Oregon Home‘s recipe revisionist Danielle Centoni recounts creating the season’s best hosting gift: her new Portland cookbook.
When I moved to Portland 15 years ago, I left behind my extended family, my beloved Meyer lemon tree and a kitchen so spacious I couldn’t even fill all the cabinets—a luxury I still long for and, honestly, the loss that hurt the most (sorry, Mom).
But the trade-offs were worth it. Family visits are a lot more fun when you’re playing tourist, Hood strawberries beat Meyer lemons any day, and the kitchen in my 106-year-old Craftsman in Northeast Portland is small but highly efficient, with all the essentials at my fingertips. Besides, running up and down the basement stairs to fetch cake pans or cans of tomatoes helps me get my steps in.
Best of all, though, moving to Portland planted me right in the middle of a dynamic food scene when it was just starting to explode, and gave me a huge array of ultra-fresh ingredients practically right outside my door. For someone who lives to eat and makes a living doing it, the level of access and sheer volume of inspiration was a game-changer.
Recently, I got to turn some of that inspiration into a sweet little ode to my adopted hometown. In creating the recipes for The Little Local Portland Cookbook, my goal was to pay homage to the dishes, ingredients and flavors that define the city and put it on the culinary map, but to do it through my own personal lens. I started by making a list of all the things the area’s growers, makers and chefs do best, things that have spoiled me for anywhere else, and then brainstormed ways to turn them into approachable, unfussy recipes with a sense of place.
Centoni prepares buckwheat porridge with chai pear compote. See her recipe below!
The list was as long as the line of traffic during a bridge lift. We are truly, almost ridiculously, blessed with gastronomic riches. I splashed local beer into everything from cheese sauce to beef stew, mixed pinot noir into butter and slathered it on wild salmon, and turned wild-foraged wonders like chanterelles and truffles into crostini and gougères. A simple bowl of porridge with chai-pear compote became a morning tribute to the area’s grain and fruit growers and tea makers. Huber’s famous flaming Spanish coffee became a platform to showcase not only the city’s oldest restaurant but also our bean-to-bar chocolate and renowned coffee scene. I even gave one of the most beloved food cart bowls an even more Oregon spin with the addition of kale (of course) and swapped out the rice for barley and toasted wheat. The book could have been 50 times bigger, but it’s meant to be a love letter, not an encyclopedia. Besides, little books are easier to share.
When I’m developing recipes, sometimes my ideas work out the first time, but usually it takes two or three tries to get them just right. For me, a recipe isn’t done until even the picky eaters deem it good enough for regular rotation. Luckily, my friends and neighbors are discerning food lovers happy to offer their time, palates and kitchens for tasting and testing. Whether I’m working from their place or mine, I know I can rely on them to help me make my recipes as delicious as possible. With no shortage of good food and good friends at the ready, it’s no wonder Portland’s the only place I want to call home.
Buckwheat Porridge with Chai Pear Compote
Makes 6 to 8 servings. Local icon Bob’s Red Mill is my source for whole oats and buckwheat. I love to top this soft, nubby porridge with a simple compote of seasonal fruits. In fall, I reach for Oregon’s spectacularly sweet and juicy Comice pears simmered in apple cider and spicy chai concentrate from one of Portland’s many chai tea makers. A handful of tart dried fruits add more texture and flavor.
- 1 cup oat groats
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 green cardamom pods, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup buckwheat groats
- 3 ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
- 1/2 cup chai tea concentrate
- 1/2 cup apple cider
- 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar, or to taste
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 1 cup dried cherries, cranberries or blueberries (preferably a combination)
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice, or to taste
- Kosher salt to taste
- Crème fraîche or Greek yogurt and/or milk
- Chopped toasted hazelnuts, or other nuts
Make the Porridge:
1. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine 6 cups water, oat groats, cinnamon stick, cardamom, and salt in a large saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the buckwheat groats and cook until the grains are tender, 20 to 30 minutes more. Uncover and continue cooking until any remaining liquid is gone. Remove from heat, and remove the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods.
Make the Compote:
1. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine pears, chai concentrate, apple cider and brown sugar. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and add to the pot, along with the pod. Cover and bring to a simmer.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until pears are tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Uncover, add the dried fruit, and simmer until the fruit is plump and tender and liquid is syrupy, about 5 minutes more. Taste and add more sugar if desired. Add the lemon juice and season with salt to taste. Remove from heat.
Ladle the porridge into bowls, and top each bowl with a spoonful of compote and a dollop of crème fraîche or Greek yogurt and/or a drizzle of milk. Sprinkle with the hazelnuts and serve. Note: Porridge and compote will keep in the refrigerator for a week. Reheat in the microwave or in a pot over low heat on the stove (add a little water to keep from scorching).