It's no secret that I'm a fan of fresh, local summer produce. I genuinely look forward to the challenge of my CSA box (except when I get overloaded with lettuces!) trying to create a farm-to-table experience. Recently, I attended a workshop at the farm-to-table restaurant Ninety Acres, hosted by executive chef David Felton.
We began with a walking tour through the working kitchen. As Chef Felton pointed out the various crops and plants and described their roles in the farm's ecosystem. I was pleased to learn that they have had to learn by trial and error what works and what doesn't -- I suppose that is true for all gardeners, big and small.
Fun fact: Did you know that mushrooms require a totally sterile environment in which to grow? At Ninety Acres, they would like to build a barn in which the basement is used as a muchroom cave and root cellar. The upper floors would be used for hay storage, farm equipment and animal storage.
After the farm tour, we went into the cooking school kitchen as Chef Felton prepared a four-course meal for us. As he cooked, he talked through the recipes, offered cooking tips and answered questions. Some interesting information he shared with us:
- When buying pans, the thicker the bottom of the pan the better, irrespective of cost
- When cooking wine in a sauce, use the good (but not great) wine for cooking. When the sauce is nearly ready, add a splash of whatever wine you will be drinking with that course and do not bring the sauce back up to a boil. This way, the sauce will match perfectly with your wine pairing
- It is not inconceivable that restaurant desserts can have over 20 different elements in it: four layers of pastry, two kinds of cream, tuiles, ice cream, a crumble to keep the ice cream in place, frosting, etc. (!)
My favorite takeaway from the evening was a super easy, freewheeling approach to that summer staple, gazpacho. Now, I need to preface this with a little background. In theory, I really ought to love gazpacho. But after a rather traumatic family vacation to Spain involving full-body hives, cement brick hotels and no air conditioning in August, I have a mild aversion to it. But after tasting this one and seeing how easy it could be to do at home, I've decided to get back on the bandwagon.
When Chef Felton prepared this, he used no recipes. He just tossed the vegetables into the blender, waved his wand and made tomato soup magic. I took notes and tried it at home using as much from my CSA box as possible. What follows below is my best interpretation. When I made this for my family - served with a bit of leftover lobster (so fancy!) - it was a huge hit. It is now officially in my summer rotation! Hope you enjoy it, too!
Farm Fresh Gazpacho (serves 8)
Inspired by Chef David Felton, Ninety Acres
- 8 tomatoes, roughly cut, juices retained
- 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded & cut into wide strips
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 3/4-1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 2-3 oz roasted red pepper from a jar (a purist would make this fresh. you should too if you are so inclined)
- 2 slices multigrain bread or 3" chunk of rustic country bread (not baguette) crust removed
- 2T olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Lemon or lime juice to taste
- Soak bread in water
- Working in batches if necessary, blend tomatoes, cucumber, garlic, onion and red peppers until smooth.
- Remove bread from water and squeeze out excess. Blend together with vegetables.
- With blender running, slowly add olive oil until thoroughly blended.
- Add salt and lemon/lime juice to taste.
- Strain through fine mesh strainer removing solids. If you prefer a smoother texture, strain again.
- You can serve immediately or allow to rest overnight.
This is a great recipe for using up any on-the-verge vegetables and a great way to eat more veggies. Serve with leftover seafood salad, the leftover crusts or bread or a grilled cheese sandwich. It's super easy to make, makes great leftovers and doesn't even need reheating! Do you have a favorite gazpacho recipe? Do tell...
Read about the fish cookery class I took, also at Ninety Acres.