PIMENT D'ESPELETTE // the local food report

Remember my popcorn discovery? Well. I'm branching out. This week on the Local Food Report, I interviewed Ron Backer of Surrey Farms in Brewster about a ground chili powder he's making. A few years ago he started seeing references to a spice called Piment d'Espelette on epicurious.com and the Food Channel. He did some research, discovered that it's a French thing, and imported the seeds. Then he grew the peppers, dried them, and started making the stuff himself. He gave me a tin to sample, and it turns out it's killer on popcorn.

If you like Spanish Marcona almonds and popcorn and butter and you're willing to try it all with a little kick, this makes a sublime afternoon snack. So warm up that pot. Infuse your butter. Get those kernels popping, and let me know what you think when you're done.


This recipe comes from epicurious.com, which is where Ron first learned about Piment d'Espelette. Ron sells his spice at the Orleans and Wellfleet farmers' markets. You can substitute Hungarian hot paprika if you can't get your hands on a tin. 

1 teaspoon Piment d'Espelette, divided
1 teaspoon fine grain salt, divided
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 cup peanut oil
3/4 cup whole roasted Spanish Marcona almonds

Mix 1/2 teaspoon of the Piment d'Espelette and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat, then stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon Piment d'Espelette and 1/2 teaspoon salt. 

Put the popcorn kernels and peanut oil in a large, deep pot with a heavy lid. Turn the heat onto medium-high, shimmying the pot occasionally so that the kernels are coated with oil. Cover the pot. When the kernels start popping, shimmy the pot every thirty seconds or so until the noise stops. Turn off the heat and immediately add the melted butter mixture and almonds to the pot. Using oven mitts, hold the pot and the lid firmly together and shake until the popcorn and almonds are coated evenly with the melted butter mixture. Put the popcorn in a serving bowl, toss with the remaining Piment d'Espelette and salt, and serve.



As I mentioned last week, it's officially birthday/celebration season around here, which means it's time for cake.  And not just any cake.  Wellesley Fudge Cake. 

This particular recipe has been a family favorite for as long as I can remember.  The original recipe card is practically a family heirloom - it's written in my grandmother's handwriting, with smudges of butter and chocolate all over it, and the card has become yellowed and stiff with years of cake-batter splatters. 

My dad, especially, is a chocolate addict, so it was only fitting to dig this recipe out from the archives for his birthday (yesterday! Happy birthday, Papa!).  I hadn't had this cake in a while, and it was just as I remembered it.  Moist and thick with fudgy frosting, perfect served with a scoop of ice cream on the side.  I wouldn't know from personal experience, but I imagine a little slice of it alongside a tall iced coffee would hit the spot for breakfast on a hot, hot summer day.  


Although the original recipe calls for walnuts, I usually usually omit them.  If you are a walnut-lover, go for it.

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2/3 cup butter
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 egg yolks
2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
2/3 cup buttermilk
3 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. 

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler.  When it is completely melted, set it aside to cool.  Meanwhile, in a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together.  Add baking soda and vanilla to the butter mixture.  Lightly beat the egg yolks and add blend them in to the butter mixture.  Add the cooled chocolate and blend well.  

In a smaller bowl, sift the flour and baking powder together.  If you are using the walnuts, coat them lightly with 1/3 cup of the flour.  

Using an electric mixer on low speed, add the remaining flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour.  Stir in the floured walnuts. 

Beat the egg white until stiff but not dry.  Fold into the cake batter by hand until just blended.

Divide the batter between the two cake pans so they are about even.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until  the center of the cake no longer jiggles when moved.


2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 tablespoons butter
3 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup hot milk

Melt the chocolate and butter in a small sauce pan.  Add the confectioners sugar alternately with the milk, blending well with an electric mixer.  


