Fresh From the Farm – Katie Malich

I hope that our recent heavy rains have not hurt our local farmers. Generally speaking, rain is a good thing. It replenishes aquifers, which reduces the need for expensive irrigation (and helps farmers’ bottom lines). A good rain helps “sweeten” the soil by flushing certain harmful salts, Stephen Pederson of High Ground Organics explains in his March 22, 2011 CSA newsletter. And if the temperature is not too cold, growing plants will respond to better to rainwater than well water.

But, as we all know, there can be too much of a good thing. Timing is everything in agriculture as in other aspects of life. I’ll be touching bases today with our local farmers to see what effect the recent rains may have on the timing of their harvests. Pederson, whose farm is in Santa Cruz County, lost some ripe strawberries he’d been planning to bring to market but reports his less ripe strawberries fared well during the recent downpours.

Meanwhile, last week’s wet and chilly weather provided me with a perfect opportunity to use some Scotty B’s Chipolte Fever Gourmet Spicy Pepper Sauce on oven-baked chicken pieces. Hot sauce, hot food = warm and happy tummy.

You may have seen the Scotty B’s stand at the Main Street end of the Tuesday afternoon Culver City Farmers Market. If you haven’t already, make sure to stop by for a taste of their Sweet Habenero, Jalapeno Scream, Berries N Heat and other innovative flavors. The chipotle sauce with chicken was a hit. I’m not sure that I’m ready to scale the top of the Scofeld heat unit scale with habenero sauce, but Scotty B’s staff assures me their Sweet Habanero is a big seller.

Looking for a quick and easy way to cook potatoes, I put my oven back into service to make oven-baked french fries. Simple to prepare, fun to eat, and healthy, too: a win-win-win. Make sure oven rack is at its lowest level and preheat oven to 415 degrees. Wash three or four large baking (russet) potatoes. Do not peel. (The peels contain many useful nutrients, and should be fine to eat if the potatoes are well scrubbed.) Cut into half lengthwise, then into quarters, then eighths and, finally, sixteenths. Put wedges into bowl and add 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and seasonings to taste. Mix well. Place on baking sheet (one layer thick). Bake for 15 minutes, or until crispy and golden on top. Remove sheet from oven. Using tongs, turn the wedges over and return baking sheet to oven for another 15 minutes. Seasonings can include salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder, curry powder, spice blends, and/or Parmesan cheese.

Here are two more side-dish recipes which will keep your kitchen warm while you bake. The Spinach-Cheddar bake takes advantage of one of the seasonal spring treats available at farmers markets: green garlic. No, green garlic is not leftover artificially dyed green cloves left over from St. Patrick’s Day. It is immature garlic. It looks very much like scallions or green onions. You can use it as you would green onions, for a slightly stronger taste. Or you can use it instead of garlic, for a milder flavor. Supplemented with a whole grain pilaf, or even some oven-baked French fries, another vegetable dish or a salad, it could also serve as a vegetarian main dish.

Potato-Cabbage Gratin (Reduced Fat)

1 lb. potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 1/2 lb. green cabbage, cut into ribbons (approximately half a cabbage)
Salt and black pepper
2/3 c. unsalted butter
3 T. fresh sage leaves, chopped, or 1 T. dried
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/3 c.. of non-fat milk
egg substitute equivalent to three eggs, or 5-6 egg whites
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup whole wheat

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a gallon of water to a boil. Add potatoes. Boil about 6 minutes until they are nearly tender. Remove from water with slotted spoon and reserve. Add the cabbage to the water and boil for about 5 minutes. Drain. Using a kitchen towel or paper towel, pat dry. Combine potatoes and cabbage in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Melt butter in a small skillet, then add sage and garlic. Cook for a few minutes. Toss with potatoes and cabbage, then transfer to a lightly greased baking dish. Combine the remaining ingredients, whisking well. Pour mixture over vegetables, and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool, cut into squares, and serve.

Spinach-Cheddar Bake
(serves 6 as side dish, 2-3 as main dish)
2 lb fresh spinach
1 stick unsalted butter
2 onions chopped
salt and pepper
2-3 stems green garlic, chopped (roots and tough portions of leaves removed)
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
12 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
2 c. fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a heavy 1 1/2-2 quart shallow baking dish, and set aside. Wash spinach well and drain it in a colander. Do NOT pat dry. Put half in spinach in heavy 6 to 8 quart pot. Cook, covered, over moderate heat until slightly wilted, about a minute. Add the remaining spinach and continue to cook, covered, stirring occasionally, about a minute until wilted but still bright green. Drain in colander. When cool enough to handle, squeeze dry and chop finely. Melt butter in deep, heavy skillet over moderate heat. Add onion, with a generous pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper, and stir until softened (about 8 minutes.) Stir in garlic and cayenne and cook, stirring, until garlic is softened. Add spinach and cook, stirring, another two minutes. Add cheese, reduce heat to moderately low, and continue to cook, stirring, until the cheese is melted and all ingredients are combined. Add additional salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Spread the bread crumbs evenly over the top. Bake in the middle of the oven until top is golden brown and bubbling, approximately 20-25 minutes. (Recipe adopted from “Dottie’s Spinach” in Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me With Apples.)

The Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market is held from 2 to 7 pm on Main Street between Venice and Culver Blvds. The Culver South Farmers Market is held on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the northeast corner of the Westfield Culver City parking lot at the corner of Hannum and Slauson.

Katie Malich is getting ready for this Sunday’s Friends of the Culver City Library Edible Books Contest. Are you?.

The Actors' Gang

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