New BeginningsJan 01, 2021 08:53PM ● By Lesley Stiles
As I wistfully and sadly pen my last column for The Community Focus, nostalgia sets in. Since day one, or should I say issue one, Elena, Jennifer, Becky, and the gals have allowed a frustrated food writer to joyfully ply my pecking fingers to keys.
What started as a small, great Pleasant Hill informational publication, The Focus has grown over the years to a multi-city, multi-generational newspaper that is kept as a go-to source all month. We will all miss you. I will be forever grateful to you gals for letting me be a part of it. What a fabulous job you have done, and what a ride you must have been on. Wishing you all the best in your continued journeys.
Winter on a whole is a challenging month for produce, but add Covid into that and it becomes downright weird. Shopping the farmers’ market is still possible, but patience as a virtue comes hard into play as you dodge people less than six feet away, keep the mask over your nose, stand in line, and dig for money all at the same time. Try not to be too discouraged at the effort because the resulting freshest, cold weather goods are well worth it – unless, of course, you are growing your own winter garden and produce beckons to be foraged and consumed on the premises.
Swiss chard, kale spinach and all winter sautéing greens come to mind this time of year, but it is also the season for carrots, beets, and all root vegetables, not to mention icy addicts’ cilantro, tarragon, and parsley, which are at their fullest, lushest glory these winter months. Lettuces are happiest currently as well and come in all varieties, shapes, and sizes. Romaine, arugula, and head lettuces come to mind, but not so common (albeit found at farmers’ markets) is Valerianella, also known as corn salad or mâche.
Val, as I call her for short, has arguably been a staple for millennium. Originally foraged by European peasants, it was introduced into the royal kitchen of King Louie XIV in the late 1600s. It was not until the 18th Century in London farmers’ markets that it went commercial as a popular, cultivated, cold weather green. As though walking through an ancient mirror, Val once again gained popularity in regular grocery stores in the 1980s and probably grows in your own garden as a delectable volunteer to the soiree. It garnered the name of corn salad by popping up as a weed in corn rows. Val contains extremely high levels of vitamin C, iron, and potassium. Resembling a totally green rosette, a simple tear to the bunch in a bowl tossed with lemon oil and lemon juice, salt, and pepper can be a covert invasion of beauty, tricking the eye with simplicity, but taste buds know better.
Cook tender ribbons of freshly made egg fettucine in boiling salted water for a few minutes. Drain, and as it gently drips, instantly and lightly sauté rosettes of Val with garlic and toss over the pasta. Grate a kiss of nutmeg in the air above her and shower grated manchego overall. Your first taste will leave you hanging on heaving air as Val does her peppery magic. But push through the narcotic haze and do it again. This is a magical green and put you on a first name basis with Val.
An amazing assortment of citrus fruit varieties is also copiously on tap the first quarter of the year. Satsumas, oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits invade the scene on fruit-laden tables, scenting air around each vendor like perfume at Macy’s. Pink grapefruit is a fan favorite and has been for many a year. While researching the fruit, I stumbled upon this poem from days gone by, and its too good not to share. Yes, someone wrote a poem about pink grapefruit!
Forbidden Fruit Tree
The Trunk, Leaves, and Flowers of this Tree very much resemble
those of the Orange-tree.
The Fruit, when ripe, is something longer and larger than the largest
Orange; and exceeds, in the Delicacy of its Taste, the Fruit of every
Tree in this or any of our neighbouring Islands.
It hath somewhat of the Taste of a Shaddock; but far exceeds that, as
well as the best Orange, in its delicious Taste and Flavour.
—Description from Hughes' 1750 Natural History of Barbados
I love this brief, antique description of the origins of grapefruit. Harking even earlier from Asia, it became the darling of the island’s scholars and botanists very quickly. In 1823, Count Odet Phillipe brought the fruit to Florida, where it was taken under the wing of many scientific scholars developing crosses of tangelos, Minneolas, and oroblanco grapefruits and finally crossing it with the orange and pomelo pink grapefruit in the early 1980s.
Sweet to a fault, pink grapefruit is magical eaten out of the skin. Take it to fantasy level by covering with fine white sugar and hitting it with a blow torch to brûleée it. Create your own island spritz by juicing it with good vodka, elderflower liqueur, and soda.
Whichever way you attain fresh produce this season, it has been an absolute joy to share writing and recipes with you all these years, and I am deeply grateful for your comments and support.
Roxx on Main is currently still open for take-out, curbside pick-up, and delivery. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11-8, and Saturday, 2-8, for your dining pleasure. Cocktails are always happily prepared to go as well as non-alcoholic beverages, beer, and wine!
Whatever you do, do not stop hiking in our amazing hills!!
Happy New Year, with love and peace, from our home to yours!!
Roasted Beet and Orange Salad
Beets are probably one of the most amazing cleansing vegetables there is because not only are they strong diuretics but they leave copious amounts of iron in their wake.
4 medium sized beets (I use golden beets when I want color integrity of the dish as red beets tend to color everything in their wake with their hypnotizing red hue.)
1 Cara Cara orange
1 blood orange
1 navel orange
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
¼ cup crumbled chèvre or feta
3 cups assorted salad greens
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash beets and remove stem end and root tail. Rub with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in baking dish, cover, and roast at 350 for about 45 minutes to an hour, until beets are easily pierced with a knife. Let cool until you can easily handle them. Peel, quarter, and slice the quarters, about ¼ inch thick. Peel and slice the oranges. Place greens in a bowl. Toss in the beets, oranges, and goat cheese. Drizzle remaining olive oil and rice vinegar over. Season with salt and pepper and gently toss to mix all. Serves 4.
Pasta e Fagioli – White Bean and Rosa Marina Pasta Soup
12 ounces white beans, cooked
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, quartered and sliced thin
1 large stalk green garlic, sliced, or 3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, halved and sliced ¼ inch thick
3 stalks celery, sliced in ¼ inch slices
½ cup red wine
1 10-ounce can plum tomatoes with juice, chopped
6 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
½ pound Rosa Marina pasta or orzo
2 cups chopped greens such as kale and chard
½ cup chopped fresh oregano and thyme
Lemon oil to finish
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano to garnish
In a large, heavy bottomed soup pot, heat olive oil to medium high heat. Add leeks, garlic, carrots, and celery and sauté to sweat the veggies. Add the wine, stock, and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and add the beans. Simmer for 20 minutes and add pasta. Simmer for 20 minutes and add greens, herbs, salt, and pepper to taste. Turn off heat and let greens wilt. Serve in bowls and garnish with cheese and lemon oil. 8 servings