CHILI PEPPERS // the local food report

Twice in the past week, I've been annihilated by capsaicin. The first time I was grinding Espelette peppers to make paprika; the second I was helping Rooster Fricke cook up a batch of his "Rocket Fuel." Capsaicin is the compound that makes chili peppers spicy, and it's also the active ingredient in mace. When you get it in your eyes and airway, capsaicin makes it very difficult to see and breathe. It's a job hazard, apparently.

We'll talk about paprika next week, and Rocket Fuel the week after that. Today we're going to talk about spinach salad with chili pepper dressing.

I'd never really thought about eating chili peppers in salad until I met Rooster Fricke. He's obsessed with chilies, and at his home in Woods Hole he has over two hundred plants growing. He was telling me about all the different ways he uses them—hot sauce, in chocolate, in jelly—and fresh, on salads. Never would have occurred to me.

When I got home, I started searching for recipes. I found all sorts of variations—one with chickpeas and roasted red peppers, one with eggplant, tomatoes, and yogurt, and one with roasted poblanos and zucchinis.

They all looked good, but my favorite was an epicurious recipe. It sounded sort of like a Mexican cobb salad, and instead of slicing the peppers and putting them in the salad, you add them to the dressing. It's delicious—spicy but not too spicy, and with enough heft to add a slice of toast and call it dinner.


This recipe comes from an old issue of Gourmet—June 1997. It's a perfect summer dinner. The dressing makes about 1 and 1/2 cups total, but you only need 1/2-3/4 cup for the salad, so plan on having some leftover.

for the dressing:

1 large red bell pepper
2 fresh green chilies (like poblanos or jalapeños)
1 large clove garlic
3/4 teaspoon grated lime zest
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup olive oil

Roast and peel the peppers. Add these to a food processor along with the garlic and pulse until smooth. Add the lime zest, cilantro, oregano, lemon and lime juice, and olive oil and pulse until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

for the salad:

2 pounds spinach
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 cup pitted black olives, quartered
1/4 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 cup cooked beans (I like garbanzo, pinto, or black)
6 scallions, thinly sliced
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
4 ounces feta, crumbled
1/2 to 3/4 cup chili pepper dressing

Put the spinach in a large salad bowl. Top with the bacon, olives, mushrooms, beans, and scallions. Dress and toss gently before topping with eggs and feta.



Let's talk about dessert today.  It's been far too long since we've had a good chat about dessert, and given it's the middle of June (WHAT?!) there are surely countless barbeques, birthdays, picnics, potlucks, and other celebrations on your calendar that may require a special sweet treat.

Personally, I've got dessert on the brain because next week is a big celebration week in our family.  We have two birthdays and a wedding anniversary squeezed into a four-day span, so the last week of June always features at least one chocolate cake (for my dad) and a batch of strawberry shortcake (my favorite).

If you are looking for some dessert inspiration, here are some of my favorites from the archives.

For the chocolate lovers:

For the fruit lovers:

 For cake lovers:

(Psssst: top it off with some maple ice cream

Happy celebrating, happy eating!



I never had much experience with Chinese cabbage until we joined a CSA eight years ago. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’d even seen a Chinese cabbage until then. I don’t think I was alone. The Chinese are said to have been growing this delicious crop for nearly 2,000 years, but in Maine it’s still a fairly new kid on the block. I bet it is where you live, too.

Our very own Johnny’s Selected Seeds, located in Winslow, Maine, calls Chinese cabbage “an Asian specialty that combines the thin crisp texture of lettuce with the fresh peppery tang of juicy cabbage.” That’s a spot-on description. This vegetable is easy to grow, high yielding, tolerates both hot and cool weather, has a long season, and keeps well. Translation? It’s an ideal crop for a CSA.

When those tall, loose columns of crunchy pale green-ness started appearing regularly in our first CSA pick-ups back in 2005, I knew I’d have to get onboard with this vegetable, and fast. I’m so glad I did. Although a bit of a mystery to us at first, Chinese cabbage quickly became a staple. Our favorite way to use it is in this quick and easy salad, which we probably eat at least once a week from early spring well into the fall. This is Chinese cabbage at its best, I think: fresh, crisp, moist, and just plain delicious.  

