Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Favorite Rhizome

Spicy, freshly chopped ginger, whose heat is sweetened with sugar, and then softened in foaming, melted butter, before being wrapped up in a puffy, soufflé like creation of flour, eggs, milk and cream.

Want the recipe and a wine pair?
It’s at the bottom of this post.

Want the beer pair?
It’ll be following next week's post, so be sure to check back.

So, what's a rhizome, anyway?

It’s hot and it’s spicy, aromatic and pungent.
It's pickled or candied, preserved or powdered.
It's zingy and zesty and tongue-tinglingly warming.
It's fresh, it's ground, it's crystallized or dried.

In short, it's everything love should be.

And although you might not know it (love is often like that, isn't it?), it really does care about you.  Just let me explain.

Got gas?  (and I'm not talking high octane, here).  Indigestion or nausea?  Dizziness or sore throat?  Motion sickness or cough?  My, there really is a lot wrong with you. 

But don’t go running to the doctor just yet.  According to the National Institutes of Health, there’s a rhizome for that.

Ginger root.

Uh, oh.  I just broke the first rule of love.  When you call them by someone else's name.  The ginger part was okay, but don't ever call it a root. 

Ever.  Not even on a first date, because that's absolutely what it's not.  And it could walk off in a huff and never be seen again.  Then even worse, you'd be left alone with your flatulence, indigestion, dizziness and nausea.  And believe me, with all that going on, it might be tough finding another date anytime soon.

So let's go back to the point just before our mistaken identity. 

The part of ginger that we enjoy eating, isn't a root at all, but a rhizome.  Or more specifically, the rhizome of the ginger plant, Zingiber Officinale.  So, what's a rhizome?  In short, it's a plump, underground, horizontal stem from which a plant’s roots grow.

Well, now that we've all been introduced properly, the rest should be easy. 

But your date is far from a new kid on the block.  As you can imagine, people have been eating ginger for a very, very long time.  In fact, so far back, that people weren't writing anything about ginger simply because, they weren't even writing.

But once they did, about 3000 years ago, they named it based upon its appearance, which to them was “srngaveram,” meaning, "horn shaped" in Sanskrit.  A name for ginger that we’d likely recognize, doesn't occur until Middle English’s “gingivere.”

Since ginger is not found in the wild, a veil of mystery surrounds its origins, however, it appears to have been brought from India to the near East, then across the Red Sea by Arab traders.  Once reaching the Greek and Roman civilizations, it actually was valued more for its medicinal properties than for its use in cooking, but with the fall of Rome, its uses were lost to most of Europe.

And it wasn't rediscovered, until many moons later, thanks to Marco Polo's groundbreaking trip to the Far East.  Although very expensive, since it had to be imported from Asia, it was still highly sought after, and by the 14th century, was second only to black pepper in popularity.

In an attempt to increase their share in this burgeoning market, Arab traders, on their voyages to East Africa, carried the rhizomes to plant at coastal settlements, while Spanish explorers, pushing further westward, brought and planted ginger during their trips to the West Indies, Mexico and South America.

And by 1585, their well planted idea began to pay off, with the export of ginger to Europe from Santa Domingo.

But, our hot and spicy tale doesn't end just here.  For, when you have more ginger, there’s also more that you can do.  And do they did.

Pickled in sweet vinegar and colored bright red or pink, it's used to refresh the breath and accompany sushi.  When preserved in a salt-sugar mixture, it's enjoyed is a confection and is also a delicious pairing with melons.  Crystallized versions, first cooked in sugar syrups, then coated with sugar, add a pungent punch to many desserts.  And if you're in search of excitement, shred it raw as a garnish.  I promise you’ll no longer be blue.

Adding zest to many curries, it’s also the exclamation point in many chicken and meat dishes from Asia, while if it’s sweets that you savor, think ginger bread, cookies and cakes.

And if it's ginger you’d rather be drinking, there's no shortage of quaffs - think ginger tea, ginger soda or ginger ale.  Prefer something stronger?  No problem here.  We’ve got ginger beer, ginger liqueur (called Domaine de Canton from France) and ginger wine (a brandy fortified blend of ground ginger and raisins, called Stone’s Green Ginger Wine from England).

So you can ginger my candies and ginger my sweets,
You can ginger my poultry, my fish and my meats,
Even ginger my tea, soda, beer and my wine,
But ginger my deodorant?
Sorry, I have to draw the line (even love has its limits).

So, in honor of Valentine's Day, the designated holiday to celebrate lovers, here's a little ginger to share with your honey.  And it's a sweet gift that’s designed for two.


Serves 2 (generously)

4 large eggs
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1½ teaspoons fresh ginger (minced or grated)
1 cup Half-and-Half
4 tablespoons salted butter (or if unsalted, add ¼ teaspoon kosher salt)

Set rack to mid-oven and preheat to 475°F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and 1 tablespoon sugar before adding the eggs and ¼ cup of the Half-and-Half.  Whisk thoroughly to eliminate lumps, then add the remaining Half-and-Half to the bowl.  Whisk again to produce a smooth batter, then set aside.

Melt the butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet set over medium-low heat.
Once butter is melted and foaming, add the ginger and remaining tablespoon of sugar.
Sauté the ginger and sugar 1 – 2 minutes until ginger is pungent.

Remove skillet from heat and pour in the batter, then quickly slide the hot skillet into the preheated oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 425°F.

Bake 22 – 24 minutes until well puffed and edges are golden.
Slice into wedges with a pizza cutter, sprinkle with powdered sugar & serve immediately, preferably with the wine pair below:


How could anyone pass up "liquid poached pears?"  For that’s its description, according to Jeff Zimmitti, owner of Rosso Wine Shop in Glendale, California, where I picked up a bottle.

This lightly frothy bubbly (called "frizzante,” in Italian), with its tangy, sweet-tart flavors of pears and crisp apples is delicious with the buttery, sweet ginger flavors of my romantic Puffcake. 

With its slight fizz and balanced acidity, sweetness and fruit, this delightful and inexpensive wine (priced under $15), is one that makes each sip both cooling and refreshing.

And, if you'd really like to savorize your flavors, consider echoing the wine’s delicious pear flavor by adding them to the recipe.  First, soak some dried pears (chopped bite-sized, of course) in the wine or in pear juice or liqueur for at least 30 minutes.  Then, drain the pears (adding the reserved liquid to your batter), before dropping them into the hot skillet along with your ginger and sugar.  Sauté until fragrant, pour in the batter and bake until puffed and golden, for an especially unforgettable Valentine's Day treat.

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