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Volume 38 Issue 14, July 31 - Aug 6, 2008
now in our 38th season

Butter, Sweet, and Savory

by Maryjane Mojer
Executive Chef, Bartlett's Ocean View Farm

While I love plants and gardening, and had gone to college for horticulture and landscape design, my gardening efforts at home have become, well, casual. I mow my mint. I also mow my daylilies. I have recently given serious consideration to taking a hedge trimmer to my rambling roses. I know better, and am not, by any stretch of the imagination recommending mowing as the ultimate landscape tool. Suffice it to say that I have developed a tendency of late to look for shortcuts when it comes to yard maintenance and that an unruly, spent, daylily bed caught my attention while cutting the grass one day. “Well,” I thought. “If it works for daylilies, the mint will love it!” It works well enough for me for now.

I am realizing full well this summer that as my children have grown and have gained responsibilities of their own, I have lost my grounds crew. I hadn’t quite realized how much I had counted on them to weed and trim and water. My window boxes are still not planted and my Nepeta is beyond deadheading at this point. (Unfortunately I edged that bed with large, uneven stones, so the mower won’t quite work. Yes, I tried. The weed wacker, however...) I do have faith that this will all be taken care of in short order before the wedding, when everyone is here and we make the time—so I will have the fall flowers and such to enjoy as they all make their way back to their grown up lives as a teacher, a financial planner, and a college student.

I did get my containers filled this spring with herbs and some vegetables. I have pots of tomatoes, green peppers, cayenne peppers, jalapeños, and a good assortment of herbs. Basil, thyme, rosemary, lemon verbena, cilantro, marjoram, oregano, and cilantro are all thriving despite my efforts to ignore them. They are not only forgiving, they give beauty, fragrance and add so much to our meals. My husband is not a fan of cilantro, so that particular herb is used less frequently than the others. The others, however, make fairly consistent appearances.

I keep a pair of kitchen shears in the box by the door. (The same box that my leather gardening gloves and pruning shears are in.) The kitchen shears are getting their workout this year.

A compound butter is an easy way to capture the flavor of herbs, store them for later use, and add flavor to just about anything. It is basically an unsalted butter softened and mixed with fresh herbs and various seasonings. It can be sweet or savory, very simple or quite complex.

A general rule of thumb is, for every pound of butter, add one half cup of fresh, chopped herbs. Remember, rules are made to be broken and if you have a bit less or a bit more, toss it in. This is also a good way to experiment with flavors and seasonings. A kitchen notebook is a handy thing to have. As you’re trying various flavors, do yourself a favor and write down your ideas. I forgotten more recipes than I ever knew because I just didn’t make notes.

With summer company in full swing for many of us, store-bought muffins can make breakfast easier—either the supermarket variety or from one of the great bakeries on the island. (A favor…remember to order ahead if you need quantities of muffins, cookies, etc. The baker will appreciate it and so will the other customers!) To make the breakfast your own, a sweet compound butter can be made ahead and pulled out the night before.

  All of the butters are put together in the same way. They go together pretty quickly with a wooden spoon if the butter is room temp, or with a mixer, or in a food processor.

Combine all ingredients until well blended. Portion into fourths (easier for storage) and spoon into a log shape onto plastic wrap. Roll up and chill until set, then rewrap well, (dating and labeling, of course) and freeze for up to six months.

Orange Cinnamon Butter

  • One pound unsalted butter, room temperature
  • One half teaspoon vanilla
  • One tablespoon sugar
  • Two teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Two tablespoons grated orange zest

This is great on muffins, wonderful on pancakes, and not half bad on cinnamon raisin toast.

A savory compound butter can be used as a spread on a baguette (as a garlic herb bread), to top a piece of simple grilled fish, chicken, or steak, or tossed in at the last minute with steamed vegetables. A tablespoon (which is one ounce) of compound butter can really go a long way. Even if you’re counting calories and watching fat, a tablespoon of butter for one pan full of fresh, sautéed vegetables will make them even more special without tipping the balance of nutrition.

Scampi butter

This is a favorite. Again, it freezes well and has many uses. Tossed in with plain pasta, used to sauté shrimp for scampi, or a thin slice topping a crouton floating on a fish stew, the flavors are clean and creamy.  I like to make two or more pounds at a time when I make this. It’s a good basic butter that can be made even better by adding crumbled bleu cheese or other spices.

  • One pound room temperature butter
  • One quarter cup minced garlic
  • One half cup chopped Italian parsley
  • One tablespoon lemon zest
  • One tablespoon lemon juice

Shrimp Scampi

  • One pound cooked pasta (I like linguine for scampi, but whatever you’d like to use)
  • Two pounds peeled, deveined, raw shrimp
  • Scampi butter
  • One half cup white wine

Melt two tablespoons scampi butter in a large saute pan. When the bubbles subside, add your shrimp, cooking on one side till pink, then on the other side till done. Remove from pan and set aside. Add wine to pan and bring to boil. Reduce to a simmer and continue to simmer until reduced by half. Stir in another half to whole tablespoon of scampi butter and swirl until melted. Pour over shrimp, tossing to coat. If you’d like a creamy sauce, stir in a quarter cup of heavy cream while simmering. A hand full of shredded asiago or parmesan (yes, even the stuff in the green can) will help to thicken it up a bit. Make sure to have plenty of garlic bread on hand to sop up the goodness!

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