I’m a little embarrassed to tell you that my husband and I regularly eat this entire salad at one sitting—but yes, it is our entire meal!


This recipe is adapted from one on our CSA’s website. You can find the original here. This version serves 4–6 as a side dish, or 2 super-enthusiasts who are making a meal of it. 

1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted (the black ones look nice if you can find them)
6 cups thinly chopped Chinese cabbage
1 cup diced radishes
3/4 cup chopped peanuts or slivered almonds
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon dry mustard (optional)

Toast the sesame seeds and let them cool a minute or two. Combine cabbage, radishes, nuts, and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Mix the remaining ingredients and toss with the veggies a little at a time. Add only enough dressing to suit your taste. This salad is best when eaten right away; the leftovers tend to get soggy.


JAMAICAN FISH HEAD STEW // the local food report

Fillets are what most New Englanders want. No bones, no tail, and above all, no head. It's a cultural thing, and my friend Neilly says it's too bad. He's from Jamaica, and Jamaicans use the whole fish—not just because it's wasteful not to—but also because the bones and the heads are where the flavor's at.

The recipe he makes most often here is brown stew fish. The flavors are similar to brown stew chicken—there's ketchup and Scotch Bonnets—but instead of poultry, the meat in the dish is fish heads. They're cut in half and the blood is cleaned out, and what you're left with is the meaty cheeks and the jaw and the bones and the eyeballs. He says it's edible, every bit. 

I tasted a batch he made the other day with bluefish. He also makes it with striper and redfish, and I was excited about the idea of a stew that uses the parts of the fish most people toss in the compost. I wasn't disappointed. It's delicious. The bluefish heads give the stew a richness that you don't get from fillets, and the cheek meat melts in your mouth.

We made the stew last night at home. My parents were here, and they were very curious as to what I was doing with a bag full of fish heads. We fried them up and stewed them down with peppers and onions and a sweet, tangy sauce, then served it all over rice. I haven't worked up the courage yet to try an eyeball, but I'll keep you posted.


Neilly didn't have a written recipe, so I asked him about quantities ingredient by ingredient. This is very close to the original. If they cut their own fish, most fishmongers will give you bluefish trimmings for free.

3 bluefish heads, cut in half lengthwise and cleaned
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 sweet pepper (red or yellow), thinly sliced
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper, minced
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons red or white vinegar
3-4 sprigs thyme
3/4 cup ketchup
3/4 cup coconut milk
4 cups water

Dredge the bluefish heads in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Fry the heads in a skillet greased with olive oil over medium heat, flipping after about 3 minutes. Set the cooked heads aside.

Warm up another glug of olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the peppers, onion, and scallion and sauté for about 10 minutes, or until they start to get soft. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, thyme, ketchup, and coconut milk and stir well. 

Add the fish heads and the water. The water should just cover the heads, so you may need more or less depending on the size of your fish. Simmer the stew for at least 15 minutes before serving, and up to several hours. It's excellent over rice.



Hello!  I realize I've been a bit M.I.A., but I promise I have a good excuse.

Last weekend my boyfriend and I brought home the newest member of our little family - a black lab puppy named Thunder.  We've been busy snuggling him and (semi-successfully) teaching him a few things here and there.  

Unfortunately for Thunder (and us), our first weekend together was very, very hot.  It was the type of hot that makes you lie around all day dreaming about what you could possibly do to cool off.  After Thunder splashed in the river and got soaked a few times with the hose, I made a batch of rhubarb simple syrup and mixed up a refreshing spritzer to keep us humans cool.  If it's hot where you are these days, I highly recommend it. 


For the simple syrup:
3 cups rhubarb, chopped
4 to 5 tablespoons sugar (depending on how sweet you like it - mine was on the sour side)
1 1/2 cups water

Pour the rhubarb, sugar and water into a small sauce pan on medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and cook until the rhubarb begins to fall apart.  Try to avoid stirring too much as that will cause the rhubarb to shred, which will make things more difficult when it is time to strain the syrup.  

