More ways to use green tomatoes

Green tomatoes are generally abundant in the fall, but this year they are especially prolific. The hot summer weather was hard on tomato plants, but once the plants recovered from the heat, they put on new growth and new tomatoes–lots and lots of new tomatoes–but not early enough for them to ripen before frost. Our tomato plants aren’t alone in this; all of the growers that I talked to at CCUA’s Hootenannysaid the same thing; everyone has big beautiful tomato plants loaded with perfect green tomatoes that just aren’t ripening.

Last year we brought lot of green tomatoes to market, and virtually no one wanted them. This is a shame, because there are many diverse and delicious ways to make good use of green tomatoes. So if you want to support local growers, think about working some green tomatoes into your cooking and maybe preserving some for the winter. For cost-conscious shoppers, learning to use green tomatoes is a good idea; the supply tends to be high and the demand low. Many growers are likely to have bulk quantities available at a very reasonable price.
Here’s a run down of some of our favorite recipes that expands on last year’s descriptions of using green tomatoes. At the time, we made reference to a recipe for green tomatoes baked in a pie. We have since tried that recipe and can highly recommend it.
Green tomato pie
The recipe is from In a Vermont Kitchen, p. 373 (& can be viewed in the google book preview). It makes a fantastic dessert that is very similar in flavor to an apple pie made with sour baking varieties like Granny Smith.
 Canned green tomato apple pie filling
The above recipe is for fresh eating, but green tomatoes can also be included in a canned pie filling for enjoyment during the winter. The cookbook So Easy to Preserve has just the recipe that we’ve used. We don’t reproduce unadapted cookbook recipes online, as we believe authors are entitled to their copyright, but encourage you to look up these books and/or try similar recipes wherever you can find them. It’s so nice to crack open a jar in the winter and make an easy pie sourced from the farm. Update: It turns out this recipe is online: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/can_pie/green_tomato_filling.html
Green tomato chutney
Our favorite recipe is for a green tomato apricot chutney from Sundays at Moosewood (p 317). We freeze this in small jars and enjoy it on bread all winter and spring. Joy of Cooking  also has an excellent green tomato chutney recipe (p 847 in the old edition).

Pickled green tomatoes

This will be our next experiment with green tomatoes. Anyone have a favorite recipe?

Late summer on-farm meals

We were drawn into farming for the food, and do our best to maximize the quality, freshness, and diversity of our meals. Here’s the latest in our series of photo essays documenting some of the on-farm-sourced meals we eat, which we hope serve as inspiration to customers and others interested in the value of local foods.  These photos cover late August through mid-September. As always, ingredients sourced from our farm listed in italics.
At left, enchiladas: fresh-made tortillas, fried potatoes, fresh goat cheese, onions, peppers, roasted pepper sauce, topped with cilantro. At right, skillet greens: baby brassica mix (mustard, arugula, tat soi, mizuna) sauteed with garlic, sweet red peppers, and balsamic vinegar.

 At left, potato pancakes (shredded potatoes, onions, zucchini, egg, flour) & applesauce (organic Missouri apples from Blue Heron Orchard). At right, pseudo-fried rice (organic brown rice, shiitake mushrooms, onions, zucchini, peppers, roasted pepper sauce).

 Similar vegetables, different treatments. At left, vegetable stew: onions, garlic, okra, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, cowpeas, water. At right, curried vegetables: organic coconut milk, onions, sweet peppers, hot peppers, zucchini, okra, potatoes, green beans.
 At left, simple pasta: organic penne, sweet red peppers, onions, garlic, herbs, Goatsbeard aged cheese. At right, one of many pizzas: fresh-made crust with tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, zucchini, fresh-made goat ricotta, pesto. Other recent pizzas have included potatoes, rosemary, caramelized onions, peppers, herbs, and more.
 Bland colors but great taste. At left, shepherd’s pie: potatoes, fresh sausage (goat, pork, garlic, sage), shittake mushrooms, sweet corn, garlic, herbs, goat cheese. At right, roasted potatoes with rosemary.
Easy skillet meals. At left, quick saute of red onion, sweet & hot peppers, garlic. At right, fried potatoes.
Desserts. At left, fruit salad: watermelon, cantaloupe, blackberries, local peaches, local apples. At right, caramel layer cake (including our eggs & goat milk) with local peaches.

