Thursday, March 17, 2011

between now and green

a little dill'll do ya
Last year at this time we’d had spring for over two weeks – not terribly bright, perhaps, but in the 50s and low 60s sometimes – and green things were becoming apparent. All the green this year is at the Farmers’ Market.

Miller’s Farmstand has been offering dill and cilantro directly from growing flats for our delectation, other herbs already banded together, tiny bunches of romaine, and half a bushel of baby spinach if you get there early. Foggy Meadow has had micro-greens all winter – those baby sprouting greens that make such a difference to a plate all through these snowy days – and now has baby spinach, too, but, as with Millers, you need to get there early for a taste. They are in demand.  Jim Horton, Paul’s son, who has been manning the stand this winter, told me he hopes to have (shhhhhhh...) a bit of chard this coming market.

There’s no doubt that we’re missing Kilpatrick’s Farm this winter, they with their well-tended and well-planned plethora of winter vegetables as well as surprises all along the way.  In an email, Michael Kilpatrick told me, “ at the (Saratoga) market we have lettuce mix, mesclun mix, baby spinach, regular spinach, Christmas spinach, boc choi mix, and  Swiss chard, for greens, (and) the kale will be back in a few weeks. Couple new roots this year, too –  Jerusalem artichokes, parsley root, purple and green kohlrabis, (and) a new yellow carrot.”

So, as I say, we miss them, but some of our larger farmers are seeing that they need to take up the slack – Paul at Foggy Meadow and Greg at Boardman Hill come to mind. How to do that sustainably is really the gnarly heart of the problem. Winter greens grown without petroleum? That would be the next breakthrough!

In my last column I said that you could find local mesclun – that mix of small-leafed greens – at the Co-op in Rutland. Mea culpa, you can not – they’re getting their mesclun from California! I’ve been buying it all winter, assuming it was from Benson’s Vermont Herb & Salad Company, because that IS available, and as we all know our Co-op is mandated to support our local farmers and provide us local produce when possible. So I emailed co-owner Heather McDermott to ask her where VH&S’s mesclun could be found. Not closer, she said, than Burlington! She is trying to get her herbs and salad mixes into Hannaford’s, however, so it wouldn’t hurt to put in a plug if you shop there.

Ironically, when Leo brought home a package of California mesclun from Price Chopper the other day I was like, Umm, I am NOT eating this stuff. What were you thinking?

(Over the holidays my daughter picked up two vacuum-packed packages of romaine lettuces. I popped one open to use in Caesar salad. The other got shoved to the back of the fridge and when I dug it out over a month later it was – guess what? – just as “fresh” and crisp as the first one had been. Now that is scary. “Don’t eat anything that won’t rot, or ferment” is a really good axiom.)

 “But it’s organic,” Leo said of this recent incident, “and I was at PC anyway.” Organic schmanic, I said, I’m not eating greens that were picked in California by who knows who, who knows how long ago!

 Sheesh. Who knew that’s what I’d been feeding us all winter. Lesson learned – I should never assume.

This demand for local food has just skyrocketed, hasn’t it? And nowhere can it be seen more clearly than in the success of Roots: The Restaurant down on Wales Street. Their business has been going lickity split ever since they opened – is it something like ten weeks ago already? I mean, reservations for lunch, please, as well as dinner (open every day except Monday at 747-7414). And the farmers whose product Chef Don Billings has contracted for are also doing well, able to plan the year ahead; having some idea of how many head of beef, how many rows of squash, and how much bacon to have smoked.

And the customer? The eater is in her glory – finally she can get a locally grass-fed beef hamburger! With hand-cut fries from local potatoes.  She can also get a shrimp cocktail with Bomoseen shrimp and Don’s own sweet salsa. Oh, you didn’t know Bomoseen had shrimp? Learn something new every day, don’t you?

Let’s face it – not everything can be local, and what would a menu be without a shrimp dish – these are delectable little Ecuadorian things, supposedly sustainably caught, very nicely presented in a champagne glass so tall that you kind of have to put in your lap to be able to eat out of, with said salsa and guacamole and some tortilla chips. Kudos to Roots for making a few exceptions to Local!

Because at this time of year our  tastebuds crave something out of the ordinary. And we’re finding it also in a burrito from Izapa Burrito Bar on Evelyn Street. The little purple structure is home to fiery – or not so – Mexican tastes a la the very gutsy Jillian Burkett, who has been open ALL WINTER (in that flimsy little structure) for lunch Monday through Friday. My burrito’s heat and content was perfect, I told her, and she murmured that she has a knack, the ability to judge, just by looking at them or listening to them on the phone (774-1001) a customer’s scoville unit preference.

And at home? What are we doing to enliven our winter-weary buds on that front?

Dukkah is the answer. I’m sprinkling this little nut and seed preparation on everything, from the yogurt and red lentils I have for brunch to the striped bass (Earth and Sea in Manchester)  I wrapped in parchment with drizzles of olive oil, panko, and the dukkah grind I made last fall, and salt and pepper, of course. I put that parcel into a 400° oven with the slices of sweet potatoes that had  lived there for 15 minutes already, and set the timer for 20 minutes.
In the meantime I remembered the brocc raab I’d bought a week ago at least. I parboiled it while I warmed some garlic and hot pepper flakes in olive oil in the old black skillet. What the raab would experience when it had drained and turned cool, was a warm spicy bath of olive oil that imperceptibly heated to flavor the raab in a process similar to that in which lobsters are said to be cooked starting in cold water – without alarm.

There are many mixtures of this but this pleasing one I found online
 from a woman by the name of Melissa Fernandez.
Feel free to double this to make it worth your time.
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt.
To toast the nuts and seeds put each kind separately into a small skillet over medium heat and watch them carefully, giving them an intermittent swirl, and when you begin to smell their toastiness they are done. Let them cool in a sauce dish and start on the next one. When they’re all toasted and cooled put them into a mortar and pestle and pound to a coarse consistency, or pulse in a food processor (I use a coffee grinder). Sprinkle them on everything.

Make some dukkah for yourself. It’ll pass the time between now and green!

published as Twice Bitten Column in the Rutland (Vermont) Herald 15 MAR, 2011

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