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.

Gigi’s “Enlightened Eggplant Parmesan” Recipe

Gigi Eggplant Parmesan

July’s hot and humid weather has tapered off into gorgeous August days, warm, sunny and just hot enough for Hudson Valley summer gardens to thrive. There are buckets of ripening tomatoes, zucchini, beans, melons and a Gigi favorite – eggplant. Eggplants are gorgeous plants with lovely leaves, delicate flowers and elegant vegetables ranging from a nearly black purple to a glowing white streaked with rose. This ‘food of the sun’ flourishes here, a living link to the great number of Italian immigrants who farmed this land throughout the last century making this ‘foreign’ food beloved and common. The last thirty years has seen the growth of Asian eggplant varieties, long and lighter in color with fewer seeds and perfectly amenable to stir fries and braises.

EggplantAt Gigi, we are loyal to the Italian varieties since we are all fanatics about eggplant Parmesan. In fact, there are few dishes the staff and I enjoy as much as a “plate of parm”.  This wasn’t always the case. It took a trip to Sicily to convince me to reconsider Eggplant Parmesan, a typically heavy dish relying overly on breading and cheese. But the Sicilian treatment uses a lighter hand and results in a deeply satisfying eggplant flavor. A perfect dish for the season. Salute! – Laura

Enlightened Eggplant Parmesan – Makes 8 Servings

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1¼ Cups Fresh Bread Crumbs
  • ¼ Cup Finely-Grated Fresh Parmesan Cheese
  • 4 Medium Eggplants – About 3 Pounds – cut Lengthwise into ¼- to ½-Inch-Thick Slices
  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Plus Additional for Brushing the Dish
  • Salt and Freshly-Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 Cups Gigi Pomodoro Sauce, or Your Homemade Recipe or Favorite Brand
  • 1¼ Cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1¼ Cups Shaved Parmesan or Grana Padano Cheese

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat the broiler.

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

Brush the eggplant on both sides with the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange them in a single layer on 2 liberally greased baking sheets (non-stick is best). Broil in batches, until the slices are tender, lightly browned, and softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

Spoon ½ cup of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a lightly oiled 9x13x2-inch baking dish. Layer one third of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping them slightly. Spoon ½ cup of sauce over the eggplant, spreading it evenly, and sprinkle with ½ cup each of the mozzarella and the shaved Parmesan. Top the cheese with another one third of the eggplant slices, another ½ cup of sauce, and ½ cup of each cheese. Top the cheese with the remaining one third of eggplant slices, ½ cup of sauce, and ¼ cup of each cheese.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in middle of the oven until sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over top, and continue to bake until the crumbs are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Enjoy as an appetizer, side dish, or entrée.

Grilled Chicken with Blueberry-Maple BBQ Sauce Recipe

Gigi Grilled Chicken with Blueberry-Maple BBQ Sauce

Gigi Grilled Chicken with Blueberry-Maple BBQ Sauce.

Chef’s note: This blueberry maple version of Gigi Market’s barbecue sauce has a smoky, spicy kick to contrast the sweetness. We’re serving it on our specials with grilled chicken, pork and lamb at Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck and providing it retail at Gigi Market and Café in Red Hook throughout blueberry season.

Blueberry-Maple BBQ sauce – Makes 3 cups

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Large Shallots, Minced
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • ½ Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 2 Pints Fresh Blueberries
  • 1/3 Cup Pure Maple Syrup
  • 1 Cup Ketchup
  • 1/3 Cup Rice Wine or Sherry Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt

INSTRUCTIONS:

In a medium saucepan, cook the shallots over medium heat, stirring, until softened, two to three minutes. Add the spices and cook another 30 seconds. Turn the heat up to medium-high and stir in the blueberries. Partially cover to prevent splattering when the berries burst and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until they soften. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, until sauce is velvety and slightly thickened, about 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in butter and remove from heat.

 

Grilled Chicken

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 (4- to 5-pound) Broiler Fryer Chicken, Cut Into Quarters or Eighths
  • Olive Oil to Drizzle
  • Salt and Freshly-Ground Pepper
  • Note: If using a charcoal grill, evenly distribute the hot charcoal to one side of the grill. If using a gas grill, turn one side to medium-high setting.