July farm food

A look at the various diverse meals we’ve been eating over the last month, sourced primarily from on-farm and local ingredients. Who says local foods are boring or constraining? Hopefully these photos and descriptions provide inspirations for good meals from good sources. As always, all on-farm-sourced ingredients listed in italics.

Skillets
On left, cast-iron-saute of squash, carrots, onions, beets, kohlrabi, herbs, & potatoes from Joanna’s parents (brought in a late June visit), sauteed in oil & seasoned with salt. On right, similar saute of squash, tomatoes, onion, garlic, cabbage, plus some leftover rice & noodles, seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, cider vinegar. These dishes are so easy, so quick, and taste so good. They rely on good, fresh ingredients; I suspect the same thing made from store ingredients wouldn’t be nearly as tasty and would demand other flavorings.
Meats 
On left, platter of smoked goose breast (last of our ex-flock, frozen from last year), pickles, aged goat cheddar. On right, fish tacos of fresh bass filets (caught by a friend), sauteed squash, tomatillo-tomato-pepper salsa, cucumber, goat feta, in fresh-made wrap. Smoked goose breast has to be one of the best meats we’ve ever made/eaten. Not pictured, a pork roast smothered in herb-garlic-mustardseed paste for amazing slabs of flavored meat; see Breakfast below.
Italian bakes
On left, calzone of goat ricotta, herbs, garlic, in fresh dough, with tomato-basil sauce. On right, lasagna of noodles, squash, garlic, herbs, fresh sliced tomatoes, goat ricotta, and white sauce made with goat milk, flour, butter; also pictured, tomato slices, Uprise bread and goat riccota. We make these often in the winter as well, with preserved ingredients, but there’s nothing like fresh.
Breakfasts
On left, fried eggs, fried new potatoes, sauteed squash-tomatoes-onion-garlic hash. On right, fried eggs, fried new potatoes, roasted herbed pork slices, fresh tomatoes garnished with borage flowers, local peaches. Good hearty breakfasts that get sweated right off.
Pizzas
On left, fresh crust with garlic, rosemary, potatoes, herbed goat ricotta, olive oil. On right, tomatoes, herbed goat ricotta, basil, garlic. So easy, so good. Only Red and Moe can match homemade pizza.
Grab-bag 1
On left, psychadelic borscht with heirloom beets, onion, goat yogurt. On right. baked polenta with fresh-ground cornmeal, garlic scape pesto, aged goat cheddar. This borscht looked as ridiculous in real life; it’s not the color balance in the photo. The same thing made with “normal” red beets had a boring deep red color; gotta love heirlooms.
Grab-bag 2
On left, peach pie from local peaches. We bought/salvaged 9 pecks of 3rds peaches from an orchard near Franklin, MO and spent a tired Saturday afternoon processing and freezing them, feeding the damaged scraps to the pig and making this pie as a reward. On right, cous-cous with parsley, herbs, garlic, onion, cucumber, fresh pickle, aged goat cheddar, on fresh tortilla made from fresh-ground Missouri wheat flour.

June farm food

Mid-late June is a very busy time for us, but also a great time for cooking with so much new produce showing up to complement what remains of our preserves from last year. Here’s a photo tour through some meals we’ve managed to fit in between dawn-dusk rounds of weeding, harvesting, planting, and marketing. They’re all deeply rooted in the farm and quite accessible to any market shopper; we don’t have time to cook many complicated meals these days and virtually all the ingredients are easily purchaseable this time of year. Few of these rely on very many spices or other flavor crutches; just let the good fresh produce speak for itself with some light touches around the edges. As always, all on-farm-sourced ingredients listed in italics.

SALADS

 

On left, fresh slaw of grated cabbage, beets, carrots, onion, garlic with light dressing of cider vinegar, olive oil, and salt. On right, basic green salad of lettuce, kohlrabi, carrots, broccoli, with oil & vinegar.

 

PASTA

 


On left, organic penne with garlic scape pesto, zucchini, cured ham. On right, organic penne in cream sauce (milk, butter, flour), herbs, shelled peas, zucchini.

 
MISCELLANEOUS
 
On left, leftovers of the above plus sliced corned goat, dill pickles, fresh goat feta. On right, cowpeas with sauteed sweet onion, garlic, home-smoked chipotle, beet, zucchini, beet greens, topped with fried eggs, fresh cilantro, fresh goat feta.

