The Local Food Report: Dutch yellow

There are a few reasons I sometimes wish I lived in France. Free preschool. Good cheese. Better wine. Lots of vacation. High environmental standards. And last but not least, liberal use of shallots. 

There is currently a big debate going on between the French and the Dutch about the merits of their respective shallots. I'm not going to get into that. I think around here we could use more shallots of any kind, and so I'm going to do my part, even if I'm propagating the Dutch yellow kind.

I got the sets from Peter Groves at the Orleans Farmers' Market. He thinks they're better than the reds and grays because they last longer. Once they're dried and trimmed they'll keep all winter in a mesh bag in the basement; other types rot by December. He also likes the taste—milder than an onion, more nuanced. Maybe sweeter. 

I can't say I've tried enough varieties to judge. But I can tell you that I prefer shallots to onions in most soups, all salad dressings, and any kind of mayonnaise-based salad. And in this soup in particular. It's got Hubbard squash, coconut milk, chicken broth, corn, and a few pinches of ginger and cayenne pepper. It's sweet and mellow with a little kick, and it's a good way to celebrate the last sweet corn of the season.

On October 14th, I'll start planting shallots. Peter says that's the time. I saved some seeds from the Hubbard squash for the spring, and maybe, just maybe, we'll make a homegrown version of this soup next year. 


I am a big fan of Hubbard squash. They're easier to peel and clean than most squash, and you get a big yield. They're similar to a butternut in flavor, and they go perfectly with coconut milk.

olive oil
2 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
8 cups peeled Hubbard squash cut into 1-inch dice
2 cups chicken stock
1 fifteen-ounce can coconut milk
kernels from one ear of corn
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1 bunch cilantro
sea salt to taste

Warm up the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté, stirring often, until tender. Add the squash, sauté a few minutes more, then pour in the chicken stock and coconut milk. Cover, bring everything to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer until the squash is tender, about 10-15 minutes. 

Puree the soup in a blender or using an immersion blender, then transfer it back to the pot. 

Turn the heat onto low, add the corn, cayenne pepper, and ginger and simmer. Remove the leaves from the cilantro and set aside the stems. Chop the stems into 1/8 inch pieces; add these to the soup. Season with sea salt to taste; serve hot with cilantro leaves on top.


Beyond that

It's been decided. We had a meeting of the minds last Wednesday, and for this season, the Wellfleet Farmers' Market will run through October 10th. That means we'll be there this week, and next week, and the one after that. Beyond that, Orleans is open through November 17th, and then the season ends. 

But if you're a farmer, or a faithful customer, tell me. Do you want it to end there? Does anyone else out there wish we could keep going through the winter? We have a space. And we have a few brave souls willing to be there. What we need is some more produce, some more energy. Anyone with a hoophouse want to join us? Root crops? A cellar full of apples or pears?

Just imagine: It's December, Wednesday, early a.m. You grab a coffee from Marissa, a spinach pie from Dianne. You head over to the produce farmers—they've got greens, carrots, turnips, beets. You get a head of cabbage, some nice storage onions, a few heads of garlic. You buy cheese. You buy meat. You pick up a jar of bacon jam. There's a bread vendor, one who bakes fresh that morning with good whole grains. You have lunch. You have dinner. You are stocked, maybe even for a week.

This is not a pipe dream. This is the reality at my parents' farmers' market, in Brunswick, Maine. It is colder there. The winters are longer. There is more farmland, maybe, and more winter energy, but there are plenty of locals willing to drive to shop at a winter market here. Remember the one in Marstons Mills? There was a whole carpool of Wellfleetians headed down there. 

If you want to help me make this happen, please write. You can leave a comment here, and it will go straight to my inbox. Or you can stop by tomorrow and see me at the market. I'm putting a list together of people who share this vision, and the dreaming starts here.


For warmth

Sally woke up around four this morning wanting. We couldn't figure out what—she nursed, Alex scooped her up to take her back to her crib, and she started crying all over again. For a girl who usually wants only milk, it was odd. He brought her back in and nestled her under the quilts between the two of us, and she turned on her side and went quiet.

