If you ever have the chance to eat a slice of prosciutto fresh off the bone, I highly recommend you take it. If it comes from a leg that was home-slaughtered and cured for 22 months while hanging in the spare room of a 1906 farmhouse, all the better. If you can slice it yourself while a man named Churro with a thick italian accent bundled in a handknit blue sweater extolls the virtues of long, smooth cuts, ‘just like playing a cello,’ while pouring glasses from a jug of homemade wine, it might just end up being one of the best things you’ve ever tasted.
A couple weekends ago I headed up to Lopez for a few days. When I rolled onto the island toting my hastily packed weekend duffle, overstuffed purse, and my dog Luka pulling hard at his leash, I, too, was nearing the end of my proverbial rope. And I was starving. My friend Rom (kindly) drove down to the ferry landing to pick me up and took me back to some friends’ for dinner. It’s dark on the island. I forget about the dark. It’s everywhere once the crowds of tourists and long, summer dusks fade away. Heading toward the light of the farmhouse, I could hardly see five feet in front of me. Somehow the dark is comforting, blocking out distraction and worry; the stress of traffic, driving through rainstorms, sprinting on the ferry while yanking my dog up the boarding plank, it all melts away. Like 22-month-cured Mangalitsa pork fat.
Kim and Todd’s open kitchen shelves are cluttered with mixing bowls, large pots, cookbooks, serving bowls. Unlike so many city kitchens, nothing is for show; it’s all about the food. A big bowl of vegetable kimchi soup with fresh noodles tossed in butter. A thick hunk of Parmesan Reggiano ready to be planed over the hot stew. Freshly made bread. Cheeses, some from the milk of the goats in the pasture and some made in France. Wine, lots of it. Warm rugs over bare floors. And prosciutto.
I’ve been meaning to tell you for almost a month about my vow to forgo sugar, but it’s a good thing that I waited because I broke my own rule for the lemon soufflé cake someone brought as dessert. It was more than my willpower could handle at the end of a long day, and it was worth every ounce of the few (ok, fine, like 20) bites right out of the serving dish.
The rest of the weekend was more successfully abstemious. I also managed to
steal forage for lots of local apples. There was a sign on the side of the road that read “free apples,” so I pulled into the driveway and started raiding the orchard, only to have a disgruntled woman emerge from the house a few minutes later shouting “Um, hello! Excuse me? What are you doing?” Apparently the sign was intended for the few apples in the box directly under it and did not give passers-by carte blanche to pick from the trees. It turned out, however, that the previously-disgruntled woman was a middle school friend of mine and, when she recognized me, she changed to “Oh, it’s you. You can pick as many as you like. I thought you were tourists.” (Though in her mind it was probably spelled TRST, as tourist is practically a four letter word in the islands).
(Side note - I know I promised not to use the orange, squash-like "p-word" around here in October, and so far I have been successfully true to my word. I made no such promises about apples, though, so you can consider this my obligatory food-blogging-fall-apple-picking post. They're like embarassing distant cousins: everyone has them and can't help but share stories).
Apple sauce is really best made from foraged apples. For one thing, they’re cheaper. However, as I realize that not everyone has access to a rural island filled with feral apple trees, farmer’s market apples will also work just fine. In a pinch, you could even buy organic apples from the grocery store (gasp!). Though I encourage you to go out on the street and talk to your neighbors - there are lots of apple trees around that no one makes good use of!
I started making apple sauce a few years ago while renting a house with a Jonagold tree in the backyard. It’s better to make sauce from a combination of several kinds of apples to get a richer flavor. Any kind will do, but you can ask at the farmers’ market which varieties they recommend for sauce. I make ‘lazy’ apple sauce, forgoing the arduous task of peeling the apples before cooking them. If you like your sauce chunky, you’ll want to use a different recipe. If you like smooth sauce (like those little Mott’s containers from childhood lunch box days), this one’s for you.
15 small-medium sized apples, roughly chopped (the number of apples should really be determined by the size of your pot and how much sauce you want to make)
(Optional: sweetener - I prefer honey)
1. Roughly chop apples around the core and discard core, seeds and stems.
2. Place in a large dutch oven (or other large pot) and add ~1” of water.
3. Cover and simmer on low heat until apples become soft. Stir occasionally. This can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the variety and ripeness of apples. Don’t forget and leave the pot on too long (like, say, for instance, leaving it on low while you go out and meet a friend for dinner and drinks *cough*). If you cook too much water out you will end up with apple butter (which is also tasty but a little thicker - more of a spread than a sauce).
4. Spoon hot apple mush into a food press (chinois), a bit at a time until all of it has been processed. (Usually I’m opposed to one-trick kitchen gadgets, but a food mill is relatively cheap and pretty indispensable in making any kind of smooth sauce). Press sauce through the mill into a bowl below until you are left with skins-only. Discard the skins and pour the sauce back into the cooking pot.
5. Season the sauce to taste. I usually start with a hefty sprinkle of cinnamon and a pinch or two of salt. You’d be surprised at how far the salt goes in bringing out the apple flavor, and you may find you don’t want to add any sweetener at all. If the apples aren’t super ripe to begin with, add a dollop or two of honey to sweeten things up.
6. Spoon into jars and process in a water bath canner. You can also just store in the fridge for a week or two and eat it all fresh.