Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Pasta with scape pesto and sardines

Pureed with olive oil, parsley, sea salt, and a few toasted walnuts, garlic scapes are transformed into a pungent and addictive paste that we've been calling "scape pesto." It turns out to be fast way to work flavor into other dishes. Here's a use for scape pesto that two Maverick Farmers came up with independently -- in different kitchens on the same night. Essentially, it's a version of the classic Sicilian dish pasta con sarde. The Sicilians use fresh sardines, abundant in that area; we’ve found that good-quality canned sardines make a worthy substitute.

1 pound dry pasta, such as spaghetti
Extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup to 1 cup garlic scape pesto (see below), to taste
1 tin good-quality sardines packed in olive oil
A pinch or two of crushed red chile flakes
Sea salt
Black pepper
2 oz fresh goat’s cheese (optional)

Put pasta water on to boil over highest heat. Put a large skillet on medium low heat, and add enough olive oil to cover bottom. Add chile flakes and a grind of pepper. Add pesto, working it into the olive oil with a wooden spoon. Open the can of sardines. With a fork, lift the sardines one by one out of the can—letting them drain a second or two of the olive oil they were stored in—and drop them directly into the pan. When they’re all in there, use the wooden spoon to smush the sardines into the pesto. What you’ll end up with is a kind of coarse—and quite fragrant—sauce. Remove from heat. When the pasta water boils, salt it liberally. (Mario Batali, the famed New York chef, says it should have the salinity of seawater.) Add the pasta to the water when it returns to a rolling boil. Just before the pasta is al dente, take a ladle and scoop up a cup or so of the pasta water; add it to the sardine sauce and stir it in. Now drain the pasta and, return it to its pot (which will be empty of water but steamy hot). Scrape in the sardine sauce, add a dash of olive oil and a grind of pepper (hold off on salt here; you’ve already added salted pasta water, and the sardines can be briny). Toss, and correct for seasoning. Serve.
Optional note: Though no Sicilian would do it, we’ve found a way to make this dish even more delicious. When you’ve dumped the pasta into the colander and you have a steamy but empty pot, add 2 oz fresh goat cheese and immediately dump the pasta on top. This will melt the cheese. When you toss the pasta after adding the sardine sauce, you’ll be incorporating the cheese.

scape pesto
1 pound scapes, trimmed of tough flower part and chopped coarsely
I handful Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted in a 300 F oven
sea salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil

Combine first five ingredients in a food processor and process for 30 seconds or so. Scrape down sides of bowl and process again. With the blade running, add a thin stream of oil until a paste forms. Scrape down sides of bowl and process again, adding more olive oil if needed.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Pasta with bitter greens and garlic scapes

Here at Maverick, we have a large stand of garlic plants, which look a week or two away from delivering a bumper crop. While we cross our fingers and await arrival of the revered allium, we've been enjoying an abundance of a little-known but wonderful garlic byproduct. About a month or six weeks before garlic bulbs develop cloves, the plant sends out a green shoot that curls downward at its tip, similar in shape to a duck's silhouette. These shoots, known as scapes, deliver intense garlic flavor and a vibrant green color. If left on the plant, they'll flower, leeching energy from the bulb. It's a good idea to harvest them before they flower--and eat them. Here's one of the ways we've been dealing with the scape deluge, in combination with another beloved vegetable that has thrived this year: kale.

Pasta with sauteed bitter greens and scapes
1 pound dry pasta (spaghetti, farfalle, linguini, whatever is on hand)
2 large handfuls greens (such as kale, chard, or mature arugula or spinach), bunched and sliced into ribbons
2-3 garlic scapes, trimmed of tough part, cut into half-inch pieces
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed, peeled, and chopped fine
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted for a few minutes at 300 F and chopped coarsely
Extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Crushed chile flakes
Red-wine or balsamic vinegar
Parmeson-style cheese for grating