We slept that way all together until around 5:30, when Alex got up for work. Sally snuggled back in next to me, and I didn't hear from her again until seven. 

Ma-MA! When she put her hand on my cheek and I pulled back the covers, I realized suddenly what it was. It got chilly in the night!—it was crisp and sunny but cold all the same. It's time to get out the sleep sack and our Pendletons, and it's time to start turning on the oven and closing the windows.

I should have seen it coming. We roasted our first dish of winter vegetables last night—onions and cauliflower and sweet potatoes, all sprinkled with salt and drizzled with olive oil. We made a simple salad—arugula, tomatoes, goat cheese, a handful of walnuts and a few slices of pear—and ate it with the roasted veggies mixed in, on top. Alex opened a tall bottle of a crisp, Belgian-style beer made in Westport, and we ate upstairs, watching Downton Abbey, on the couch. 

It was very much a fall night. There will still be plenty of t-shirts and quick swims and even a few more dinners on the deck, but things are slowing down. It's time for sweaters and roasts and quiet nights at the restaurant, and I am ready.

Happy fall, everyone.


Does this count as a recipe? All I can say is that we roast a lot of veggie combos, and this one stands out. Cauliflower and sweet potato have similar cooking times, which means the potatoes are soft by the time the cauliflower crisps up. Carrots make a nice substitute if you don't have any sweet potatoes in the house.

3 medium onions (a mix of red and yellow is nice), peeled and diced
2 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
1 large head cauliflower, trimmed and chopped
olive oil or lard or butter or whatever cooking fat you like the flavor of
sea salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the onions, potatoes, and cauliflower together in a large baking dish. Add a generous glug of olive oil or whatever other fat you decide to use, and mix to coat. Season with salt and pepper and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the veggies are tender and crisp and golden in some spots. Serve hot.


The Local Food Report: peppers, sweet & spicy

I'm already thinking about next year's garden. I like to think about these things now, this time of year, while the season's successes, failures, and inspirations are still fresh in my mind. And what I've been thinking recently is that I'd like to grow some peppers next year. Specifically, some Islander peppers, like Chris Murphy's purple beauties:

Aren't they gorgeous? Every week at the Wellfleet Farmers' Market, Murph has a whole rainbow of peppers. He's got the pale green almost yellow Cubanelles, the dark green Poblanos, the hot red Lipstick peppers, and the green-to-red Anchos. (Also known as Tiberons—that's sharks in Spanish—very apropos, as Murph pointed out, for our summer here.)

Murph says you've got to plant your peppers early, but not too early. If you're doing tomatoes and eggplants mid March, for instance, you should start these in the first few weeks of April. He was planting them all together, but the germination rates in March for the peppers was terrible. He reordered his seed, and three weeks later, it was a whole different ball game. 100% germination, 100% success.

The nice thing about peppers is that they're good for just about anything. Stuffing, slicing, dipping, throwing in sauces, you name it. Stuffing, though, is Murph's favorite. The thing about stuffed peppers is you can throw just about anything in there—beans, meat, seafood—whatever's in the fridge. Just mix it with some bread crumbs, top it with cheese or basil or maybe even some bacon, and throw it under the broiler for a few minutes.

But in case you need a recipe, here are two. One vegetarian, one not-so-vegetarian. Keep an eye out at the farmers' markets—peppers are here, full force.


The Local Food Report: figs

Charlie says old Mrs. Capello used to bury her trees, the way they did in Italy. You dug around the roots, she said—about three quarters of the way—until you found the main root. This was in late fall, around the time you might start to expect cold weather, a frost. You left the main root buried and folded the rest of the tree to the ground. They're very flexible, figs. Then you buried the whole tree, limbs and all, after giving it a little trimming. It stayed there, safe, until spring.

That was the old way. 

Charlie doesn't do it like that—his partner Carol chops the trees down to three feet, maybe four. They don't prune them into single trunk trees, either, but instead let the suckers grow up from the base. It makes them less productive, maybe, the fruit a little smaller, but it means they can give new starts to friends. There must be dozens of fig owners in Wellfleet by now, Charlie says. 

