Ten days into the New Year: Have you finished your cleanse yet?
Cleanses are the number one-selling item at local healthy food stores. I find that funny. Not fresh vegetables, but a cleanse. My advice: Get a colonoscopy – at least you get a health check along with your cleanse.
Instead, why not resolve to avoid processed foods and do some real cooking this year?
Since I’m on a roll, let me continue this rant. Do you know what the most Googled word was on New Year’s Day? Kale. I’m sick of kale and seeing it on every restaurant menu in the universe. Do we really love it?
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Charlotte Observer Food Editor Kathleen Purvis had her own rant a couple weeks ago against oversized ice cubes in cocktails, cryptic menu descriptions and undercooked field peas. Unlike Purvis, I don’t mind a block of ice in a glass of good, smooth sipping bourbon, but I do agree with her on field peas. Chefs, will you quit cooking them al dente? They ain’t pasta. They are made to cream a bit in the cooking.
And speaking of chefs, stop with the “farm to table” already. If you are worth your salt in the kitchen, you’ve been doing it for a while and we can taste the difference. We are really lucky that we have so many great chefs in the Triangle that are doing “local to table,” which is what we really want. All food starts at a farm somewhere.
Seriously, why we stress out about food at the beginning of each year is beyond me. Eating is a pleasure. If we eat seasonally, do most of our own cooking and serve ourselves responsibly, then we can truly enjoy our time at the table and not worry so much about our health and waistlines.
If you want to eat seasonally, now is the perfect moment for oysters. They are plump and meaty, and North Carolina oysters are sweet with a briny finish. Oyster ranchers (yes, ranchers) along our coast have worked very hard to bring us nice single shells instead of the crazy clusters of days past. Now we can easily buy oysters in the shell from North Carolina waters and create all kinds of goodness with them easily.
This is my friend Gene Mattiuzzo’s recipe that he used to get his wife to finally eat oysters. He serves them as an appetizer or a side dish.
So this year, eat fresh, seasonal, local and do more cooking.
Fred Thompson is a Raleigh cookbook author and publisher of Edible Piedmont magazine. His latest cookbook is “The Kamado Grill Cookbook.” Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Oysters with Pancetta and Garlic Butter
12 of your favorite oysters, approximately 3 1/2 inches in size
Rock salt as needed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, about 1/2 lemon
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
6-8 dashes hot pepper sauce
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano
2 ounces pancetta, chopped and cooked
Extra dry vermouth or Pernod
Over a fine-mesh strainer, shuck the oysters, discarding the top shell, and loosen the meat from the bottom. Pour out most of the liquid. Take a shallow baking pan and fill with about 1/2 inch of rock salt. Nestle each oyster in the rock salt so they will be stable and not able to tip and spill out the cooking liquid. It may take several pans.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the lemon juice and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add any strained oyster liquor and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the parsley, oregano and hot sauce. Stir and leave on the heat for another 2 minutes. Remove and reserve.
Mix the bread crumbs and the cheese in a medium bowl. Add just enough of the vermouth and 1 teaspoon of the garlic butter to dampen the mixture. When pinched, the crumbs should barely stick together. Using a teaspoon, divide the garlic butter between the oysters. Add a few pieces of pancetta to each oyster. Then cover with the crumb mixture.
Preheat grill to high heat or oven to 400 degrees. Place the baking pans on the grill and close the lid. Cook for about 7 minutes or until the oysters start to bubble and the crumbs brown. It’s the same timing for grill or oven. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings.