Tuesday, 18 September 2012

ITKP: "From Scratch Recipes from Farm to Table"

This past Saturday, three students joined me for easily the longest pre-planned In the Kitchen practicum program of the entire Food and Culture Colloquium, the length of time--3.5 hours, which eventually stretched to 4--being attributed to the fact that the first major component of the program was spent at the Granville Farmers Market. Transferred to the parking lot of St. Edward's Catholic Church in Granville (as opposed to its usual location in relatively much closer proximity to The Open House, there seemed to be something magical (and arguably larger) about this farmers market more than any other I've been to in the village. Perhaps it was because all of the vendors were centralized into two compact rows as opposed to the more spread out layout of previous markets, or maybe it was the fact that we came to the market with a heightened sense of purpose: a menu, roughly pre-planned, but entirely at the mercy of whatever was being sold that day. In many respects, our second FCC module set the stage for what will also be the closest we could come to replicating a "Slow Food"-style meal within the structure of the colloquium. Following our voyage to the market (in which we could have been willingly lost were it not for the fact that we were getting hungry just thinking about our menu), we drove back to The Open House to create, from scratch, truly hands-on dishes. For this week's practicum, and armed with a strict market budget of $20 (though prepared for as much as $27) our menu included: homemade whole wheat pasta with kale pesto; potato pancakes with microwave apple sauce; baked onion with roasted bell pepper, roma tomato, thyme and balsamic; and pawpaw chocolate chip bread. 

After completing a tour of the market, we reconvened as a group and moved from vendor to vendor in search for ingredients. Our first purchase was made at the stand of Sunbeam Family Farm, located in Alexandria, where we bought kale ("the superfood garnish") and then later returned to buy yellow onions. Continuing onward with the kale pesto pasta ingredient list, the students sampled the cheese selection and settled on pepper jack from (Olde Village Meats, based in Frazeysburg); as our luck would have it, red pepper flakes were to be found on the ingredients list of this recipe, and so the peppery bite was just what we were looking for. With a stop at Lancaster's IJ Schwartz & Family for whole wheat flour, Ian Schwartz briefly explained the milling process before our ingredients for this dish were complete.

One of our first stops upon arriving to the market was a table set with the sweeter equivalent of the American banana-- the pawpaw. Dubbed last year in this article as "America's forgotten fruit," it's rather interesting that this food native to American culinary identity seems to have been revived and even honored in such events as Ohio's Pawpaw Fetival (ironically also having taken place this past weekend). Almost immediately, I thought about baking pawpaw [in lieu of banana] bread and so we added this (however unplanned) to our other ingredients. (Unfortunately, as we came to later find out, the ones selected for us were not quite ripe and ended up having a neutral taste, but more on that later.)

Dessert now out of the way, we moved onto the principal ingredient of potato pancakes (also known as latkes): um, well, potatoes. For this, we turned to Farmer Dick--host of Slow Food Columbus's "Shake the Hand that Feeds You" dinner and owner of Flying J Farm in Johnstown. In our brief conversation with him, he helped us find four of the biggest potatoes from this yield, of which there were few as we found out the weather was not the kindest this growing season. As we walked around, one of the students (Julia) thought about homemade apple sauce as a perfect compliment to the potato pancakes. But this wouldn't just be any homemade apple sauce... she would be making microwaved apple sauce. For this, we went to Airy View Orchard's stand and asked which of their apples would be the best to purchase; in the end, Cortlands--a cross between the McIntosh and Ben Davis apple--were what we wanted.

From there, we  were on the hunt for our remaining ingredients, all of which centered around baked onions. Last year on the Cooking Channel, I saw Laura Calder make baked onions with vinaigrette; however, given that I had initially intended on making a completely vegan menu, I erred on the side of caution and worked with this recipe to build our filling. We again jumped around and went to the stands of Bird's Haven Farms for roma tomatoes and Maple Valley Farm for a pair of green bell peppers (really, for these two ingredients, we only needed half of what we ended up purchasing). Toward the end of our trip around the tents, we had just enough money to also purchase fresh thyme from ( ), of which one of the co-owners is an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Denison, Peter Kuhlman. I think this goes to show you never really know who your farmer is or where your food may come from! With our shopping complete, we made our way back to The Open House to finally begin our cooking extravaganza. 

As the students began peeling and grating potatoes, deveining kale, dicing tomatoes, grating about 1/2 c pepper jack, mashing pawpaws and scooping (and subsequently very finely chopping) as much of each onion as possible [cut the bottom so the onion can sit flat and then the top so you can use a spoon to carefully create wells for the eventual filling (leaving at least 1/2"-thick walls) -- as per these instructions], I began multi-tasking the prep work for our lunch's other components. Onto the stovetop on medium heat went a pan with frying oil (canola/vegetable) for the potato pancakes, as well as a small pot of salted water for the kale and a larger pot of salted water for cooking the pasta. The broiler was set to high heat and the green bell pepper went onto a baking sheet and into the oven (top rack) until they blistered (charred); when you hear the pepper popping, flip it over to char the other side. After an elapsed (total) time of about 12-15 minutes, get the peppers out of the oven and into a plastic bag. Seal the bags and leave them along for another 10 minutes or so.

Still leaving the broiler on high, get a tray of sliced almonds (about 1/3 c) onto the top rack of the oven and toast them for a few minutes, just until browned. Do pay close attention so they don't burn! To be safe, you may want to switch the broiler to low heat.

By the time the almonds are in the oven, the water of the smaller pot should begin to boil; as the kelp is deveined (i.e., prepped: the stalk is cut from the leaf), get them into the water to cook down for about 10 minutes. Once sufficiently wilted, rescue the kelp and transfer them to another bowl, aiming to drain out as much water as possible during the transfer. If the kale cooked longer than 10 minutes, it would be a good idea to quickly get ice and cold water into a larger bowl under the transfer bowl to stop any residual heat from further cooking the kale.

