Union FoodLab and Makeshift Co-op

Apples!

Union Food Lab and Makeshift Co-op

I went to a wonderfully progressive college. At one point I remember overhearing a spirited debate about a potential honey boycott because the bees might have been making the honey under duress. (Since I graduated, the bees have unionized and are now allowed to add at least one dependent onto the company health plan).

One of the great successes of the school was its system of food co-ops. Students committed to investing a certain number of hours per week doing cooking or cleaning work and got to eat freshly-prepared meals with very good ingredients. Most of the co-ops even had a designated bread baker and there was fresh bread available at nearly every meal.

I was recently asked to speak at Union Food Lab about eating more sustainably without spending a huge amount of money. Union Food Lab rents out its commercial kitchen space to food artisans looking to expand their businesses. They also work on multiple projects focusing on culinary arts, nutrition training, and food justice and poverty.

The plan was to chat for a while with the grad students at Union and then enjoy a simple dish of local peaches and cream. The students were interested in eating locally when they could, but had time constraints that made shopping and prep difficult. A student suggested that one person could wash a large amount of salad greens at one time and leave them in a Ziploc bag for others to use. Another who enjoyed making stock suggested making it in bulk so that soup-based meals could be made in a matter of minutes. Another simply suggested that a different person could handle the farmer’s market shopping itself each week.

Many of us do not have the resources to be a part of a co-op or supper club. Of course these are great ways to share the admittedly large amount of work required to produce high quality, creative home-cooked meals. But as I spoke to the students at Union, I wondered if there might be a middle ground that could be extraordinarily effective.

We all like it when a neighbor leaves a bag of fresh apples or tomatoes on our doorsteps. But as a home-cook, I would appreciate just as much some leftover greens, some chicken stock or even some minced onions. I know finding any of these things at home would make that night’s food preparation much easier. I certainly don’t recommend knocking on your neighbor’s doors and demanding that they make you demi-glace, but you might ask if they plan to make Thanksgiving dinner this year and if so, drop them some vegetable or chicken stock. It is unlikely to cost you much additional time or money if you are making it anyway, and someone might get to taste a Thanksgiving dish made with homemade stock for the first time . You never know. In fact, I’d love to hear from other home-cooks what they would most enjoy receiving were they to start some kind of makeshift co-op themselves.

At the end of our talk, our plan had been to toss some Ronnybrook Cream into a Kitchenaid and spoon the cream over some of the last peaches of the season. We found out though that no kitchen appliances were available, so we got to work. One woman said she hadn’t realized that whipped cream could be made from fresh cream but offered to start cutting up the fruit. Another said she wanted a workout and grabbed a whisk and started making the cream. A young man mentioned that if we tore the mint into small pieces before garnishing the plate, the fruit would look better. In about ten minutes we had shared good conversation, each other’s labor, and a spectacularly simple but delicious dessert. Oh, and speaking of labor, please disregard the beginning of this post as I was just informed that Scott Walker has stripped the bees of bargaining rights.

 

 

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Spring Kale and Goat Cheese Ravioli

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I used to love Olive Garden when I was little but I always thought the name ‘Olive Garden’ had very little to do with the actual experience of eating there. I do remember an olive or two in the salad and I suppose there might be a garden involved somewhere in the process of producing the food, though I doubt it looks very much like the gardens any of us have at home.

In warmer weather, I do crave lighter foods and I like to taste vegetables throughout as many courses of the meal as possible. Salads are of course incredibly easy to make this time of year but with a bit of work, it’s possible to make the entire meal taste bright and vegetal and that’s exactly what many of us crave as summer sets in.

I love the fresh goat cheese from Lynnhaven. Their cheese is grassy, a bit tart and perfect for making a vegetable dish a bit richer. I’ve found great fresh goat cheeses at markets in nearly every region of the US. Most of my guests are omnivores but none of us misses meat when we eat this ravioli. Nor do we miss the unlimited salad. A regular bowl of salad on the side seems to do just fine.

Spring Kale and Goat Cheese Ravioli

Start by making a batch of basic pasta dough. I use a little extra egg yolk when I have very fresh eggs on hand.

In a food processor, add:

1.5 Cups Flour

1 Egg + 2 Egg Yoks

1 teaspoon of olive oil

1 teaspoon of salt

Turn processor on and slowly add ½ cup of water until dough forms into a ball.

