People And Food On Ithaka
By Bernadette Bernon
38 58.569 N 76 28.952 W
Over the last few months, as the summer days have shortened and as we've found our way down to the Chesapeake Bay from Maine, Douglas and I have enjoyed sharing meals aboard with friends. When we're underway, there's nothing that beats the pleasure of a mealtime arriving and something good emerging from the galley, especially as the weather gets cooler.
What follows is a smorgasbord of a few simple recipes from us and from our friends, which we've gathered over the past season of living aboard.
Risotto a la Barca
Paul Squassoni, one of our dearest pals from Washington, joined us on Ithaka in Maine, when we'd reached the bottom of our fresh provisions. Fogged in at beautiful and uninhabited Richmond Island for almost three full days with no way to acquire any more food, we used the time to go ashore, hike the island, watch the deer, and measure Ithaka for stainless dorade hoops — a drafting task that took the better part of a day because we had to trace where every deck bolt would go to determine that they wouldn't interfere with structural members below decks. The last night we were at rolly Richmond, Paul, who 20 years ago was a chef on charter yachts, and who's now a computer whiz for the government, conjured up a risotto from the most incongruous ingredients we had aboard, and turned out what was one of the best meals we'd had in ages.
"Sometimes you just have to make do with what you have," says Paul. "Unlike regular rice, which is generally cooked by itself, risotto lends itself to the most exotic flavors imaginable. Use a pan large enough to hold all the ingredients in a fairly shallow layer so that it can be easily stirred." (We used the pressure cooker pot.) "The secret is slow, steady cooking and adding liquid and ingredients in a sequence," he says. "First saute the risotto in olive oil over medium heat, with a little butter if you like, till it turns golden and frothy. Then add enough liquid — chicken stock, white wine, clam juice, water, or all four — until the risotto is just covered. Then lower the heat."
Risotto With Fresh Seafood
"From here, the sky's the limit. Add ingredients gradually. Begin with the sturdiest and end with the most delicate, stirring gently and adding a little liquid whenever the risotto begins to get sticky. For our Risotto a la Barca, I added chopped onions and lots and lots of garlic, simmered it for a few minutes, then added artichoke hearts in oil, canned tuna, fresh chopped tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, dried porcini mushrooms (which we'd plumped in hot water), and canned clams."
"Let the risotto gently bubble throughout the process. When it's nice and plump and creamy, and al dente to the taste, turn off the heat, cover, and just let it stand for a few minutes. The whole process should take about a half hour. When you eat it, you'll be transported to the coast of Italy."
Just this week, Paul visited us for dinner one night in Annapolis, and we made another risotto. This one was filled with the mushrooms, garlic, onions and peppers as well as lots of fresh seafood — shrimp, scallops, sliced calamari — and topped with a few fresh mussels (which were all added last in the cooking process). It was a more lavish risotto, to be sure, and much more beautiful than the ad hoc version we made in Maine, but the Risotto a la Barca will be the one that stays in my memory.
Tomato and Kiwi Salad
Our friends Kathy Massimini and Steve Callahan, who are both writers (Steve wrote the bestseller Adrift), live along the Skillings River off Frenchman Bay in Maine. Just before we headed Down East, we spent a few days hanging out with them and enjoying the powerful tidal rush around Ithaka. (That is to say, we enjoyed it until we had to dinghy against it a few times.) One night for dinner, Kathy boiled up some lobster, and with it she served a simple and delicious salad that I've made several times since.
Slice a couple of ripe, juicy tomatoes lengthwise. Peel and slice a few green kiwis. Arrange them all on a serving plate. Chop up some fresh basil (or cilantro) for garnish. The dressing is the magic ingredient: In a jar, pour two parts olive oil to one part white balsamic vinegar (you can use regular balsamic, but try to find the white; it's really special). Add a bit of Dijon mustard. Sprinkle into the jar some brown sugar. Shake it up and drizzle it onto the tomatoes and kiwis. The combination of flavors is a wonderful surprise.
