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Archive for July, 2011

zucchini saute with corn and nopales

I’ve been on the farm for just shy of two months now, and I can probably count the times I’ve been off the property on two hands. (Maybe three, if we’re including runs to Trader Joe’s to replenish our compost toilet wine cellar).  I don’t have a car, but everyday life at Love Apple—working in the garden, swimming in the pool, eating groceries that magically appear at our apprentices’ cottage each Thursday—leaves little to desire. Another advantage to the self-contained lifestyle is that when you do get the chance to venture out, it’s a genuine thrill. Attending the roller derby bout in Santa Cruz last Saturday? I’ll admit it, I dressed up. And when, like yesterday, the field trip is spontaneous, it’s all the more exciting.

Especially when the destination is the Corralitos Gardens dahlia farm. Cynthia is a longtime lover of dahlias, and my first week on the farm we planted them along the main driveway with Milly, a feisty gardener in her 70s who has been saving tubers for decades. We have a few beautiful older specimens at Love Apple, but Corralitos Gardens was like stepping into one of Milly’s dahlia catalogs, where each flower seems to belong to a fantasy world. (With names like Carmen Bunky, Creekside Volcano, and Eden Barbarossa, how could they not?).

Of course all good field trips end with food, and ours was no exception. On our way back to the farm, dahlia blooms in hand, Cynthia took us by Mi Pueblo, an enormous Mexican market that featured chicken feet (in the cart of the woman in front of us), Mamey (a melon with bright orange, honey-sweet flesh), and Arroz con Leche paletas (my two favorite desserts—rice pudding and ice cream—combined to glorious effect). Back at the cottage we toasted with tamarind soda as Lisette made tortillas in our brand new tortilla press, and while we cooked our protein (mysteriously labeled “Al Pastor meat”) we still managed to throw in some love from the garden, with a sauté of zucchini, fresh corn, and nopales.

Zucchini Saute with Corn and Nopales

Nopales, the leaf-like pads of the prickly pear, add an element of the exotic to this veggie saute. Feel free to improvise with what you have–we have zucchini spilling out of every available large bowl in our kitchen, hence my recent slew of zucchini recipes.

3-4 nopales, peeled

1 large (or several smaller) zucchini, diced

2 ears of corn, shucked

cilantro

Cholula hot sauce

salt and pepper

Boil the peeled nopales until tender, then set aside and cool before dicing into small pieces. Place the ears of corn in a 400 degree oven and grill, turning occasionally so all sides get nicely toasted. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, saute the diced zucchini in olive oil, then add the pieces of nopales. Take your grilled corn and cut the kernels off the cob, adding them to the saute as well. Season with salt, pepper, and Cholula, tasting for spiciness, and finish with a handful of chopped cilantro.

pasta with parmesan, olive oil, and pepper

A little while ago I wrote an essay on the things I like about being alone. Not to say that I don’t enjoy being with people, but I’m very much the classic introvert—at the end of the day, my first impulse is to curl up somewhere and recharge quietly thinking things over. In my essay there was one example, however, where I swore I diverged from my loner ways: at mealtime. Spurred by painful memories of solo dinners as a freshman in John Jay Dining Hall, I was convinced eating alone was the ultimate form of social rejection. Reading, going for a walk, lying in bed staring aimlessly at the ceiling—all perfectly acceptable forms of solitude. But eating? I couldn’t admit to a meal alone, not even to my creative writing class (and if ever a bunch of college-age misfits convenes, I can guarantee they will be some sort of creative writing class).

The thing is, the more I think about it, the more I realize I wasn’t being entirely truthful. Eating alone surrounded by people may breed feelings of overwhelming rejection, but sitting by myself in the kitchen, the kettle close to boiling and two pancakes with a fried egg on top sitting neatly on the table in front of me, is truly one of life’s great pleasures. When you eat alone, it’s just you and your food—a near perfect relationship if there ever is one. There’s no need to impress, and alone I find myself going for simple, savory things that don’t take long to make and are primarily flavored with salt and pepper.

