Kitchen Shrink: Culinary facts I learned on spring break

KITCHEN SHRINK:

While home on the range during spring break, I attended to matters I had long put off, and along the way, I learned some handy tips I'd like to share. A dental procrastinator, I finally went to get my teeth cleaned, at which point the hygienist gently reminded me that certain foods and drinks are notorious stainers.

The obvious ones include berries, cherries, dark chocolate, coffee, assorted teas, colas, red wines, and alas — white wines.

Ahh, the crisp, full-bodied Chardonnay — golden hued and exuding lively aromas of tropical fruits — seems an innocent and unlikely culprit to stain teeth. But the white wine has a sneaky habit — attacking porous enamel head-on, opening the door for dark-colored foods and drinks to do their dirty work on the surface of teeth.

 

The Best Zest: While a squirt of juice from an orange, lemon or lime enlivens everything from green salads, risottos and grilled chicken or fish to scones, quick breads and biscotti — the zest from the rind of assorted citrus fruits is even more expressive when used in those dishes.

The peel is packed with aromatic oils that burst with fresh flavors and bright colors. When delicately grated or shredded it becomes "zest."

Some basic zesting rules and tips include:

• Before zesting, wash and dry the skin well; where possible, buy organic citrus. Sevilles, Valencias and tangerines make the best orange zest, while Meyers are divine for lemon zest;

• A microplane (for long, thin curled strips), a citrus grater (for fine pieces), a paring knife and vegetable peeler (for larger strips of peel like "twists" or curlicues to garnish cocktails and other dishes) are popular zesting tools of the trade;

• Shred, grate or peel gently and with moderate pressure to avoid snagging the bitter and spongy white pith beneath;

• After juicing, freeze the rinds to use for zesting at your convenience.

 

Stalk in Trade: Rhubarb, a lip-puckering spring treat, is botanically a vegetable belonging to the buckwheat family. Sold in bunches like asparagus, choose the short, darker pink stalks over the long green ones that tend to be bitter and stringy. This high-fiber, low-cal Vitamin C powerhouse balances well with sweet strawberries, raspberries and fresh ginger.

So, whip up a crispy cobbler, tangy chutney or refreshing compote as a topping for gelatos, sponge cakes, parfaits or trifles. Rhubarb Alert: discard the leaves, which contain oxalates, an irritant to the mouth and throat.

 

Strawberry Fields Forever: The most popular berry in the world, the mighty strawberry comes in 600 varieties, both wild and cultivated. Packed with Vitamins C, K and assorted Bs, trace minerals, fiber and antioxidants, strawberries have been touted for everything from removing tartar from teeth for a mega-watt smile to warding off a throbbing ice-pick-on-the-skull migraine.

Pick a fresh pint of firm, small to medium-sized berries with a rich crimson hue that tend to be sweeter and juicier than large, paler ones (and make sure the green stem cap is still attached). Eat them solo, jazz up a tossed salad or sweet chilled soup, soak in Grand Marnier and orange zest for a versatile topping, dip in bittersweet chocolate.

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•••• Recipe: Fresh Strawberry Risotto

Ingredients:

• 1 cup Arborio rice

• 1 tablespoon virgin olive oil

• 1/2 cup dry white wine

• 4 cups hot vegetable stock or broth

• 3 shallots, minced

• 1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced

• 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

• Dash of ground nutmeg

• Zest from one Meyer lemon or orange

Method:

Heat oil in a heavy skillet and sauté shallots, and half the strawberries until soft. Add rice, coating the grains with the oil. Over medium heat, stir in wine until absorbed. Add the remaining liquid one cup at a time, stirring constantly until absorbed. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining strawberries, cheese and seasonings. Garnish with lemon or orange zest and additional sliced strawberries. Serves 6.

Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: kitchenshrink@san.rr.com

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