Friday, October 31, 2008


Food particularities, as we say at my house to avoid calling anyone picky, have been the inspiration of many of my new recipes (the other grand inspiration being a desire to avoid going, or going back, to the farmers’ market or store). I often label a new recipe “Necessity is the mother…” My greatest challenge has been to find ways to keep garlic to a minimum. The only thing worse, for someone raised on Italian staples, would be to have to cut out olive oil. Often, I’ve found that thinking carefully about onion varieties is the solution: leeks, shallots, red onions each have distinctive flavors that can really shine when they’re not accompanied by garlic. But for a basic meat marinade, a simple substitution or shift in emphasis didn’t cut it. Then, I found something totally different, totally divine, and totally simple. There is one big problem: it relies on the totally not-local. It might have no place in this blog, except that the recipes volume-wise have much more (local) meat than marinade, and that we have always meant for this blog to be a place of compromise. We are moving our families’ eating habits towards all local and seasonal, we hope you’re along for the ride, but we never really expect to get there.

This marinade, like Renée's, can work in endless variation, with any type of meat or fish, and for any cooking method.

Basic marinade:
Lime or lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best but “from concentrate” also works)
Olive oil

Great add-ins:
Orange juice
Hot red peppers

Marinate meat or fish in this marinade 2-24 hours. After 24 hours, the citrus will actually start to “cook” the meat or fish. If you want ceviche, let it go! Otherwise, try to get it cooked within 24 hours.

A few particular favorites

Cuban pork loin

Serves 4-6
2-3 lbs pork loin (not loin roast, just the thin long loin)
¼ cup lime juice
½ cup orange juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon oregano

Cook in crock pot on high for 4 hours or on low 6-8 hours, turning once or twice if possible. This can also be braised, but with no flavor enhancement, and more dishes to clean. Make extras and use it to make Cubanos (Cuban sandwiches) by layering it with cheese and pickles, and anything else you like in a sandwich, then pressing and grilling it.

Carne Asada (Grilled Meat)

Serves 4
2 -3 lbs Steak tips
½ cup lime or lemon juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Mix marinade and put into a plastic bag with steak tips. Marinade in refrigerator, or if using frozen meat, marinade on counter (in winter, with the house below 70, you’re good to go for at least half a day).

Grilling is not reserved for summer in my house, and there’s usually a path in the snow from the back door to the grill. You’d be surprised how warm you can be in a down jacket next to a nice bed of coals. But this recipe is scrumptious broiled as well.
Grill or broil until done- about 10 minutes per side for medium/well.

Broiled fish
Serves 4
2 lbs fish: any white fish, salmon, or scallops
½ cup lemon or lime juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
2-4 Tablespoons capers OR 2 minced shallots
Salt and pepper

Fish takes the citrus most quickly, and only needs about 30 minutes in the marinade. If you’re using a fish with skin, broil skin-side down. For fish, broil 10-15 minutes without turning. If you’re doing scallops, you can do this on the stovetop just as well, but either way be sure to turn once. It’ll take about 10 minutes total with scallops.

The Latin overtones of the citrus (limes, lemons, and oranges are local with a nice long season in Florida, California, and further South) always suggest rice and beans as an accompaniment for these –and beans at least can be local and seasonal right here and now, in Fall and Winter in New England.

Beans, Refried
Serves 4
2 cups dried beans (pinto, pink, or kidney are my favorites)
6-8 cups water
1-2 onions, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
2 Tablespoons corn or vegetable oil

Put everything into a pot, bring to a boil then simmer for 3-4 hours or until the beans are nice and soft. Heat oil in a large pan. Using a slotted spoon, scoop beans from pot into pan, then add in ¼-1/2 cup of remaining liquid. As the beans cook, use a ricer to mash them. Stop when you reach the desired consistency (I take about 5 minutes to get to about 2/3 smooth and 1/3 lumpy). If the beans start to dry out, add more of the cooking liquid, if they are too soupy, cook a little longer.

The other side dish that goes particularly well with all of these is grilled or sauteed peppers and onions (peppers are at the end of their season now, but you can still find a few picked just before the first frost, and onions of course are in their prime).

Peppers and onions

1 red pepper per person
1/2 onion per person (a sweet variety, like vidalia, is best)
1/2 green pepper per person
about 2 T olive oil

Remove tops and seeds from peppers and slice them into long strips. Slice the onion into strips of similar width.

For grilling:
put peppers and onions into a grill basked, dribble with olive oil, salt, and pepper. These take longer to grill than the meat. Put them on first, cook about 20 minutes, tossing occasionally, then move them off to the very side of the grill while you cook the meat, or take them off and reheat them at the last minute. They're done when everything is soft and some of it has become blackened.

For sauteeing: Heat olive oil in a pan, I prefer a cast iron skillet. Toss in onions and peppers. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until everything is soft, about 15 minutes. If you like it a little blackened, at the very end turn the heat up high and don't over-stir.