My most recent eating-alone obsession fits this bill. It has only five ingredients, if you count the salt and pepper but not the pasta water (which is, however, a crucial element). I’ve always been a lover of spaghetti with cheese—it’s a comforting throwback to those childhood days when carbs and dairy were the only things my sister and I accepted on our USA geography and solar system place mats. Traditionally I’ve always gone with extra-sharp cheddar (the day I ran a half marathon I received a number of raised eyebrows en route to a friend’s room when I stood by the elevator wrapped in a blanket with an enormous Tupperware of pasta, a giant block of cheddar, and a cheese grater). Last week, however, alone in the kitchen on my day off, I made a wonderful discovery. I couldn’t find the colander and had a quarter inch of pasta water left after inadequate draining; then I lazily decided to forgo a plate and grate a chunk of parmesan directly into the pot. A slip of the hand left me with a generous coating of black pepper, so I added in an equally generous glug of olive oil to loosen things up. A sprinkling of salt, a few whirs with a fork, and I had magic—cheesy, peppery spaghetti made creamy by the leftover pasta water. I ate it alone with relish, and it was lovely solitude indeed.

Pasta with Parmesan, Olive Oil, and Pepper

1/4 – 1/3 package spaghetti

parmesan

olive oil

salt

black pepper

Bring a small pot of heavily salted water to a boil and add in the spaghetti, stirring well to keep from sticking. When the pasta is very al dente (I like it verging on chewy) bring the pot to the sink and drain almost all of the water, reserving a 1/4 to 1/2 inch or so of water at the bottom. Place your pot on an unheated surface and add a generous glug of olive oil, then grate a healthy amount of parmesan over the spaghetti and finish with lots of black pepper. Stir well and eat hot–from the pot, of course.

garden beignets

It was 6:15 on a foggy Friday morning and there I was, crouched over an orange bucket with my hand plunged up to the elbow in icy water mixed with ground quartz. Next to me Zach and Ross knelt hand-stirring the mixture in their buckets, and eight other apprentices and farm staff stood silently around us waiting their turn, Cynthia holding the cow horn in which the quartz had been buried for six months. We were completing the final stage of biodynamic prep 501, a soil preparation used in the biodynamic system of farming that Love Apple is committed to following. The preparation is stirred and applied at dawn, when the light filtering through the morning clouds can illuminate the quartz mixture as it is sprayed above the plants in the garden.

Biodynamics is the agricultural practice developed by philosopher Rudolf Steiner, and while creating preparations for soil health out of stuffed cow horns and intestines may seem strange to some, when Cynthia told us the quartz prep had to be stirred clockwise and counter-clockwise for an hour to combine order and chaos, it made sense. In the past two months I’ve been on the farm I’ve acutely felt the balance of order and chaos in my life—the order of milking the goats each morning, eight-hour farm days, and sitting around the kitchen table each night, and the chaos of being thrown into a new place and life where you live, work, eat, and drink with an ever-shifting group of people. At 6:45 that morning as we stirred, Ellen—the baby of our group at 19, the greenhouse pro from Maine who’s been here seven months—quietly went round and said her goodbyes, and we were still stirring as she left the garden for the last time. That afternoon we saw off Tory, a two-week volunteer from Manresa who made us breakfast sandwiches and seemed to always have been here, and this week we say goodbye to Phillip, our constant source of new music (listen to this) and amazing grilled food. There’s order and chaos in all relationships, and in life, Cynthia said softly as we continued to stir, and it made me realize that letting go of people who’ve become such good friends—both on the farm and off it—is a chaos that’s never easy to be prepared for.

