Pearfect!

pears with candied nuts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Laura Pensiero, RD

With almost 3,000 varieties of pears to consider, we’re going to stay focused on the most popular and truly homegrown. The most common varieties found at our local farmers’ markets include Aurora, Anjou, Comice, Seckel, Highland, Asian, Bartlett, Red Bartlett, and Bosc.

Montgomery Place Orchards harvests an unimaginable variety of both apples and pears. While you won’t find their fruit at local farmers’ markets, a trip to their own stunning farmstand at the corner of Routes 199 and 9-G in Red Hook will have you leaving with more than a bag of dazzling pears.

Through thousands of years, pears have been grafted, cherished, and celebrated as “gifts from God,” “butter fruit,” and symbols of immortality. Today Washington and Oregon are the leading pear growing states, but the Hudson Valley makes a healthy contribution to establishing the U.S. as the leading pear producer worldwide. The two varieties that best resist insects, mites, and fungus in our area are Bosc and Bartlett.

Pears at their best are crisp, juicy, floral, and seductive. Some fruit tell you exactly when they’re ready to detach from their mother plant. Pears are a perfect example—an easy tug, they’re ripe and ready; a lot of twisting and wrestling, better wait a few more days or even a week.

Once off the tree, look for fruit that is not rock hard but where a gentle squeeze provides a little spring back, especially at the top neck. With so many varieties of different shapes and colors, a good rule of thumb is to look for a slight lightening from its original hue as a sign of ripeness. Imperfections

should not be seen as signaling poor quality. Orchard fruits, especially when organically grown, show dings, dents, and blemishes from weather, bug bites, and other uncontrollable forces. Think of these scars and scrapes as signs of character, and just work around them.

Pears have so many baking and culinary uses. Their sweet flesh is an extraordinary addition to salads with slightly bitter greens like arugula, spinach, and mizuna and salty cheeses such as blue, gorgonzola, feta, goat cheese, or Manchego. Toss in some toasted nuts, and even some tart cranberries or pomegranate seeds, and you’re talking a fall salad. The most popular Skizza™ (thin crusted pizza) at my restaurant is the Bianca – house made fig jam, Coach Farm goat cheese, shaved pears, Sky Farm arugula and a drizzle of house-infused truffle oil. The paper thin pear slices makes the pie, and I’d have plenty of people to reckon with if I ever took the Bianca off the menu.

Aside from salads and the obvious tarts, galettes, quick breads, and cakes, pears can lend seductive elegance to cocktails and especially sauces. A reduction of a deep stock, aged balsamic vinegar, chopped pears, and perhaps a smidge of ginger can make your roasted holiday duck a whole new experience.

Some tips for cooking and interpreting amounts in recipes:

2 medium pears = approximately 1 cup sliced pears.

4 medium pears = approximately 1 cup pureed pear.

3 medium pears = approximately 1 pound of pears

Nutritional notes: With their skin on, which is perfectly edible, pears rank among the highest fiber fruits. It’s also the type of fiber that helps attract water, which slows digestion.  This helps delays the emptying of your stomach and makes you feel full, which helps control weight. Slower stomach emptying may also affect blood sugar levels and have a beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity, potentially helping control diabetes. Soluble fiber can also help lower LDL (“bad”) blood cholesterol by interfering with the absorption of dietary cholesterol. Pears, like apples, also contain a whole spectrum of flavonoids, a large grouping of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck and a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

Roasted Pears with Candied Spiced Nuts

 This is an easy “in season” dessert for entertaining or for every day. If you don’t have time to candy nuts, they can easily be purchased at most supermarkets, and most certainly at the wonderful Adam’s Marketplace (locations throughout the Hudson Valley).

Makes 4 servings

¼ cup (4 tablespoons) butter

4 firm but ripe pears, halved and cored, skin on

¼ cup packed cup light brown sugar

¼ cup local pure maple syrup (Fitting Creek Farm in Ghent, or Crown Maple in Dover Plains are noteworthy local producers)

4 cinnamon sticks, halved

¼ teaspoon allspice

1 cup Candied Spiced Nuts (recipe below)

Ice cream (vanilla or hazelnut) or whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350F. In a small saucepan, melt the butter then add both the brown sugar and maple syrup. Add the cinnamon sticks and allspice, and stir to blend. Transfer the butter mixture to a roasting pan just large enough to fit pear halves in one layer. Place the pear halves face down in the pan, shaking a bit to coat flesh side with butter/maple/brown sugar/spice mixture.  Bake about 20 to 25 minutes, or until pears are tender.  Using tongs, flip pears so that they are cut side up and spoon pan sauce over them.  Return to oven about 5 more minutes, or until they are golden and bubbling.  Remove, let cool slightly, top with candied nuts and a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream.