I got a start from a neighbor a few years back. It isn't producing yet, but it's taken off recently. It was in a pot and now the ground, and based on the leaves, it's a descendent of one of Charlie's. He has two trees—horse figs, Mrs. Capello called them—two starts from the originals she brought over from Italy. They're right outside his house, on the side that's south facing, and some years, even with the trimming, the growth reaches the second story windows. It's nothing, he says, in a year to get 8, 10, even 12 feet. 

And then there are the figs. Figs are not a fruit, not technically. They are something more particular, more unusual, called an infructescence—a bud that swells off every scion, flowers internally, and turns into the juicy delight we call a fig. That pink middle part—that seedy, stringy carpet—that's the bloom initially. As the swell they grow to about an inch and a half in diameter, then the skin turns brown and begins to crack, and then they're sweet and ready.

The time is now. While I was over at Charlie and Carols', admiring their trees and learning to take care of my own fig, I spotted the first ripe one of the season. I ate it, right there, still warm from the sun. It was starting to crack around the base, like the one you see up there, and it was perfectly sweet.

Charlie likes to cook his on the "barbe." He wraps them in prosciutto, drags them through fresh honey, and stuffs them with some fresh feta. Then he puts them over the coals for a few minutes, and eats them hot, melty. It's the best way, he says, the way they eat them in Italy.

I've never had them like that. I've had them with gorgonzola, fresh, and a little bit of sweet balsamic or honey. But my favorite way is the way they do them in salad at Winslow's. They use Black Mission figs, but the brown ones work just as well. You take arugula, toss it with some olive oil and balsamic, then halve the figs. You stuff them with gorgonzola, then lightly toast strips of prosciutto—until they're just crispy. Then you crumble these strips over top, toss it all, and dig in. It's heavenly. 

Charlie says it's three to four years until a start produces figs. Next fall, I'll be ready.


Figs and prosciutto are a classic combination. Add arugula and gorgonzola, a little bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and you've got dinner.

1/2 pound arugula
really good extra virgin olive oil (I like unfiltered, and olio nuovo is even better) to taste
balsamic vinegar to taste
6 fresh figs, halved
a handful of crumbled gorgonzola
4 slices prosciutto, lightly toasted/pan-fried and torn into small pieces
salt and pepper to taste

Toss the arugula with olive oil and vinegar. Layer the figs, gorgonzola, and prosciutto on top and season with salt and pepper to taste. Dig in!

P.S. For a list of local farms & farmers' markets with figs, click on over here.


This morning

Denya's playing, the sun is shining, and here's what's for sale:

Pies! (gluten free and regular ol'), chocolate meringues, banana bread, pumpkin jam, tomatillo jam, BACON jam, Corno di Toro sweet peppers, Bee Body Balm, Seckel pears, pineapple tomatillos, arugula, eggplant, peppers, squash (including some big blue Hubbards!), cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, kale, basil, and a whole lot more. Come on down and join us—

              355 Main Street, 8 to noon, behind Preservation Hall in Wellfleet.


After three

Good morning. We've got pot roast in the oven, the sun's out, and pretty soon we're going to take Fisher for his walk. The house is cool, the dahlias are in full bloom, the lawn is mowed, and on Saturday, we picked 4 pounds of green and purple beans from the garden. Things are good around here.

We've been on a bean kick. Beans, tomatoes, and arugula are pretty much all the garden's turning out right now, so all three have become a staple at meal times. It can be hard to get creative with green beans, mainly because with a little butter and salt it's hard to go wrong. But the other day I came across this recipe, and I think after three lunches straight I can officially declare myself an addict. Sally too. 

We hope you'll join us soon.


Heidi never fails me. This combo sounded unlikely, but the second I smelled the dill I knew she was spot on. I've used haricot vert and those purple beans up there, and I think pretty much any time of summer bean would be good. Just adjust the cooking time depending on how big they are, as they'll need more or less time to cook through. 

olive oil
4 leeks, washed, trimmed, and sliced into 1/4-inch rings
1/3 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
3/4 pound green (or purple or yellow) beans, tops and tails trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
sea salt to taste

Warm up a big splash of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and a bit of salt and sauté, stirring often, until the leeks are browned and tender. (This should take about 7-10 minutes.) Add the dill and the green beans and cook another few minutes, until the beans are just tender. Serve hot.