Put water on highest heat for pasta; prepare ingredients as stated above. Put a skillet (large enough to handle the greens) on low heat. Add a little more than enough olive oil to cover the bottom, and add garlic, scapes, a pinch or two of chile, a pinch or two of salt, and a vigorous grind of black pepper. Give it all a stir, and let it cook until garlic and scapes are sizzling and fragrant; be careful not to let the garlic brown. Add the greens and turn heat to medium, tossing the greens so that they're coated in the garlic-scented oil. (When the water boils, which might be about now, salt it well and add the pasta.) Now cover the greens and turn heat to low. Cook, checking and stirring often, until the greens are tender. Once they're tender, remove from heat and taste. If the flavor is bitter, give them a splash of vinegar. Once the pasta is done, drain it and return it to its pot. Scrape the cooked greens into the pot, the walnuts, and a healthy splash of olive oil. Toss and taste; correct for salt and pepper. Serve. Pass the cheese and grater at table, and be sure to have a bottle of olive oil handy.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Steak with garlic red-wine sauce; sauteed arugula; crispy roast potatoes

Recently, after a day of heavy fall work, I made the following meal. The steak came from a small nearby farm that lets its cows feed on pasture.

Steak with garlic red-wine sauce; sauteed arugula; roast potatoes; green salad
Serves two
2 smallish NY strip steaks
2 medium potatoes
Virgin olive oil
Sauteeing oil (I've been using pure olive oil lately; the best thing to use is clarified butter or grapeseed oil)
Vinegar (I've been using Sherry vinegar)
Salad greens
Lots of old, down-on-its-luck arugula (the local grocery store should have plenty of this; 1 bunch will probably suffice)
Sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper
6 cloves garlic
Chile flakes, to taste
I cup good solid red wine
2 or so tablespoons butter, cold


Preheat oven to 400.
Dry the steaks well with paper towels and salt and pepper them on both sides generously. Let sit while you continue cooking.
Slice potatoes in half lengthwise. Place flat side of each half down on cutting board, then cut into thin slices. Place in a bowl. Dry them with a kitchen towel as well as reasonably possible (this will help them brown); salt and pepper generously, give them a lashing of virgin olive oil; stir with hands until the potatoes are evenly dressed; then place them on a cooking sheet, in one layer. Put sheet in hot oven.

Mash a clove of garlic to a puree with some sea salt, and place in bottom of a salad bowl. Add a bit of vinegar, and about twice as much EV olive oil. Whisk and correct for seasoning. Clean salad greens and place on top of dressing, but do not toss.

Now finely chop two cloves of garlic, adding it to a cast-iron skillet with a bit of EV oilve oil (enough to cover the bottom) over low heat. Add a pinch (or two) chile flakes, and stir. Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the other three garlic cloves, setting them aside. Wash arugula, but don't spin it dry, then tear it (or slice it) to small pieces. Add it to the skillet with the garlic and chile, and raise heat to medium. Add salt and pepper, and stir until it's wilted (just a minute or so.) Add a bit of vinegar, correct for salt, and divide the arugula on two serving plates.

Turn heat off and wipe the pan with a paper towel. Check potatoes; flip them over and return to oven.

Turn heat on cast-iron skillet to medium and add enough saute oil to cover the bottom. When oil smokes a bit, add the steaks. Brown them on both sides. If you like your meat more than rare, place the pan in the hot oven and let them cook for a couple of minutes there, after they've browned on both sides.

When the meat is done to your specs, place each steak on the serving plates, placing a clean plate on top of each one to keep the steaks hot while you make the sauce. (Foil works here, too).

Lower heat under cast iron skillet, pour off any fat that has built up, and add sliced garlic to the pan. Stir the garlic and let it cook until it has given off its aroma. (It's fine if it browns a little, but take care not to let it burn.) Add the cup of wine and raise heat to high. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up the precious brown bits and incorporating them into the sauce. Let the wine reduce by at least half.

The potatoes are done! Take them out.