 Candied Spiced Nuts

I love these crunchy, slightly sweet and spicy nuts sprinkled over salads, enlivening cheese plates, and topping sweet orchard fruit desserts. Extras can be enjoyed on antipasti plates or with an evening cocktail.

Makes 4½ cups (18 servings)

1 egg white

½ pound shelled walnut halves

½ pound shelled almonds

½ cup sugar (preferably superfine)

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground coriander

¼ teaspoon allspice

Pinch cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 250˚F.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white and 1 tablespoon water until frothy. Add nuts and stir to coat them completely. Transfer nuts to a strainer or sieve and allow to drain for about 5 minutes.

Combine sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, salt, coriander, and cayenne in a large plastic bag and shake vigorously to blend. Add half the nuts to the bag and shake to coat thoroughly. Remove and place nuts on a large baking pan. Repeat with the remaining nuts and add to pan. Shake pan to distribute nuts evenly. Bake for 15 minutes, then gently stir, smoothing them back into a single layer. Lower oven temperature to 200˚F and bake until nuts are caramelized and crisp, about 45 minutes. Midway through baking, rotate pan to ensure even browning.

Allow nuts to cool completely. Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Adapted from Hudson Valley Mediterranean: The Gigi Good Food Cookbook (HarperCollins/Pensiero 2009)

 

 

Talking Squash and Sustainability

Roasted Squash_1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hear lots of people talking about agricultural sustainability and the importance of eating local. I’ve even added my own two cents to the discussion of how best to nourish ourselves, in every sense of the word, here in our corner of New York State.

With all forms of sustainability and wellness in mind, I think we need connect the dots and acknowledge the bigger picture.   The term “sustainable” doesn’t just relate to farm practices but to a sense of stewardship and accountability rooted in a stalwart commitment to long-term land cultivation.

For me the person who embodies that notion of endurable farming is Chuck Mead of Mead Orchard.  Chuck’s farm and orchard in Red Hook is now nearing a hundred years old.  Three generations of Mead men (and hardworking women) have tended this patch of stunning land, nourishing their families and their community with an integrity that to this day leaves their land healthy and fertile.

Ask around. When you bring up Mead Orchard, people comment on the commitment, generosity, and reliability of the farm and the family that runs it.  Given the upheavals and large-scale closure of family farms over the last century, I find Mead Orchards’ continued existence not only amazing but reassuring.

Chuck learned the business from his dad and granddad and the orchard is run pretty much the way it was since he was a little boy.  He is a close observer of nature with a gentle disposition who seriously cares for his trees and plants, as well as the people who help out during harvest time, year in, year out.  His long view of things prompted him to protect Mead Orchards with a conservation easement some years ago, ensuring that the farm stays a farm into the future.

Chuck also loves the traditions in farming.  For years, in late summer, I’ve called him anxiously checking in to see when I can have my pick from his pumpkin patch filled with Blue and Orange Hubbards, classic Cinderella pumpkins, squat Sugar Pies, Turbans, Carnival, Delicata, Kabocha, vibrant Rouge vif d’etampes and glorious Musque de Provence pumpkins.

Chuck always tells me, “You’re a little early, in a few weeks.” When it’s time, he lets no one else pick for me; he knows I like to do that myself.   He takes my quirks in stride, believing you need all kinds of people, all kinds of trees, all kinds of plants and animals to make the whole landscape work.

On my visit last week visit to pick up pumpkins and squashes to stock my larder and decorate my home and business, I asked Chuck what his family favorites are. He says his mom, Beth, was dismayed one year when he didn’t plant enough of the sweet Delicata. His sister Susan prefers the less sweet squashes, which she roasts with savory herbs.

Me, I’m a big fan of the Blue Hubbard squash. I like its moderate level of sweetness and starchiness; it’s both a cook’s and baker’s dream. This squash can be peeled and boiled, roasted, steamed, or sautéed; it can be served as a side dish, used as a soup base, mixed into quick breads, or used for pumpkin pie filling.  With its drier and starchier makeup, it’s prefect for working into hand-formed gnocchi or filling pasta like ravioli or tortellini.

Come to think of it, squash and pumpkins are the perfect symbols of sustainability because they can nourish us in so many different ways, not only during the harvest season but long beyond given that they store so well.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck and a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

Preparation tips

Harvest squash can be intimidating – they’re pretty, but how do you prep and cook them?

Smooth and thinner-skinned varieties, like butternut squash, can be easily peeled, halved and seeded, then cut into desired-size pieces. From there they can be roasted or diced and tossed into soups and stews or thinly sliced to layer gratins.

Don’t even bother trying to peel the thick-skinned and curvy squashes – it’s not only time-consuming, it’s a bit dangerous (one slip of the knife…).  Instead, using a sturdy knife, cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise, or into large chunks or wedges following the natural curves. Slide out the pieces, then roast, flesh side down with a bit of olive oil and herbs until tender.