Part of spraying the soil prep is investing it with energy and positive thought, so as I misted our quartz mixture over the garden beds I decided I would do just that. I thought of the night before, when Tory made Manresa’s famous garden beignets for farm dinner while we laughed as everyone at the table had to put on their best foreign accent. I thought of Ellen and Tory and Phillip, the things they’ll go on to do  in college and culinary school and landscape architecture, and then I thought of all my other apprentice friends, the people they are now and the people they’ll be after they leave. I thought of people I love outside the farm, friendships I’ve let lapse as I’ve become more rooted here. Did I feel a little bit corny? You bet. But when I was done I felt as though a bit more order had been restored to the chaos that  always comes with saying goodbye.

Manresa’s Garden Beignets

The recipe for these delicious savory beignets was just added to the Bon Appetit website as a part of the story on Love Apple and Manresa in the August issue. They are absolutely amazing, and having made them every night at the restaurant for the past few months Tory was an expert. They may look tricky, but don’t worry–the process is actually not as intimidating as it may seem, and the results are well worth the effort. Enjoy!

caramelized onion tart with parmesan

It was an exciting weekend here at Love Apple. The farm and Chef David Kinch of Manresa (the two-Michelin star restaurant for which we grow all our produce) are featured in the August issue of Bon Appetit, with a spread that includes photos of our veggies and garden terraces as well as recipes Chef Kinch has crafted based on what we harvest for him each week. I haven’t been to Manresa yet (it’s a tad above the farm apprentice budget), but I can’t wait to try the recipe for these roasted cucumber sandwiches—particularly because I watched Chef Kinch roast our farm cucumbers this past Sunday afternoon.

The monthly cooking classes taught by Chef Kinch and Pim  are events to anticipate—I was lucky enough to assist in the June class my first day as an apprentice, and since then I’ve been eagerly waiting for my next opportunity to watch Chef and Pim at work (while washing 100 or so dishes of course). This Sunday’s class did not disappoint: it was held outside on the sunny farm patio, and the menu included grilled rack of lamb with fresh herbs, a fregola salad with roasted squash, fennel, and cucumbers, and a fig and plum tart smeared with frangipane (my new favorite condiment: almonds, sugar, egg and butter). I did my best to listen closely while bustling around the patio chopping herbs and collecting utensils, and I was well-rewarded when Chef Kinch gave us some advice that I immediately filed in my mental favorites folder: “Good cooking is the judicious use of salt.” (Tip of the day: if you salt your dish at multiple stages during cooking—instead of throwing in several liberal pinches at the end, like I do—it results in an increased complexity of flavor from salt cooked for various lengths of time).

The class also ended up giving me a surprise chance to display my (non-existent) tart-making skills. While the students mingled with wine before their farm tour, Pim came up to me and, looping her arm conspiratorially through mine, declared that I would be in charge of duplicating her tart in the kitchen after she made one outside for the students. Eyes peeled I watched her every move, then I hurried inside and attempted to reenact her expert dough folds and arrangement of plums and figs. Unfortunately compared to hers (above), mine (below) looked decidedly rustic, but what it lacked in prettiness it made up for in almondy, figgy tastiness.

Fortunately for me, that was not the last of the tarts that entered my day—with Pim’s leftover dough from class, Zach and I set about making two more tarts for our nightly apprentices’ feast. One was the plum dessert from class, but the other was a throwback to my second night on the farm, when we made the onion tart Chef and Pim had cooked for the students in June. Flaky pastry, buttery sweet caramelized onions, toasty melted parmesan… need I say more? To top it off, our tarts baked alongside Phillip’s enchiladas and roasted potatoes. When every oven rack is filled, you know it’s a good night.

(p.s. A friend was curious about my soundtrack to the farm, and it would definitely have to be this. Enjoy!)

Caramelized Onion Tart with Parmesan

(Adapted from June’s Day Off Dinners with Chef Kinch and Pim)

There are two secrets to this easy tart, and they are Pim’s recipe for pastry dough, and caramelizing your onions for much longer than you would imagine.

