If you’ve ever taken a class from me or know me at all you know that all cooking and eating I do is dictated by the season. In this case, it’s winter; I say that just in case you’ve been hibernating in a basement for the past few months or have had the shades severely drawn. Listen, I feel it’s more and more my sole purpose this time of year to convince fellow Minnesotans that you CAN eat quite locally here in the cold months. I don’t utter that to be obnoxious or out of that bit in me who craves a challenge, but because there really are a lot of options for seasonal eating now.
Head to your local food co-op this week and as you shuffle round the produce section notice the local cabbages, winter squashes, potatoes, onions, hydroponic lettuces, mushrooms, herbs, and root vegetables (too many to list here, but oh you must grab a few of the Rock Spring carrots, so sweet right now). And if you find a moment to head to a local indoor farmers market you can grab local dairy, poultry, eggs, meat, and seafood. Yes, yes, I can grow tired (as do my clients from time to time) of the limitations of the season, but each year it gets easier and I only appreciate what’s to come in spring even more. (This spring I get to harvest, for the first time, from my asparagus beds and I’m giddy about it.)
My product spotlight of the month is LaBore Farms’ and their delicious hydroponic lettuces and watercress. They are a small company out of Faribault, MN and provide consistently yummy lettuces all year round. In case you’re new to the term hydroponic, it is a method of cultivating a crop in a nutrient water solution versus soil. I’ve flip-flopped over the years on how I feel about hydroponics; it comes down to this for me, I just love dirt! But I think that some hyrdoponic growing is getting better. I still will never (except when my toddler begs me at the market, such as last week) purchase a hydroponic tomato, but I do think the clean, crisp taste of lettuces and cucumbers (and even eggplant) farmed this way can be especially refreshing in the winter. Check out Mississippi Market’s article on this local farm.
If you recall, I’ve begun a new informal, hands-on, intimate class series in my own kitchen, called Home-School. The idea is to offer small classes based on practical subjects, nearly one-on-one with me, once a month. Really, it’s a place for me to just have fun and do things on my terms, in my own quarters—a bit rogue. This is a great gift idea (and I do have lovely gift certificates I can send) or an unusual place to gather a small group of your friends; spread the word!
Yep, we’re at the heart of soup-making season; I thought I’d include a soup recipe here from my Soup Master class, a delicious and versatile minestrone:
8 oz dried navy or cannellini beans (preferably soaked overnight)
1 bay leaf
few thyme sprigs
kosher salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil
4 slices smoked pancetta or bacon, chopped
1 large red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 yellow or red potatoes
½ head of fennel
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
few sprigs each of rosemary and thyme, leaves stripped
28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
glass of red wine
½ lb Swiss chard, spinach, or kale, leaves washed and chopped
2 cups chicken, ham, vegetable, or remainder bean stock
2 oz dried macaroni
Parmesan rind, if you have one, plus Parmesan to shred over top to garnish
Rinse your beans and add them to a large saucepan with fresh water to cover by a few inches. Bring to a boil and then to a simmer and then add the bay leaf and a few thyme sprigs. Stir your beans regularly; they could take anywhere from 30-60 minutes to cook, depending on how fresh the beans are. Once they are just tender remove them from the heat and set aside.
While the beans are cooking, make your soffrito. Heat a splash of olive oil in a heavy soup pot and add your chopped pancetta or bacon, onions, carrots, celery, fennel, potato, garlic, herbs and Parmesan rind if you have it. Sweat slowly on low-medium heat, with the lid ajar, for around 15-20 minutes until soft but not brown. Add your canned tomatoes and red wine and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Now add your greens, stock, and beans. Add your macaroni, stir and continue to stir until the pasta is cooked.
If you think the soup is looking too thick, add a little more stock to thin it down. Then taste and season with salt and pepper.
Top this soup with a drizzle of olive oil and a shredding of Parmesan, or you can add a dollop of green pesto. In the winter I like to make a kale pesto (check out my previous blog entry for this recipe) to top this soup and then omit the greens from the recipe.