 
SANDWICHES
On left, farm reuben on Uprise Bakery rye: sliced corned goat, fermented sauerkraut, scape pesto, fresh goat feta. Sides of more kraut, sauteed beets. On right, wrap of homemade fresh tortilla with scape pesto, dried cherry tomatoes, sauteed zucchini, Yukina Savoy greens, fresh goat feta.
PIZZA & DESSERT
On left, fresh-made dough topped with dried cherry tomatoes, shelled peas, fresh goat feta, scape pesto. Other recent pizzas have included beets, cured ham, zucchini, garlic, sweet onions, herbs, fresh goat ricotta. On right, fresh custard from goat’s milk, eggs, sugar, topped with sauce of wild gooseberries & black raspberries.
 
Not pictured is our latest round of aged goat’s-milk cheddar, which came out very well this time (they don’t always turn out right) and various other ingredients/meals we didn’t get around to photographing.

Late May meals on the farm

The late spring boom in new farm ingredients also coincides with hotter weather and harder work, such that we eat more and more to keep up. Here are some of the ways we’ve been using fresh and preserved farm products in the last few weeks. Hopefully vegetarians and vegans will find these especially interesting, as this is the season we run low on meat and go back to that style of cooking. The next few months of food blogging will help balance all the meat blogging we do in the winter. Ah, seasonal eating. As always, on-farm ingredients listed in italics.
FRIED RICE FOR BREAKFAST
Our usual breakfast rotation includes homemade granola with farm-made yogurt, various baked goods from coffee cake to cornbread to scones, fried/scrambled/boiled eggs, and so on. One recent morning we felt burned out on all of that, so I summoned my Filipino side and made fried rice for breakast, using eggs, green onions, fresh shiitakes, garlic scape pesto, beet greens, and leftover brown rice. With a side of Uprise bread and blackberry jam from Eric’s stepfather, this was filling and enjoyable.
LENTIL SALAD AND STIR FRY

On the left is a nice lentil salad I more or less invented, taking loose inspiration from a couple vegetarian cookbooks. I cooked some organic lentils and buckwheat (also using some cooked cowpeas  in another version), then mixed them with radishes, green onions, dill, garlic scallions, mint, farm aged cheddar,  balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt. I made two different batches, winging the amounts both times, and it came out wonderfully as a filling but cool-temperature meal for hot days. This is a great example of excellent ingredients making cooking easier; I really didn’t need to add other flavors than the vegetables and herbs. Served with a side of dill pickles.

On the right is a basic stir fry, something every fresh-foods cook should be able to do. This one is stored sweet potatoes, roasted farm peanuts, radishes, green onions & garlic, with a bit of soy sauce & calamansi juice, over organic brown rice. Simple but lovely.

COCONUT CURRIED VEGETABLES AND FRESH SALAD

 This was lunch on Friday, when we came in hot, tired, and hungry from a long morning of harvesting for market with no leftovers and no plan for food. This didn’t take long to throw together and was excellent. For the curry, I chopped and briefly sauteed green onions, radishes, baby beets, beet greens, fresh shiitake mushrooms, organic bok choi from a recent visit to our friends at Happy Hollow Farm (we traded strawberries), then added organic coconut milk and a dash of organic soy sauce and simmered. Meanwhile, I crushed some dried anaheim peppers and dried tomatoes and mixed with fresh-ground coriander, turmeric, cardamom, and black pepper to make a spice mix, and added that to the pan. Meanwhile I boiled some simple Asian noodles. Just before serving, I chopped some fresh mint and cilantro into the curry as well, and mixed in the noodles. Filling, with a rich, complex flavor, and took less than 30 minutes.

The salad was typical of something we eat almost every day this time of year: lettuce, radishes, farm cheese, green onions/scallions, green garlic/scapes, herbs, beet or other greens, topped with light dashes of good balsamic vinegar and olive oil. We never get tired of that.

CILANTRO-BEAN WRAP WITH SWEET POTATO FRIES, EGG-DROP SOUP

Cilantro-almond pesto is one of our favorite condiments, made by blending cilantro, garlic, almonds, olive oil, and so on (lots of recipes online). It tastes amazing, can be used lots of ways, and can be frozen. Here, we made fresh flatbreads and filled them with the pesto, cooked cowpeas, lettuce, and farm cheese for a really simple but tasty meal. Sweet potato fries are quite easy, just cut stored sweet potatoes, toss in olive oil and salt, and roast at 450 for maybe 20-25 minutes until you get the texture you want.