Alternately the thicker-skinned squash can be cut into large pieces and cooked in lightly salted boiling water until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Whether roasted or boiled, when cool enough to handle, slip off the skins.  So many preparations are at your fingers tips from there…

Cool Kohlrabi

 

Kohlrabi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last week’s celebration of celery has me thinking about all of those unrecognized roots vegetables out there. What exactly is a ‘root’? Well, basically plants with hard but edible roots. In the Valley this includes common vegetables like carrots, turnips, rutabaga, kohlrabi, beets, and parsnips, and some less common ones too, such as salsify and scorzonera or black salsify. MAYBE CUT? Kohlrabi is a subtlety flavored member of the ‘cabbage family’, getting its name from the German terms kohl, which means cabbage, and rabi, the word for turnip. The fact that they they’re abundantly harvested in this German and Dutch settled terroir should be no great surprise.

Ok, I’m going out on a limb and sharing a prediction, Kohlrabi will be the next kale! Kale, a media darling over the last years is abundantly found on the menus of both upscale and quick service eateries, and everywhere. Based on flavor and nutritional profile it deserves all accolades.  But make room for kohlrabi. It has vast culinary potential and truly unique super food properties.  With its odd satellite-like appearance, Kohlrabi hasn’t always lured Americans to the table, and to this day it is still more popular in Europe than here. Such a shame. Kohlrabi is delicious raw or cooked and has a sweet, mild flavor, similar to broccoli stems or the inner heart of cabbages. It’s behavior in cooking reminds me of water chestnuts – now doesn’t this open up some ideas?

So what to do with this “alien” root? Before slicing, shredding or cutting into cubes, you need to get to the tender and delicious flesh under the tough protective exterior.

The hard outer skin and the chewy fibrous layer beneath it, can easily be discarded by first using a knife to cut of the stems on both ends, as well as any protruding ‘tentacles’, then, using a vegetable peeler, peel down to the crisp and moist flesh.  It’ll take a couple of passes, but it goes quickly. Now you can prep the tuber for both raw and cooked dishes.

The tender and crisp raw kohlrabi bulb can be julienned, shaved, or grated and then used in salads and slaws. Using both the purple and green varieties of kohlrabi makes for a festive mixture. The bulb can also be cut into cubes or wedges then marinated or pickled. These crunchy little goodies can accent hors d’ouevres or appetizer plates.

Julienned or matchstick cuts of kohlrabi are perfect for a stir fry or quick sauté. A little olive oil, fresh herbs and sea salt… yum! Wedges or cubes of the bulb can be roasted or tossed into the soup or stew pot. Their edible top greens are tender and delicious, so make sure you add to the pot, or braise them with other greens like our darlin’ kale. If you have a mandoline or slicer at home, try layering slices of kohlrabi along with potatoes in your favorite gratin.  Also consider mixing kohlrabi up with shredded potatoes for crispy pancakes.

Now, where to find Kohlrabi?  Migliorelli Farm grows both the purple and green varieties in abundance — they decorate their farm stands throughout the Hudson Valley and NY Metro areas. Hopefully with their rising popularity, along with the fact that they’re easy to store at good quality, we will see them both at farm markets and supermarkets during the autumn and winter. As far as value, these ‘cabbage turnips’ are inexpensive and provide a great yield. They’re also low in calories, and oh so deliciously versatile. This should be enough to sway you to this knobby root. If not, consider that they’re a good source of vitamin C and potassium, and they contain the same cancer protective phytonutrients that other members the Brassica (cabbage) family are so well known for.

Kohlrabi Remoulade

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 medium, kohlrabi (about 1 ½ pounds)
1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt to season
3 tablespoons of good quality mayonnaise*
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon salt preserved capers, rinsed
Pinch cayenne pepper
Finely shredded parsley to garnish

Directions

Working quickly, trim the ends from the kohlrabi and peel. Cut into halves and finely grate using a cheese grater or a food processor fitted with the shredding blade. Transfer to a medium bowl and immediately toss with lemon juice to prevent browning. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, mustard, and garlic; season with salt and cayenne. Fold the mixture into the bowl with the kohlrabi. Serve immediately or refrigerated, in a nonreactive airtight container, for 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Variations:

Add: shredded apples and/or cornichons

 

Underrated Celery

Garden Celery andMushroom Soup_1

 

 

 

 

 

 

I keep a short list of underrated vegetables, and celery reigns among the top two or three. How can this aromatic vegetable that provides such depth, aroma and core flavor to so many dishes be so grossly overlooked? Well, the supermarket representation certainly doesn’t help. It doesn’t look, smell, or taste like the recently harvested garden or local farm variety of celery.  I’m just now using both leaves and stalks from my garden in soups, stews, and salads. They are far darker and leafier, as well as more fragrant, than the offerings available during the rest of the year.

