Friday, March 6, 2009

Iron Chef Monday: Greenmarket!

Some of the many perks of having my mother Dorothy live upstate are the access to beautiful farmland, amazing local ingredients, and far cheaper groceries. My mother’s picturesque town in the Catskills is peppered with farms and livestock. The local farmer’s market is charmingly tiny with tons of tasty things grown or produced by members of the community. Although the farmer’s market and local farming operations essentially die down for most of the winter, the price of food is nevertheless cheaper upstate. Urban inflation is clearly a factor when living in big cities and New York City is certainly no exception. I am always amazed by how much cheaper produce, dairy goods, and meat are at the Price Chopper, my mother’s preferred supermarket. She teaches two days a week down in the city during the spring term and has thankfully established a routine of shopping upstate and driving down her purchases. These culinary runs usually include fresh produce, an animal protein of some sort, home baked cookies or pastries, and a dozen eggs hatched by her chickens. This past Sunday Dorothy arrived at the apartment with a package of amazing bacon and tons of fresh vegetables that I promptly set to work preparing into a series of gustatory delights. The first dish was steamed asparagus with sauce gribiche: a French emulsified sauce made with cooked egg yolks and tons of fresh herbs traditionally served to accompany veal head. This is one of my mom’s signature sauces that goes excellently with steamed or boiled vegetables and Alice Waters often serves it alongside charcuterie and cold appetizers at Chez Panisse.

The second dish was creamed leeks. I am obsessed with leeks and have yet to find a recipe or manner of cooking them that I don’t like. They have such a delicate sweet oniony flavor that lends itself well to soups and stocks though they can also be served solo. I sautéed some minced onions and garlic in a hot pan for a couple of minutes before adding the sliced leeks, well washed and drained beforehand. After the leeks had cooked through I added a splash of heavy cream, a generous handful of grated pecorino, and some black pepper until the sauce thickened. This is a truly tasty dish that I recommend serving with a crusty loaf to soak up the cheesy sauce.

The third dish prepared from fresh produce driven down from upstate was bacon braised kale and broccoli rapini. I know it this point it seems like I eat way too much kale, but I see it as a positive character trait. Kale and other bitter greens are really good to eat and super good for you, two important things when choosing ingredients to cook with or incorporate into our diets. Bitter greens are fast becoming my go-to vegetable side, something I just love to cook with, especially during the winter season when little else is available at local organic grocers or farmer’s markets. For these bacon braised greens, render four strips of smoked bacon chopped into thin strips in a Dutch oven until slightly crispy and then add minced onion and garlic. After a couple of minutes add your greens of choice and wilt down. Add a 1/2 cup of stock (chicken or vegetable works best) and quickly cover the pot. Cook for about 15 minutes then remove the lid and cook another 5-8 minutes until all of the cooking liquid has been evaporated. This is a wonderful side dish that is full of bacon flavor, a great way to make bitter greens. After driving down from the country with shopping bags in tow I of course rewarded my mother with a glass of wine and a delicious vegetable meal. It really is a great deal to receive cheaper groceries once a week which grants me the opportunity to cook on Sunday nights when she gets into town. It is kind of a fun challenge as well because I never know what is going to come out of those shopping bags, sort of my weekly iron chef challenge. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

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