Bittersweet

Bittersweet

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Bittersweet

How are we capturing the complex flavour of summer-into-fall while facing the back-to-business rush and days that are getting shorter by the minute? With just a little bitterness.

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October 5, 2016
Text: David Rollins | Photography: Rob Lee
Styling: Karine Blackburn

Bittersweet

How are we capturing the complex flavour of summer-into-fall while facing the back-to-business rush and days that are getting shorter by the minute? With just a little bitterness.

.

October 5, 2016 | Text: David Rollins Photography: Rob Lee | Styling: Karine Blackburn

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So we’re not doing tomatoes this year. End of September, we normally haul a hundred pounds of them home from the market and stop time for two days to put them patiently into jars, and say farewell to summer. If you’ve spent time making preserves, you know this bittersweet feeling, and the pride of popping the seal on a Mason jar in February. My family spent endless September weekends preserving food when I was young – those days seemed at the time like torture by water bath. And now I look at two days in the kitchen as an unaffordable luxury. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. Oh well.

We’re trying instead to capture the moment with these photos and flavours. Our autumnal colour palette is an obvious homage to fall foliage, but we think the combination of bitter and sweet flavours is also very apt for this most dramatic of seasonal turning points. One corner of the garden is on fire with colour, the opposite one is already waiting for spring. Low afternoon sunlight lingers in the back of the house like a spent lover in warm sheets. You get up for some water, and when you return two minutes later, the room is dark. He’s gone.

Low afternoon sunlight lingers in the house like a spent lover in warm sheets.

I’ve always loved bitter flavours: charred rapini, strong green tea, really dark chocolate, and have been on something of a bitter binge since reading Jennifer McLagan’s Bitter – a brilliant overview of what she describes as “the world’s most dangerous flavour”. Did you know that babies will instinctively spit out bitter foods? It’s because most poisons – things we’re forbidden to eat – are bitter.

So there’s something counter-intuitive about it, it feels slightly wrong. I guess that’s the thrill. It transgresses all notions of what we’re wired to experience as nourishing, or delicious. Or you could say it transcends those notions. If we’re truly omnivores, shouldn’t we be able to develop a taste for anything?

In practical terms, I love how a touch of bitterness heightens other flavours: Angostura bitters really enliven the taste of cranberry juice, a bit of watercress makes buttery lettuces sweeter, and nothing tastes more like Thanksgiving to me than rich turkey gravy on mildly bitter mashed rutabaga. It’s grown-up baby food. I’m also a huge fan of Campari, and thought I’d be the kind of guy who drinks Negronis, but I’ve never liked the boozy/yeasty flavour of red vermouth in anything but a Manhattan. So we toyed around with the classic Negroni recipe, replacing the vermouth with just a touch of pomegranate molasses. The molasses adds an interesting metallic edge to the gin, while at the same time softening some of the Campari’s bitterness. It’s a very fresh-tasting cocktail, with really rounded flavour, and a fragrant top note from the orange bitters. For a little depth (and lots of drama), we also added the flavour of smoke.

This summer we also fell in love with Yotam Ottolenghi’s Tomato, Onion and Roasted Lemon Salad. The simple flavours of bitter lemon peel and sweet cherry tomato together are very sophisticated. With its layer of fresh green, its hints of sour and dark spice, the salad is like a well-structured eau de cologne, designed by a maître parfumier. It’s amazing with anything grilled – we loved it especially with zaatar-crusted chicken breast, grilled on the bone. Our third bittersweet dish is Mario Batali’s Pancetta-wrapped Radicchio.

Radicchio naturally provides the bitter flavour component, and the sweetness comes from the infamous Maillard reaction working its science on the protein molecules in the pancetta. The heat of searing turns the proteins into sugars, and there’s a further sting of sweetness from a balsamic reduction. These are really lovely as finger food with the smoked pomegranate Negronis.

I think there’s still time to grab half a bushel of tomatoes and toss them into the deep freeze in Ziploc bags. In comparison to a sparkling jar of lovingly packed tomato halves, a measly bag of frozen tomatoes with their skins still on seems a little like a Christmas stocking full of coal. But I’ll take it. I’m not bitter.

Tomato, Onion and Roasted Lemon Salad

Yotam Ottolenghi

 

  • 1 lemon, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced, seeds removed
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh sage leaves
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ pound mixed small tomatoes, such as Sun Gold, cherry, or heirloom, halved
  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves with tender stems
  • ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, torn if large

 

  1. Preheat oven to 325°. Cook lemon slices in a medium saucepan of boiling water 2 minutes to remove bitterness. Drain and pat dry.
  2. Gently toss lemon slices with sage, sugar, and 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium bowl. Spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until lemons are no longer wet and only slightly colored, 15–20 minutes. Let cool.
  3. Whisk pomegranate molasses, allspice, and remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Add lemons, tomatoes, onion, parsley, mint, and toss gently; season with salt and pepper.

Smoked
Pomegranate Negroni

 

We used a handheld food smoker called The Smoking Gun for this recipe – it’s really fun to use. It comes with hickory wood chips, but you can also make smoke from dried herbs like thyme, rosemary and sage.

  • ½ tsp. pomegranate molasses
  • 1 ½ oz. London dry style gin
  • 1 ½ oz. Campari
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • ice
  • orange zest to garnish

 

1.      Pour the pomegranate molasses into a cocktail pitcher along with the gin. Stir patiently to dissolve the molasses, which can be quite thick.

2.      Add the Campari, bitters, and ice. Stir for 30 seconds.

3.      Strain into a bottle filled with sage smoke and swirl.

4.      Pour into an ice-filled glass, and garnish with orange zest.

2 Comments

  1. Laura 9 months ago

    David, you’ve really outdone yourself with the writing here. So many enticing nuggets in this post, from the words to the photographs to the recipes! xo

    • David 9 months ago

      Laura, thank you so much – I have some really boring copy to write today and this gives me a much needed spark of motivation. You’re the best. xoxo

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