Sunday was the first of a once-monthly series of culinary demonstrations at the Hillsdale Farmers Market, given by yours truly, Kathryn Yeomans, of Sage Culinary Advice. In a “Salute to Spring”, I shopped the market, talking to farmers, and choosing ingredients that were very fresh, and very “of the season”. I also brought to the table ingredients that either the farmer chose, thinking them exemplary of their best ingredient of the moment (Valentine cheese from Ancient Heritage Dairy), or that they wanted to see in action (hazlenuts from Greenville Farm). My intent was to shed some light on the thought process of shopping the market without a plan, then letting the ingredients guide the menu. It’s a whole different mindset than grocery store shopping, list in hand. And you get to ask the person who produced your food about what it is you’ll be eating, important in this time of uncertainty about our national food system. Plus, it can result in some very interesting facts, and even more interesting stories!
For example, Paul from Ancient Heritage Dairy guided me to the Valentine cheese for my demo. I was happy to accept, knowing firsthand that this particular creamy, bloomy rind cheese is remarkable. As I began to wander away, I overheard Paul say to a shopper that it would only be available until July. I doubled back – I didn’t know this, and was curious as to why.
Right now, Paul explained, the grass is the best of the year. It is at its sweetest, lush and rich with over 20% protein content. The Valentine produced now is resonant with those springtime sweet creamy flavors of the milk. By July, the grass is more mature. The protein content diminishes, and as the grass begins to seed, its flavor changes. Valentine made with milk later in the season is less creamy-sweet. It becomes herby, mushroomy. A very different cheese. You just can’t get that information at the grocery store from reading the label! Not to mention the charm of a farmer talking about his product.
Here are the ingredients I gathered, and the resulting dishes:
- strawberries and chive blossoms from Stephen’s Farm
- hazelnuts from Greenville Farm
- black kale (aka cavalo nero, aka dinosaur kale, aka lacinato kale) from Deep Roots Farm
- Pacific black cod (sable fish) from Linda Brand Crab Seafood
- purple broccoli from Happy Harvest Farm
- Valentine cheese from Ancient Heritage Dairy
- Lemon-dill vinegar from Blossom Vinegars
- Mint from Gathering Together Farm
A Very Vernal Menu:
Salad: Black Kale Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette & Pecorino Romano Cheese
Entrée: Baked Black Cod with Spring Salsa Verde & Sautéed Purple Broccoli
Cheese Course: Valentine Cheese & Sliced Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar & Toasted Hazlenuts
Salad market ingredients: black kale, lemon-dill vinegar
Black Kale is delicious sautéed, and essential to classic minnestrone soup, but early and late in the season, when the weather is still quite cold (early spring and late autumn through winter), it has a flavor that is sweet and crisp enough to be used as a salad green.
Strip the leaves from the tougher rib. Chiffonade the leaves – stack several leaves one on top of another, then roll them into a cylinder, like a fat cigar. Cut the cylinder crosswise into thin slices, taking care in the process not to crush and bruise the leaves. With your fingers, fluff and separate the strips. Add them to a bowl, and grate Pecorino Romano or Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese over the leaves. You can also use a local grating cheese, in fact this may be preferable – just explain the salad to your favorite cheese vendor, and ask their advice on an appropriate cheese selection.
Make a quick vinaigrette by whisking together lemon-flavored vinegar and good tasting extra virgin olive oil. The ratio of vinegar to oil will be approximately 1:3. So, to 1 tablespoon vinegar, you would add 3 tablespoons of oil, adjusting with a little more oil or vinegar to suit your taste. Season the dressing to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Add the dressing to the kale and cheese, and toss to combine. Adjust with more cheese or dressing to taste.
Entrée market ingredients: black cod, mint, chive blossoms, lemon-dill vinegar, purple broccoli
Black cod, or sable fish, is a very rich tasting firm, flaky white fish. During the demo, I asked the audience how they would like to see me prepare the fish – and explained that I could sauté, bake, pan fry, or bake the fish in a parchment package. A gentleman spoke up – “We’re working people, we want the fastest way!” Excellent point. I explained that pan frying or sautéing would be the fastest cooking method, but that if you just throw it in the oven, you can do your other dinner prep while it’s in there. So we did just that.
Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F. Oil a baking sheet, lay the fish in the pan, skin side down, and season with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. When the oven is hot, place the fish in to bake. Note – bake until the fish is fairly firm, but not dry – cooking time depends on the size of the piece of fish. You can take a thin-bladed knife and gently pry a little between the “flakes” of fish to check – it should be a creamy white color, and moist.
While the fish is baking, make the salsa verde. Take a slice of stale country-style bread (such as a leftover piece of ciabatta from dinner the night before), and soak it in some of the leftover vinaigrette that you made for the salad above. Alternatively, sprinkle it with a little of the lemon-dill vinegar (or tarragon vinegar, or champagne vinegar, or white wine vinegar), and let that soak into the bread. Chop some mint and soft chives (not the hard stems that the chive blossoms perch atop, but the tender blades) and add them to a bowl along with a few rough chopped green olives (such as Sicilian castelvetrano olives) and a filet of anchovy that has been chopped and mashed to a paste. Crumble in the bread (not too fine, you want slightly smaller than crouton sized pieces), and season/moisten all with good flavored extra-virgin olive oil. Season as needed with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Top the fish with the salsa, then garnish with the lovely, mildly oniony flavored chive blossoms (which can also be used as a soup garnish, a salad herb, atop a pasta, or as a flavoring agent in making chive blossom vinegar).
For the broccoli, which in this case is thin and tender, heat some good quality olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the broccoli and season with salt, and cook over medium heat for several minutes until done, tossing frequently. If needed, a tablespoon or two of water can be added to the pan to create steam to facilitate cooking.
cheese plate market ingredients: strawberries, Valentine cheese, hazlenuts
Slice the strawberries, and drizzle with the best balsamico you can afford. In my ideal world, the really expensive one that I brought home in my purse from a fantasy trip to Italy. This combination of strawberries and aged balsamico is a classic Italian pairing. Good flavored balsamic vinegar that has been reduced in a pan until slightly thickened makes an acceptable substitute. Alternatively, inquire with a local vinegar producer whether she might have a vinegar that would work with strawberries in this type of preparation.
Slice the cheese and arrange on a plate with the strawberries. Garnish with hazelnuts.