A new radish keeper

I can't stay for long today. I'm in Maine, sitting on my parents' couch. It's hot and sunny and beautiful, and Fisher's on his bed at my feet, filling the whole room with the smell of wet dog. He just went for a swim at Simpson's Point (the rest of us hardly got our toes in!) and in a little while, we're going to put a batch of pulled pork in the oven for my sister's birthday dinner. But I wanted to stop by, quickly, and remind you about the radishes.

I don't know if you took me up on any of those recommendations a few weeks back, but it's been a radish kind of spring around here. While the sun and the berries and the summer fruits take their sweet time, we've been experimenting with the cold weather crops all kinds of ways. The other day, I added a new radish keeper to my list: radishes washed, greens trimmed, and then greens and roots sautéed.


In the summer, I make a lot of sautés for lunch—usually heavy on the greens, sort of like warm green salads. Recently, I’ve been using radishes—greens and all. If you have extra radish greens (or other braising greens) kicking around, feel free to add them. The greens wilt down pretty significantly, so it’s hard to add too many. This recipe serves two.

2 bunches radishes, with greens
2 slices bacon
4 cloves garlic, minced
a handful of crumbled blue or gorgonzola cheese (I like to use the mozzarella with the gorgonzola dolce inside that Kathleen Kadlik sells at the Provincetown and Falmouth farmers' markets)
olive oil
two slices of rustic bread
1/2 lemon, cut into wedges

Trim the greens from the radishes, leaving about an inch of stem still attached to the bulbs. Wash and dry the greens and set aside. Scrub the radishes, trim their tails, and cut each one in half the long way. Set aside.

Warm up a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and fry for a few minutes on each side, until it’s done to your taste (I like mine crispy enough to crumble). Transfer the bacon to a plate to cool.

Add the radishes to the pan with the bacon grease and cook for 5-6 minutes over medium heat. When the radishes are soft and a little bit golden in spots, turn the heat down to low and add the garlic. (Add olive oil or a splash of water to the pan at any point if you feel you don’t have enough grease.) Stir well and throw in the greens. Stir again and cover immediately. Cook for a minute, then take off the lid and stir well. The greens should be just wilted.

Transfer the radishes and greens to two bowls. Crumble a slice of bacon over each, and sprinkle half of the cheese over each salad. Turn the heat back up to medium high under the cast-iron skillet, and fry the bread in olive oil until it’s golden brown on both sides. Either cut the bread into cubes and throw it on top of the greens or serve alongside as a slice. Garnish each bowl with a few lemon wedges, and squeeze the juice over top to taste.


The Local Food Report: a local chocolatier

Chocolate is a pretty safe bet with me. Give me a chewy chocolate chip cookie with big, dark chunks, or a dense chocolate torte, and I will gladly hand over the keys to my car, or let you do your laundry in the basement. But handmade, local chocolates? Sixty-four percent single origin wrapped around a milk chocolate ganache infused with fresh local produce and herbs? You could probably empty our safe deposit box.

I'd never had a chocolate like that until the other day. A woman named Danielle Verizone makes those specimens up there. The one in the back is called Minty Fresh, and the one up front is a local strawberry ganache with a piece of dried strawberry on top. Danielle started her business back in 2009, after taking a class at L.A. Burdick Chocolate in New Hampshire. She calls herself the Sirenetta Seaside Chocolatier of Scituate, and she sells online and at the farmers' markets in Hingham, Falmouth, and Scituate.

The cool thing is that unlike most artisanal chocolatiers, she actually uses local produce and herbs in her chocolates. She was on her way to go strawberry picking in Bridgewater when I talked with her the other day, and for her other flavors, she uses things like basil from her garden and local mint and rosemary. Basically, they act as infusions—giving the dense milk chocolate ganache center its kick and flavor. She purees the berries or herbs, then heats them up with milk and honey, and finally purees the infused cream with milk chocolate. This makes a big slab of ganache, which she cuts into bite-sized pieces and dips in single origin sixty-four percent cacao dark chocolate. I tried four flavors—Rosemary with Olive Oil and Sea Salt, Spring Strawberry, Wild Minty Fresh, and Lavender Silk—and they were all delicious. Danielle puts out a new collection every season.

Right now, she's experimenting with raspberries and blueberries for summer—she's thinking raspberry-wasabi and blueberry lemon balm.