When the sauce is reduced, lower heat and add cold butter in small chucks, stirring to incorporate each one. Correct sauce for salt. Spoon sauce over steaks. Divide potatoes between each plate. Toss the salad. Enjoy.
Note: The steak technique was inspired by the very good cookbook Simple to Spectacular, by Jean Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Stir-fried eggs with buckwheat noodles and salad greens

Maverick Farms does not live by eggs alone, although readers can be excused for thinking so. Our new chickens have been such steady producers--five a day, everyday--and the product has been so delicious that's it's been impossible to resist eating eggs daily.

At around 2:00 pm yesterday, I needed a meal that balanced high-quality protein, complex carbohydrates, and fresh vegetables. I had just returned to the farm after spending the weekend at Community Food Security Coalition conference in Atlanta. Intellectually and spiritually, the conference provided rich sustenance. Culinarily, though--save for one pretty good dinner of barbecued ribs and collard greens--it amounted to a disaster.

The Community Food Security Coalition takes pains to point out that local food systems have collapsed, turning areas urban and rural alike into wastelands of soulless, health-wrecking institutional food. Anyone doubting its claims needed only step out of the conference's sky-scraping hotel and into Atalanta's midtown abyss. Not far from the hotel, a giant demonic Coca-Cola billboard broadcast trivia on the beloved local beverage. "How many different types of bottling containers does Coca-Cola use around the world?" the sign asked. "More than 100!" came the answer.

The same sort of degraded, fake diversity held sway in the midtown streets. Hungry conference goers could choose from McDonald's, ESPN--the Zone, Hooters, and the Hard Rock Cafe. Most opted to walk a few blocks to one of those inexplicable indoor urban malls, in whose "food court" one could find that post-modern food item par excellence, the "wrap."

Things weren't much better inside the hotel. Snacks tended to be sugary sweet rolls wrapped in plastic and industrial, placeless Red Delicious apples. Coffee, when available, came from Starbucks. Dismal.

The conference's content, though, was so interesting, and its schedule so packed, that it wasn't until the after it ended, on the way out of town, that we were able to escape midtown and head into Atlanta's neighborhoods for a good meal. We ended up, on a tip from Chowhound's South board, at a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant called C'om, which I heartily recommend to anyone in Atlanta.

First in the green-mango salad, then in the pork bun (grilled pork over rice noodles), I found sharp, precise flavors and crisp, fresh vegetables. Just the thing after a weekend of bland, bad food.

The next day, at the farmhouse, I craved something similar. Not something Vietnamese, per se; but something with clear sharp flavors and fresh vegetables, using whatever was close at hand. No one else was around the house as I began to forage in the kitchen. I found a basketful of fresh eggs, and in the pantry a package of buckwheat noodles. I decided to construct a lunch out of those two items, plus whatever I found in the garden.

From a flourishing patch of Tokyo bikuna, a spicy, tender, light-colored relative of mustard greens, I picked a few big leaves. Next to it a patch of arugula was just finding its legs, not quite ready for harvest. I poached a few of the bigger leaves. A few yards away a patch of Persian cress had come into its own. With this peppery, bright, slightly funky green I filled out my salad. On the way back I spied patch of cilantro. I snipped a handful.

And here is what I did.

Stir-fried eggs with buckwheat noodles and salad greens
Large handfull of salad greens
Cilantro, to taste
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
1 dried red chile pepper, chopped
1 small knob of fresh ginger
oil, for sauteeing
2 eggs
I serving soba noodles
Condiments:
Soy sauce
Rice wine vinegar (Japanese if possible)
Chile-flavored sesame oil

Put water on to boil for for noodles. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk until yolks and whites are just combined. Set beside the range-top. Clean salad greens and set aside on a serving plate. Clean cilantro, chop it coarsely, and set it by range-top. Peel and halve the onion lengthwise, and then slice each half thin. Add it to a cast-iron skillet over medium heat with a little cooking oil; stir and let sizzle. Meanwhile, crush garlic with flat end of knife, and peel, and lay it on a cutting board. Trim the chile of its stem, and chop it coarsely, and place on top of crushed garlic. Peel the ginger with the side of a spoon, chop it coarsely, and place it on the pile with the garlic and chile. Using a rocking motion, chop the the three aromatics together until fine. Give the onions a stir; if they're pretty well-cooked and starting to color a bit, turn the heat to the lowest setting and add the aromatics. Stir and let sizzle lightly.

