The Local Food Report: Community Green

Kristie Kapp believes in food. She believes in the honesty of it, the simplicity of it, the way it can bring people together into a roaring, celebratory crowd. She believes in growing it—not only for her own family, but also for those who might not have a yard to plant, a sunny balcony, a house.

Kristie works for the Housing Assistance Corporation of Cape Cod, as their agricultural program manager, and all these beliefs fit in with what they're doing just right. They own 45 acres in Sandwich, off Jan Sebastian Road, and one day, they're hoping to turn it into affordable housing centered around a working farm. Tenants could get agricultural job training and work, and the community could come to workshops and to buy food.

They're a few years out from that goal, but in the meantime, they've put in a community garden, and this summer, Kristie got a few plots, to start learning to work this land, see how it responds. The goal was to learn, but also to produce: each plot had a local sponsor, and each week Kristie brought three of the housing shelters the HAC runs two grocery bags each of fresh, homegrown produce.

The produce was a hit at all of them, but at one house in particular—Carriage House in Falmouth—Kristie felt like it did the most good. Once a week Lynn Voccola, an HAC employee who's training to be a chef, volunteered to cook, and helped the families learn what to do with the produce. In the process, she put out some pretty wonderful food. Kristie remembers hearing quite a bit about the ratatouille they made with eggplants and tomatoes and peppers from the garden, and there was another meal, a chicken, fennel, and leek gratin, that had everyone pretty pleased.

It's a small start, she says, but one that fits with all of her beliefs. Next year, she's hoping to do it again, harvesting the strawberries and raspberries and asparagus she planted this year. Eventually, of course, she's hoping they'll be growing so much on the farm there will be plenty to send over to keep the shelters in produce each week. The first tenants move in to the first affordable housing unit in December—so who knows, it could be sooner than we think.


Lynn was kind enough to share her recipe. She says she made it this summer as an experiment because of an over-abundance of fennel from the garden, and it turned out to be a real hit. So here it is, in her words:

1 bulb fennel
2 leeks
1 medium white onion
2 cloves garlic
8 ounces mushrooms, optional
1 tablespoon olive oil
7 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth, heated
2 cups half and half, heated
2 and 1/2 cups shredded cheese (Lynn says she has used various combinations of mozzarella, Parmesan, Asiago, Greyere, and Swiss with equal success)
3-4 cups cooked chicken, diced
1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente
salt to taste
white pepper to taste
nutmeg to taste
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13 by 9 inch casserole dish.

Wash, trim, and slice the fennel into 1/2 inch pieces. Trim off the dark green part of the leeks and slice in half lengthwise. Leeks can be filled with dirt and sand, so rinse thoroughly. Then cut the white part into about 1/2 inch pieces. Julienne slice the onions. Finely mince the garlic. Wipe the mushrooms clean and slice them.

Place the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a heated pan. Heat until the butter melts and begins to sizzle. Add the fennel, leeks, onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Cook together on medium heat until they soften and onions are nearly clear. Do not brown!

Add the remaining butter and stir until it melts and is hot. Add the flour to make a roux, mixing it thoroughly with butter and veggies. Allow the roux to cook for a few minutes, but do let let it brown. (This is to be a white roux.)

Slowly add the heated chicken broth, stirring constantly to completely mix it in. Then slowly add the half and half. Continue stirring to mix the sauce and veggies completely and to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The sauce will thicken; then slowly add 2 cups of the cheese mixture, stirring to blend. Season with salt, white pepper, and nutmeg to taste.

Fold in the diced chicken and pasta. Taste for seasonings, and correct as needed. Place the mixture in the casserole dish. Top with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, then sprinkle the breadcrumbs over top. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Enjoy hot!


Sio said...

YUM! Just the trick to warm up in the midst of this cold snap. (That I am pretending is not going to last until May).

Anonymous said...

Ditto to what Sio said. It's downright chilly in Portland! This will definitely be making an appearance on my (our) table(s). Xoxoxo -Anna

Againstthegrain said...

Mmmm, I love fennel and leeks. I'll have to reduce carbs and de-gluten this for my family but I think it will adapt well.

Elspeth said...

Sio and Anna,

Yes! It might last until May, but with fennel gratin and hot cider and french toast and cider donuts who cares??

And against the grain, I think it would be pretty easy to de-gluten. Not sure what you'd use for the roux but you could certainly use another whole grain instead of pasta, or maybe rice noodles?

Good luck!

All the best,

Beth said...

my mouth is watering from the recipe and the thought of fennel, my eyes are watering from the human part of the story.

Elspeth said...

Beth, it is good on two levels, isn't it? An excellent point, and one of the things that I love about good food—I feel like so often, good feelings and good tastes go hand in hand.

All the best,

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