Egg-drop soup is also quite easy, and this one features a great example of using and reusing farm ingredients (in this case, mushrooms). Good egg drop soup relies on good broth, and we’ve been making a lot of mushroom broth lately by boiling the stems of our fresh shiitakes with the green tops of overgrown green onions and salt to make a richly flavored broth that stores and freezes well, thus using parts we otherwise might not eat or use. To make the soup, just simmer the broth, beat a few eggs and gently drizzle them into the soup through a fork, and top with scallions or green onions. Serve immediately.

None of these meals are particularly complex or difficult, and rely heavily on spring-seasonal ingredients available at our stand and the rest of the farmers market, and can easily be adapted to whatever is on hand. This is how we cook and eat, and how anyone can cook and eat from a good CSA or market stand along with a few basic kitchen staples.

Growing & preserving strawberries

Late May is strawberry season, and ours are producing wonderfully. We’re picking these every day to get them at peak ripeness, with a top yield so far of ~10 lb on Sunday afternoon. We preserve a significant percentage of these for our year-round larder, and finished the last of the 2010 berries just as the first ones of 2011 ripened. Here’s a quick look at how we grow, handle, and preserve strawberries on the farm.
Before we started growing our own, we would spend a day or two each spring down at Pick & Pick, a U-pick farm east of Columbia, harvesting a year’s worth of strawberries, then do marathon sessions of preserving. These were far from organic, but were the best quality & freshness available in the area and our preserves are far preferable to us than buying tasteless, shipped-in commercial berries out of season. We buy and preserve virtually all our fruit from fresh local sources year-round, using a significant amount of our total food budget, so establishing our own plantings has been a significant achievement.
We have two 20′ beds, established in the lower part of our orchard area, which we’ve spent the last few years clearing from a thick stand of cedars (we have blueberries, brambles, asparagus, and fruit trees started here as well). We built up raised beds, leaving the cut-off stumps in place, and established the first berry plants in spring 2009. We chose a variety called Sparkle, described a non-commercial home variety with exceptional flavor but short shelf life. That’s exactly right; they are amazingly sweet fresh off the plant, but are tender and don’t hold well. Not something you’d stick in a bin for market 3 days later. They’re very vibrant plants, runnering so persistently that we all but gave up trying to control them. In the photo above, there are supposed to be two clear beds with a nice aisle; can you tell? They transplant wonderfully as well; we’ve given out several rounds of dug-up plants to our workers, which have flowered and fruited this year despite being dug up only a few weeks beforehand. We expect to do some serious thinning and management later in the year to keep these vibrant, but are impressed with how resilient and healthy the plants are even in their crowded conditions.
These berries are included in our organic certification, despite us having no intention of selling them, because our management methods easily fit within organic standards and it’s easier to have everything under one system. We have been distributing some to our workers, with rave reviews; these are something 2012 CSA customers could expect to receive in small quantities. In good soil, with raised beds to help with drainage, they’ve done very well. We definitely get some insect/slug/pest damage on the berries, but for home use who cares about a few nibbles, and they aren’t being stored for market so there’s never time for any damage to get worse. The yield is lovely; we pick them every day and generally process or eat them the same day. Here are our favorite methods:
TRAY FREEZING
 The easiest method. We simply gently wash the berries, dump them on a cloth towel to dry slightly, cut off the greens & a small bit of the shoulder (which the chickens love), and arrange the whole berries cut side down on a baking sheet. This goes into the freezer, and 12 to 24 hours later we scrape the berries up into freezer bags. Simple, and very easy in the winter to grab a bag and quickly thaw whenever we want berries. Sparkles are so sweet that even after 11 months in the freezer they taste excellent right out of the bag. These are great in winter for topping simple desserts and just straight snacks.
SUGAR PACK
A bit more space-efficient, this method takes just a bit more work. Start as above, but cut the berries into smaller chunks and put into a bowl. Sprinkle a little sugar onto the berries as you go, and mix until you get a light coating on all pieces. Some recipes call for up to 3/4 cup sugar per quart berries, but we generally use less, maybe 1/4 cup per quart. Leave these to sit in the fridge for maybe an hour, to give the sugar time to draw some juice from the berries; you should end up with a dense berry/juice slurry. This can be packed into freezer containers (we use quarts) and freezes as a solid block. These are great in winter for making sauces, fruit yogurt, and desserts.
JAMS/PRESERVES
This is pretty obvious, and takes a lot of berries & work but doesn’t take up freezer space. During the peak of harvest we’ll hope to make and can at least one batch of jam.
STRAWBERRY ICE
A favorite recipe passed down through Joanna’s family, this sweet sauce is an especially nice & useful treat in winter. It’s incredibly easy to mix with yogurt or use as a fruit sauce in all sorts of ways. It’s also very space-efficient in the freezer; we preserve this in small, used Goatsbeard cheese containers.
Ingredients:

2 quarts (8 cups) strawberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 medium lemon, juiced

Directions:
– Boil sugar and water together for 5 minutes. Cool.
– Wash & hull berries, then puree in a blender.
– Combine berries with sugar water & lemon juice.
– Freeze.
– Before serving, allow strawberry ice to thaw overnight in the refrigerator or at least a few hours at room temperature; it should be partially frozen.
DRYING
Dried strawberries are very good and another way to preserve berries without taking up freezer space. We wash berries, slice in cross sections to a thickness of about 1/4 inch, place on dehydrator trays, and dry for 12 to 18 hours. We used a temperature of 125ºF last year. These are delicious with intense strawberry flavor, though the volume reduction during drying is always a little depressing.

FRESH EATING
Of course, a significant fraction simply get eaten fresh. Sliced onto pancakes, incorporated into farm-made yogurt with honey, topping fresh custards, simply eaten hot off the plant, there are infinite ways to enjoy fresh strawberries.

Recipe: pepper-spiced wraps & soup using sweet potatoes and mushrooms

Recently I heavily adapted a few recipes from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen, using the on-farm ingredients we had on hand, to make a really nice multi-course pseudo-Mexican meal that was tied together by a few basic and seasonal (for us, anyway) ingredients. I doubt anyone will make this just as I describe it, but I want to share what I did to demonstrate a few useful techniques for combining similar ingredients in multiple ways. You could adapt this for all sorts of available inputs. I basically started with a simple pepper sauce made from our dried peppers, them used that in several related dishes. Using sweet potatoes instead of normal potatoes gives everything a really nice, rich color, and a sweeter flavor that balances spiciness nicely. As usual, our on-farm ingredients listed in italics.
BASIC PEPPER SAUCE (this ties everything else together)
1-2 dried chipotles
handful dried sweet peppers
handful dried tomatoes
2T roasted or chopped garlic
handful fresh cilantro
4-6oz scallions, chopped, tops reserved for soup
1 cup meat or vegetable broth
salt & pepper to taste
Puree or hand-grind the dried ingredients into a flaky powder (careful: pepper dust can be strong); I use a food processor. Reserve a bit for fried potatoes (below). Add the other ingredients and puree again until you have a thick sauce.
CREAMY PEPPER SOUP
Pepper sauce (above)
1/2-1 cup chopped shiitake mushrooms
1 cup chopped sweet potatoes
Scallion tops (chopped, from sauce, above)
3-5 cups meat or vegetable broth
1 cup whole milk (or cream)
Cook the sauce over medium heat for a few minutes. Add broth and bring to simmer. Reserve 1 cup for cooking meat (below). Add potatoes & mushrooms and cook 1/2 hour or until tender. A few minutes before serving, add milk/cream and stir to combine. Serve topped with scallion greens.
TORTILLAS & FILLING
Tortillas (we make ours fresh)
1lb sweet potato, diced
Ground pepper spice from sauce (above)
Olive oil, salt, & pepper
1lb chicken breasts or other tender meat
1 cup reserved soup broth (above)
1 cup soft cheese (we use our fresh ricotta)
Place chicken or other meat in shallow baking dish. Pour soup broth over the meat and bake in a 350F oven for 45 minutes, until tender.
With 20 minutes to go on the meat, heat some oil in a heavy pan. Toss diced potatoes with pepper spice, oil, salt, & pepper. Fry, stirring frequently, until cooked.
SERVING
Fill tortillas with meat, fried potatoes, chopped scallion greens, and cheese. Serve soup on side, topped with scallion greens. This goes especially well with a sweet, refreshing drink like mojitos.



