Summer stole a month from autumn this year, giving those of us in the Northeast a lyrically warm September. Thirty days. I swam in the ocean three times in its final week, the current bearing me along in a rush of pinpoint effervescence like a fine Champagne.
October swept in with a vengeance, bringing biblical rains and floods to South Carolina. Poised for harvest on a plantation outside Savannah, our Carolina Gold held strong, but elsewhere along the coast, ancestral rice lands simply floated away. The mill itself might have slipped under an avalanche of mud had Glenn not built a levee to protect it. By hand. We don’t say “artisan” around here for nothing.
Thus we find ourselves in a new season. New fashions, new plays, new Supreme Court arguments, new book releases, new restaurants, new ingredients.
Hey, did someone say “new ingredients”?
Anson Mills introduces Carolina Gold Polenta di Riso and Ancient Emmer Semolina. If you are curious why rustic dishes of Italy and France appear with regularity on our pages (as they do in this newsletter), it is because the transatlantic exchange between Europe and the American South in the 17th and 18th centuries drove the concepts for what would become Southern comfort food.
We would also like to take this opportunity to introduce Dawn Yanagihara, ansonmills.com editor and recipe developer—and our friend—to readers more formally. Dawn brings a rich combination of qualities to our website: fine editing and writing skills, an exceptional palate, and sensitivity to ingredient and technique. She also keeps us in line.
Italian Polenta culture is thousands of years old and was around long before corn appeared in Venice under the name of granoturco (to disguise the piracy involved in landing corn at the free port of Venice—but that’s another story). Polenta takes many guises, barley and chestnut among them. When you transition from corn polenta culture to rice polenta culture, you are shifting old culinary gears. Just as crème de riz was around to quick-thicken sauces and soups long before cornstarch (think seafood bisque), rice polenta, or polenta di riso, predates polenta di mais. It has a lighter, cleaner mouthfeel than corn.
Why is polenta di riso and recipes for it in such short supply? Possibly because the shelf-stable rice that conforms to porridge culture has zero flavor. Enter Anson Mills new crop fresh-milled Carolina Gold Polenta di Riso. This is polenta with flavor: subtle green tea, almond, and a woodsy note from viable fresh rice. We mill it integrale-style (whole grain) for a distinctly round beaded texture that is a hallmark of fresh polenta in Italy. It has a memorably airy and fluffy finished texture, and a soft, clean flavor. It cries to be sauced.
A soft wine and butter-enriched sauce with shellfish sets up a perfect conduit for experiencing polenta di riso. This treatment could be called Venetian, as the Veneto grows abundant rice, makes a lot of polenta, uses dairy products without restraint, and worships seafood. Elegantly balanced aromatics swirl around tender mussels and satiny braised squid. It is autumn perfection.
In Italy, emmer semolina is known as semolina di farro antico. As a kid, I called it Cream of Wheat. Okay, the two aren’t really even close. But Cream of Wheat was the closest thing to semolina I knew until I worked in Berlin, where dumplings and puddings with semolina were often featured in fine restaurants. Years later, I begged Glenn to produce emmer semolina. Begged. But he couldn’t grow enough ancient emmer to guarantee supply. Until now. Allow us to present Ancient Emmer Semolina. An exceptional product, this hand-wrought sandy-fine semolina is like nothing you have ever tasted. It is nearly 100 percent whole grain, unheard of in modern durum (daughter of emmer) semolina, an attribute that accounts for its flavor, which is bold with naturally sweet, assertively nutty, and verdant.
For our initial exploration of Anson Mills handmade ancient emmer semolina, we chose a simple dish: gnocchi alla romana. There are hundreds of nearly identical recipes for this rustic casserole, which features rounds of cooked semolina bubbling with cheese and butter. What sets ours apart, of course, is the quality of the emmer itself and the complicated hand-milling and screening process it requires to become semolina. This gnocchi has a texture so light it almost defies gravity. Its texture on the tongue is thrilling. The dish is drop-dead simple to make and beautiful to serve.
With no gluten to thicken its waistline, buckwheat stays thin and delicate no matter where it turns up. Its delicacy, however, can result in recipes whose pancakes, cookies, or noodles make showy displays of black hull flecks without getting close to the flavor of buckwheat itself. Generous additions of wheat flour in these recipes exacerbate the problem. But it isn’t merely a problem of proportion. It’s the buckwheat! Everyone else mills conventionally grown shelf-stable oxidized buckwheat. Anson Mills harvests green French Huguenot landrace buckwheat and mills it to live flour.
We adore crêpes. Buckwheat adores being thin. Rather than fighting buckwheat’s delicacy, we worked with it, using a high proportion of buckwheat flour and a substantially smaller proportion of wheat flour than most recipes suggest. But the wheat flour we do use has real strength and flavor: French Mediterranean White Bread Flour. Lacy-crisp and woodsy like fallen leaves, these crêpes are pure autumn, glossed with butter and ringing with citrus notes from sugar-seared orange slices. You won’t be left wondering what the flavors are trying to say.
Happy Fall, y’all, and Good Food!