Chefs often use intensely flavored celery leaves in raw dishes and in cooking, but it’s far rarer among home cooks. Instead of throwing them away and only using the stalks, treat celery leaves like an herb: Toss a handful into mixed green salads, stir into a soup or stew just before serving, add to salsas and dips, and blend into smoothies and juices.

As for the stalks, along with carrots and onions, they are a key ingredient in building and layering flavor in so many cultural dishes. Along with a little fat, they are ‘sweated’, while gently tossed or stirred over moderate heat, until they become soft and scented. Then into the saucepan goes the herbs, spices, and perhaps grains and meat/s. A French mirepoix, and Italian soffritto, or a Portuguese refogada all add up the same thing: building the character of a dish. Celery is a key player in making this happens.

Cheryl Paff, Rhinebeck Farmer’s Market Manager, tells me that they’re anticipating celery in the upcoming weeks from Migliorelli Farm and Letterbox Farm Collective, a growing group of young farmers in Hudson, NY, has celery leaves and lovage, an herbaceous leafy perennial with flavor very similar to celery. She adds, “I’m glad you’re writing about it; totally agree it deserves a spotlight.”

One of my favorite combinations is celery and mushrooms, whether sautéed with into a ragu or blended into a soup, the earthiness of the mushrooms with the herbal flavor and natural saltiness of the celery truly hits high notes. If you don’t want to or don’t know where to forage mushrooms, Gary Wiltbank’s (Wiltbank Farm, Saugerties, NY) shitake and oyster mushrooms deliciously and conveniently meet the bill. Gary’s oyster mushrooms are cultivated in pasteurized, straw-filled sacks and the shitake mushrooms sprout from a sterilized sawdust blocks. Wiltbank Farm mushrooms are sold directly at local farmers markets, health food stores, and to grateful restaurant throughout the Hudson Valley.
Not only does celery does not get its due merit in the culinary arena, it is also nutritionally underestimated. Never do you here about celery being a star among the superfoods.  Not only very low in calories, celery contains well-known antioxidants like vitamin C and flavonoids, and scientists more recently identified a variety of other types of antioxidant phytonutrients as well as anti-inflammatory compounds in celery.

My last pitch for celery is this: check out one of your favorite cookbooks, I would wager that celery appears in at least 20% of the recipes. There’s a very good reason.

Garden Celery & Mushroom Soup

When fresh from the garden or farm, celery leaves can lend amazing flavor to soups, stews and salads. Also consider frying these aromatic leaves into ‘chips’… a very tasty garnish.

Makes 6 to 8 servings (about 10 cups)

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 cup loosely packed celery leaves + 18 leaves for frying (optional garnish)
leaves from 3 fresh thyme sprigs
leaves from 2 fresh tarragon sprigs
1 ½ pound Wiltbank Farm oyster and shitake mushrooms, brushed clean, stems chopped, caps sliced
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
¼ cup dry white wine
9 cups water
½ cup heavy cream (optional)

In a medium, heavy duty casserole, over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the celery stalks and leeks, and saute over medium heat, stirring often, until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Stack the celery leaves and cut into thin ribbons. Add half of them to the vegetables along with the thyme and tarragon. Cook, stirring frequently, another 2 to 3 minutes, then add the remaining olive oil and butter. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the mushrooms. Cook, stirring here and there, until the mushrooms have softened and just begining to brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and pour in the white wine; stir, and cook until mostly evaporated. Add the water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. During the last few minutes of cooking, add the remaining sliced celery leaves. Let cool slightly then carefully puree, in batches, in a blender or with a food processor. Clean the cooking pot and return the puree back to it. Bring the pureed soup to a low boil, add the cream (if using), and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Garnish: Heat ¼ cup of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When almost smoking, add the intact 18 celery leaves. Fry until they ‘pop’ and darken in color. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and season with salt.

 

End of Season Abundance!

butternut, white bean, poblano and sausage stew

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyone who enjoys gardening, cooking, or just enjoying plain ol’ straight from the farm  seasonal Hudson Valley eating has a fall 2014 dilemma,  the dizzying local harvest! The shift from summer into fall typically has an overlap, but this year it is especially profound.  After a punishing winter, we were gifted with a lovely, slow, gradual summer. The rains came, and they were torrential, the sun graced us more days than not, but the heat never fully turned on.