Late April farm food

April is an interesting month for folks like us, who rely heavily on our own home-grown and -preserved food throughout the year. We’re still drawing on our diverse stocks of foods preserved last year, but starting to integrate the first fresh, seasonal items. For us, spring means more than salad greens; it’s when fresh milk comes back on the menu, in the form of cheese, yogurt, custards, and more, along with abundant eggs (we can easily consume 3 dozen or more in a week), and it’s when we start using up the preserved items we won’t see again until their fresh season comes (we’ve just about finished the dried peppers and tomatoes, for example).
 Here’s a look at a few of the meals we’ve made in late April, a somewhat random mix of dishes we bothered to take photographs of. Hopefully the collection helps illustrate both the diversity of food & cooking still available to us even after a long winter, and the value of a diversified farm in producing interesting food. Farm-sourced ingredients listed in italics.
COWPEA CHILI
We love our dried cowpeas, which are easier to grow than regular soup beans and cook far faster. They make quick meals really easy, such as this chili made of stored onions, stored garlic, dried cowpeas,  home-canned tomatillos, dried peppers & tomatoes, home-made frozen pepper sauce, fresh cilantro, fresh-ground venison, salt & pepper.
PASTA WITH GREENS
Pasta provides endless opportunities for combining fresh & preserved ingredients into simple but tasty sauces. In this case, we topped organic penne with fresh collard greens, diced cured ham, dried tomatoes, garlic, herbs, & goat feta.
WIENERSCHNITZEL & MORE

A nice, multi-course meal showcasing all sorts of farm ingredients. Schnitzel: venison loin pounded thin, fried in breading of homemade rye crumbs, egg, & olive oil. Noodles: organic pasta topped with sauce of fresh shiitake mushrooms cooked in butter & flour, with water and fresh sage & thyme. Salad: spinach & sorrel topped with fresh goat feta, olive oil, & balsamic vinegar. Bread: fresh-baked rye bread.
EASTER MEAL
 
Kebabs: goat & pork cubes, marinated in oil, vinegar, garlic, thyme, sage, oregano and grilled over hardwood charcoal and wild plum wood with yellow onions. Fresh-made paneer (Indian cheese) in a marinade featuring yogurt, cilantro, mint, & garlic. Rice Pilaf: onion sauteed in butter, organic brown rice, toasted and cooked in goat broth topped with fresh garlic chives. Salad: spinach, sorrel, herbed fresh ricotta, sliced baby radishes, & chives dressed with oil & vinegar. Grilled asparagus: fresh asparagus tossed with olive oil & salt. Note: I have no idea if the wild plum wood added any flavor, but it seemed like a fun thing to try.
GENOISE CAKE
Cake made with eggs, sugar, flour, butter, & vanilla; topped with powdered sugar and violets. Not shown, but on the side: Cajeta (Mexican goat-milk caramel): goat milk simmered with sugar, cinnamon, & baking soda. Rhubarb sauce: fresh rhubarb cooked with sugar, cloves, and a splash of orange juice.

Recipe: excellent pasta/polenta topping using farm-preserved ingredients

I don’t really know what to call this (a sauce? a topping?), but we’ve made it several times as an easy way to combine many different preserved/stored ingredients into a delicious meal.  Thick and richly flavored, we’ve served it both on pasta or polenta (pictured below) and it could make an excellent bruschetta as well. I’m including notes on the ingredient sources, as well, as this is almost entirely an on-farm meal drawing heavily on the diverse foods we put up for winter. This could easily be made with purchased items, but was especially pleasing as an on-farm meal. It could be made with all fresh ingredients, too, but would likely be thinner and saucier; I like the thick, lumpy texture the preserved items give it. Amounts are my best guess; farm-sourced ingredients in italics.

SAUCE/TOPPING
1 cup thinly sliced red/yellow onions (stored from fall; could use dried)
1 cup diced shiitake mushrooms (freshly harvested, could use dried)
3 cloves minced garlic (stored from fall)
1/2 cup minced cured ham (optional; cured from fall butchering)
1 cup dried tomatoes (stored from fall)
1/4 cup dried bell peppers (stored from fall)
1T basil (packed in olive oil & frozen from fall)
1/4 cup feta cheese (made fresh from our spring goat’s milk)
1t salt (extracted from specially dug brine well…ok, just kidding)
Boil a pan of water to rehydrate any dried ingredients being used (turn off the heat and place all ingredients in the water, letting them soak for 10-15 minutes until soft). Meanwhile, saute the onions in a bit of olive oil for 10-15 minutes, until soft and sweet. Add mushrooms, garlic, and ham (if using) and saute for ~5 minutes more. Drain, chop, and add any rehydrated ingredients along with the basil & cheese. Mix well and cook for just a minute or two more to combine flavors and temperatures, then serve.
SERVING
Using this on pasta is quite easy. In the photo above, I used freshly-made polenta from fresh-ground farm corn instead, which adds a richer flavor to the dish. We generally cook our polenta (cornmeal, water, and salt) in a large pot for 30 minutes or so, then bake it in a large glass dish for another 30 minutes. You could also add this to bread for bruschetta.
For this late March meal, we balanced the main dish with a fresh spinach/sorrel salad straight from our overwintered greens, topped with a German pickled egg, one of our favorite ways to use up extra eggs. Simply hardboil a set of eggs, gently crack the shells, then steep in a brine (water boiled with salt and onion trimmings) for a few days. I find that 6-7 eggs fit nicely in a quart jar. An excellent snack or topping with lovely flavor.


