Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sun Baked Garlic

My father is an obsessive grower of his own garlic. This year the garden produced over 100 fat, hard bulbs packed with juicy cloves full of pungent flavours. Next year's harvest will be even bigger, and it's no wonder. Eating fresh garlic from the garden for the first time is like seeing a new colour. You never knew it could taste like that!

Those faded, desiccated, peeling and flaking garlic lumps that languish in the supermarkets this fall seem to be of a different order altogether than those magnificent, tightly packed, white spicy garlic bulbs that spring from the dense clay soil in my parent's backyard. It's not just seeming. They are much tastier. But garlic does fade with time, whoever grew it. In November, we can transform the flavours of the fresh summer garden into subtler combinations that bring their own pleasures before the fresh garlic goes too stale.

Today, on a rather average solar day with some intermittent clouds, I'm going to bake two uneaten half cloves of dad's garlic before I put them into a lasagna that I'm going to bake in the Sun Cook tomorrow. I'm using a terra cotta garlic baker my mom bought me for my birthday. To use it, simply soak the terra cotta in water for 10 minutes, then place the garlic bulb inside.

To bake a garlic, you can either split it open, or else chop the stem off to expose the tops of the cloves without cutting into them. Pour organic extra-virgin olive oil over top, being sure to coat every surface. Then douse the garlic with a bit of sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

I placed my garlic into the pre-heated Sun Cook for two hours. The thermal mass of the terra cotta is relatively small, so it will not drain excess solar energy from the Sun Cook. I would avoid using denser ceramics, as the ceramic would absorb too much heat from the oven.

Baked garlic turned out lovely brown cloves with a creamy, mellow flavour, without any of the wassabi like sharpness that characterizes fresh, raw garlic cloves. The flavour of baked garlic is the perfect flavour to add depth to any pasta sauce. You can also use baked garlic paste to glaze a roasting chicken, for absolutely unforgettable results.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Sun Dried Tomatoes in the Sun Cook

My garden is literally overflowing with many different and wonderful, juicy organic heirloom tomatoes. It's late October, and I'm still feasting on these delightful treats.

A massive vine of Matt's Cherry tomatoes easily measures 12 feet across and as many high. It's taken over the south side of my house, and is still producing tiny, sweet fruit. Mini-Kosmonaut Volkovs grow in pots, (growing them in partial shade has stunted their growth, these are not a new variety!) as do Green Zebra, tiny yellow Blondkopfchen cherry tomatoes, and some lovely Black Plum tomatoes. My kitchen table runneth over.

Because it is impossible to eat them all right now, we want to preserve them either in a sauce or by drying. Today we're going to dry them using nothing but concentrated sun light.

I cut the tomatoes in half, exposing their juicy centres and seeds. The seeds are surrounded by a jelly that inhibits germination, preventing the seeds from sprouting inside the tomato.
This jelly is mostly water, and we will be drying it out today with solar energy. If we were trying to save tomato seeds for next year, we would squeeze out the seeds and jelly into a bowl and let it go mouldy for about 3 to 4 days, replicating the process in a rotting tomato to destroy the germination inhibitors. Today we're preserving not just the tomato seeds, but the tasty flesh. Sun dried tomatoes pack intense, savoury and tangy flavours, combining sweet and sour. These fruits will flavour the pasta dishes of January, February and March 2007, by which time I will be sprouting the same tomato varieties in my kitchen window, and the whole process will begin anew.

I placed the tomatoes inside the Sun Cook, and instead of locking the lid down as I would normally do during cooking, I placed a small twig between lid and oven case to prevent the oven door from closing completely.

This allows moisture to escape from the oven, and also keeps the temperature from rising high enough to cook the tomatoes. An ideal temperature for dehydration is just under 140 degrees F, the temperature at which food starts to cook.

Here are the tomatoes early on during the drying process in the oven.
Raw food vegans can use the Sun Cook to perform all sorts of food drying and dehydrating. While not a raw food vegan myself, I plan to use these tomatoes in pasta dishes over the winter.

After about 3 hours on a partly sunny afternoon with some intermittent clouds, I had produced gorgeous sun dried tomatoes that look like they just came from Italy. But we produced these results here in Toronto Canada, in the middle of October. The Sun Cook solar oven is the essential tool we used for this work.