Friday, January 24, 2014

The Winter Market

Every year about this time, in the dead of the Chesapeake winter, people constantly mention to me their dismay of no local food being available for their kitchens. They long for the spring and the return of neighborhood famers markets and roadside stands. Perhaps it’s a lack of imagination, or maybe just not wanting to go out in the cold, but truth be told, there is local food available year round. One just need look a bit harder.

In the Baltimore area we are fortunate to have a year-round farmers market, The Waverly 32nd Street Farmers Market. While not all the product sold there in the winter is local (as opposed to their summer market, which requires all product to be local), most of the various greens, apples, pears, and numerous root vegetables such as; onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips & rutabaga are from local farms.

Often the image of a farmers market is one of stands overflowing with primarily produce and fruit. But take a closer look and there are local dairies making superb cheeses, yogurt, ice cream and fresh milk in all denominations. There are farms selling local raised and pastured meat and poultry, semi-local olive oil (it’s a long story), goat cheese, as well as local bakeries and local coffee roasters.

For most anyone who enjoys cooking, the aforementioned products are the basis for hundreds, if not thousands of recipes. So there is really no excuse for not being able to cook local, even in winter. We as a culture have fed ourselves, and fed ourselves well in the winter, for thousands of years.

I recently did a segment with Maryland Public Television’s Maryland Farm & Harvest series on buying in the winter. The day we were to tape the show there was snow on the ground and with the wind chill factored in, a temperature of 17 below zero. Not that I am a fair weather shopper, but I was pretty sure that it was not the perfect day to tape a show at the Waverly Market that particular morning.

So I suggested we pay a visit to the Mill Valley General Store in the Baltimore neighborhood of Remington. This is another terrific choice for year-round local food products and is conveniently located right off I-83. Mill Valley is the creation of one of the pioneers and visionaries of our local food movement, Cheryl Wade. The store works with quite a variety of local farmers and artisan food makers. Not only do they have a wonderful selection of local produce, there is a well-stocked bulk food section as well.

After stops at Mill Valley and the Waverly Farmers Market I had gathered all the ingredients necessary to put together a lovely winter stew. The version that follows is all vegetarian, but could easily accommodate some stewed; chicken, bison, beef, or even better lamb, all of which are available at the local markets.

Winter Root Vegetable Stew

A simple salad, along with a loaf of crusty whole grain bread, is the perfect accompaniment to this stew. It may seem like a lot of stew, but it holds up well for days, and the flavor just gets better and better.
Yields about 1 gallon of stew

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 large onions
3 leeks
2 cloves garlic, minced
½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
10 to 12 cups (peeled and cut into attractive chunks) root vegetables (see note)
2 cups carrot chunks
10 or more cups vegetable stock, or broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large heavy-bottomed pot or in a stockpot, cook the onion, leeks, garlic and ginger in the olive oil over medium heat until the onions and leeks are translucent and sweet, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the root vegetables and carrots and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 10 cups of the vegetable stock, thyme and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium, and cook until the vegetables are just tender, 30 to 40 minutes. For a lovely, creamy stew, remove about half of the soup to a bowl, and set aside.  Then puree the remaining stew that is in the pot with an immersion blender, or alternately in batches of a blender with a tight fitting lid.
Return the unblended portion of the stew back to the pot, mix well, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reheat before serving.

Note on root vegetable combination:  Choose a number of root veggies for the stew, such as: rutabagas, potatoes, celery stalks, celery root, parsnips and turnips. At least one or two parsnips are a must, as the parsnips give a fantastic sweet dimension to the stew.



Friday, October 18, 2013

Going Out of Tomatoes Sale!!

Make sure to head to the farmer's markets this weekend or next to snag some ripe tomatoes for the last call of the season. With the late spring chill carrying over into the summer, and then a late, dry, warming trend, the growing season for tomatoes has pushed over well into fall.  

Take a look at some of these juicy local tomatoes we've spotted at the market in just the last two weeks. And it’s mid-October in Maryland, can you believe it?

So go wild with salsa, bruschetta, slow-roasted tomatoes for pizza and sauces, salads and maybe even an old fashioned Chesapeake-style Tomato Pie (recipe follows).

