I was a city girl but my father grew up on a farm. So when my parents bought our house, they bought an extra lot behind the house just for growing vegetables.
We had asparagus and lettuce in the spring; corn, tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant and squash in the summer; greens, beans and okra in the fall; and carrots and spinach in the winter. My mother grew butter beans on a side fence, and our fruit trees produced apples, peaches, pears, plums and pecans.
We rarely ate from cans at our house unless they were of the home-canning glass variety. Gems such as butter beans and corn cut from the cob were frozen for winter months.
So, the idea of eating fresh from the garden comes as nothing new to me although, to hear some tell it, they wouldn’t know a fresh pea if they saw one. Chefs, on the other hand, are paying farmers to grow just what they want to arrive special delivery at their kitchen doors. I say more power to them, and let’s ask our grocers to do the same and our farmers’ markets to give us more of it at affordable prices. I prefer to purchase field peas and butter beans still in the shells, which can rarely be found in any of our markets.
It is just so easy to cook fresh, and sometimes the less cooking time, the better. A few minutes microwave summer squash, some puffs of steam on broccoli or a quick oven roasting of asparagus can result in delicious returns. The total flavor of the vegetable comes out, and only a dab of butter or a dash of lemon juice may be required.
The good news is that we have people working for us to have fresh produce on our tables at all times, and the proof is presently in New Orleans with the Farm to Table International Symposium.
Back in May, I ate my very first soft-shell shrimp – head, eyes and all. This occurred at Tableau, the Dickie Brennan restaurant where the head honchos of Farm to Table met to highlight some of the products of Louisiana’s fertile soil and food-laden waters in preparation for the August event.
Besides soft-shell crawfish, which I’d love to see marketed to restaurants and home cooks as well, we had eye-popping presentations of duck, lamb and grass-fed beef, tomatoes with lump crabmeat and mayhaw and chocolate crêpes. All are measures of the dedication of our farmers and fishers to deliver healthy, fresh and affordable food to our area.
New Orleans, said chef Michel Nischan, is “the real culinary gem” of the nation, a compliment from the honorary chair of the symposium taking place at the New Orleans Convention Center Aug. 2-4. He wears many hats, including owner of the Dressing Room, a homegrown restaurant in Westport, Connecticut as well as president and CEO of the Wholesome Wave, a movement dedicated to nourishing neighborhoods.
Farm to Table is an ambitious undertaking that began in New Orleans last year. Its stated goal is to become the single most important forum on the farm-to-table concept, connecting consumers, chefs and producers. Held concurrently with the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s food exposition, Farm to Table has as its partners the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB), the LSU AgCenter and the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center.
I was told that you don’t have to be a chef or farmer to attend for one or more days (see box).
This and the September opening of the newly located SoFAB in September are exciting news for the culinary reputation of New Orleans.
Meanwhile, back to where it all began on home tables. Think “fresh” and give these farmers, fishers, etc., a reason for their work. We don’t eat only in restaurants. We shop for family meals and want the best and freshest ingredients at home as well. With new incentives, it can only get better.
Farm to Table
What: An international symposium bringing together farmers, chefs, restaurateurs and consumers to focus on fresh foods for consumers.
When: Aug. 2-4
Where: New Orleans Convention Center
Cost: $60 1 day, $100 2 days, $125 full conference
Registration: Convention Center Halls I and J
More information: 582-3072
Butter Roasted Gulf Oysters
This recipe is from Chef Michel Nischan, honorary chair of the Food to Table symposium in New Orleans this month (see box).
1/3 cup white wine
1/4 cup good-quality white wine vinegar
1 shallot, thinly sliced, plus 4 shallots
in thicker slices
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 bay leaf
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 to 4 cups rock salt
2 dozen raw oysters, shucked and
left on the half-shell
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Position broiler rack as close as possible to heat. Preheat broiler.
In a small saucepan, heat wine, vinegar, sliced shallot, peppercorns and bay leaf over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, or until most liquid has evaporated and mixture is syrupy.
With heat on low, whisk in the butter gradually, mixing in one piece at a time, being careful not to overheat sauce.
Strain sauce and season with salt and pepper. Set aside, covered, to keep warm.
Spread rock salt in a shallow pan. Arrange oysters in salt, leveling them.
Set a thick shallot slice over the top of each oyster and spoon butter sauce over. Broil for about 5 minutes. Remove oysters from broiler and sprinkle with the thyme. Adjust seasonings if needed. Serve warm.
Serves 4 to 6
Whipped Sweet Potatoes
4 sweet potatoes
4 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
2 Tablespoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning
Bake sweet potatoes in a 350-degree oven until easily pierced with a fork, about 1 hour.
Cool slightly and peel. Place in an electric mixer and add all other ingredients. Mix on high speed until smooth. These are great served with pork.
Serves 6 to 8
Corn Maque Choux
6 ears corn
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper to taste
Remove shucks and silks from corn and rinse. Hold each ear of corn over a wide bowl and, using a sharp knife, slice off the top half of kernels. Using a dull serving knife, scrape the cob to remove all remaining corn and juice. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large skillet and sauté onion and peppers until translucent. Add seasonings, then corn. Add about 1/2 cup of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until corn is tender and a thicker consistency is achieved, about 20 minutes.
Whole Roasted Cauliflower
1 whole cauliflower
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 teaspoons sea salt
1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
2 pods garlic, peeled and cut in halves
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley,
Juice of 1 lemon
Trim green leaves and stem off cauliflower. Place in a pot slightly larger than the cauliflower and add water to cover half the cauliflower. Pour wine over, then 1/4-cup olive oil, then lemon juice. Sprinkle red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons of sea salt, Italian seasoning and garlic into the water and on top of the cauliflower. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, cover and cook for about 15 minutes.
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Drain and place cauliflower on a pie plate, sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons olive oil, balsamic vinegar and 1 teaspoon sea salt, and roast until brown all over, about 30 to 40 minutes. When done, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and parsley. Serve hot. (If not serving immediately, you can complete the simmering and hold the roasting until an hour before serving.)