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

 

For the filling:

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a pan over medium heat with one clove of chopped garlic

Rinse and chop a small head of spring kale and add to pan

Sautee for 4 minutes or until the kale softens

Add a splash of white wine or lemon juice and cook for another minute or so

Turn off heat and let cool to room temperature

In a small bowl, stir 6 oz of fresh, local goat cheese (soft chevre rather than aged) and add the kale mixture

Add a pinch of salt and a bit of ground black pepper

 

To Assemble:

Using a pasta maker, roll dough into sheets and cut into 12 4”x4” squares

Add tablespoon of filling to each square and top with another square of pasta

Seal with a fork or with your fingers

(You can cover them at this point and leave them in the fridge or even freeze them to make another time)

 

To finish:

Heat a small saucepan of salted water until it comes to a boil

While water is heating up, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet over medium/low heat and add a pinch of salt and a few sage leaves or whatever herbs you have on hand and a drizzle of lemon

Cook ravioli in boiling water for 2 minutes and then strain and add to pan with butter

Toss ravioli in sauce and serve 3 ravioli in each bowl

Drizzle the remaining sauce over the pasta

Garnish with pea shoots or a few pieces of raw kale

 

Serve with Unlimited Breadsticks

 

 

Pepper Roulette– Blistered Shishito Peppers with Salt

Shishito Peppers #2

Pepper Roulette– Blistered Shishito Peppers with Salt

The farmers say that 1 out of every 12 of these peppers is very hot and that you should be careful. I’ve certainly eaten a fair number of hot ones over my shishito pepper eating years and I’ve never found them to be excruciatingly spicy or anything like that. The rare hot one is somewhere between the medium salsa at a New Hampshire Mexican restaurant and a jalapeno. But it can be a rush to put a plate of these on the table and then watch to see who gets the hot one. It’s like a very low stakes game of roulette where if you lose, you simply have to have a sip of water and then you can play again. Speaking of low stakes, this is one of the easiest and fool-proof dishes that I’ve ever made and they are always delicious as long as you find good peppers at your farmers market and have a decent cast iron skillet. That’s not to put down the great Spanish tapas bars in NYC like Txikito that do this dish beautifully. It’s just that it’s accessible for most home-cooks as well. So get ready for pepper roulette and remember, always bet on shishito.

Blistered Shishito Peppers with Salt

Preheat broiler

Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of good olive oil over 1 Pint of Shishito Peppers

Add a pinch of Kosher salt and toss to coat

Put peppers in a cast iron skillet and broil for 5-7 minutes or until they start to blister

Taste again and add more salt if desired

Balcony Omelettes

Balcony Omlettes!

I always thought that a garden on a 10th floor balcony would be protected from squirrels. But no. Even though we have only a few small plants, squirrels are willing to climb the 10 stories for a shot at some organic vegetables. I always knew squirrels were serious about their health and diets and had high standards for local produce, but this is a little much. My wife planted garlic chives and marigolds, which actually repel them.

But because we made such efforts to protect our crop, I find myself savoring every bit of produce we get from our tiny garden and making sure nothing goes to waste. Now and then we have some extra herbs and vegetables that are more than we need for dinner. Sometimes there are extra eggplants or hot peppers but most often, we have extra cherry tomatoes and basil. They are of course good on their own or in pasta but if they need to be eaten the next morning, they work well in omelettes.

There is something energizing about having such fresh herbs and vegetables in the morning and there are very good local eggs available all over now. I’ve also been cooking with crème fraiche from Ronnybrook Farms. (I love the crème fraiche from VT Butter and Cheese Company as well). It’s tangy and rich and works really well with the bright taste of fresh tomato. Obviously, there are endless combinations of fillings that work here but I find this to be the most simple and satisfying. It works.

Omelette with Balcony Tomatoes and Basil ($2.50/serving)

In a small cast iron skillet, heat  1.5 teaspoons of butter and a teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat

Beat 3 eggs together with a pinch of salt and pepper

Pour egg mixture in skillet and let cook for about a minute

When bottom of omlette just starts to firm up, spoon two teaspoons of crème fraiche into middle of egg mixture

Cook for another 30 seconds or so and add a few halved cherry tomatoes and some basil leaves

Fold omlette and plate with some extra basil leaves on the top.

Check balcony for squirrels.

Grilled Cornish Hens with Garlic Scape Pesto

Grilled Cornish Hens with Garlic Pureed Garlic Scapes and Lemons (farmers market bill $18/2 servings= $9/serving)

When I say Cornish, surely you must think of everyone’s favorite Celtic language. Or maybe a taste that reminds you slightly of corn.  Not corn entirely but corn-ish. But when I hear the word, I think of the Cornish Game Hens that are popping up at farmers markets all over  the place. They are really just small chickens but their meat is delicate, they cook quickly, and they can take bold seasonings. I’m also seeing lots of garlic scapes hanging out at the farmers markets these days often for a dollar or 2 per bunch. And if there is a better way to blast a dish full of garlic flavor, I’m not sure what it is.

I like to puree the scapes in a food processor along with some lemon juice and salt. Herbs are great here too if you have any hanging around. Also, I love grilling some dandelion greens or even chard right alongside the birds.

Cook well and see you in Cornwall!

Grilled Cornish Hens with Garlic Pureed Garlic Scapes and Lemons

The night before:

Puree 4 garlic scapes, 2 cloves of garlic, and the juice from 1 lemon (reserve lemon halves for later) in a food processor.

Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pulse to blend together.

