Saturday, October 18, 2008

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Tomatillo?

There are so many wonderful aspects to purchasing a CSA share that it seems almost, well, ungrateful to harbor any complaints. And I admit, my complaint is truly tiny -- not to mention a problem of my own making.

But when faced with a bountiful harvest of so much good food, I can only do so much with it all. I really don't like to waste any of it, and I think I've managed to lose very little of what I've brought home. Even with sharing the produce with My Wonderful Parents, I have, on rare occasion, ended up neglected small portions of vegetables.

And when some of those vegetables are ones I haven't fully incorporated into my cooking or preserving repertoire, at some point I'm at a loss to know what to do with them.

Take tomatillos and poblanos. (Please!)

It's not that I don't like them. So far the uses I've found for them have been very good -- I just haven't been able to use or store them as readily as other produce.

That's not a fault of the Lady Bountiful (and Lady B, don't you dare think so!). It's not even really a fault so much on my part as I have really challenged myself to try new recipes with these ingredients. After a while, though, I just can't make any more salsa!

What was I to do, then, when our last CSA pickup included yet more of both items? Since my food preservation projects are down to almost none, I knew I'd have time to cook this weekend -- but what?

I started with the idea of a Southwestern-influenced soup made from roasted butternut squash, pureed with homemade vegetable stock and combined with a saute of onion, poblano pepper, spices, tamari, and oven-dried corn.

That was easy enough, I thought. But the tomatillos?

That's where my friend and Ethicurean colleague Janet (over at FoodPerson) comes in. She recently ended up with a surplus of green tomatoes from her sister, and not only was she bold enough to try a chutney from them, she also baked a cake. Yes, you read that right -- a cake, made with green tomatoes and tasting something like a zucchini cake.

And then it occurred to me: tomatillos, related to ground cherries, could easily fit a similar sweet role. And as I thumbed through my recipe book, I found a recipe for a chocolate banana bread that not only could be adapted for tomatillos but could also be spiced to fit the Southwestern theme of the soup.

So that's what I made: a chocolate-laced quick bread with tomatillos, cinnamon, chili powder, and cloves -- a semi-sweet, slightly tangy, and rich dessert after a deeply savory and thick squash soup. What a warm treat for a chilly evening!

Who knew? Thanks, Janet, for the inspiration -- and thanks, Lady B, for the excellent produce I'm finally learning to use properly!

And though there's many a thing I'd like to tell you, I'll just stick with the recipe.

Coco-Tillo Bread

The original Cocoa-Banana Loaf recipe came from the book Baking by Flavor and is really pretty easy to throw together, though it definitely doesn't hold back on the good stuff. I made some adjustments since I only had three tomatillos left, but it all worked out well and resulted in a rich, chocolatey, not-too-sweet bread with just enough spice to create character (not to burn your mouth). It may sound strange, but it's really quite good!

1 c spelt flour
3/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 c Dutch cocoa
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 lb. (8 T or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 chopped tomatillos pureed with 1/2 c plain yogurt

Grease a loaf pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa, spices, and salt. In a small mixing bowl, toss the chocolate chips with 1 1/2 tsp of the sifted mixture.

Cream butter in a large bowl. Add brown sugar and mix in well. Beat in eggs, one at a time, blending well. Blend in the vanilla extract, then add the tomatillo-yogurt puree; this may make the batter look slightly curdled, but it’s OK!

Add the sifted mixture in two additions, mixing just until the particles of flour are absorbed. Allow the batter to sit for half an hour for the spelt flour to absorb whatever liquid it will.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Stir in the chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan, mounding it slightly in the center.

Bake the loaf for 1 hour, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of the loaf withdraws clean. Cool completely in the pan on a rack before slicing.

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