INSTRUCTIONS:

Lightly coat the chicken with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the chicken pieces skin side down on the grill grate. Turn the chicken pieces a quarter turn every two to three minutes. Adjust the heat, if necessary, to prevent charring. Once the chicken is nicely grill-marked, move it to the cool side of the grill. The chicken, at this point, should roast in the high heat and not have direct contact with flame or hottest portion of grill. After about 20 minutes total cook time, check the temperature with an instant-read thermometer inserted in the deepest part of each piece. The pieces should reach 155 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now slather the chicken with the Blueberry-Maple BBQ Sauce and return to the heated portion of the grill to crisp. Do not leave over flame for too long, the sugar from the blueberries and syrup will caramelize quickly and could burn. Serve immediately with a side of extra sauce for slathering.

 

Gigi Marinated Rib Eye Steak Recipe

Gigi Marinated Rib Eye Steak

Gigi Marinated Rib Eye Steak

Gigi Marinated Rib Eye Steak – Makes 2 to 4 servings

Flavorful aged rib eyes (and our marinade) can be purchased at Gigi Market. The steaks are almost 2-inches, so it’s a little tricky to cook them on the grill — avoid charring outside and leaving raw on the inside. See my suggestions below for a crispy exterior and the inside cooked to juicy perfection.

If you feel decadent, enjoy with one of Gigi Market‘s parsley-Parmesan compound butter melting over top…

INGREDIENTS:

  • Marinade:
  • 4 to 5 fresh sage leaves (tough stems removed)
  • 2 tablespoons rosemary
  • 1 handful fresh Italian parsley (leaves only)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Rib Eye Steak
  • 1 28—32 ounce rib eye
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

INSTRUCTIONS: 

To prepare marinade at home:

Marinated Rib Eye UncookedPlace the herbs and garlic in the work bowl of a food processor, and pulse a couple of times to combine. With the motor running, drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube and puree until just incorporated but still. Transfer to a large zip-lock bag and add the rib eye. Seal, and massage marinade into the meat. Steaks can be marinated  for 20 minutes up to 2 days in advance.

Gigi Marinated Rib Eye Steak CookedTo cook rib eye: Season steaks with salt and pepper and place on the hottest portion of the grill. Cook until fully seared and nicely colored, 2 to 3 minutes, then turn and repeat on the other side. If you can turn off one side of the grill, move the steaks over to this side, turn the other side on high and close the cover, allowing the meat to ‘roast’ to doneness without charring. Otherwise, prepare your grill with all of the charcoal or wood on one side allowing you to move the meat to the other once grill seared. Cook, turning once or twice, to desired doneness, about 10-12 minutes longer for medium rare.

Kohlrabi Remoulade

About Kohlrabi…
Mentioning Kohlrabi typically doesn’t often light up people’s faces, but this highly underated vegetable is enjoyed in dishes around globe. It also grows exceptionally well here in the Hudson Valley.  The literal translation means “cabbage turnip” in Germany and “ugly root” in Africa. It’s flavor is anything but “ugly” offering a blend of all the wonderful flavor profiles of its cruciferous vegetable family ( broccoli, turnip, cabbage, brussels sprouts, rutagaba), and it has all of the protective phytochemicals and antioxidants they share.

So what to do with this “alien” root?

Immediately get to the tender and delicous flesh under that tough protective exterior. There is a chewy fiberours layer under the hard outer skin, so be sure to peel thoroughly down to the crisp and moist flesh. Use a paring knife to trim ends, and then work down the hard outer body to delious edible portion using a vegetable peeler.

1) Raw: Using a madoline, sharp knife, or cheese grater, slice it very thinly or shred it and eat it raw. Enjoy it on a crudite plate with a dip or use it as you would cabbage by preparing a slaw.

2) Puree: Chop, boil and and puree it then enjoy with some olive oil or butter and seasoning. Pureed kohlrabi also blends with mashed potatoes, mashed root vegetables (kohlrabi and carrots is a personal favorite).

3) Roast: Chop or slice into “fries”, toss with a bit of olive oil, season with salt and peper, and then oven roast until caramelized and tender.

4) Add to soups, stews and braises:  Kohlrabi adds flavor and nutrients to any/all cold weather cooking. Chop it and add it to your favorite bubbling winter meal. Its flavor holds up well to intense seasoning, and it’s particulary good in curries or other full flavored dishes.

