Atlantic Unbound | November 14, 2002
[From The Pleasures of Slow Food, by Corby Kummer]

Steve Johnson
The Blue Room
Cambridge, Massachusetts

teve Johnson is one of America's leading chefs in forging alliances with local farms and urging his fellow chefs to do the same. He's also a cook with the rare combination of instinctive and careful attention to the foods of his own town and the places he has visited.

Soon after becoming chef and owner of The Blue Room, his very lively Cambridge bistro, Johnson started working with local farms, asking them to plant herbs and vegetables no one else did. He enlisted fellow cooks to buy the farms' produce, too, so the farmers would see that this was more than a passing experiment. Economic support and renovation of heritage crops is just what Slow Food does in its Presidia; Johnson went his own way, gathering a group of like-minded young cooks to support farmers who use sustainable techniques. Calling themselves the Chefs Collaborative, these cooks, from all over the country, take stands on environmental issues of the day.

Johnson spends several weeks each year in Costa Rica. His explorations of local foods there have brought color to his menu. At The Blue Room he brings to life the traditions of New England cookery through the use of the farm-raised ingredients he puts into every dish.

Fried Plantains with Chipotle Ketchup

This appetizer sells out every night at The Blue Room. You'll see why when you try the easy "ketchup," sweet and spicy and addictive. It's just as good with grilled and barbecued meats as it is with fried plantains, with their crisp outsides and soft, slightly sweet flesh.

Serves 4 to 6 as a first course

Chipotle ketchup:

One 12-ounce can plum tomatoes, without juice

1 tablespoon canola oil

1/2 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

2 dried chipotle chilies, seeded and minced

1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

4 to 6 plantains (1 per person)

1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more as needed

To make the ketchup: In a blender or food processor, purée the plum tomatoes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Set aside.

1. Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, coriander, and a generous pinch of salt, and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the brown sugar and cook for 2 more minutes.

2. Add the tomato purée, chipotles, tomato paste, and vinegar. Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until the ketchup thickens, about 30 minutes.

3. Purée the cooked ketchup with a mixer or in the food processor or blender. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Set aside to cool.

4. Peel and cut the plantains into 1 1/4-inch-thick slices. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Fry the plantains in small batches until golden brown on both sides, about 5 minutes (you may need to add more oil to the pan if it becomes dry).

5. Serve warm, with the chipotle ketchup in a ramekin on the side.

Copyright © 2002 by Corby Kummer. All rights reserved.