Note: One day I tossed the hot beans in a bowl with a handful of arugula, a bit of chevre, and a little glug of sesame oil, and it made a delicious lunch! Worth a try if you want to stretch this into a meal.


The Local Food Report: Emerald gems

How about this! for a melon seed description: "Altogether un-approached in flavor and luscious beyond belief." 

The review comes from an old Burpee's customer—someone back in the late 1800s, when the Emerald Gem you see up there was first released. W. Atlee Burpee got the seed from a farmer in Benzie County, Michigan in 1886, and word of the delicious melon spread like wildfire.

My friend Victoria's growing it this year, and she chose it for its flavor and for more practical reasons—it's a fast growing melon, and one that doesn't need a lot of space. We've got a short season and she's got a small garden, so she figured why not? So she planted it underneath her tomato vines, and now that they're dying back, it's growing up. 

The melons are tiny—2 or 3 pounds each, and they look like miniature ribbed cantaloupes. The smell is amazing—sweet, earthy, musky, even. (That comparison, of course, is where muskmelons get their name.) The flesh is a deep wild-salmon orange, and the taste is incredibly sweet. Kids were eating them at the market last week with spoons, slurping the juice out where it pooled in the bottom. 

If you ask me, they're a keeper.


We're here!

It's rainy with a warm breeze, I know, but once you roll yourself out of bed stop by and see us. The market is inside this week, between the four beautiful walls of Preservation Hall. It's tomato heaven with coffee and music to boot. We'll see you soon!


Silky & warm

It's been a long time since I cooked something that really stopped me in my tracks. It's not that we haven't been eating well. We've been eating meals that are good both in the sense that they taste good and they're healthy, but they've all been incredibly simple. 

The thing is, it's hard work taking care of a very small determined person. There is considerably more vacuuming and mopping to do now that there is someone who essentially lives on our floor. Between the general messiness and the diapers, I do at least three times more laundry. It is also significantly more important that meals be healthy, consistent, and timely, and so I end up cooking what I know. 

That's been nice in a lot of ways. I like having a repertoire, a routine. I remember the meals my mom cooked regularly when I was little, and they still make me feel safe and comfortable. I will never eat pesto, for instance, without memories of home.

But it's also nice to come out of the fog every once in a while. The other day I bought two eggplants at the farmers' market in Orleans, planning to make a regular: Eggplant Parmesan. Then I got home and thought—You know what?—no! I went online and started brainstorming, cruising websites, and got inspired. The inspiration came, of all places, from a Martha Stewart slideshow. (The eggplant salad with chickpeas and feta looks good too, no?)

The recipe was for roasted eggplant and chickpea soup. The ingredient list was incredibly simple: eggplant, onion, garlic, chickpeas, chicken stock, olive oil. Salt. I decided to give it a go, and the resulting soup was delightful. It was rich and silky and warm at a time of year when the nights are starting to get a chill. 


Eggplants won't be here for long, but I think this recipe would freeze well. It's from Martha Stewart, and it's comfort food, but also unusual. We ate ours with a big green salad and some toasted homemade bread with butter.

2 medium eggplants, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small onion, peeled and diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus 2 tablespoons
salt and pepper

2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 quart chicken broth (I used homemade with no salt, if yours has sodium in it be careful with the seasoning above)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the eggplant, onion, and garlic together in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast for about 30 minutes, until the eggplant is soft. Meanwhile, toss the chickpeas with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread these over another rimmed baking sheet and bake until they are golden and slightly crisped, about 25 minutes. Set aside. 

Transfer the eggplant mixture into a soup pot, add the chicken broth, and bring to a simmer. Use a potato masher or a pastry cutter to mash up the eggplant until the soup is thick and chunky. Stir in the chickpeas and serve hot.


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