After about 30 minutes of simmering, turn off the heat and pour rhubarb mixture through a sieve.

For the drink:
6 tablespoons rhubarb simple syrup
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 to 1 cup soda water

Stir all ingredients together and serve over ice.  If you're looking for a more adult beverage, I imagine this would be good with a splash of vodka. :) 



The days are short. We are a week and a half from the longest day of the year, and still they go by in a whirl. A cry, a nurse, a snuggle, then up to tidy rooms and make beds. Breakfast—the first strawberries of the garden and homemade toast—and three days a week, out the door and off to school. Then there are columns and bills and radio shows to contend with, a shift at the farmers' market or the lunch rush at the restaurant. After work there's a walk or a swim and dinner and dishes, then packing lunches and answering mail and finally reading in bed. 

They are good days, though, and we appreciate them. There are things we'd like to do better: tend the garden, hang out the laundry in the sun. But there are also things that flow: magnificent salads and bubble tubs and pages of Pooh before bed. 

And there are soups—the saving grace of days filled with hard work and little ones. I'm not sure I ever really fully appreciated soup until Sally was born—a meal that you can start in the morning while the day is cheerful and leave on the stove for that harried hour when suppertime rolls around.

The latest is a chicken and bok choy rendition. There have been all sorts of choys at the farmers' markets recently—Joy Choy and Pak Choy and Bok Choy itself. I like it wilted, still a bit firm, but Alex and Sally say that's too bitter for their tastes. So I decided to try it stewed—cooked down with chicken broth and beans and fresh ginger and nuoc mam

I found the recipe on Epicurious. I didn't have all the ingredients, though, and I didn't read it through before I started, so I ended up doing it all wrong. I have no idea how close what I made is to the original. And I don't care, either, because it was simple and good, and a hit with everyone.


Be careful with sodium in this soup. The original recipe calls for low sodium chicken broth. I used homemade, so that wasn't an issue, but if you're using store-bought pay attention to the salt. A little goes a long way, and you add soy sauce later on. For the chicken I seared off two breasts with wings attached and picked off the meat. The pickings from a roasted whole bird would also work well. 

1 onion
1 head bok choy, washed, trimmed, and thinly sliced
a glug of olive oil
8 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons minced, peeled fresh ginger
3 tablespoons fish sauce (nuoc mam)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha
2 cups cooked pinto beans
2 cups cooked shredded chicken meat
sea salt, if necessary

Sauté the onion and the bok choy in the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. When the veggies begin to wilt down and get tender, add the chicken broth and stir in the ginger, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, Sriracha, beans, and chicken meat. Bring the soup to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for a few minutes to let the flavors come together. Taste and adjust for salt as needed. Serve hot—and don't worry if you don't serve right away. The flavors come together better the longer this soup sits, so it's fine to make it in the morning and serve it in the evening, or even the next day.


SALTING FOR RAZOR CLAMS // the local food report

First, watch this video. Woah! Cool, right? Those long, thin clams in the photo up there are called razor clams, and the harvesting technique in the video is called salting. The Irish came up with it originally, and about ten years ago it made its way to the Cape.

Before that, there weren't many local shellfishermen bringing razor clams to market. They were too hard to catch—their shells are paper-thin and break easily if you try to rake them, and they're fast—razor clams can easily out-dig your hands. But then salting caught on. Ron Brunelle, the foreman at Wellfleet Shellfish Company (my husband's wholesale plant), got into salting when he was a kid. His dad would have him tow a barge full of salt, and then they had a pump and a garden hose hooked up, and they would mix salt with sea water and spray the razor clams' burrows with this high-salinity mix. The clams got irritated (they don't like that much salt), and as you saw in the video, they would literally try to jump out of the sand. Ron says it's about as easy as shellfishing can get. 