In the meantime, if you need a fix, there's a recipe to make your own chocolate sea salt caramels over here. Happy local chocolate, everyone.


All sorts of keepers

You know where's a good place to find recipes? The Williams Sonoma catalog. Honestly. I find all sorts of keepers in there. The gadgets that go with them—banana slicers and salad dressing emulsifiers—get a little ridiculous, but the recipes are terrific.

Take, for instance, the roasted beet salad recipe I tried the other day. The base ingredients are pretty standard—watercress, roasted beets, toasted walnuts, goat cheese—but the dressing is something else altogether. Basically you take lemon juice and a little bit of crème fraîche and add oil and shallots and a big handful of dill. The dairy makes it creamy, the lemon juice gives it kick, and the shallots and dill make it feel big and zippy. When you pour it over the greens and beets, a sort of magic happens, and everything feels at the same time rich and fresh.

We've made it about three times this week, and today, I'm thinking of having it for lunch again. It's just the thing for a hot day—filling but not heavy, satisfying in a very summer sort of way. Enjoy the sunshine, friends.


I made a few changes to the Williams Sonoma original of this recipe. For starters, I used arugula and spinach from our garden in place of the watercress. I also added homemade croutons (rustic bread seared in olive oil on our cast iron griddle) and swapped out the crème fraîche for whole milk plain yogurt and Cloumage cheese.

(Cloumage, for those of you who have never had it, is the newest cheese from the Shy Brothers. It tastes sort of like a cross between ricotta and crème fraîche, and they sell it at the Provincetown and Falmouth farmers markets.)

Finally, I upped the dill. I don't know about you, but I can't get enough of that green.

2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 and 1/2 tablespoons Cloumage
2 and 1/2 tablespoons whole milk plain yogurt
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons minced shallot
salt and pepper
4 cups arugula or watercress
2 large beets, roasted, peeled, and cut into wedges (for a roasting tutorial, click here)
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese
2 slices good rustic bread, toasted in olive oil in a cast iron skillet or griddle and cut into croutons

Combine the lemon juice, Cloumage, yogurt, olive oil, dill, shallot, and salt and pepper in a Mason jar or salad dressing container. Shake vigorously to emulsify and set aside.

You can plate the salads either individually or on a large shallow platter. Arrange the greens on the bottom, then layer on the roasted beet wedges, toasted walnuts, crumbled goat cheese, and homemade croutons. Drizzle with dressing and toss just before serving.


The Local Food Report: a giant tomato contest

Mark your calendars, friends. On Saturday, September 10th, Ben Chung and the rest of the gang at the Orleans Farmers' Market will be hosting a giant tomato contest. There will be cash prizes—$200 for first place for adults, $100 for second, and a $100 first place prize for kids. Chemical fertilizers are considered cheating, and you have to grow the tomato yourself, on Cape.

The weight to beat is 7 pounds 12 ounces—that's the world record Gordon Graham set in Edmond, Oklahoma back in 1986. That's also the size of a newborn baby! Yikes. (To see a picture, click on over here and scroll down.) Considering it's been twenty-five years and no one's broken Graham's record, you probably don't have to grow that big, but if you want to get a two or three or even four pounder, Chung has a few tips.

First off, you want to choose the right variety. He recommends growing an indeterminate—they grow and fruit all season instead of all at once, which means they have the potential to get BIG. He's growing Delicious (the same variety Graham grew), Soldacki, Big Zac, and Hungarian Oxheart. Unfortunately, I called around, and these varieties aren't readily available locally. I asked Clare Bergh (the woman who grows over 150 varieties of tomatoes, and sells the seedlings at the Orleans Farmers Market), and her list of suggestions is at the bottom of this post.

Once you've got the variety picked out, you'll want to choose a good spot. Ben says to look for somewhere sunny, somewhere that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. Then he says to loosen the soil, mix in some compost, and water the plants deeply once a week. This is better, apparently, than a little sprinkling every day.

When the plants start fruiting, keep your eye out for one fruit that seems bigger than the rest. Then pinch the others off—suckers, stems and all—and let the plant devote all of it's energy to getting this one tomato BIG. (Ben says you can replant the suckers, so they don't go to waste, and they'll turn into new plants.)