1 round of dough made using Pim’s recipe, chilled

3-4 large onions, sliced into rounds

1-2 Tbsp butter

1 egg, beaten

fresh grated parmesan

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface, shaping roughly into a circle before transferring to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and add the onions, stirring regularly until they are dark golden brown (about 45 or so minutes). Spread your caramelized onions on the dough, then fold in the edges and brush the dough with your beaten egg mixed with a little water. Finally, sprinkle your entire tart with the parmesan cheese and bake for 45 minutes.

goat cheese zucchini lasagna

On any given day, this is what I see when I open our cottage refrigerator.

It’s an all-consuming battle, us seven 20-somethings versus a never-ending supply of goats’ milk (two gallons a day, to be precise). Fresh it tastes similar to cows’ milk, but after three or so days in the fridge it gets, well… goaty. We all have various tolerance levels for this unfortunate phenomenon—some grin and bear it by grabbing a five-day-old jar and pouring in a third of a bottle of Hershey’s syrup, some (read, me) give yesterday’s gallon a tentative sniff before hastily returning it to the fridge. “Finding out how much milk someone can drink in a day should be part of the Love Apple interview process,” someone joked my first week here, and though I had to laugh I also secretly cringed. I try to hide it, but since I’ve never been a milk drinker I’m the weakest link in our stand against the goats—Marty, Lupe, and Totes—and their prolific udders.

Still, I had a battle plan: cheese. A list of cheese recipes hangs from a magnet on our freezer door, and after consulting it thoroughly I decided I’d attempt cheese making on my days off this week. Armed with a packet of culture, a thermometer, and an enormous aluminum pot, I began with chevre, heating a gallon of milk to 86 degrees and stirring in the ordinary-looking white powder. And then… that was it. You let the milk sit for 24 hours to separate, then strain out the curds to hang for 4-6 hours. It was so easy I made three batches, satisfying myself with a mental tally for the day: goats—plus two gallons, Sara—minus three.

Of course the cheese never lasts as long as the milk. I eat it for breakfast on toast with jam, but cooking with it has inspired a number of dinners this week—eggplant zucchini gratin, goat pesto pizza, and a lasagna/pasta bake of sorts that threw all of the above (minus the pizza dough) together into two baked casserole dishes of cheesy goodness. Served with two-buck-chuck (those bottles are becoming a regular feature in my photos I know), it made for a wonderful Wednesday night. I’m even feeling a little better about milking at 7:30am tomorrow.

Goat Cheese Zucchini Lasagna

We only had a few lasagna noodles left so I ended up cooking some pasta and making that a layer–either way will work. Also you don’t have to make your own pesto and tomato sauce, but if you have fresh basil it’s especially worth the effort.

For the pesto:

several handfuls fresh basil

1/2 cup pine nuts

1/2 cups grated parmesan

2 cloves garlic

olive oil

For the tomato sauce:

3 cloves garlic, sliced

4 cups canned diced tomatoes

For the caramelized onions and mushrooms:

1 Tbsp butter

2 large onions, sliced into rounds

handful of large brown mushrooms

1 lb ground turkey

lasagna noodles (or penne pasta)

2 large zucchini, sliced into rounds

goat cheese, crumbled

salt and pepper

Blend the ingredients for the pesto in the blender until smooth, adding more or less of each depending on your textural preferences. In a medium saucepan, brown the sliced garlic in olive oil, then add in the diced tomatoes and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce looks thick and smooth. Meanwhile, heat butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat, then add sliced onions and mushrooms and caramelize, stirring regularly for about 40 minutes until they are dark brown and gooey. When the onions are done, set aside in a bowl and brown the turkey meat in the same frying pan. In another frying pan, heat olive oil and fry zucchini rounds in batches until each piece is lightly browned on each side. If you aren’t using no-cook lasagna noodles, boil a pot of water, cook your pasta, and drain.

To assemble, lightly oil a large casserole dish and begin layering, starting with the pesto and adding zucchini, pasta or lasagna noodles, tomato sauce, onions and mushrooms, meat, and goat cheese (in any order you choose). Finish with a layer of tomato sauce topped with zucchini and crumbled goat cheese, then bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until sides are bubbling and cheese on top is beginning to brown.

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