Now your water is probably boiling. Add the noodles, stirring them into the water. They'll be done in 4-6 minutes. Be careful that the aromatics don't burn; if they are about to, remove them from heat. Just before the noodles are done, return the skillet to medium heat. Drain the cooked noodles and add them to the sizzling hot-pan. Stir. Add the beaten eggs. Stir until scrambled. Add condiments--soy sauce (or tamari), rice vinegar, and sesame oil to taste. Add chopped cilantro. Stir to incorporate. Place noodle-egg stirfry directly over the undressed salad. The heat will wilt the salad, and the greens will absorb the flavors of the aromatics and condiments. Mix it all together with chopsticks, taste and correct for seasoning, and enjoy.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Campus cooking: a Sunday morning tortilla

Editor's note: When Maverick Farms core group member Hillary Wilson isn't spending her summers picking and packing salad greens and waiting tables at farm dinners, she's a student at Warren Wilson College near Asheville, North Carolina. She attained some important cooking skills when she spent a year in Spain while in high school, as the below account will show.

By Hillary Wilson
Every Sunday morning, my dorm mates and I all join in to make a big breakfast feast. A few weeks ago it was my turn to cook. I made yogurt from fresh raw milk from our college's one dairy cow. We also had pancakes, with fresh blueberries from a nearby u-pick farmer. The maple syrup to accompany was from a friends' farm in Vermont. Since we had loads of potatoes from the garden, and none of the girls in my suite had ever tried one, I made a tortilla Espanola for the main dish. Normally when I make a tortilla, I have a cast iron skillet, not a Teflon skillet; I also usually have a sharp knife, not a dull paring knife. This made things a bit more difficult--but, perhaps, also more, triumphant.

To make a tortilla, you need potatoes, eggs, lots of oil, and whatever vegetables or meats you have on hand to mix in. First lightly fry moderately thin potato slices until soft and turning golden but not yet crispy. Remove the potatoes from the pan, let cool while you crack about a dozen eggs into a bowl. Salt the potatoes and add them into the eggs. I usually add in onion, greens, some strong cheese, sausage (chorizo if I have it), etc. But you can also keep it simply potatoes and eggs. Make sure there is plenty of oil in the frying pan, heat the pan and pour the egg mixture into the pan, and cover the top so it begins to solidify throughout. The tortilla will create a nice crust on the bottom and sides, but be careful not to let it burn!

At this point you can either put the tortilla under the broiler in the oven, thus avoiding the possibility of dropping it on the floor, or you can try to flip it and slid it back into the pan to cook on both sides in the oils, creating a more crispy crust. Once it is cooked on both sides, and is solid throughout, flip the tortilla out onto a serving platter; serve hot or cold, preferably with fresh, homemade mayonnaise and good thickly sliced bread.

I have made a lot of tortillas in the last few years, a few of which have ended up on the floor, and so have gotten used to finishing the tortillas off in the oven. But the other morning when I was cooking for my dorm mates, I realized (a little too late) that the pan I was cooking in was Teflon with a had a plastic handle, so there was no way I was getting away with putting it under the broiler. Also, Teflon pans have sloping sides, which makes it all the more difficult to flip out of the pan. Flipping the tortilla means making sure the crust comes clean off the pan all the way around and slides around in the pan. Then with an oversized baking sheet placed over the pan, flip the tortilla out of the pan onto the baking sheet and slide it immediately (before it has time to settle) back into the pan with bottom side up. Fortunately, despite my being out of practice in tortilla-flipping technique, it worked!

