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With so many bakers exploring gluten-free options, here’s one to try: chestnut flour. When this traditional Italian ingredient turned up in local markets recently (fall is the best season for the new crop of chestnut flour), it seemed an interesting alternative for cookies or pastries, like the crescents (a.k.a. Russian tea cookies, Mexican wedding cookies) in which chestnut pieces substitute so gloriously for pecans or walnuts. (A note: we’re not talking about water chestnut flour here. That’s a totally differet animal).
So, admittedly, chestnut flour’s gluten-free properties weren’t even a factor until the idea of incorporating it into a yeast bread came to mind. Paleo bread recipes, common across the Internet, weren’t the ticket; the search was on for a more rustic recipe in the Italian tradition. Chestnut trees were once so common in Italy that the flour was considered a downmarket ingredient, used in pasta, polenta, cakes and breads to cut the more precious wheat flour.
That’s how it’s used in this recipe for Chestnut-Walnut Bread which needs some regular flour to develop the gluten, and thus structure. Chestnut flour’s naturally nutty, somewhat sweet character gives gives the bread an alluringly distinctive taste in a loaf that bakes up with a tender, finely textured crumb — denser than a typical wheat flour loaf, but not heavy.
On the other hand, chestnut flour’s natural properties make it a more a natural fit for quick breads, like this Chestnut-Chocolate Tea Bread that bakes up beautifully moist and tender.
For some oddball reason, we managed to roast the Thanksgiving turkey upside down, without anyone even noticing until the master carver of the house, preparing to slice up the bird, asked why it was placed breast down on the presentation platter.
We still can’t explain that one, but the surprise result was a turkey that yielded exquisitely moist white meat. True, it could be thanks also to the dry brine it underwent in the days leading up to the holiday, or the liberal rubdown with Porchetta-Spiced butter it received just prior to cooking. But the accidental upside-down roast method got us to thinking; maybe we were on to something, by pure happenstance.
A little cookbook sleuthing finds it may be so. Research and experiments into how to roast the perfect turkey, detailed by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated in The Best Recipe (1999, Boston Common Press), reference James Beard’s technique for achieving equal temperatures in the white and dark meat – turning the bird as it roasts, starting with the breast side down on a rack, turning onto each side during the cooking time, and finishing with the breast side up. The Cook’s Illustrated editors concluded: “Brining, turning, and basting are work, yes, but the combination produces the best turkey we’ve ever had.”
Funny, it was the exact same thing we’d theorized, standing over the upside-down bird on its decorative holiday platter. That’s the tried-and-true method for roasting a chicken that we learned from Julia Child. Although in truth, turning a searing-hot chicken is work enough, so the next time the turkey may be started breast side down, and flipped once. That’s probably what Kate was aiming for in the first place, having used the L.A. Times method for how to dry brine. The big flip just got lost somewhere in the dinner hustle-bustle. Because we also tend to follow the advice offered by The New York Times on how to stop freaking out about the turkey: “Remember, it’s just a big chicken.”
Bonus tip: Because this Porchetta-Spiced Turkey recipe includes fennel seed in the dry rub, we added some fresh fennel to the dressing. It lends a clean, fresh note to the traditional celery, onion and sage combination, while echoing the seasonings in the turkey and resulting gravy.
Pomelos were prevalent in local markets during the winter. And so, after seeing them in Chinatown groceries over the years, and hearing that they were something like a less-acidic grapefruit, I finally got around to picking up a couple.
Looking much like an overgrown grapefruit, the pomelo is indeed like a milder version of that citrus. A little research on the fruit and its uses turned up that it is native to South Asia (hence its regular appearance in Chinatown), is available in white- and pink-fleshed varieties, has a remarkably thick skin and layer of pith, is also known as the shaddock or pamplemousse – and, that it was the base of Forbidden Fruit, a mysterious, long-vanished liqueur, and a key ingredient of the Dorchester Cocktail.
OK, that part got our attention. Delicious as the pomelo fruit is all on its own, dripping with the taste of honeyed grapefruit, its connection to the Golden Age of cocktails made it even more alluring. The whims of the 20th-century pomelo market probably brought about the demise of Forbidden Fruit liqueur, which was made by the same producer as Chambord, and was even sold in the same globe-shaped, gold-capped bottle. Even London’s Dorchester Hotel is left to wonder what might have been for its signature drink.
Pomelos are still a rarity in most markets, but apparently California growers have been experimenting with the crop. Its emergence in this country dovetails with the craft cocktail movement, and mixologists have set their sights on recreating Forbidden Fruit. Collectors have been seeking old bottle of the commercial product on eBay, hoping to coax out a few remaining drops or vapors to analyze. Cobbling together some of those efforts, we blended a batch by steeping the juice and peels of pink pomelos and blood oranges, plus cardamom, coriander and vanilla bean, in cognac, then straining off the solids and adding orange blossom honey.
The resulting liqueur has am amber color and nectar-like fragrance of early spring blossoms, touched with jasmine, vanilla and honey, tempered by a back note of spice. It’s beautiful to sip on its own, and the classic Dorchester Cocktail, which employs gin, rum and Forbidden Fruit, is a lovely martini variant. Cocktail lovers, take note. Everyone else, just cut into a pomelo to understand this enchanting forbidden fruit.
Try the recipe: Forbidden Fruit Liqueur
Then try the cocktail:
2 ounces gin, preferably a London dry
1 ounce rum
1 ounce Forbidden Fruit liqueur
Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top with a twist of lemon.
Fresh from a rare side sojourn to Zanzibar—pinch me, Zanzibar!—after a work trip to Tanzania, I can still almost feel the hot East African sun on my face and taste the delectable Swahili delicacies that I could not try fast enough when I was there. Oh, but for more hours in the day—or for the wisdom to take vacation time when I travel.
Still, I did have the presence of mind to sign up for a tour of one of the spice plantations just outside of Stone Town. And I skedaddled home with a glorious trove of ingredients to recreate my Africa experience as well as energize some of the dishes on regular rotation here.
Over the coming weeks, I will be pulling out the stops with fresh nutmeg, cinnamon bark, lemon grass, curry blends, saffron and other lovely flavors as I channel inspiration from one of the world’s original fusion cuisines: Swahili. (First up: prawn curry.) But for now, here’s a little visual tour.
Over the years a vendor at the local farmer’s market has occasionally offered a corn bread. Not a cornbread, the often sweet quick bread, but a yeast bread with some cornmeal added to the dough that was baked into a round loaf. During the summer it made a marvelous BLT. But its appearance was sporadic, and I hadn’t seen it in quite awhile. Or thought much about it. Until a trip to Slovenia, where, lo and behold, a yeast-raised corn bread was part of the bread basket wherever we went. Toasted, it was fabulous for breakfast, with a drizzle of honey.
Sure, cornbread, that American staple, is a great option to accompany chili, stews and other hearty winter fare. But you really ought to give corn bread a try.
Two favorites for a Corn Bread/Cornbread Throwdown:
Maple Cornbread: Via King Arthur Flour, a ,moist easy-as-pie recipe that smells heavenly when baking, thanks to a touch of maple syrup.
Rhode Island Corn Bread: From the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. The name says New England, but this recipe captures the taste of those wonderful Slovenian bread baskets.