Finally tomatoes and peppers and in full swing, but so are harvest squash, onions, dark leafy braising greens, and cruciferous or “cabbage family”, vegetables (bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage)! All are among the natural superstars of New York’s Hudson Valley harvest. The delectable combinations that present are, without question, different from year to year. As I prepare catering menus weeks, if not months, in advance, and the Gigi Trattoria Team and I shift from summer to fall menus, I’m always thinking about what will really be at peak on a particular date in the future. A huge advantage about moving into fall harvest and related cooking decisions is that the tea leaves can be read by the season that passed. Being flexible in your ingredient selections and cooking techniques can help you adapt to the gifts of never ending variables in working with the local/seasonal harvest.

Olivia Kirby, co-manager of the Farm at Locust on Hudson, tells me that the summer’s heavy down pours mixed with drier cooler sunny days has led to a mix mash of harvests.  Too much water all at once has shortened the tomato harvest –  they’ll be pulling the last in the upcoming weeks to prevent rot. Megan Reynolds, a Woodstock ‘Green Girl’ and committee member of the Woodstock Farmer’s Market adds, “The slow season has resulted in shorter spans to enjoy fruits like local cherries, which came and left in a blink, but some harvest fruit more typical of August  is trailing into fall.” Think about combining peaches and plums with the apples, pears, and Concord grapes that just now hitting harvest.

And hail to Kale! It’s just one of the delights of early autumn that can be thrown into the stew pot. Yes, you hear me, turn of the grill and turn on the stove top! It’s time to sauté, steam, braise, stew, and roast! So what to do with the crossover harvest? It’s not yet time to fully embrace winter cookery – heavier dishes that pair well with substantial red wines. Contemplate a mixture of late summer peppers, end of season tomatoes, harvest squash and garden herbs…

Some pantry staples can help enhance the flavor, texture, and nutritional profile of this unique season of cooking. Delicate braising beans, local meats, including sausage from Towne & Country in Hudson, NY, and no-nitrate bacon from Mountain Smokehouse in Lagrangeville, NY, as well as savory herbs like the sage and rosemary help layer the flavors. The nutritional profile of cooking in this season is well rounded, too. Here are the highlights: the vibrant golds and oranges of harvest squash provide huge levels of beta-carotene as well as innumerable other carotenoid antioxidants, deep dark leafy greens are nutritional powerhouses filled with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, peppers lend enormous quantities of vitamin C with every bite, and the cabbage family vegetables serve up substantial amounts of fiber, vitamin C, folate, as well as isothiocynates and glucosinolates, natural compounds, that tamp down inflammation, serve as antimicrobials, and offer up cancer fighting properties.

Late Summer Butternut, Poblano and Sausage Stew

I’ve been cooking this stew from onions, peppers, butternut squash, and herbs from my garden. The sausage is optional – this can easily become a vegetarian, or even vegan, dish. Add the last bit of butternut squash towards the end of cooking for great color and texture. The earlier addition will have ‘melted’ and added creamy flavor to the stew.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
4 poblano peppers, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 pound Towne & Country Merguez sausage, removed from casing, crumbled
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into approximately 1-2 inch cubes
½ pound cannellini or navy beans (dried)
2 to 3 fresh rosemary springs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
7 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
2 ounces shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese

In a medium-large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and peppers, and cook, stirring often, until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring frequently, for another 2 to 4 minutes, or until fat is released, juiced reduced, and the sausage begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add three quarters of the butternut squash, the beans and herbs, and cook another 3 to 4 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until most liquid is reduced/evaporated. Add the broth or water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer until the beans are tender and the stew is thick, about 1 ½ hours. If necessary add a bit more liquid, ½ cup at a time, to continue cooking and keep stew moist until beans are fully cooked. During the last 20 minutes of cooking add the remaining butternut squash. Remove the rosemary stems and serve topped with shaving of Parmesan if desired.

Tomatoes!

 

Tomato Gratin_4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To visualize a tomato in your dreams is said to symbolize domestic happiness and life harmony. If you’re so lucky to actually eat a tomato in your dreams, this bliss might be complemented with a forecast for good health and wealth! Very logical interpretations, if you ask me. On the first thought, how much happier can one get than when plucking, sniffing, eating, and even dreaming about a fragrant and juicy tomato? With respect to health, it’s all documented in the science!  More about this later.

The scale of how obscenely delicious, or dreadful, a tomato can be runs from an ‘off the chart’ 10 to a quick zero. Without question, tomato nirvana is tightly framed within the short window that that they’re harvested. For very good reason, many won’t go near a raw tomato ‘off season’.

In our neck of the woods, the tomato Gods can gifts us from mid-late July to end of September. This year a very wet spring and early summer got tomatoes off to a late start, but a dizzying array of shapes, sizes, and colors still grace our gardens and farmer’s market.