While the kale is cooking down (again, be conscientious of the almonds), finely chop the leaves of half a bunch of thyme sprigs.

After removing the almonds from the oven, switch it to bake at 350°F. As the oven figures itself out, take your bell peppers and peel off their outer skins. Dice them and transfer them to a bowl; to this, add  the diced romato tomatoes, a generous pinch each of salt and ground black pepper, the finely chopped thyme and about 1/4-1/3 c balsamic vinegar. Combine these ingredients, adjust for taste and spoon them into your cored onions. The onions go onto a tin foil-lined baking sheet and into the oven covered with another sheet of tin foil. In the future, I'd definitely buy half the ingredients (or larger onions) because what we ended up getting yielded much more than was needed. Also, make sure to plan out the timeframe of your oven use; we only had about an hour in the oven for these (and even then I broiled these uncovered for an additional 10 minutes). Aim to get these in, loosely covered, for at least 90 minutes at 350°F as intended (I had initially put this in with convection heat which actually cooked these at 325°F).

Up next to put together was the kale pesto. Drain as much water as possible from the kale and into a food processor, add the kale, 1/4 c toasted almonds, a touch of garlic salt (or use a few cloves of fresh garlic), ground black pepper and about 3/4 c canola oil. Pulse the ingredients until chopped and combined, then add about 1/2 c (depending on taste preference) of the grated pepper jack. If need be (e.g., because the ingredients aren't combining smoothly) slowly add more canola oil.

As I worked on the pesto, one of the students (Michelle) had been working on the potato pancakes. After grating the potatoes drain from them as much water as possible into a separate bowl; as I've done before, allow the starch to separate from the water and pour as much of the water out, reserving as much starch as possible. Add this back to the grated potatoes, along with the finely chopped onion (and its juices), a touch each of salt and ground black pepper, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1 scrambled egg and about 2 tbsp whole wheat flour (or use regular all-purpose flour if that's all you have). If you're aiming for a vegan dish (as is the case in this recipe) and/or going for a gluten-free dish (as is the case in this one), replace the egg with 2 tbsp water, 1 tbsp olive oil, and 2 tsp baking powder, and don't add any of the flour. Once mixed together, fry the potato pancakes in your oil (this entire, make sure to watch the pan to make sure it doesn't get too hot/the oil doesn't completely evaporate), flattening out small mounds of the potato batter and frying each side for about 2-3 minutes.

To finish up the potato pancake dish, Julia made an accompaniment of microwave apple sauce by first peeling and slicing four Cortland apples and then microwaving them until they reached the proper consistency (stirring every few minutes, for a total of about 15 minutes).

Between the onions and the potato pancakes, our third student (Mary) worked on pulling together the pawpaw bread batter, the ratios of which we composed from memory. Into a mixing bowl went 1 c whole wheat flour, 1/2 c dark brown sugar, a pinch of salt and 2 tsp baking powder; to this was added a separately mixed together concoction of 1 egg, 1/4 c vegetable oil (we later added an addition 1/4 c canola oil, as we ran out of vegetable oil and the batter was too dry) and 1/4 c melted unsalted butter. Once thoroughly combined, we added about 1/2 c chocolate chips and three mashed medium-size pawpaws (peeled and de-seeded, of course). As noted earlier, the pawpaws were not ripe; you'll know immediate if it's too firm and is white/pale yellow when you cut into it. Don't add the pawpaws to the batter if this is the case, as the pawpaws are tasteless and add nothing but an unnecessary bite in texture. This goes into the oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean when tested.

Finally, after all of the aformentioned were completed, one major thing was still left untouched: the pasta dough. Thankfully fresh pasta dough doesn't take much to pull together or to cook for that matter. Dividing up the remaining whole wheat flour we purchased, we created two mounds of about 1 c whole wheat flour each. After making small wells, we add a pinch of salt and then carefully added one whisked egg to each. As the students began to knead the dough and incorporate the egg, I added 6 tbsp (measured with an actual large table spoon, as opposed to a measuring spoon) water; for the vegan version, just combine your flour, salt and water. Once the dough was smooth and the proper consistency (i.e., doesn't stick to your hands but not so dry that it falls apart when rolled out), the students worked together to run chunks of dough through the pasta machine; when the dough could pass through the 8th or 9th marker of the machine (i.e., as thin as possible without breaking), they ran the dough sheet through the linguine cutter. Once through, the pasta went straight to the (certainly-by-now) boiling water along with a few tablespoons of canola oil to help prevent the noodles from sticking to each other. The pasta is done cooking after it floats to the surface.

To the cooked (and drained) pasta, mix in the kale pesto adding more oil as needed if the sauce is too thick and difficult to spread throughout the noodles. To finish off the dish, crush and sprinkle the remaining toasted almonds and any/all of the remaining shredded pepper jack. (Apologies for the poor lighting in the above shot!)

With latkes and apple sauce done, as well as the pasta and pesto, and soon after the bread, we started eating to give the onions a bit more time to cook longer (this is when I set them under the broiler).

Of course, I waited for the onions to finish cooking so I could finish them off with a garnish of a sprig of thyme...

...and take this composed photo of these three complete dishes!

Whew, now I'm getting hungry again... I'll end this post by saying that midway through our clean-up, we cut into the pawpaw bread. Again, because of the underripe pawpaws, there wasn't much of a pawpaw taste, but the proper texture was certainly there-- a great way to end a great program of food and culture! For the rest of this practicum's photos, click here.

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