningful to me: the quest to discover the world. We have different ways of doing this. One of mine is this food blog. I have said it before, but a sense of pioneerism in food is important to me, as I believe it is in Cascadia, especially in relation to the food we grow ourselves.

When farmers take the chance on these heirlooms, they are doing at least two things: taking a chance on the success of a tradition, and taking the chance on giving up some share of an established produce market in hopes of satisfying some demand for this tradition.

But we oughtn’t consume heirlooms merely because they are different or seasonal or to support our local farmers (but these are fine reasons, indeed). Our motivation ought to be more atavistic than that. Yes, heirlooms are engineered by humans, and, yes, if we go back far enough, we can trace them to a wild ancestor. If anything, heirlooms are celebrations of farmers and gardeners. They also represent the way growers adapt often foreign plants to domestic climates and soil conditions, making the most of the land, and concentrating it all in a single bite. It is no coincidence, after all, that inhabitants of the region that produces most of the world’s cabbage seed also consume so much kale. Tradition is food and food is land. The three are symbiotic.

Does it matter the hum of the hummingbird keeps it still and suspended in the air, or that the same hum keeps a Dutch wax bean hanging in the pink-purple Cascadian sun, or keeps the crabs crawling across the rocky crevices of the Salish Sea?

Unless you forgot the words, you decide.

Seattle-Style Dungeness Crab Roll

Sandwiches, Seafood

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I know, I know, I’ve been posting a lot of crab recipes. OK, only three now. But it’s for a very good reason. The harvest has been excellent this season. It might just be because it’s the beginning of it, but I’d rather not question it. Regardless, I’m finally able to make all these recipes I’ve hoped to try.

A few years ago, my brother and I took a road trip through New England. We ended up driving north to Maine, in part because of the legendary lobster rolls. We drove out to the craggy edge of the Atlantic and ate at The Lobster Shack.

The lobster roll satisfied every love of both trashy, fatty food and refined, culinary delicacies we had. It was one part goop and another part luxury, a richness in every sense of the word.

When I returned, I cooked a lobster and made some bisque. With the leftover meat, I made lobster rolls. I even began writing a post for them. Yeah, they were good. Yeah, they were trashy. Of course they were luxurious. But something was missing. Something didn’t feel right. I felt like an… imposter.

I thought long and hard about it. Every ingredient seemed right: a piece of white bread folded in half, a mound of red lobster meat, mayonnaise, paprika, salt. Probably a pickle, too. Nothing. My heart just wasn’t in it.

Then it occurred to me that lobster was the wrong crustacean. It was crab I wanted to try. Crab, after all, is home.

Crab and Arugula Pizza

Pizza, Seafood

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When I was a boy, my dad boycotted the local pizza delivery chain. I don’t remember why, but it lasted for years. Maybe he felt slighted or overcharged. Whatever it was, the boycott created some problems for us.

First, we weren’t the type of family to make their own pizza. Also, we didn’t stop eating it. No, our demand was too high. My brother and I would have colluded against him and started a mutiny. Pizza was that important. And, lastly, pizza was one of those dinners that forced us to eat together. We couldn’t take our portions and run off. All of us had to sit around the thing, usually with a rental video playing, and devour it slice by slice. It was sort of a cohesive.

The endearing thing about pizza is that many of us have some emotion attached to it, some memory that resurfaces at its baked aroma, or some colorful association to a brand or look.

See, we took pizza seriously. My dad, a Jersey boy, imported his East Coast pizza idealism, and stuck hard to it:

NO PINEAPPLE! Period. End of story. He said that fruit didn’t belong on pizza. (Maybe the pizza chain accidentally sent us a Hawaiian?)

THIN CRUST, THIN CRUST! No one should ever deign to eat pizza with a fork. Never.

ANCHOVIES! And lots of them. It’s called flavor, kids.

The only trouble was, in the suburban area we lived, thousands of miles from real pizza pies, most people wanted the exact opposite. There was one pizzeria (I’ll never forget the “NO PINEAPPLE SERVED HERE” sign and the uncompromising New York owner), but it moved far, far away.

We jumped around from one mediocre pizzeria to the other. When we were really lucky, we traveled to the city to have traditional thin crust. I don’t know whether I preferred that to the commercial, conveyor-belt-oven pizza, but I admired my dad’s enthusiasm.

I never questioned his stalwart tastes, but now I understand them more. He had his own attachments. Memories of his own boyhood, of folding slices of pizza and scarfing them down with friends and family. Pizza, a circle, is beautiful and simply communal, and the larger the pie, the greater the community that can share it.

This pizza is a moment between my girlfriend and me, it’s a memory with my family, it’s the memory of my father, and of my mother with her parents, it’s the memory of my brother, of all of our endless memories of pizza and crab.

And now here I am, about to share a recipe, thinking of these memories, coming full-circle myself. Why is food so dear? It’s always, always a little bit of discovery and recollection, isn’t it?

I wanted to write a more succinct and useful introduction. But all you get is this verbiage. If you decide to boycott me, at least this time I’ll know why.

Cascadian Crab Boil

Meat, Seafood

When it comes to food, I usually take it in strides. Most days I’m whimsical. I cook whatever I have laying around the kitchen mixed with some seasonal vegetables. Sometimes, I’m not so decisive and I can’t even figure out what to eat for dinner, and I spend yet another night with a big bowl of popcorn.

But crab is an exception. I look forward to the crab season every year. It’s one of those foods so marinated in nostalgia that no adulterant or flavor could conceal its triggers: the briny aroma of the Puget Sound on an early morning, the pink-orange sun rising over blackish Olympic Mountains, severing white-grey cloud-wisps; the jubilee and cramps and cold, wet fingers while reeling up the crab pots, in anxious hope of trapping a treasure; and, the jitters and eagerness in maneuvering around the claws to get the crab at just the perfect angle so as to clench it, jiggle it out, and drop it in the cooler.

Crabbing isn’t only my tradition, though. It’s a tradition of this whole region called Cascadia. We have festivals for them in towns small and large. We serve them from aerated tanks at supermarkets, on ice from the farmers markets, and on a plate or in a bowl at restaurants. But the most memorable way for me, and for many others, is scattered on newspaper with lots of butter and lemons.

Baked Chiocciole & Cheese with Crab, Chanterelles & Saffron

Pasta, Seafood

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On a frosty day last week, I went to the Puget Sound and trapped two red rock crabs. They are smaller than the Dungeness crabs, more aggressive, thicker shelled and offer less meat. But, let me tell you… That meat…

Up here in the Pacific Northwest, crabbers are divided about which is the superior meat. Though I’ll refuse neither, I find myself quite happy when I pull up a red rock crab. Its meat is so much sweeter and more fragrant than the Dungeness. Yes, one must work harder and catch more of them, but when those shells are picked through and that moist meat is extracted, what is left is an unmatched, concentrated crab flavor base.

Paired with savory, seasonal chanterelle mushrooms, aged manchego sheep cheese, and fragrant saffron, this baked pasta dish is rich yet light, elegant yet simple, and altogether irresistible.