Thad Simerly and Kimberly Hart are just completing their second full season owning/operating Starling Yards, a family-operated, sustainable farm at  Echo Valley Farm in Red Hook, NY. They grow up to 150 varieties of 70 different crops, many of them succulent tomatoes. Kimberly tells me that last season they planted three times the amount of tomatoes and far more varieties. This year Thad and Kimberly focused on the “market darlings” plus a few others that especially spoke to them. Kim tells me that, “The Japanese Trifele Black tops my favorites. These pear shaped beauties are sweet and meaty and not too seedy.”  Everyone has a preference, and there are certainly there uses for all. The big beefy style tomatoes, like Beefsteak, Brandy Wine, or Celebrity can grace a Caprese salad or be nicely slipped between two slices of fresh bread. The plum-like tomatoes, such as Roma or the celebrated San Marzano, are our best hope for enjoying tomato flavors throughout the winter. They cook down into deep sauces and ‘jams’ or can be slow roasted with herbs and then stored covered in a flavorful olive oil.

This combination of a cooked tomato and oil is at the very root of one of their immense nutritional highlights. Lycopene, the potent antioxidant that lends their vibrant red color, is best absorbed when the cell walls have been disrupted by cooking and in the presence of fat. Viva la pizza Margherita and pasta al pomodoro! Tomatoes also offer up lutein, another carotenoid (and antioxidant) shown to protect eye heart health. As for the more ’straight up’ nutrients, tomatoes are rich source of vitamins A and C, and also a good source of folic acid. One medium tomato (4 to 5 ounces) offers so much sweet goodness for only about 25 calories and 3 grams of sugar! Seems impossible!

*Starling Yards coordinates pickups  to their CSA Shareholders at Rokeby (845 River Road, Barrytown, NY), from 4 to 7 pm on Tuesdays and Starling Yards (81 Echo Valley Rd, Red Hook) from 5 to 7pm on Fridays. They also sell to select restaurants and the Milan and Red Hook Village Outdoor Farmer’s Markets.
646.831.8311 www.starlingyards.com

Tomato–Goat Cheese Gratin

Adapted from Hudson Valley Mediterranean: The Gigi Good Food Cookbook (HarperCollins/Pensiero 2009)

It’s that time of year that we begin to turn on the oven, yet we can still make great use of the end of summer tomatoes. This delicious dish takes less than 15 minutes of preparation time. Great for everyday or entertaining!

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ¼ cups coarse bread crumbs from crusty bread (substitute unseasoned breadcrumbs)
1½ pounds large tomatoes (about 3), sliced 1/- inch thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled Coach Farm goat cheese

3 tablespoons chopped chives

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil and bread crumbs. Set aside.

Arrange ⅓ of the tomato slices, slightly overlapping, in an oiled 9-inch square or oval gratin dish or casserole. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with ⅓ each of the goat cheese, bread crumb mixture, and chives. Repeat with two more layers of tomatoes, toppings, and salt and pepper seasoning. Sprinkle the gratin with the Parmesan.

Bake in the middle of the oven until bubbly and the crumbs are golden, 15 to 20 minutes.

Variations:

* Add pitted olives and or good quality tuna.

* Substitute 4 ounces of your favorite shredded or crumbled cheese. Fresh mozzarella works great.

 

 

Pa’s Muleshine Cocktail

Gigi Bartender Mike Rosario with Pa's Muleshine CocktailGigi Head Bartender Mike Rosario put a lot of thought and care into this week’s featured cocktail. It’s our refreshing salute to the many hard-working Hudson Valley Father’s that maintain their yards, gardens, and properties on top of tending to their demanding professional schedules. PA’S MULESHINE is the perfect libation for any day, but it’s a particular ‘cin cin’ to dear ol’ Dad.

Pa’s Muleshine!

Makes 1 serving

  • 2 oz Moonshine
  • 1 oz fresh ginger beer
  • ¾ oz fresh lime juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • Lime slices for garnish
  • In a shake filled three quarters with ice, combine the Moonshine, ginger beer, lime juice and simple syrup. Shake vigorously. Strain into an ice filled mason jar with 3 to 4 lime slices.

Pa's Muleshine Cocktail at Gigi Trattoria

 

The Belmont Breeze

Belmont Breeze, by Gigi Trattoria’s Bar Maestro – Mike Rosario:

Makes 1 serving

  • 1 ½ oz Millbrook Bourbon
  • ½ oz sherry
  • Splash fresh lemon and orange juice
  • Topped off with a splash of club soda
  • Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled three quarters with ice. Shake vigorously then strain into ice filled Collins glass. Top with soda and enjoy!
The stakes are triple! Tonight enjoy Gigi Bar Maestro Mike Rosario’s BELMONT BREEZE  ½ oz sherry Splash fresh lemon and orange juice Topped off with splash club soda Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled three quarters with ice. Shake vigorously then strain into ice filled Collins glass. Top with soda and enjoy!