A lot of people caught on. Ron says he's never seen so many people—husbands, wives, daughters, nephews—pouring out of Pleasant Bay as he did in the early 2000s, when everyone was salting for razor clams. The price was good—Asian markets in Boston and New York were paying $2 a pound, and you could almost always get the limit, which was 600 pounds a day. That's good money.

Finally, after five or six years, the frenzy died down. There weren't as many razor clams around—not necessarily because of over-harvesting, according to the Orleans Shellfish Constable—but because razor clam populations fluctuate quite a bit naturally. 

But this year, they're making a bit of a comeback. Ron says there aren't anywhere near as many shellfishermen salting for razor clams as there were a decade ago, but there are a few, and he and Alex are moving about 400 pounds a week. The cool thing is that now local restaurants are interested. Chefs have caught on to the fact that the meat is plentiful and sweet, and they're serving them with red sauce or steamed with garlic and beer. 

I tried my first razor clam the other night. I was surprised by the texture—like a cross between scallop and squid—and by how sweet the meat is. Alex put them under the broiler with Parmesan and olive oil—delicious! Here's the recipe, and if you're interested in going out for razor clams, check with your local shellfish constable. They're not regulated by the state, so it's up to each town to set the rules. 


This is more of a suggestion than a recipe, but here goes. Enjoy!

a dozen razor clams
olive oil, for drizzling
salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the broiler in your oven. Arrange the clams in their shells on a baking sheet or in a casserole dish and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle the salt and pepper and Parmesan over top. Broil for 8-12 minutes, or until the clams open and the Parmesan gets golden brown on top. Check often, as the time varies widely from broiler to broiler! Serve hot.



That bag of tomatoes you see here? They’re from our garden last summer! I’ve been gardening for almost 40 years, but it wasn’t until last year that I learned you can freeze whole tomatoes. Henry Homeyer, an organic gardener who lives in New Hampshire, tipped me off. Henry writes a weekly gardening column in our local paper, and he’s full of good advice. Like last September, when he said nothing could be easier than freezing whole tomatoes.

No blanching required,” wrote Henry. “Just put clean, dry tomatoes in gallon zipper bags and freeze. Then, when you need tomatoes to cook with, take out a few and run them under hot water in the kitchen sink. Rub and the skins come off. Allow them to sit for a few minutes and they soften enough to chop and use.” Who knew?! I don’t even bother with the hot-water rinse, as I like to cook the skins.

To be honest, I didn’t expect these frozen tomatoes to be as good as they are. They’re delicious, and we’ve been using them in stews, soups, sauces, and curries since last fall. We’ll definitely be freezing more tomatoes this summer!

One of our favorite ways to use them is in this spicy Indian curry. We made it just two nights ago, after a day of steady, chilling, rain, and it was just what we needed: tasty, warming, and made with our own tomatoes. The recipe below serves two (maybe three) as a main course. Enjoy!

Cauliflower, Tomato, & Onion Curry

This recipe is adapted from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. He calls it Cayenne-Spiked Cauliflower, but don’t let that scare you. The dish is spicy, but you can tame it by cutting down on the cayenne. If you're at all hesitant about spicy food, I'd start with half the amount called for below. 

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
6 medium-size cloves garlic, minced
2 thin slices fresh ginger (each one about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide), cut into matchstick-thin strips
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon cayenne (ground red pepper)—or less
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
15 ounces fresh, frozen, or canned tomatoes, diced
1 to 1 ½ pounds cauliflower, cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and stir-fry until they are nicely softened and slightly brown, about 10–12 minutes.

Sprinkle in the cumin, coriander, salt, cayenne, and turmeric. Stir well and cook about 30 seconds, then stir in the tomatoes with their juices, the cauliflower, and 1 cup water. Deglaze the skillet, releasing the bits of vegetables and spices, and bring the curry to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the skillet, and cook about 12–15 minutes more—stirring occasionally—until the cauliflower pieces are tender.

Uncover the skillet and let the curry simmer a few minutes longer, to thicken up a bit. Stir in the cilantro and serve.


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.