With a chef’s knife or kitchen shears, split hen down the middle

Put the halves in a large bowl and pour garlic scape puree over

Cover and refrigerate overnight

Preheat a gas grill with the flame on as high as possible

Remove hen from marinade and pat dry

Grill hens skin side down for 5 minutes and then rotate and cook for another 3

Turn heat to low and flip hen over

Baste with marinade and place lemon halves on top of hen

Close grill top and cook for 12-15 minutes and then check thigh temperature

When the thigh temperature reads 175

Remove hen from grill and let it rest for 10 minutes so juices have time to reincorporate.

New Haven Style Clam Pizza (from Behind Enemy Lines)

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New Yorkers are proud of their pizza. There are good slices to be had on corners in the Village, amazing pies to be found throughout most of Brooklyn and upscale pizzas served in trendy restaurants with hipster waiters promising that their crusts are ‘bold and festive.’

But 90 miles away in New Haven, there is an even more intense, albeit smaller pizza pride movement. Indeed the clam pies at New Haven’s legendary Pepe’s are truly remarkable. The pizza is not cheese-heavy and the flavor hints of the very best Pasta alle Vongole you’ve ever tasted. Garlicy, buttery and briny at the same time but with a chewy crust. I’m afraid to sing the praises of New Haven’s pizza while only 3 blocks away from one of New York’s most intense pizza joints which has had a line out the door for the last 25 years but sometimes, I prefer New Haven style pies. And I like them even more when they’re made at home with local ingredients.

I had been playing around with Mario Batali’s pizza crust recipe using local honey to add the tiniest bit of sweetness to the dough. And don’t get me started on local clams. They are one of most affordable ways to make a top-tier local meal at home. And because a good clam pie has only a little cheese, it’s an ideal way to showcase firmer, sharper, local cheeses.

So get that pizza stone in the oven and get ready for what could be…hang on…someone’s coming. I mean “New York has the best pizza in the world! I love it. I don’t like anything else.”

New Haven Style Clam Pizza (from Behind Enemy Lines)

Farmers Market Bill $7/2 servings = $3.50/serving

Make enough pizza dough using your favorite recipe to make 2 large or 4 small pizzas

Roll out pizza into an 8-9 inch round

Preheat pizza stone to 500 (or 550 if possible) for half an hour

Coarsely chop 3 cloves of garlic

Steam a dozen small clams in a half-cup of water and reserve cooking liquid

Remove clams from shell and set aside

Add 1 and 1/2  tablespoons of butter to clam cooking liquid and stir in chopped garlic

Grate a half-cup of firm, local pecorino or other sharp cheese

Dust pizza peel with a small handful of cornmeal

Place crust on pizza peel

Sprinkle cheese on top along with a pinch of salt

Spoon clams on top of cheese and drizzle butter/garlic mixture over the top

Place pizza on stone

Bake pizza for 6 minutes or until brown on top

Serve with a local IPA or red ale

Sautéed Calamari w/ Grape Tomatoes and Summer Herbs

Sautéed Calamari w/ Grape Tomatoes and Summer Herbs

Farmers Market Bill $12/4 servings= $3/serving

Most things that come with a side of marinara are yummy. Mozzarella sticks, mini-calzones, and calamari. In fact, I think after a particularly late night once, I might have ordered an appetizer sampler with all of the above. That’s what happens when you watch all the Police Academy movies back to back. Eventually, it’s 2AM and you start craving something with a side of marinara.

But if it’s earlier in the day perhaps you have good ingredients around, there might be an even tastier option.

The squid from Long Island was described to me by a fellow farmers market shopper as ‘The most underrated thing at any farmers market.’  It’s cheap, extremely easy to prepare, delicious, sustainable, and available much of the year. This time of year, there are plenty of tomatoes as well. And some of you I know are still trying to get rid of herbs from your garden and this is a good way to do it.

I do this with only the tiniest bit of breading and a very hot pan. It certainly has the bite of good calamari, but it’s missing the heaviness of the fried version and the raw tomatoes make the whole thing an ideal warm-weather main course. In fact, I think that after making the dish, you’ll agree that sides of marinara are for late nights and bad movies, but not usually for fresh and seasonal cooking.

Sautéed Calamari w/ Grape Tomatoes and Summer Herbs

Farmers Market Bill $12/4 servings= $3/serving

Heat 2 tablepoons of olive oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat

Blot dry 1.5 pounds of squid and slice into small rings

Season a half cup of bread crumbs with salt and pepper

Add a teaspoon of white flour

Dredge squid very lightly in breadcrumb flour mixture and place in pan

(If your pan is crowded, do this in smaller batches or the squid may not brown)

Sauté for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally

Slice a pint of grape or cherry tomatoes in half

Chop a large handful of basil, tarragon, parsley, or whatever else is fresh

Toss squid with tomatoes and herbs

Squeeze the juice of half a lemon and drizzle with olive oil

Add salt and pepper to taste