Belmont Breeze at Gigi Trattoria

30-Day Healthy Lifestyle Challenge

Hit the Reset Button for Health

30-Day Lifestyle ChallengeMy friends all know that I’m especially interested in the link between great health and great food. It’s my nutritionist training coming to the fore. This month I’m spearheading two great programs to trim down and tighten up. The first is called “The 30 Day Healthy Lifestyle Challenge” and I’m teaming up here with Chelsea Streifeneder at Body Be Well Pilates in Red Hook.

 

Gigi SalmonTogether we’ve created a personal workout and month long balanced meal plan just for you! Already four happy participants have completed the plan and lost a total of 38 inches and 32 pounds!  I’m excited about creating ‘sustainable’ shifts in people’s lives and this plan is about great food, regular exercise, balance and fun. Once you’ve mastered the plan, you can keep doing it long after the 30 days are over. If you would like to learn more, contact either me (laura@gigihudsonvalley.com) or Chelsea  (Chelsea@bodybewellpilates.com).

Just Salad CateringFor Just Salad fans, I’m also launching a “Two Week Get Fit Challenge”. This program is great way to jumpstart weight loss, interrupting poor eating habits and help transition to a more ‘well’ lifestyle. Think of it as the on-ramp to a healthier life.  Every day you eat two large salads loaded with vegetables, lean protein and some of the high fiber ‘super foods’, such as wheat berries, quinoa, lentils, and edamame available at Just Salad. In fact, I just completed the challenge myself and lost 8 pounds and 7 inches in total! To take a look at my before and after progress, click on to http://justsalad.com/blog/ and see the change. It wasn’t always easy, but the variety at Just Salad kept things interesting and gave me the mental boost I needed.

Both of these programs preserve the seasonal and local flavors you have come to expect from Gigi, but now you also get a customized approach which controls portions and meets your dietary needs for healthy and safe weight loss. So hit the reset button on your own health and take on a new “Challenge”. Don’t forget to let me know how it worked for you.

Otto’s Market and Gigi Hudson Valley = A Tasty ‘Partnership’

Laura and OttoWe are thrilled to announce that you can now find Gigi Hudson Valley prepared foods in the deli case and along the shelves of Otto’s Market in Germantown. Otto and Laura have long discussed a collaboration that would extend Gigi brand delicacies to Otto shoppers and are thrilled to announce that the time has arrived.

With closing the Gigi retail space in Red Hook we have been able to shift the focus towards continuing the success of the flagship restaurant and expanding the flourishing farm to table catering business. This transition and re-focus has extended great advancements, while leaving many customers longing for the scrumptious Gigi offerings available in our former depot.  No longer  — Gigi dishes will be showcased in Otto’s deli and select grocery products will be a staple at Otto’s Market!

Gigi Hudson Valley at Otto's MarketAlong with all the delicious food that Sybille and Ken of Otto’s are already providing, the Gigi offerings will add a decidedly Mediterranean accent to a great menu, and include side dishes, fresh salads, and entrees like Gigi’s terrific lasagna and signature Skizzas™.

Gigi Balsamic Vinegar

 

In addition, Gigi has some amazing products that will be available in the grocery selections: olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salad dressings, plus delicious sauces ready to pour over pasta.  Laura’s cookbook, “Hudson Valley Mediterranean”, a resource to create perfect healthy and seasonal meals will now be found on Otto’s shelves.

Gigi offers catering big and small; from coordinating celebrations for 200 or more, to providing the dishes to compose small household gatherings, the Gigi team is eager to help with any size event. Otto’s market will carry Gigi’s catering menu and be help refer clients to the Gigi catering service that is right for them.

Everyone at Gigi Hudson Valley is excited and privileged to participate in this exciting collaboration with Otto’s Market.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Staff Spotlight – Mike Rosario

Michael ‘Mike’ Rosario – Head Bartender, Gigi Trattoria

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Michael moved to New York’s Hudson Valley in 2011. He began his career as a food professional more than 20 years ago and has since held just about every ‘front of house’ position. Michael worked with noted restaurateurs like Drew Nieporent and Charles Palmer, proudly assisting with the opening of Palmer’s American bistro Alva’s. His transition to Upstate New York was driven by the farm-to-table movement he saw going on in the City and strong desire to get closer to it.

Mike RosarioMichael’s migration from Brooklyn to the area first took him to a 7-acre property in Saugerties, NY where he enjoyed his first foray in gardening beyond the patio. More recently, Michael transitioned to a 22-acre property where he hopes to continue fruit and vegetable cultivation but also hopes to raise poultry and perhaps even try his hand at beekeeping. When asked if he misses the metro New York restaurant and food scene, he emphatically says “No way! What’s going on up here is so real and so close to the farms. I had been hearing about Gigi Trattoria and what they’re all about since 2003. I knew I wanted to work for this company because they really live it – I see the farmers and producers come in and out of the doors all day long.”

