July 2010


It has been well over a year since I started this blog and somehow I have managed to keep it completely … shall we say … mundane. I have managed to keep the subject focused on … umm … modern food. You who have been reading this (if this is the only venue by which you know me) have remained blissfully unaware of my … hobby.

Yes, a great deal of ellipses have gone into the crafting of that paragraph – for good reason. This is the equivalent of a foodie skeleton in the closet, or pantry if you will. While I love cooking for my family and finding new and interesting recipes to cook, my true source for passionate inspiration is a wee bit older.

Like 16th century or earlier older.

And those recipes require a great deal more creativity in cooking and interpreting. Which is what makes them so fun. But this weeks inaugural SummerFest subject has brought this dirty little secret out into the light. Because I have a recipe that I must share with you. And you must make it, if you like cucumbers.

Cucumber, Onion & Basil Salad –

An interpretation of a dish described in Salvatore Massonio’s Archidipno overo dell’insalata e dell’vso di essa, published in Venice in 1627. Translation courtesy of  Louise Smithson

In order that cucumbers more easily pass the stomach eat them with the peel rather than without.  Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and make of them pieces moderately thin and dress them with oil, vinegar and salt like other salads.  But the custom one has learned is to add several pieces of raw onion and the leaves or sprouts of green basil.  This is not without foundation in art, perhaps it counteracts the natural coldness of moisture of it and makes the juice less large and less slow.

The Hardware: a knife, but a mandolin is also useful, a bowl, a whisk.

The Software:
1 1/2 English Cucumber
1 of an Onion
6 T Olive Oil
2 T White Wine Vinegar
1 3/4 t Salt
16 Grinds Fresh Pepper (or to taste)
2 1/2 t Basil, finely chopped

Combine Olive Oil, Vinegar, Salt, Pepper and Basil and whisk together, set aside. (This also works really well in a glass jar, just dump it all in –  put a lid on it – and shake). Cut cucumber in half lengthwise and then slice in 1/8 in slices. Cut onion in half and slice on Mandolin very thin. At least an hour before you want to eat the salad (and up to 2 hours before) combine the dressing and veggies in a bowl – allow to sit somewhere cold. You know, like a ‘fridge.

Cucumber, Onion & Basil Salad

Blah, Blah, Blah:

This makes a gracious plenty – enough for 12 people. I know that is crazy, but when I cook this style of food I am usually cooking for a minimum of 100 people who are served family style 8 – 12 per table.  This also works beautifully for pot-luck or buffet style service. It can sit for several hours and just get better and better. Save any leftover dressing in your shaking jar in the ‘fridge and you can use it as a base for vinaigrette.

You will notice that there is no mention of olive oil, vinegar, salt or pepper in the original recipe – and that is where the fun of these period recipes come in. You have to read many, many recipes to get a feel for what would have been done. You see, these recipes were not written for the lay person, they were written with the assumption that you are a cook and you know what you are doing already.

With this recipe I had the foundation of having read many vegetable/salad recipes from Bartolomeo Scappi’s 16th century manuscript entitled Opera dell’arte del cucinare.  Based on his description in various recipes I was able to determine that it would have most likely been served in a dressing and how to put that dressing together.

So, do you still love me or do you think I am crazy now?

I asked for it.

In my last Can Jam post for tigress I added a post script, throwing it out there to the canning gods that I would (pretty please with sugar on it) really like for the next jam to include cucumbers. And lo, the canning gods (or at least the goddess over at Laundry Etc) heard my appeal and were generous.

You know what other things in my life were generous – my cucumber vines. They were so crazy that I had a hard time keeping up with their production. Did you know that if you leave a cucumber on the vine long enough it will get gigantic and eventually turn orange? Well, I do now.

Luckily the chickens like overgrown cucumbers – the seedier the better.

To deal with the deluge of cucumbers my mother came over last week and we had our own little pickle jam. It took most of the day but we put up a double batch of Bread & Butter pickles (totaling 12 pints) and a little experiment for me. I only got 6 jars of the B&B’s but all of the experiment, because mom just doesn’t roll that way.

If you want to make the B&B’s check out this previous can jam post on onions. Instead of 16 cups of onions, go with 15 cups of sliced cucumbers and 1 cup of sliced onions. Volia – two for one recipe.

But on to the experiment (I don’t have a picture yet – but tigress asked us to get things up early(er)than we usually do – photo to come done). From my trusty tome on canning The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving I busted out with something I have had bookmarked for quite some time. Actually, I should probably just do away with the bookmarks in this book and just start marking the recipes that I don’t want to do – it would make life easier.

Indian Style Pickle Relish

When you grow your own - they aren't as photogenic.

Indian Style Cucumber Relish (with slight modifications)

The Hardware: see the Canning Thing, slotted spoon, 6 half pint jars (or like I did – 5 half pints and 2 quarter pints).

The Software:
6 C Cucumber (diced, seeded & peeled)
2 C Onions, thinly sliced
1 T Salt, pickling
2 C White Vinegar
1/2 C Sugar
1 T Cumin Seeds
2 t each Brown & Yellow Mustard Seeds
Big pinch whole peppercorns

Put your chopped/sliced veggies in a big bowl and sprinkle with salt – allow to stand for 4 hours (the original recipe said stirring occasionally, I totally forgot this step because I was canning the B&B’s).  Drain, rinse and drain some more. Combine everything else in large, non-reactive, saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add veggies and return to a boil – hold at boil for 30 seconds.

Using a slotted spoon, pack veggie into jars and then ladle liquid over the relish to head-space of 1/2 inch. Boiling water bath for 10 minutes (half pints) 15 minutes (pints) adjust for altitude.

Conclusion:

The reason that I was so excited about this recipe is not exactly about it’s use as a relish – the book suggests it “peps up” meat dishes – but because of another suggestion the authors make. They say you can mix this stuff with yogurt and poof! instant raita. Instant anything from a canned item makes me oh, so happy. And this has given me another idea – can I make a cucumber relish that has all of the flavors of tzatziki so that I can have that creamy deliciousness on demand? Anyone got a recipe close enough so we can tweak it?

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