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The Seven Stars of Summer

local foods wheel

 

BY JESSICA PRENTICE

Jessica Prentice, Maggie Gosselin, and Sarah Klein created the Local Foods Wheel to help us all enjoy the freshest, tastiest, and most ecologically sound food choices month by month. Here are seven of Jessica’s seasonal favorites. You can learn more about the Local Foods Wheel and the group’s other ventures at localfoodswheel.com.

 

If I am pressed to declare a favorite vegetable, I choose the artichoke. When I left the East Coast over 20 years ago, I was ignorant both of how to eat an artichoke and why it was worth the bother. But a 15-year relationship with a native San Franciscan who loved artichokes turned me into a die-hard fan. She also taught me that if you eat a bite of artichoke followed by a sip of water, the water tastes sweet. My current partner taught me that artichokes are notoriously difficult to pair with wine. But I don’t care! My favorite way to eat an artichoke is the simplest: I artichokessteam it whole until tender and serve it with homemade mayonnaise or melted butter and lemon. Part of what I love is the “bother” itself: the process of pulling off each petal, dipping it in the mayonnaise, and scraping the small but delectable sliver of flavor off the leaf. When you finally finish all the leaves you get to that wonderful climax: the heart. A few satisfying bites of artichokey goodness accompanied by the final scrapings of mayo from your little stash, and your experience is complete.

goat_cheeseOur five-year-old son keeps urging us to expand our little urban farm to include a couple of goats. Part of the appeal is an image of us as urban homesteaders turning out beautiful rounds and pyramids of homemade, “home-grown” goat cheese. My favorite is the kind lined with a thin layer of wood or vegetable ash. The most famous regional examples of those would be the Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove and cheesemaker Soyoung Scanlan’s beautifully handcrafted Acapella from Andante Dairy. I’m thrilled that the new El Cerrito Natural Grocery Prepared Food Annex has a wonderful cheese selection brought in by cheesemonger Shawn Bryant, including the triangular version of the Humboldt Fog called Bermuda Triangle.

Ash was originally a way to protect the surface of a cheese from infestations and troublesome microorganisms while the cheese was ripening. The ash also dried out the surface and aided in the preservation process. The whiteness of goat cheese and the blue-blackness of ash make for an enticing, wistful, almost nostalgic appearance. The most delicious version I ever tasted was made by urban farmer Jeannie McKenzie at her Oakland homestead, PineHeaven Farm. I may be just a hopeless locavore, but when you have petted the goats, broken bread with the cheesemaker, and donated a few drops of blood to the dirt while trimming back thorny blackberry vines, a fresh cheese doesn’t taste more perfect.

cherriesI know that summer has arrived when the markets are brimming with cherries. There is no better way to enjoy them than just eating them straight, sitting in the sun, spitting out the pits as you go. This way, you can taste the subtle difference between Burlats and Bings and Rainiers, and ruminate on the perfection and simplicity of the good life.

beerOnce upon a time, beer was made in nearly every homestead, usually by women. It was often brewed with herbs from the garden or nearby meadows, imparting a wide range of tastes and nourishing qualities to the brews. Many were truly medicinal and used to treat ailments. They were brewed with wild and heirloom strains of yeast and bacteria, and were rich in enzymes, mineral ions, electrolytes, easily assimilated carbohydrates, and B vitamins. Often, these unpasteurized beers were much lower in alcohol than those we drink today, and were sipped by people of all ages at all times of the day for both energy and hydration. Today most beer in this country has little (if any) nutritional content and is produced in factories by profit-driven corporations. Fortunately, innovative brew pubs, artisanal producers, and home brewers are reviving and reinventing many of the lost traditions of homestead brewing, returning beer to its rightful place as a nutritious, delicious—and local—brew.

lettuceSummer is time for salads, and for enjoying the wonderful array of lettuces that can be grown in your garden, pulled out of a CSA box, or picked out at the farmers’ market. This year we are growing Speckled Trout and Red Romaine lettuces. At the market I usually opt for Little Gems because I love their crisp rib and how they hold a creamy dressing like the one in the BLT Salad recipe included here.

figsI am a latecomer to loving figs. As a child, I never met a fig I liked, and especially disliked the ubiquitous Fig Newton cookies that other kids enjoyed. Now I know a good fig is a piece of heaven, mysterious and deep, complex and unique. At some point this summer, assemble a platter of perfect figs, sliced in half. Include some artisanal salami, cut thinly, and an ash-lined goat cheese at room temperature. Set this on a table outdoors, preferably near a climbing vine like a grape. Eat slowly, with a friend, and as far as possible from electronic devices. Invoke your ancestors, bask in the warmth of friendship, savor the sweet and salty pleasures of life, and enjoy the beautiful summer day.

salamiThis past year we finally tried our hand at home-cured salami and were thrilled by the results. We got together with a few loved ones and ground the pork, seasoned it and stuffed it into casings, then divided up the links so we could each dry some in our home. The drying links hung from their strings in our basement, reminding us of the original use of a cellar. •

 

BLT Salad

I love the combination of flavors in a good BLT, but the sandwich tends to fall apart in my hands and always seems like too much bread and not enough of the savory stuff. A great answer to this dilemma is a BLT salad, basically a deconstructed BLT with freshly made croutons, fried homemade or artisanal bacon, tomatoes, and plenty of crisp, well-dressed Little Gem lettuces in a mayonnaisey dressing. A great shortcut for the dressing is the TSH Mayonnaise from Three Stone Hearth, whisked with a little extra olive oil.

BLT-Salad-6

For the croutons:
½ pound naturally leavened sourdough batard (if you’re gluten-free, try the sourdough bread from Bread SRSLY)
1 tablespoon olive oil or bacon fat, or as needed
½ teaspoon sea salt

For the mayonnaise dressing:
1 egg yolk
½ cup good quality olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
¼ cup crème fraîche, yogurt cream, sour cream, or Greek style yogurt
½ teaspoon sea salt or to taste
Black pepper to taste

For the salad:
12 ounces best quality local bacon, sliced
1 pound Little Gem lettuce
¾ pound fresh, juicy tomatoes

To make the croutons, preheat the oven to 350º. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and toss in a bowl with the olive oil and sea salt. Spread out on a cookie sheet and bake, shaking or stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted and golden brown on all sides, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Cut the bacon slices into ½-inch pieces and spread out in a cast-iron (or other oven-safe) pan. You can either cook them on the stovetop over low heat or stick them in the oven with the croutons. Stir the bacon pieces occasionally, cooking until just-crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set the pan on top of the stove at an angle to allow the fat to drain out of the bacon pieces.

Make the mayonnaise dressing by whisking the egg yolk in a large bowl and then drizzling the olive oil in very slowly while vigorously whisking to create an emulsion. Once the emulsion is established, you can add the olive oil more quickly. Whisk in the mustard, lemon juice, crème fraîche, sea salt, and black pepper. Taste and adjust flavors, then set aside.

Prepare the lettuces by cutting heads crosswise into 2-inch strips. Separate the leaves, wash, and spin. Slice the tomatoes into halves, quarters, or 1-inch cubes, depending on how big they are. About 5 or 10 minutes before serving the salad, toss the tomatoes and the croutons together. This will soften the croutons and allow them to soak up the yummy tomato juices.

Toss the lettuce leaves with the dressing in the large bowl. Depending on your preference, you can toss all the ingredients together before plating, or you can put the lettuces on the plate first and then top with the tomatoes, croutons, and bacon pieces. Add a cubed avocado if you have one or feel your BLT Salad is missing a vowel.

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