5) Gratins and “pies”and quiches: Slice thinly and layer into gratins or grate then saute (with or without other vegetables) to fill pies and quiches.

Here’s one of my favorite preparations, a rift on the classic celeriac remoulade, which is a perfect winter salad:

Kohlrabi Remoulade

Makes 4 to 6 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 allow to sit, refrigerated, in a nonreactive airtight container, for 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Variations:

Add: shredded apples and/or cornichons

 

Turkey Tetrazzini with Fontina, Mushrooms & Radicchio

This delicious casserole makes good use of Thanksgiving’s lingering bounty.  Enjoy it immediately or prepare in advance and re-heat at 350 for 30 minutes before serving. It’s just as good, if not better, the day after.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons butter, plus 2 teaspoons to grease casserole dish
3/4 cup coarse dry breadcrumbs
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan (preferably Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano)
1 pound Wiltbank Farm shitake and oyster mushrooms*, cleaned and sliced 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick
¼ cup dry white wine
1 radicchio head, halved, cored and cut into thin ribbons
4 fresh sage leaves, chopped
2 medium shallots, diced
½ cup all-purpose flour
6 cups low-fat milk
1 ½ cups (4 ounces) diced Fontina cheese**
8 ounces egg pappardelle pasta
3 cups shredded or diced roast turkey

*Substitute any fresh mushroom of your choice if not available.
**Substitute grated cheddar or Gruyere if desired.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

Butter a 3-quart casserole.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and Parmesan. Set aside.

Heat the remaining olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, and cook, tossing or stirring often, until softened and just beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Pour in the white wine and reduce completely. Add the radicchio and sage and cook just long enough to wilt the radicchio, 1 or 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring, until they soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the the flour and whisk constantly until fully blended into the butter. Gradually whisk in enough of the milk to form a thick, smooth paste. Whisk in the remaining milk in a steady stream. Season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Turn off the heat and stir in the Fontina. Taste, then and season with more salt and pepper if desired. Set aside.

Cook the pasta in the boiling water until al dente according to package instructions. Drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Gently stir in the turkey, mushroom and radicchio mixture. Pour in the sauce and mix until just combined. Transfer to the buttered casserole, shaking the pan gently to evenly distribute pasta.

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the pasta. Bake until bubbly and golden brown, 50 to 60 minutes. Let rest slightly 10 to 20 minutes. The casserole will firm up slightly and will the perfect temperature to serve.

 

Fregola Stuffing with Dried Fruit and Sage

This version of Thanksgiving stuffing uses the native Sardinian “pasta” called Fregola. This toasty larger grain cousin of couscous offers a pleasing blend of flavors, textures and colors, and, when combined with traditional stuffing seasonings, it has flavor to match but much less fat and more nutrients than traditional bread stuffing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 1/2 cups *Fregola
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock or canned, low-sodium broth (vegetable stock or broth may be substituted)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, minced or thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled, diced
1 celery stalk, sliced thinly
1/3 cup mixed dried fruit (any combination of apricots, seedless raisins, currants, cranberries or prunes cut into small pieces)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup dry white wine
¼ cup grated Grana Padano or Parmesan
Salt and freshly grated pepper to season.

In a large pot, bring the stock or broth to a boil.  Add the salt and the fregola, stir and cook until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the cooked fregola into a colander.

While the fregola cooks, in a large non-stick skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring often, until softened and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the dried fruit, sage, coriander, and cumin; cook, stirring, another 1 to 2 minutes, then add the white wine, simmering until fully reduced. Now add  the fregola, stirring or tossing to combine. Add the reserved cooking broth, which will quickly come to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the Parmesan, and stir to combine.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Enjoy hot or let cool to stuff your turkey, Cornish hen or favorite “roulade”.

*Fergola is a semolina grain (resembling large couscous) that is a good source of protein and fiber.  It can be found in gourmet and Italian specialty markets.  In Italy, Fregola is used like barley is here, in soups and stews.  It is also served on its own, sauced like pasta.

Makes six servings.

T.G.I.F. Cocktail – Annandale Atomic Hard Cider

Normally we present you with a cocktail recipe each Friday to celebrate the weekend.  However, in honor of Cider Week (last weekend!), this week we present you with a little bit of info on Gigi’s favorite cider, Annadale Atomic Hard Cider from Montgomery Farms.  This semi-dry cider is served at Gigi Market by the jar or on draft at Gigi Trattoria.  It has 7% alcohol and is unfiltered and unsulfited.