Now as that one fruit gets BIG, it will need support. You'll need to cage the entire plant, for starters, so that it doesn't blow over—Ben recommends a cage at least 5 or 6 feet tall for that. Finally, you'll want to net the fruit—wrap some bird netting under and around it, and tie it to the cage, so that it has plenty of support. If you're growing a two or three pound tomato, it could easily bend over and break the plant, so this is important.

Are you in? It sounds like a lot of fussing, but I think I am. I planted sixty-two tomato plants this year and no, I do not know what I was thinking. Given that they will all be in peak production mode right when I am about to go into labor and learn how to take care of a newborn baby (thank you Mom, for volunteering not only to help with the baby but also offering to help put up the tomatoes harvest!), I think I can spare a few plants for experimenting.

Good luck, everyone, and until then, happy growing.


ANANAS NOIRE- 80 days, Ind, 1-1.5lb dark brown fruit with green shoulders, rich, full-bodied, sweet, smoky flavor.

ASHLEIGH- 85 days, Ind, Lazec Macedonia, 1-2lb red fruit, huge meaty old fashioned flavor, abundant producer.

AUSSIE- 85 days, Ind, 1-2lb red fruit, meaty, fluted, bold rich complex flavor, great disease resistance.

BIG ZEBRA- 85 days, Ind, 1-2lb orange-red and green striped fruit, loaded with deliciously sweet and robust flavors.

HENDERSON’S PINK PONDEROSA- 87 days, up to 2 lbs pink red, rich and meaty.

ISPOLIN- 72 days, Ind, 1-2lb dark jade-pink beefsteak, superb earthy sweet flavor.

ITALIAN TREE- 85 days, Ind, 1-2lb meaty red fruit, superior old-fashioned flavor, great for canning, grows to 15' tall.

KELLOGG'S BREAKFAST- 80 days, Ind, W Virginia, 1lb+ orange fruit, outstanding flavor.

MARIANNA'S PEACE- 80 days, Ind, 1-2lb dark pink fruit, full tomato flavor, good acid/sugar balance, very productive.

MEME BEAUCE- 70 days, Ind, Quebec, 1-3lb flattened red fruit, heavily ridged, good taste, absolutely gorgeous fruit.

MRS. MAXWELL'S BIG ITALIAN- 69 days, Ind, 1-2lb dark pink beefsteak, incredible flavor, very prolific.

OMAR’S LEBANESE- 80 days, Ind, 1-4lb pink fruit, meaty, excellent rich flavor, beautifully ridged.

SYLVAN GAUME- 80 days, Ind, Russia, up to 3lb red ox-heart shaped fruit, delicious flavor, very productive.

VIRGINIA SWEETS- 80 days, Ind, 1lb+ golden yellow fruit with red blush, sweet rich flavor, abundant harvest.

BOY-OH-BOY- 75 days, Ind, 1lb+ red fruit, excellent flavor, solid flesh with few seeds, disease resistant.


In full swing

Strawberry season is here! The rain is here, too, I know, but we can't let that put a damper on things. Saturday morning the berries were everywhere at the markets: plump, blushing, peeking out from cartons of green. They're in our garden, too, big and dark, in full swing.

Yesterday morning Alex and I decided to celebrate. We slept through the storm and made French toast and topped it with a whole quart of fresh-picked berries: sweet red slivers over soft slices of anadama soaked in eggs and cream. And then, between cleaning and organizing and dinner and a walk, we managed to eat a whole other quart over the course of the day.

I don't do much cooking with strawberries—for the most part, I think they're best plain—but I do have a few favorite recipes. There's my mother's strawberry jam, for one, and the award winning strawberry-rhubarb pie I picked up last year from Elise. We always put up a bunch—just hulled and sliced and sprinkled with a spoonful of sugar, so that they'll juice before they freeze. And usually, I make strawberry shortcake.

But this year, I have my eye on a new recipe. It's the Fresh Strawberry Pie from last month's Cook's Illustrated, and what I like about it is that it doesn't fuss much with the berries. (If you want to see a how-to video, click on that link up there.) You just puree a few berries and cook them down with sugar, cornstarch, Sure-Jell, and salt—to make a thick glaze—and then pour it over a bunch of fresh strawberries into an already-baked bottom pie crust. The glaze firms up and holds the strawberries in place, and since you're not baking them, they don't ooze or juice and they still taste like good, sweet, fresh berries. There isn't much sugar, or much work, and after you've let the pie chill and set, you cover the top with homemade whipped cream. It sounds like sort of a shortcake-in-a-pie thing to me.

