Dining Reviews

In a Pickle

DiningHow to save late summer in a jar, infant abalone at Avanti, and farmers market tomatoes 

The hot new seasonal trend is really quite ancient, but then you knew that. Since the dawn of human culinary tinkering, or 2000 BC—whichever comes first, humans have preserved foods in the sort of acidic brine that inhibits the growth of bacteria. Turned out that humans adored the pickle, and pretty soon there was pickle relish, chutney, and any number of other tart condiments without which most of us just couldn’t do lunch. We love the pickles tucked into the Futomaki roll at Totoro Sushi. Or the fiery ones accompanying appetizers at Soif and Lúpulo. My friend Dee is a pistol when it comes to vinegar, dill, and organic cucumbers. To can, my friends, is to preserve the late summer harvest season; elongating and stretching its culinary pleasure into the “dead of winter” (here in California that phrase rings a bit hollow and privileged, but you know what I mean). Opening up a jar of home-pickled green beans to stash into that Super Bowl Bloody Mary is as much fun as cracking a jar of your own dry-farmed tomato marinara for Italian-style Christmas dinner. I often concoct a quickie faux pickle condiment out of some of those delicious anorexic purple beans grown by UCSC agro-farmers. I quickly steam them—alas, they lose their purple hue—and then plunge them into a marinade of sherry and balsamic vinegar, with a healthy splash of olive oil and one of my new Farmer Freed herb salts. It sits out on my kitchen counter, I stir and toss it a few times before dinner, and then these little “pickles” adorn whatever salad my resident sous chef has created. Crunchy and tangy just like a real pickle. Try it.

Now that you are frothing over with artisanal hormones, let me point you in the direction of the upcoming Pickling Workshop at Love Apple Farm. Oct. 12 – $89 – Sunday 1-5 p.m. Here you’ll learn to whip up real pickles at a class taught by a—is this a term?—master pickler. Perhaps “pickle master” sounds less X-rated. Your call.

Avanti Knows Salad

A recent salad at Pizzeria Avanti proved, once again, a winner. Think: crinkly, succulent Bloomsdale spinach in a lemony vinaigrette, dotted with pears, avocado and goat cheese; a piquant bouquet of texture and flavor contrasts. And over at the other Avanti, we loved a feisty salad of mixed seaweeds with infant abalone (from Davenport), and a freshly created Caesar salad made a terrific opening course for two to share. I’d forgotten how wonderful this oft-clichéd dish can be in the right hands. (I know Joan Rivers could have turned that into a risqué joke).

Now Trending at the Farmers Market

Tomatoes. Tomatoes. Peppers. Tomatoes. Heirlooms, dry-farmed, every shade of red, orange and yellow. Infant Japanese eggplants the size of your thumb, fat leeks, pole beans, onions, and carrots. In the flower realm, it’s time for dahlias and zinnias. The irresistible scent of fresh-baked rye-intensive breads, and don’t miss local fish—king salmon is still with us (praise the goddess!), as is local halibut, Petrale sole and albacore.

Mole Madness

Plan to be at the Santa Cruz Mission Adobe Saturday, Sept. 20 from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. for the Mole and Mariachi Fest and sample mole sauces from competing chefs, including last year’s People’s Choice winner El Jardín. Also entering mole sauces in a wide range of styles are Vivas, Maya Mexican Restaurant, The Kitchen at Discretion Brewing, El Chino, and El Chipotle. And yes, event newcomer El Plaza Lane Optometry will be serving up a secret in-house recipe involving chocolate, peanuts and pumpkin seeds. Bring $10 and a serious appetite. PHOTO: Love Apple Farm

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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