And with winter just around the corner, start canning these beauties so you can treasure them year round. (click the link above for some canning tips)

Tomato Pie

This traditional tomato pie is a fantastic appetizer, or as peculiar as it may sound, dessert. It is a perfect lunch dish with a tossed salad of arugula and mixed greens. You’ll like the contrast of the bitter arugula with the sweetness of the pie. For dessert, top it with a dollop of whipped cream that has been lightly sweetened with maple syrup.

6 ripe tomatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch slices
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch of mace or nutmeg
1 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) sweet, unsalted butter
Pastry dough for a single-crust pie
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for glaze

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan.
Make a layer of tomato slices in the pie pan and sprinkle with some of the sugar, salt, pepper, mace or nutmeg, and bread crumbs. Continue making layers, ending with breadcrumbs. Sprinkle with lemon juice and dot with butter.

On a lightly floured board roll out the dough to form a top crust, transfer to the pan and flute the edges. Brush the top with egg glaze.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until nicely browned, and then remove from the oven. The pie is best served warm or at room temperature.



Monday, August 19, 2013

The Three Sisters of Summer

Late summer into the early fall is the season of the Three Sisters, a Native American method of planting and growing corn, beans, and squash together. Native legend has it that the three sisters - corn, beans and squash - are inseparable and can only grow together. If you look at the science behind this theory they are quite right. Corn takes a lot of nitrogen from the soil, but the beans put it right back in, while planting the squash (both hard and soft varieties) in between the mounds of the first two sisters, helps seal in moisture and keep out weeds.

I first leaned about the Three Sisters technique from permaculturist, Bonnie North, former publisher of Baltimore Eats Magazine. Bonnie wanted to try and see how much, and how many, vegetables she could grow on a small (less than 50-square feet) Baltimore row house side yard. She planted about 12 stalks of corn in separate, built-up mounds of soil, surrounded by several varieties of beans, with pumpkin - which is a prolific squash - nestled between the corn mounds.

The results from Bonnie’s effort produced a veritable urban Garden of Eden. Healthy rows of corn, with countless vines of beans running up the stalks, and pumpkins that obviously enjoy west Baltimore soil, as they took over the garden with vines tumbling down the front hill of the house and ending up in a bus stop. This type of compact growing, gilding - if you will - is good for the soil - nutritionally beneficial, and oh so tasty. And judging from Bonnie's experiment - it works. 

I love all three of these locally grown vegetables either on their own - or paired with one another - to create soups, stews, or a regional favorite - succotash. Using some of the Chesapeake's late summer ingredients I've come up with a Rockfish, Crab and Succotash Chowder which teams a few of our region's culinary stars.  

Three Sisters Rockfish, Crab and Succotash Chowder

Sweet corn, squash, and tender lima beans lima beans are the heart and soul of this classic summertime Chesapeake seafood stew. The recipe calls for two cups of cream or half and half, but the stew can be slimed down by reducing the cream and increasing the stock in an equal proportion. 

Serves 8 to 12

One 4 to 6 pound rockfish, cleaned and filleted, bones and head reserved
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, sliced
1 bunch washed parsley with stems
2 teaspoons dried whole thyme leaves
1 bay leaf

6 ears sweet corn
4 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
3 large potatoes, cut into a 1/2 -inch dice
½ cup flour
2 cups heavy cream or half and half
1 pound lump crabmeat (fresh or pasteurized), picked over for shells
1 cup lima beans - fresh or frozen
2 cups medium diced yellow or green squash
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced chives or parsley 

To make the stock, place the fish heads and bones in an 8-quart stockpot and add about 12 cups cold water, or enough  to cover. Reserve the fish fillets for later use.

Add the carrots, onion, parsley stems, and thyme. Bring just to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, uncovered. Skim the foam from the top occasionally. Husk the corn and cut the kernels off the ears with a sharp knife, collecting the kernels and any "corn milk" in a bowl. Put the kernels and corn milk aside. Add the corncobs to the simmering stock. Strain the stock through a fine strainer.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the butter or olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and continue sautéing for 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in about 8 cups of the strained stock and bring almost to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow cook for about 45 minutes. Add the cream or half-and-half and bring almost to a boil. Reduce to medium heat.

Cut the rockfish fillets into 1-inch cubes. Add the rockfish cubes along with the crabmeat, lima beans, diced squash, and reserved corn kernels and corn milk. Simmer for an additional 20 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in soup or chowder bowls and garnish with the minced chives or parsley.