At Montgomery Farms, they use about 60 varieties of antique and commercial apples for Annadale Cider.  All these apples are grown on the land that Jane Livingston Montgomery, the original owner, cultivated apples on over 200 years ago.  Annadale Atomic cider uses about 6 different varieties and is their signature cider.  Unfortunately it is sold out for the season.  Luckily Gigi Trattoria snagged one of the last kegs so you have to stop by to try it!

We are such fans of Montgomery Farms and their Atomic Cider that we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to share it with all of you!  But we don’t want to leave you stranded this weekend without a great recipe.  So you will find our TGIF recipe below:

1 part Annadale Atomic Cider
1 part Gigi Trattoria or Gigi Market
1 part delicious food (try it with our Pollo!)
Mix together and enjoy!  🙂

Learn more about Montgomery Farms and their cider here.

And find out more about Cider week here.

 

T.G.I.F. Cocktail – Cranberry Cobbler

We finally noticed this week  that all the leaves are turning color. It always seems to sneak up on us. We’re never sure if we weren’t paying attention or it really did happen overnight? All of the great and vibrant oranges and reds we’re seeing around us inspired our delicious cocktail this week, the cranberry cobbler. Perfect for a fall weekend!

Cranberry Cobbler

Place about a dozen cranberries in a shaker and muddle thoroughly with about a teaspoon of cane sugar. Then add:

1 1/2 oz Bourbon (we use Bulleit)
1 oz Carpana Antica sweet vermouth
1 oz blood orange juice

Shake all the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Strain into martini glass or enjoy on the rocks. Leave the cranberries in the drink for a festive look. Enjoy!

Maple Pumpkin Polenta

Yesterday, Gigi Hudson Valley participated in a great event in support of Olana, the historic estate just outside Hudson. The fundraiser was entitled “Eat for Art’s Sake.” Each participating Hudson Valley eatery who volunteered their services, created a dish to be sampled at the gala, inspired by one of Frederick Church’s paintings (the artist who also built Olana in 1870.)

Gigi’s owner, Laura Pensiero,  chose “Clouds Over Olana”.

Inspired by the painting, Gigi Hudson Valley presented a Vegetable Hash over Maple Pumpkin Polenta. While the dish was not a literal interpretation of the painting, it served as inspiration, and it allowed Gigi HV to take advantage of great local and seasonal ingredients! As Laura noted, “It’s a very colorful plate that went with the back drop of the setting and  looked like a fall day. What we were trying to do was grab the season and bring that into the food, which this painting seemed to represent best.  We used Hudson Valley ingredients: New York State maple syrup and polenta from Wild Hive Farm and Store, in Clinton Corners,  with pumpkin from Mead Orchards, in Tivoli, as well as carrots, turnips. squash, and celery.”

We thought we would share the recipe for the Maple Pumpkin Polenta, enjoy!

Maple Pumpkin Polenta

This is among the most popular side dishes during the fall and winter months at Gigi Trattoria. The addition of pumpkin and maple syrup adds a seasonal and a festive hue to polenta. We buy ground cornmeal from Wild Hive Farm in nearby Clinton Corners. Any coarse grain cornmeal can substitute. Enjoy the slightly sweet notes balanced by a little spice from cayenne pepper.

Serves 4

1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ¼ cups finely ground yellow cornmeal
1½ cups pumpkin puree (boiled,drained,and pureed or 100 percent natural canned pumpkin)
⅓ cup pure maple syrup
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tablespoon butter

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt and the olive oil, reduce the heat to simmer, and gradually whisk in the cornmeal, a small amount at a time, to prevent clumping. Reduce the heat to low and cook the polenta, stirring often, until tender and it is pulling away from the sides of the pan, about 25 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin puree, maple syrup, and cayenne and cook another minute or two, then remove from the heat and stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano and the butter. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve warm.

Nutrition: Polenta (cornmeal) is a whole grain. The pumpkin contributes enough beta-carotene to supply about 25 percent of your daily needs of vitamin A.

Note: This recipe can be found in the Gigi Good Food Cookbook, Hudson Valley Mediterranean.