I presented my dorm mates with a tortilla Espanola, given a UFO shape from the slope-sided pan, as the centerpiece of our breakfast feast. I believe they enjoyed it, probably as much for its shape and form as for its flavor. When I told them that in Spain freshly made mayonnaise is the usual condiment to the tortilla, they didn't seem too impressed with the European willingness to find any occasion to smother food with fresh mayonnaise. They'll learn.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Farmhouse eggs redux

I too benefit from the luxury of having fresh eggs, though it requires a swift and stealthy hand since my compatriot Tom also eagerly awaits our chickens’ daily gifts. I will offer my own version of what I feel is another superb creation with outstanding ingredients.

Camembert, Watercress, and Ostrich Salami Omelet
3 fresh eggs, beaten
Salted butter
Giacomo's ostrich salami from Greensboro, NC, or any other cured meat product
Chapel Hill Creamery's camembert made with cow's milk, or comparable soft, aged cheese
Watercress
1 medium tomato (yellow is choice, but a nice red one will suffice)
Coarse ground salt and pepper
Cayenne pepper
Nutritional yeast flakes
2 slices of pugliase bread
Dry hard cider or honey mead

Prepare the ingredients. Slice the tomato, Camembert, and salami into omelet-friendly sizes. Gather the spices and have the watercress washed and dried.

Heat a cast-iron skillet on medium and add the butter when the pan is too hot to hold. Quickly add the beaten eggs, rotating the skillet to coat the entire surface with a thin layer of egg. Pierce any bubbles and cook the eggs, uncovered, until the edges begin to curl and the center is still a bit loose. Check the heat, and make sure that the bottom is not browning too fast.

Add the Camembert first, give it a few seconds to melt, then add the salami, tomato, and spices. Make sure to pile the ingredients only on one half of the skillet in order to close the omelet. Add the watercress just before closing the omelet, cook a few seconds and then flip the entire assembly to its other side.

Slide the omelet onto a plate, accompany with the bread, buttered of course, and enjoy with a glass of dry hard cider or honey mead.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Eggs and toast

Maverick Farms bought five new chickens yesterday, bringing our total flock to 11 (one rooster). Our flock peaked at something like 25 in the year and half since we took over the farm; there's been a steady stream of death since the peak, and at some point this summer, a weasel or some other diabolic creature had ravaged our birds, killing five in the span of seven days. A proud old rooster, the "cock of the walk," succumbed during that spasm of violence. The flock was never the same after that, although we managed to secure it from the attacks of predators. A steady stream of nearly one egg per day per hen had fallen close to zero.

The new birds are almost spookily calm, and today two large eggs appeared in the henhouse.

Everyone else around had eaten dinner; I will here recount what I did with those two eggs.

Farmhouse eggs and toast
2 eggs, preferably free range
1 tomato, yellow if possible
2 slices bread
1 handful of watercress, well washed
Extra-virgin olive oil
vinegar--Sherry or whatever is on hand
butter to fry eggs
1 clove garlic
sea salt and pepper
white truffle olive oil (optional)

Crush garlic with a pinch of sea salt in mortar and pestle, or on a cutting board rotating between chopping and pounding with the flat side of a knife. Add to salad bowl with a splash of vinegar and a bigger splash of olive oil. Swish with fork. Add watercress to bowl but don't toss.

Smear bread with olive oil and toast on one side under a broiler. Meanwhile, core tomato and cut of two horizontal slices. When bread is brown on one side, flip and place the tomato slices on top of each one. Sprinkle with sea salt and return to broiler.

Now slice the remaining tomato into wedges and add to salad bowl on top of watercress.

Heat butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. When the foam subsides, add the eggs, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Check bread in oven--it's probably ready now (tomato slices heated through; bread around tomatoes brown). Remove when ready.

Flip eggs and cook to desired doneness.

Place toast on a plate, and add a fried egg to each one. Add a generous grind of pepper to salad, then toss. Correct for salt. Make room on plate, and add salad.

For a decadent result, drizzle the eggs with white truffle oil. Enjoy with a crisp white wine--or better yet, a dry rosé.