Saturday, May 3, 2008

Hau Do You Do?

Googlemaps has betrayed me. Last weekend I decided to take a multitasker's vacation: after finishing market and getting in a quick tutoring session with one of my students, I hit the road for Athens, GA and its surrounding farmland. My plan was the visit Cedar Grove Farms--a small organic farm some friends recently established--rush back into Athens for the later half of my cousin's play, and then visit my grandfather, who had recently been involved in a car accident. I had everything timed down to the minute.

Alas, 6:15 found me sans cell reception at the tail end of a dirt road in what could easily pass for Deliverance country. This was not the farm I was looking for. After some backtracking, the interrogation of one rather bemused jogger, and several frazzled cell phone conversations, I found my farm, in the process relinquishing all hopes of accomplishing many tasks in a single day. My hosts were extremely gracious about my delay (perhaps because of the baked goods I brought?) and kindly gave me the tour of their young operation.

At three years old, Cedar Grove and Serenbe are close in age, though Cedar Grove carries the distinction of having been started by total rookies. My friends had never farmed before setting up shop at Cedar Grove, but they have learned fast. As proof of their resolve and hard work, they are already nearing the end of their first asparagus harvest. That may not sound like such an accomplishment, but consider this: it takes three years for asparagus to produce a first harvest. They must have hit the ground running.

I spent the better part of three hours touring the three acres they have under production, swapping stupid chicken stories, favorite plant varieties, and general growing advice. As the late spring twilight settled into the corners, we moved inside and our conversation moved to the future: for their farm, for Athens' Farmer's Markets, and for the world in the face of a global food crisis. By the time I finally left Cedar Grove my headlights were turned to highbeams and my backseat was stuffed with produce. Their greenhouse is an unheated hoophouse, in which they grow greens all winter long, so their Swiss chard and dwarf Siberian kale were farther along than our own. In addition to the chard and kale, they supplied me with two of my favorite springtime treats, fresh asparagus and tiny, succulent strawberries. I'm hard pressed to think of a better birthday present!

Swiss Chard Gratin
Serves 6
This is a phenomenally tasty yet simple recipe that celebrates chard. Do it right by using good cheese and whole milk. Your tastebuds will thank you, I promise.

2 lb (12-16 leaves) swiss chard, stems sliced and leaves cut into 1-inch ribbons
4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, halved and sliced
2-3 shitake mushrooms, sliced (optional)
1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 cup grated Gruyere or Asiago cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the chard stems and cook for 2 minutes. Add the leaves and cook and additional minute. Drain well and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish with butter.

Melt butter over medium high heat in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Wish in the flour to form a paste. Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil. Reduce the hear and stir in the cheese. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat. Fold in the chard.

Transfer to the prepared dish and sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs.

Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the top is browned.

Portuguese Kale Soup
Serves 4
I had a lot of veggies on hand this week (more so than usual) so I did quite a bit of cooking. As a matter of fact, all of that time in the kitchen--coupled with full days on the farm--are probably the reason for my rather sporadic blogging as of late. Hopefully, after sampling this recipe, you'll agree that my absence was worth it. I was introduced to kale less than two years ago, and I can still remember eying the massive, tough leaves with apprehension. Luckily, the CSA program I had subscribed to included a delicious recipe (which I have since lost...good one, MK) and I have been a fan ever since. This soup is a snap to make, filling enough to stand alone as a meal, and according to my cookbook is one of the national dishes of Portugal. When I first read the recipe I feared that it was too simple to be particularly flavorful. How wrong I was!

1/2 lb chorizo sausage, sliced
8 cups chicken broth
2-4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
12 oz. kale, stems discarded and leaves chopped (8 cups lightly packed)
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the chorizo and stock in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer while you prepare the potatoes.

Combine the potatoes with water to cover in a medium-size saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain and briefly mash with a potato masher for an uneven, lumpy texture. Add to the chicken broth along with the kale.

Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the kale is quite tender. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.


Melissa said...

You are a brilliant writter! I may have to steal some of those recipies too!

Kate said...

I fully intend to made your gratin when chard finally comes into season here. Noting convinces reticent veggie eaters (ahem Jeremy) like a good gratin!

I also wanted to invite you into a brewing brainstorm. As you may know, we're planning to get married in late May of '09 in Blue Ridge, GA. We want to source all of our food locally, and I'm beginning the process of exploring our resources now. I was wondering a) if you know any farmers in that region (i'm wondering if we can keep it within 50-100 miles), b) if you have ideas for what to serve based on seasonal availability, and c) whether I might invite you to be involved in food acquisition/preparation. Interested?

We'll talk more soon. Yoou just seemed like the perfect person to bring into the loop. :) happy tomato planting!!!