Kumquat, Aquavit, picholine olives, caraway
In third grade, we spent some time each week for nearly half the school year learning about food. We talked about food groups, and learned about the history of certain foods. We read about different foods as part of different world cultures, and because the area of Pennsylvania in which I grew up was agriculturally abundant, we spent quite a bit of time on the local foods of our region.
On Fridays, the two third-grade classes in my elementary school got together in one of the classrooms to sample some of the foods we talked about in class. One week, one of the moms brought in different kinds of cheese. Another time, another mom brought in different vegetables. My great uncle owned the local fruit orchard, so my mom was in charge of bringing in different kinds of apples for each kid in the class to taste. Another week, one of the moms brought in different kinds of bread -- white sandwich bread, wholewheat bread, sourdough, pumpernickel, and rye bread.
Now, being eight years old at the time, I was quite the fan of white sandwich bread. Give me two slices of Sunbeam or Holsum bread and I was a happy, peanut butter sandwich-makin' fool. Wholewheat bread was kind of icky because it wasn't white bread, but at least it was familiar. All the other breads seemed so foreign and strange to me, but I tried a little slice of each of them. The sourdough bread was okay, the pumpernickel was passable, but the rye bread? Gag City. It smelled weird, and texture of caraway seeds (which, coincidentally, were at the time featured in commercials during The Price Is Right as something that gets trapped between your dentures and your gums unless you use Super PoliGrip, so I was all kinds of freaked out about that) is like someone captured a bunch of wrens and sparrows and pulled out their wee little talons one by one and put them into some bread. Am I right?
I've since tried to like rye bread, but to no avail. So, to see that I had to use caraway in this dish was more than a little off-putting. I almost considered eliminating it altogether, but instead I got over my bad self and just decided to deal with it and see how it turned out. I was curious to work with Aquavit, since I'd never had it before and always wondered what it was.
Here's my mise en place:
I put the baby bird toenails, sorry, the caraway seed into a small sauté pan and began toasting them:
I also heated some Aquavit in a small saucepan, into which I put in two gelatin sheets that had soaked in cold water for a few minutes.
Then, I got to work on the kumquats. I love these little guys. So fragrant and so tasty -- I rarely cook with them, but I need to remember to make some preserves or something with kumquats because I love the way they smell when they cook.
I sliced them lengthwise, removing the top third of each kumquat:
I discarded the tops and put the kumquats into a small saucepan, covered them with water, and brought the water to a boil. Then, I strained them, refilled with more water, and did this two more times.
Then, I put them back into the saucepan, covered them with simple syrup, brought it up to a very gentle simmer, and let them cook this way for 40 minutes. The book indicated it might take an hour, but mine were very tender at 40 minutes, so I turned off the burner and let them come down to room temperature while still in the liquid.
When they'd cooled to room temp, I removed them from the pan and let them drain on a paper towel while I very gently scooped out and removed the insides (very carefully using a grapefruit spoon).
I put them on the plate, then put the Aquavit gelatin (which had set in the saucepan, so I gently rewarmed it to turn it back into liquid) into a squeeze bottle and filled each of these now-candied kumquat hulls with the Aquavit gelatin.
I put them in the refrigerator to set, which took about 45 minutes. Just before plating them, I sliced the olives (by cutting off the sides around the pit of 4 picholine olives, to yield 8 little olive caps):
I also ground the toasted caraway seed in my old coffee bean-turned-spice grinder, and strained it through a sieve to yield a very fine powder (the smell of which was sadly gagging me to no end) which you'll see in the photos below.
To serve, I put a piece of picholine olive on top of the gel-filled kumquat, then dabbed a small bit (using the tip of an espresso spoon) of the caraway powder:
I carried this plate of kumquat delight across the street to my friend Linda's house, where she and I and our other neighbor-friend, Holly, convene nearly every Friday afternoon around 4 o'clock for a glass of wine to wrap up the week and ease our way into the weekend. Our snackage typically consists of hummus and chips, pretzels and cream cheese, cheese and crackers, and whatever we have in our refrigerators that we need to get rid of. When I did French Laundry at Home, our snacks oftentimes incorporated leftovers or leftover ingredients from one of those dishes, lucky us!
It's rare that food for this blog is easily travel-able, but this one was, so I was psyched to be able to have the kumquats to share. Why? Because they had the evil, dreaded caraway on them and I was pretty sure I was going to hate them and need to drown my sorrows in a nice Côtes du Rhône.
But the joke's on me because these kumquats were AWESOME and I wish I'd made a hundred of them. Seriously. One of the best things I've ever eaten.
The sweetness of the kumquats, combined with the almost-fennel of the Aquavit, the salty, olive-y goodness of the olives, and the did-not-make-me-vomitness of the caraway powder? Brilliant. I loved it. Again, it's one of those combinations I wish I could buy as a shampoo or some sort of soap product because in addition to how well it tasted, it smelled so fresh and clean and gorgeous and almost like it would make my hair all shiny and flowy when I tossed my head from side to side in slow motion.
We finished them in no time flat (they're so easy to eat -- just pop one in your mouth and in a few chews, yer done!), and as I looked at the clean plate before me and reached to pour a glass of wine before sitting down with the girls in front of the warm fireplace to get caught up on the week's gossip, it struck me that I went from one Friday afternoon tasting 32 years ago hating caraway, to a tasting on this Friday afternoon, thinking caraway maybe isn't so bad after all. As Trent Walker might say, I'm all growns up.
Up Next: Tripod, hibiscus
Music to Cook By: Salt-N-Pepa; Hot, Cool & Vicious. I was doing an event with a client recently and had to do a sound check onstage before the doors opened. For some reason, when the audio tech asked me to "go ahead and say something, Carol" I blurted out, "My mic sound nice, check one." Dude. I haven't heard that song since 1986. So, I came home and downloaded all the Salt-N-Pepa I didn't already have. Spinderella, cut it up one time...
Read My Previous Post: Cranberry, frozen and chewy