After a year of leading the Gigi Trattoria service team, Michael recently stepped into the role of head bartender. Not only does he continue a tradition of innovative seasonal cocktails that use the purees and infusions from local harvest as well as locally distilled spirits, but he also oversees the ever-vital ‘perch’ from the bar greeting incoming guests and assisting and mentoring our treasured service team. Whether dining at ‘the counter’ is your preferred experience or simply enjoying a drink (with or without alcohol) made with great care, come in and enjoy Mike’s full service approach. We look forward to sharing his imprints and style in the selections of our Mediterranean-inspired wine list and hand-crafted cocktails throughout the seasons.

Gigi Valentine’s Day Cocktail Recipes

 

Whiskey Seduction

Whiskey Seduction

Whiskey Seduction: This sensuous cocktail brings a little extra warmth to the Valentine’s Day spirit. It is just slightly sweetened by the Chambord, but is truly a cocktail that can be enjoyed by all.

  • 2 oz Bulleit Rye
  • ¾ oz Cotes Du Rhone
  • ½ oz Black Raspberry Liqueur (Chambord)
  • ½ oz Fresh Lemon Juice
  • Lemon Twist for Garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker 2/3 with ice. Add the Bulleit, Cotes du Rhone, Chambord, and lemon juice. Vigorously shake, then strain into an ice filled glass (or serve in chilled martini glass ‘up’). Garnish with the lemon twist and enjoy immediately.

 

Amore Cocktail

Gigi’s Amore Cocktail

Amore: Bubbles and roses, what says “Amore” better?

    • 4 ounces Prosecco
    • 1 ounce blood orange juice
    • 2 to 3 drops rosewater*
    • Garnish with dried rose petals*

*Available in most gourmet and health food stores.

In a Champagne flute, combine the Prosecco and blood orange juice. Add a couple of drops of rosewater and garnish with dried rose petals.

 

We’ll be featuring them throughout the holiday weekend at Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck. As of this posting, reservations are still available. To see our full menu specials, click here: http://goo.gl/srHXGm.

 

The Next Chapter for Gigi Hudson Valley

Gigi Hudson ValleyAs you probably know, I have long been committed and passionate about Gigi Hudson Valley and our mission to convince everyone that seasonal + local = healthy eating. To get that message out to the greatest number of people, I’ve been hard at work expanding our catering operation over the past several years.

We are now entering the next phase of that ‘push’, and that means our physical space must change to meet our needs. As of this weekend, we are shifting Gigi Market and Café away from café and retail services to a catering kitchen and offices only. This does not end my desire for retail branded products (quite the opposite), but streamlines and focuses our efforts in a way that gives us greater reach into the community.

Our catering offices and production will remain at our location at Pitcher Lane in Red Hook until we find our new home base. If you would like to plan an event or organize pick up or delivery from our Easy Entertaining Order Form or E-Holiday Order Form, our catering team led by Cassandra Ruff, can be reached at 845.758.8060 or catering@gigihudsonvalley.com.

My heart, soul and spirit are filled with gratitude for all the people who worked at and supported Gigi Market & Café.

Sincerely,
Laura Pensiero

Gigi Trattoria, Rhinebeck, NY – 845.876.1007
Gigi Catering & Event Planning, throughout the Hudson Valley – 845.758.8060
http://www.gigihudsonvalley.com/

A Cocktail for the Season… Gigi Trattoria’s Autumnal Moon

Autumnal MoonExcited by the flavors of fall, Gigi Trattoria Bartender Extrodinaire Lisa Butenhoff put together the Autumnal Moon. She first prepares a ginger-Crown Maple simple syrup that has a sweet and spice harmony. Dutch Spirits Sugar Wash Moonshine provides that ‘kick’ that balances all.

2 oz Dutch’s Spirits Sugar Wash Moonshine
1 oz House made Crown Maple Ginger Syrup*
1 tablespoon rum soaked cranberries

*To prepare Crown Maple Ginger Syrup, combine equal parts of brown sugar (1/2 cup), water (1/2 cup) and Crown Maple Syrup (1/4 cup) with 2 ounces of sliced ginger root. Bring to a low boil, then turn off heat and let steep for 1 hour. Strain and cool. Makes about 1 cup (16 oz).

Combine cranberries and syrup in a shaker and muddle. Add the ice and Dutch Spirits Sugar Wash Moonshine. Shake vigorously. Layer bottom of rocks glass with cranberries topped with ice and strain. Enjoy immediately.

Gigi’s Autumnal Moon was recently highlighted in the Dutch Spirits newsletter! Read about it, here!