Honey is the food of bees. This coming Sunday, at the revered, sustainable eco-food complex Stone Barns (where chef Dan Barber is king), there will be a wonderful talk about bees and an equally wonderful honey tasting. Led by urbane, urban beekeeper Dale Bellisfield, RN, CH (a noted clinical herbalist and medical practitioner), we (I will be there!) will learn about the medical uses of honey and be guided in the tasting of multiple varieties in a program called Bee M.D. Honey, in all its glory, from bits of real honeycomb, to the connoisseurship of more than 300 varieties (and perhaps as many as 650 distinct types), is on the hit parade of trends this year. The exploitation of its flavor profiles is slowly becoming part of the new menu language and will soon rival chocolate, or wine, in esoteric discussions of provenance and pedigree. I, for one, am crazy about wild thyme honey from Sicily, leatherwood honey from Australia, buckwheat honey (in very small doses), and the linden honey I once sampled from Ms. Bellisfield’s own hives. I use it sparingly in my cooking but love its primal uses: drizzled over pungent blue cheese, stirred into homemade labneh, tossed with blackberries and mint, or dissolved into a bourbon sour.
Honey is an entirely natural food, made up of natural sugars, pollen, protein, minerals and amino acids and, it has a long history. Cave paintings in Spain depict the practice of beekeeping more than 7000 years ago, and many sources, both cultural and folkloric, demonstrate its use in medicinal and religious practices. This “food of the Gods” is made by bees using nectar from flowers — whose flavor, aroma and color can differ dramatically depending on the flowers that the nectar was collected from. Ergo, there are as many flavors of honey in the world as exists combinations of blossoms in bloom at the same time. There is major interest right now in single varieties — such as lavender, acacia, or pine — and there is much attention given to “fair trade honey.” Much to learn. See you at Stone Barns. To sign up go to www.stonebarnscenter.org/bee-md.
In the meantime, here is a favorite recipe of mine using honey in an unexpected way. Adapted from Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease.
Cappellini with Spicy Fish Sauce Marinara
Lemon, fresh ginger, Thai fish sauce, and honey, coalesce into an exceptional marriage of flavors in this quick pasta sauce. It can double as a fabulous adornment for grilled fish and steak — just swirl 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter into the finished sauce.
28-ounce can whole tomatoes in puree
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon aromatic honey
2 teaspoons Thai fish sauce
3 large garlic cloves
1 lemon slice, about 1/4-inch thick
2 nickel-size pieces peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
12 ounces fresh cappellini
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Combine the tomatoes and puree, oil, honey, fish sauce, garlic, lemon, ginger, and pepper flakes in a food processor. Process until very smooth. Transfer to a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until thick, 8 minutes. Cook the pasta 1 to 2 minutes until tender. Drain well and shake dry. Transfer to bowls and spoon the sauce on top. Grated parmigiano-reggiano, optional. Serves 4