By Linda Bassett
More Content Now
Last weekend, a group of us met in a friend’s New Hampshire garden to gather baskets of tomatoes and onions and peppers and eggplants. In that cool region, summer growing season has begun to melt into picking and preserving season. Gardeners find themselves working quickly as the produce ripens and the ideas for winter storage pile up in their imaginations. Cooks without a garden head to the farm stand or farmers market then cut up, freeze, and dehydrate veggies, and whip up sauces – anything to store fresh flavors for the oncoming misery of winter.
By the shore, lobsters sell briskly for the last taste before September. Experts on the shellfish claim that lobster meat is best during May, June, July and August, the months without an “r” in their name. Vacationers and natives alike gobble up the last lobster rolls of summer at weathered wooden picnic tables or nibble them by candlelight over starched white linen. Some of us make our own lobster rolls, a task best done with someone to help shell the little beasts.
So here I’ve combined some tips to get the best of the freshest fare of the last two weeks before the school bells ring on the New England coast. The first batch is for those who want to take a last stab at constructing a lobster roll. The second, is a guide through the farmers market before the pumpkins start selling.
To make your own lobster rolls you will need:
Lobsters. If you’re lucky, there’s a lone lobsterman selling his daily catch at a local dock or you know a shack with live lobster for sale. For four lobster rolls, you will need four 1-1/2 pound creatures. Multiply that number by however many you want to make.
You will also need four New England-style hot dog rolls. (Multiply as above.) We New Englanders are practical lot. Unlike the other 49 states which slit their rolls along the side, we slit ours across the top. Hot dogs stay put at the ball park and when we use them for lobster, we can easily overstuff them with the meat of an entire lobster heaped neatly on top.
Now you need to make the Big Decision - warm or cold. Purists exist in either camp. Warm lobster meat is optionally tossed in a little melted butter. Cold lobster takes a tiny slather of mayonnaise. Some people maintain that the warm lobster roll is for indoors on china with a knife and fork and the cold version outdoors, like a hot dog, out of hand. There is no rule. Whatever tastes best to you is the best version.
For either one, you will need some unsalted butter.
Optionally, you will want some coarse sea salt, a chopped inner stalk of celery, and a few strands of fresh chives.
Time to cook! Boil the lobsters in a large pot of water until bright red. Remove, drain, and shell them. Cut the tails into half-inch pieces; leave knuckle and claw meat whole. Yes, it’s a messy job, and I’d suggest teaming up with an experienced cook, and shelling them outdoors, if possible.
Warm a skillet large enough to hold the rolls all together. Soften the butter and spread onto the outside of the rolls. Then melt enough to cover the bottom of the skillet. Toast the rolls on both sides until they take on a golden, buttery glow and flavor and set them aside, but only for a minute or two.
For a Warm Lobster Roll: Melt a little more butter in the skillet. Take it off the heat, and toss the lobster meat until barely coated. Stuff the rolls and serve immediately sprinkled with some chives and a few grains of coarse sea salt, if you want.
For a Cold Lobster Roll: Toss the lobster meat and celery, if using, with the mayo. Stuff the rolls, sprinkle them with a few grains of sea salt, and serve on a paper plate with a pickle spear and local potato chips.
THE FARMERS MARKET
OK, on to the glories of the farmers market. As with the lobster roll, there no hard and fast rules, but here are some guidelines to see you through the end of this season and right through autumn.
- Find out what is in season, and what is native to the area. Right here, right now, you will be looking for peppers, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and late peaches. In a few weeks it will be apples and squash and beets.
- Try different markets – the one near where you work, the one in your hometown, a midweek market and a weekend market. One might suit your needs better than another.
- Get there early for the biggest choice. About 15 minutes before it opens, the market is at its most beautiful as the farmers put the finishing touches on their displays. The array of choices is wide and popular items sell out first. At my market arugula and zucchini blossoms disappear within an hour.
- On a sweltering hot day, bring a cooler to keep tender items from wilting before you get home. But never put tomatoes in the cooler! They should be seasoned only with warmth from the sun.
- When you get there, stroll by all the stands to see what looks freshest. Why buy just acceptable fruits and veggies at one stand, when perfect ones are available three stands away?
- Look for other products. You may find artisanal cheeses, farm baked breads and muffins and pies, eggs still warm from the hens, potted herbs and flowers or local sea salt. Also, look for local craftsmen offering homemade soaps, hand-printed note cards or woven baskets and blankets.
- Bring bags or baskets to carry your cache. Not all farms offer bags. I’m always envious of the shoppers who look so nice with all their fresh veggies and flowers poking out of their carriers.
- Break out your phone to take photos to cheer you up in the dead of winter or post on Facebook.
- Get there late for the bargains. In the last half hour, some vendors discount their goods to lighten the load on the way home. A lot less choices, and some of the stuff is past its prime, but the price may be right if you are getting ready to make a vat of tomato sauce or a bucket of vegetable soup to freeze. (Freeze in small quantities.)
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.
Kitchen Call: The season for lobster, veggies
By Linda Bassett