Recipe: parsnip/mushroom/sweet potato shepherd’s pie

I think a core skill in cooking, especially for those using fresh/seasonal/local ingredients, is learning how to adapt or invent recipes. It’s more efficient, cost-effective, and interesting to learn to read between the lines of recipes in order to understand what is needed to make them work, and what is optional or adaptable.
This “recipe” is an excellent example of this process, something I adapted heavily from several cookbooks to meet what we had on hand. It was fantastic as-made, but is widely adaptable to various ingredients as long as you follow the core needs. In this case, we had just harvested a large batch of over-wintered parsnips as well as nearly a pound of fresh shiitake mushrooms (last year’s logs are fruiting heavily at the moment), and wanted to feature those along with whatever else we had on hand. I don’t really expect anyone to make this exact version, but it demonstrates how easily one can adapt a basic recipe to make a unique and seasonal dish without worrying about most specific ingredients. Here’s roughly what we had on hand:
My final result is heavily adapted from the Shepherd’s Pie recipe  (p 178) in one of our favorite obscure cookbooks, “In a Vermont Kitchen“. The original calls for potatoes, onion, garlic, cheese, lamb, corn, and herbs. You’ll see we changed almost everything to use what we had on hand (for example, we’re out of storage potatoes but have lots of sweet potatoes left), but came out with a comparable result. We also added a biscuit topping from Moosewood New Classics (p. 292), as we usually do when making Shepherd’s Pie.

One specific note: this calls for roasted garlic, which adds a lot of time to this recipe. We pre-roast whole trays of garlic at a time, then squeeze the flesh into ice cube trays and freeze. These garlic “cubes” are about the equivalent of a full head, store very well in freezer bags and can be pulled out at a moment’s notice to add flavor to soups, sauces, and other recipes. I used one here to save time and bother.
Ingredients in italics were sourced from the farm.

FILLING

1 head roasted garlic

1lb sweet potatoes
4T butter
1/2lb sausage (optional; leave out or use any desired meat)

2 cups chopped parsnips

1 cup chopped onion
few T minced fresh sage, thyme, oregano
2 cups chopped shiitake mushrooms

 salt and pepper to taste

Optional: 1/2 cup grated hard cheese (I meant to use our aged cheddar and completely forgot; with the biscuit topping I didn’t even notice until after we’d eaten).

BISCUIT TOPPING
2 cups flour

1/2t salt

1T baking powder
1/2t baking soda

6T melted butter

1 cup yogurt

Preheat oven to 350F.

Chop the sweet potatoes and boil until soft. Add the butter and roasted garlic, and mash until  thick and smooth, adding water or milk if needed. Layer these onto the bottom of a deep baking dish.

Meanwhile, crumble & saute the sausage, then layer on the potato mash. Saute the onions & parsnips in the sausage grease (or oil/butter if not using sausage) for 10 minutes or until reasonably tender, adding the chopped herbs in the last minute. Mix well and layer onto the sausage. Add some more butter to pan and saute mushrooms for 5 minutes or so, until they’re lightly browned and have absorbed the moisture, then layer onto the onion/parsnip mix. Add grated cheese if using.
Make the topping by mixing dry & wet ingredients separately, then quickly combining into a soft batter. Drop the batter by large spoonfuls onto the top of the layered ingredients, making a reasonable cover. Immediately place in the hot oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Serve with a wide spoon that can scoop out all layers at once.
Here’s the final result: a rich, delicious layering of simple ingredients that work well together. No fancy flavorings or methods needed, just a bit of time and the willingness to improvise.