DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - June 22, 2007

Epicure: Seasonal foods brighten up our tables

by Jacqui Love Marshall

I love it when seasonal foods appear on the culinary scene for a few weeks and then disappear. As we enjoy them, we typically analyze their size, shape, color, tastes, etc., and compare them to crops of previous years. The arrival of certain foods also motivates me to cook dishes using them as center stage, knowing they will soon be gone for another year. Their short visits into my kitchen make their tastes even more special to savor. Two of my favorite summer season foods are cherries and wild salmon.

Cherries

We eat them and take note: the shiny red skin, how they crunch, how much juice spurts out through the skin, and how unbelievably sweet and fresh they are. It's a total pleasure experience. In fact, when they're sweet, it's not easy to eat just a few.

California-grown bing cherries have a relatively short season from May to early June; cherries from other regions are imported to us for the remainder of the summer. According to the California Cherry Advisory Board: Bing cherries have "red/mahogany-colored skin and flesh; the stone is relatively small, while the fruit itself is crisp, firm and juicy. Its sweet, rich flavor makes it the most popular variety" while a Rainier cherry is "recognizable by its golden/pink blushed skin color. It's a finely textured variety with firm, clear flesh and colorless juice. The Rainier offers a very sweet, delicate flavor."

In addition to wonderfully sweet flavors, a recent study by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) indicates that "bing cherries may reduce painful arthritic inflammation. Eating cherries may also help lessen the severity of other inflammatory conditions, such as cardiovascular disease or cancer." So, what's not to love?

When purchasing fresh cherries, avoid ones that are soft, wrinkly, leaking, sticky or show any signs of rotting. Once you bring them home, handle cherries carefully and delicately to avoid bruising. For freshness, keep them as cold as you can up to 10 days. Eaten fresh, added to a dish or baked up as a dessert, you'll rarely go wrong with seasonal cherries. Try this recipe for a delightful cherry tart.

Alaskan or Wild Salmon

Fresh salmon from Alaska or Wild Pacific Salmon is a culinary treat to please a fish-lover. Alaska generates more than 90 percent of domestic salmon; the remainder comes from fishermen along the West Coast. Wild Pacific salmon is fairly abundant, wild Atlantic salmon is rare and extremely difficult to get. Farmed Atlantic salmon, with its moist orange flesh is what most of us see, especially fall through spring. So when you hear of wild salmon, it's probably Pacific salmon.

The flesh of Pacific salmon, also called king salmon or Chinook, is usually red but there are rare species of white flesh. Wild salmon has a high fat which is marbled like a steak. The fat gives the salmon much of its flavor and its degree of fat tells you something about where that salmon spawned. Fish often travel great distances to lay their eggs, particularly up Alaskan rivers like the Copper and the Yukon. To make that journey, the salmon must have a reservoir of fat. The longer the journey, the more fat and the more flavor.

The consumer market for wild king salmon has grown considerably over the last decade due to concerns about the pesticides, wastes and dyes of farmed salmon. Increasingly, consumers wait for the wild salmon season and enjoy (or stock up on) the fresh fish when they can.

Use a reliable fish market to purchase your wild salmon. To discern what you are consuming, always ask questions to find out where the salmon is coming from - is it wild or farmed? And during salmon harvesting season, enjoy as much of the wild variety as you can! Check out this delicious yet simple salmon recipe.

In other news

In response to my last column, one reader offered this additional (and more local) cooking class resource: Barbara Kelly of Danville started Viva Cucina two years ago. Check out her Web site, vivacucina.com. Thanks, Jan Richardson!

Recipes

Cherry Clafouti (serves 8)

1 Tbsp unsalted butter

1-1/2 pounds cherries, pitted

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup granulated sugar

4 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

1 cup milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

3 Tbsp kirsch

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 10-inch porcelain tart dish and fill with cherries. Set aside.

2. Sift flour and salt together into a large bowl. Add sugar. Gradually whisk in whole eggs, egg yolks, milk and cream. Add vanilla-bean scrapings and kirsch; whisk to combine.

3. Using a sieve, strain the batter over the cherries. Bake until puffed and browned, about 45 minutes. Let cool until warm; it will sink slightly. Dust with confectioners' sugar, and serve.

Skillet Salmon with Italian Sauce (serves 4)

1 pound wild salmon fillet

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

5 Italian plum tomatoes, diced

6 black olives, chopped coarsely

6 green olives, chopped coarsely

3 Tbsp lemon juice

1 Tbsp capers, rinsed

2 Tbsp fresh Italian parsley, chopped

3 garlic cloves, sliced finely

Pepper to taste

1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil and swirl to coat skillet bottom.

2. Add tomatoes, olives, lemon juice, capers, parsley, garlic and pepper. Stir well and bring to boil over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes.

3. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is reduced by 1/3, about 5-6 minutes.

4. Rinse and pat salmon dry. Place salmon to side of sauce in skillet and place sauce over salmon. Cook covered for 15-18 minutes or until salmon is flaky. Great served with a side dish of orzo.

Jacqui lives in Danville with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at jlovemarshall@yahoo.com.

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