So if you're looking for me today, that's where I'll be. I'm heading out to pick more berries now, and by tonight, I plan to be digging in to a chilled slice of homegrown berries and sweet cream.


I've adapted the recipe from Cook's Illustrated slightly, but the idea is all theirs. I'm thinking I might also try making this with cooked down homemade strawberry jam instead of making the fresh berry puree. Our jam tends to be soupy, but who knows---with a little more time on the stove and a hit of Sure-Jell, it might be just the thing!

1 and 1/2 quarts fresh strawberries, gently rinsed and hulled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 and 1/2 teaspoons Sure-Jell for low-sugar recipes (the pink box!)
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 fully baked bottom pie crust
1 cup heavy cream
a dash of vanilla
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Pick out a handful of the "worst" berries (think small, under-ripe, bruised, etc.). If you have a kitchen scale, they should weigh about 6 ounces; if not, aim for about a cup and a half. In a food processor, puree them until they're smooth.

Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, Sure-Jell, and salt in a medium saucepan. Stir in the puree and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes (keep stirring!). Scrape the thickened puree into a bowl and stir in the lemon juice. Set this mixture aside and let it cool to room temperature.

When the glaze is cool, add the remaining strawberries. Stir gently until the berries are all coated, then scoop the mixture into the prepared pie crust and spread it around evenly. Put the pie in the fridge and let it chill until the glaze is set, about 2 hours.

Just before you're ready to serve the pie, whip the cream with the vanilla and confectioners' sugar until it is smooth and thick and forms soft peaks. Spoon the cream over the top of the pie, use a spatula to make it pretty, and serve immediately.


The Local Food Report: new foods at farmers' markets

Attention shoppers! Or at least, attention Massachusetts farmers market shoppers who are over 21 and enjoy wine and littlenecks and oysters!

It is now legal for local shellfishermen and vineyard owners to sell at farmers markets.

So far, only two vendors have taken advantage of the shellfish thing. There's a guy in Provincetown selling Wellfleet oysters and littlenecks, and Les Hemmila of Barnstable Seafarms sells at the Wednesday market in Hyannis. The wine regulations just went through this Monday, so it's hard to say yet which vineyards will be where. But I do know that Truro Vineyards is planning to sell at the farmers' market in Provincetown, hopefully by next week, and maybe also at the markets in Orleans, Harwich, and Chatham.

I thought I'd keep you in the loop.

Oh! and if you want to learn more about the state regulations, click on over here. They're actually pretty interesting—there's a lot more allowed than I would have imagined. Finfish, for example. Who knew?! I've seen lobsters, but never a slab of tuna. There are definitely still things that are prohibited—most noticeably raw milk—but based on these regulations, there's a lot more allowed than what we usually see.


A granola bar

We eat a lot of oats around here. In fact, I just searched through my email receipts so that I could give you some sort of number, and it turns out we eat about 60 pounds of oats, just the two of us, every year. Hoo-ey!

Mostly, we eat them for breakfast. I buy them from Maine, online from a farm called Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, and they are organic and Maine-grown and make top-notch homemade granola. But thanks to my sister [hi Anna!], we have now found a new all-day snacking use for them, and between that and the baby, I predict our annual consumption will soon be in the high eighties. Please, no crop failures.

So, what is that beauty up there? That is one of the Granola Bars with Chocolate featured in the New York Times article that Anna sent me last week. It is also addictive, and not entirely healthy, but also not entirely unhealthy. The bars are made up mostly of oats, but also of butter and honey and dark chocolate. They hold up the way a granola bar should—they're chewy but not hard, they don't fall apart—and they have a hint of cinnamon and a dash of vanilla. In short, they are absolutely lovely.

I should have noticed them earlier, since the paper pulled the base recipe from a cookbook I have and love—Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain—but her version recommended dried fruit instead of chocolate. What can I say? Chocolate gets my attention.


Alex says these are too chocolately. That phrase really isn't in my vocabulary, but if you're not a chocolate person, try making these with dried fruit instead. Oh! and a note about the wheat bran: the NYT recipe uses flaxseed meal, and the headnote in Kim Boyce's original says you can also use wheat germ. I just used coarsely ground wheat from our grain CSA.

