Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cooking from the Farm's Bounty

Though I am not cooking quite as much as I had hoped to before this whole farm thing began, bringing our bounty home and making something of it is certainly one of the great pleasures of the experience. Our days are long, and by the time I get home and have cleaned myself up, I can already see bedtime creeping up on me. So during the week there is very little looking through cookbooks for new, unusual and/or creative dishes to cook; I just don’t have the energy or will for it. Of course, I still have to eat and I certainly don’t want to waste the opportunity and just eat convenience food or take out, so I concentrate on quick and simple preparations. Luckily, these are often the best ways to experience fresh, high-quality produce. And there’s always the weekend for something a little more involved.

Of course, I do love to cook, and I’ve often found that what strikes me as a pretty simple, straightforward thing seems very involved to other people. But really, I only have my own perspective to go by.

From the last week, my peak experiment was a dish called leeks vinaigrette. As our fresh bulbed onions (ailsa craig variety) gave out a couple weeks ago, we started harvesting our leeks to fill in the gap until our big storage onions are ready (we started harvesting them this week but they have to cure for a while before they can be properly stored and distributed to our shareholders). I’ve cooked with leeks before and enjoyed them, but I’m getting a better sense of their own flavors and uses now that I'm trying to find a place for them in the absence of regular onions. But they really need to be cooked; that’s one big limitation compared to storage onions. In any case, leeks vinaigrette: cut off the roots and tops of a few leeks (keep maybe an inch or two of the pale green) and boil them in salted water until they are cooked (but short of mushy or falling apart; a fork should slide into the center without too much effort). Let them cool a bit and slice them in two lengthwise and place cut side up on a plate. Make a mustard vinaigrette – equal parts Dijon mustard and red wine vinegar, two or three parts olive oil, maybe a little water for an appropriately delicate flavor or texture, salt and pepper. Whisk and pour over the leeks. Finally, grate a hard-boiled egg over the leeks and eat. Very tasty; somehow it was just what I expected except better, with a fuller, more integrated flavor.

This week we have been delving into fresh salsa as well, one of my favorite things to do with fresh summer produce. Though our tomatoes have had and continue to have great difficulties due to the blight, we have still gotten a few good fruits off of the vine, often green, that have ripened up pretty nicely and have good flavor (though except for our sungold cherry tomatoes which are just as sweet and delicious as I could imagine, these fruits that are ripening off of the vine are not as good as the best tomatoes I have tried in other summers). And now that we are starting to get hot peppers in as well that means salsa. Frankly, this time of year, I rarely stray from that most traditional and ubiquitous of Mexican salsas, pico gallo. Diced onions, garlic, tomatoes, hot green chiles, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Mmmmm. It is such a pleasure to make and eat. This week has also seen a couple major pesto excursions as we have a couple of bed of basil that are going gangbusters (I also froze a bunch of basil pureed with olive oil to keep summer alive later in the fall and winter), and last weekend I indulged in a classic American meal of grilled steak (from our grass-fed jersey cows) with our own yellow potatoes and grilled escarole.

I guess grilled escarole might be a departure of sorts from that 'classic American meal'. Escarole and all the chicories are delicious grilled. For escarole, dunk it in water before dressing and grilling so that it doesn’t burn too easily. Halve it, and toss it with a balsamic vinaigrette, salt and pepper. Throw it on the grill. Keeping it to the sides seems best, to keep it from burning before it wilts nicely, though some char and grill marks are entirely appropriate. The escarole will usually keep some chew unless you get fancy and blanch it a bit first, but that seems unnecessary to me.

And lots of even simpler stuff has been cooked and consumed, salads, boiled beets, steamed greens, scrambled eggs with herbs, etc. It’s certainly a pleasurable time of year to eat, though it is often too hot to want to spend much time over the stove or with the oven on, but we get by alright. In any case, as I sit here writing this it is raining and probably only in the upper sixties, so maybe I should go get a chicken and put it in the oven.

Adios, friends.

1 comment:

Nikki said...

all of your dishes sound fabulous. My big success story last week was a fresh tomato sauce from The New Basics Cookbook - so tasty I ate some on pasta and some out of the bowl, then made a triple batch the next day. enjoy your bounty - you've worked hard to make it as tasty as it is.