With our friends Christopher and Lucy Buckley, whom we visited in Blue Hill Bay in September, we discovered the best-ever blueberry recipe: Take one quart of blueberries, add 2 cups of blueberries, sprinkle with blueberries, and eat. Wild Maine blueberries, mostly picked from the Blue Hill fields, were that good, and we ate them almost every day during August. As we turned the page into September, Ithaka's cabin got mighty cold in Maine at night. We don't have a heater, but the boat is insulated, so we shut the hatches and companionway, lit the kerosene lamp and candles, and did quite a bit of baking in the evening. This combination kept the cabin fairly toasty until it was time to go to bed. One of our happiest productions was blueberry muffins, made by Douglas.
1 cup bran, mixed seeds,* and nuts
3/4 cup orange juice (or milk)
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons margarine (or shortening)
1/2 cup chopped figs (or raisins)
1 cup flour (white or whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
At least 2 cups blueberries (more to taste)
*We use sesame, flax, and pumpkin
Combine bran, seeds, nuts, and orange juice or milk and stir together. Add egg, sugar, and shortening. Mix well. Stir in chopped figs and dry ingredients. Fold in blueberries. Fill greased muffin tins about 3/4 full. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
Kelli's Cookie Secret
Kelli Anderson and I have been part of the Big Sister-Little Sister program for more than four years now, and we've had a wonderful time together. I'm devoted to her; she's the best, and I'm very proud of her in every way. Kelli was a great help and support as I rushed around Newport those last few days before we departed our home waters for the Chesapeake.
One crazy afternoon, in the midst of all our lists of things to do, Kelli and I decided to just take a break. We picked up some ingredients, went back to the boat, and spent a wonderful hour making cookies and having tea. Kelli reminded me of a secret ingredient that she came up with a few years ago that made our oatmeal cookies the best we'd ever tasted. We use a basic oatmeal cookie recipe, add walnuts and chocolate chips, and then instead of adding raisins, we chop up lots of Kalamata figs. It's a simple change to the recipe, but it makes a big difference in flavor and consistency. Now, I prefer figs in any recipe requiring raisins.
Greek Fasoulada (Bean Soup)
Greece is one of our favorite places in the world; Douglas and I got engaged there in 1989, and have been there a few times since. When I was editor of CW, we started in the editorial department a great project called Adventure Charters, where we invited our readers to join us on charter flotillas in exotic destinations all around the world. One of the most popular Adventure Charters is to Greece, which CW repeats every other year. A few years ago, we sent Lynda Childress (who's CW's managing editor as well as the editor of the magazine's popular "People and Food" column), to host about 50 CW readers on an Adventure Charter to the Greek islands. She loved Greece, and it became one of her favorite places, too. More recently, she's logged many miles sailing in the Aegean with her friend Kostas, a charming Greek skipper. Lynda is learning to speak Greek, and is resigning her full-time position at CW in January (she'll still be a contributor) to become a crew/chef and flotilla leader with Kostas in Greece for GPSC Charters.
Lynda is a phenomenal cook. One cold night on Ithaka this past September, she whipped up a mouth-wateringly good bean soup called Fasoulada, which she learned to make in Greece. We enjoyed hot bowls of it, along with too much Boutari Naoussa red Greek wine, and spent the evening planning our Aegean rendezvous.
1 pound white beans
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced (more if you love garlic)
1-2 medium-sized carrots, chopped
1-2 stalks celery, chopped, leaves included
6-oz. can tomato puree or peeled diced tomatoes
Beef or chicken bouillon, to taste
8 cups water (or more as needed)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup parsley, chopped (optional)
Pre-soak beans according to package directions. Saute, onion, garlic, carrot, and celery in oil till onions are translucent. Add drained beans, tomatoes, bouillon (a teaspoon or two — use powdered bouillon or paste rather than cubes), and enough water to just cover ingredients, reserving any remaining water. Stir well and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for at least one hour, until beans are tender (or cut cooking time in half by using a pressure cooker). Add water as needed; finished soup should have a thick, hearty consistency. Add parsley before removing from heat. Serve with crusty bread and hunks of feta cheese sprinkled with a bit of oregano and drizzled with olive oil.
Lynda serves the feta on the side with this soup, but I crumbled a nice big chunk right into my bowl and it created a wonderful taste and consistency as it melted. I loved it. Of course, the soup was even better the next day, after the flavors married.
Thanks to our friends for sharing these wonderful recipes with us.