3 tablespoons butter
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli's 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chips)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Grease an 8" by 8" glass or metal baking pan.

Melt the butter in a wide saucepan over medium heat. Add the oats and cook, stirring frequently, until the grains are lightly toasted—about 8 minutes. Be careful not to let them burn—they should smell toasty and should be, in Kim's words, about two shades darker. Turn off the heat and spoon the oats into a mixing bowl.

Wipe the pan clean and add the honey, brown sugar, and vanilla. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and keep it at a gentle bubble for 5 minutes. Pour this syrup over the oats and stir well. Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes, then stir in the chocolate chips.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Bake the bars for 20 minutes, taking care not to let them brown or they'll get hard instead of chewy. Let them cool completely; then cut them into squares and store in an airtight container.


The Local Food Report: giant asparagus

Do you remember Peter Staaterman, from Longnook Meadows Farm in Truro? He's the one, last fall, who grew the Dill's Giant Atlantic pumpkin that took first place at the Truro Ag Fair. Well, this spring, he's at it again. Only this time, he's growing giant asparagus:

I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but see those two little spears? Those are regular big-spear size, say, 1/2-inch in diameter. And that big guy? That's a solid inch across! Peter's been getting two or three stalks this enormous from almost every plant this season—a huge increase from last year.

The reason, he thinks, is an experiment he's been doing with manure and biochar. When Peter started farming his land in Truro, out toward Longnook, he had pretty poor soil. After a few failed attempts at growing vegetables, he knew he needed to do something to amend it, and so he got it tested and added the usual manure and compost. It worked pretty well. But this year, he also started adding biochar. We've talked about biochar once here—in connection with Bob Wells, who sells it at the Orleans farmers' market and uses it to grow fantastic blueberries—but it's still a relatively new thing. Basically, biochar is pure carbon made by burning any biomass—Peter uses wood—in the absence of oxygen. You need a special furnace for this called a retort, but once you get that, Peter says it's pretty easy. In fact, farmers in the Amazon came up with the process without any special equipment about two thousand years ago—that's how old of an idea it is.

So how does it help?

Well, mainly, on the Cape, it helps give the soil some structure. Peter kept adding manure to his asparagus patch, the way your supposed to, but because the soil is so sandy and well-drained here, the good bacteria in the manure that help digest it into compost and deliver the nutrients to the plants kept washing away, leaching out. It was frustrating. The biochar, Peter thinks, provides a home for these microbes—a repository of sorts—so that they stick around, and the asparagus is constantly fed. It's a pretty cool thing.

And the kicker is that unlike manure and other fertilizers, biochar doesn't break down. It will stay in Peter's soil for hundreds, even thousands of years—in other words, it's a permanent solution. All he needs to do now is keep adding a bit of manure, and he'll get a bumper crop of asparagus every spring.

My asparagus patch is still pretty young—I only planted it last spring—but I'm thinking of trying out Peter's idea, to try and get a jump start on things. I talked with Peter Hirst, who co-owns New England Biochar with Bob Wells, and in case you want to add a little biochar to your asparagus patch, too, here are his instructions. First of all, you can get it either by visiting their website and calling the company, or simply by showing up to the Orleans farmers' market and visiting Bob Wells at his stand. Peter Staaterman also sells a custom blend for the outer Cape—complete with biochar and other trace minerals that we lack, and that we need—at his farm stand, off of Longnook road in Truro. Wherever you get it, Hirst says you'll need about 40 pounds for an area that's 10' by 10'.

Then, once you get it home, you just mix it in with your soil the way you would any other amendment. I'm planning to add a little manure at the same time, so that I get all the microbial benefits. The ultimate goal is to make your soil 8 percent biochar by dry weight, but this is pretty tricky for a home gardener to calculate, so Hirst says go with about 1/4 pound per asparagus crown (or, if you're doing the rest of your garden, 1/2 pound per square foot) for starters, and take things from there.

Oh! and in case you're wondering whether you really want asparagus spears an inch in diameter—whether they'll still be tender and juicy and still taste good—they will, and you do. Peter's been selling his spears to the restaurant where I work, Blackfish, and they're tantalizingly good. We serve them over greens with a honey creme fraiche dressing and a local panko fried egg with the yolk still runny, and every plate I've cleared has been clean. I think it's one of those times when more really is better, if you know what I mean.


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.