Posts Tagged 'Organic'

Escarole and White Beans

My family’s CSA weekly pick up started last week! So far we have had lots and lots of greens, meaning we have been busy trying out new recipes. I decided to make this beautiful and enormous bunch of escarole into a side dish. Escarole is a rather bitter green, so I think it’s best when cooked into a dish like this.

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This recipe took about ten minutes to make, but it looks very complex and impressive so I got much more credit for it than I deserved. (Always a nice bonus!) Thanks to grandparents.com for the recipe that I adapted!


You will need:

3 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch of escarole (it looks like a lot but remember that greens wilt as you sauté them)

1 cup of vegetable broth

1 cup of white beans

1/2 a cup of tomato sauce

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

optional additions if you like spiciness: 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder and 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Directions:

1. In a large pan over medium heat, sauté the garlic in the olive oil until fragrant. (Make sure you have the escarole ready to add because the garlic burns very quickly)

2. Gradually add in escarole leaves and stir them around until the oil is evenly distributed. Add all of the remaining ingredients and toss thoroughly to combine. Reduce heat to medium low, and cook – stirring occasionally – until the escarole is wilted.

And there you have it! Simple, tasty and seasonal. I put the dish over some bulgar, but it would also taste good over some crunchy bread or pasta.

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Spinach Grilled Cheese


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This being Connecticut, my CSA membership does not start for a few more weeks – not a ton is in season right now. In addition, I did not wake up early enough this morning to go to the farmer’s market near my house. So when I decided to make a local meal today, I knew I would have to get creative when finding my ingredients.

I decided to go to Mrs. Green’s, a small, specialized grocery store that only sells organic produce, grass-fed beef, herbal teas – you get the idea. I thought, Mrs. Green’s is so big on organic produce, they must have something grown locally, right? Wrong. I was so naive. Walking around the store, I saw that most of the produce was grown in Mexico. I asked the manager if he had anything local. He looked slightly pensive, slightly confused, and then responded no. He said it wasn’t really the season for local produce yet – try back in a few weeks. Okay, Mrs. Green’s, I know that you can’t sell tomatoes or peppers or strawberries grown locally right now, but I know you could find some greens, like spinach or kale. Just ask Jamie Oliver, world-renowned chef who cooks seasonally in the UK, which has a climate similar to that of Connecticut.

My experience at Mrs. Green’s showed me that the local and organic movements are not always on the same page. When it comes to sustainability, local is clearly the better choice – the food miles speak for themselves. And since sustainability is my priority, I will vote local over organic any time. Other people – Mrs. Green’s shoppers, for instance – see freedom from chemicals as the most important factor, and will choose organic. I don’t think either view is wrong, both health and sustainability are important priorities and it’s hard to declare one more valuable than the other.

Anyway, on a Sunday afternoon in Fairfield County, there aren’t many options for local ingredients. I had to go to Whole Foods. It breaks my heart a little bit go to Whole Foods, because I think they are overpriced and not as good-hearted as they like to sound. Their definition of local, for example, is anything that travels less than 7 hours to get to the store. I’d say that’s a bit farther than Elm City Market (AKA heaven) qualifies as local. By these standards, though, I found local spinach and cheese, as well as bread baked right here in Fairfield. And I have to say, New Jersey is a lot closer than Mexico.

I decided to make spinach grilled cheese, which is easy to make, looks extremely fancy, and tastes delectable. Here’s how: First I cut up the spinach and sautéed it with olive oil and sea salt. I also took some tomatoes (organic, but unfortunately not local), sliced them up, and let them sit in the pan for about 30 seconds on each side. Once the spinach was wilted and the tomatoes were warm, I put them aside on a plate. Next I took two slices of bread, buttered one side of each piece, and placed them (buttered-side down) on the pan. Then I put a slice of cheese on top of one slice of bread. Once the cheese melted a little, I placed the spinach and the tomato on top of the cheese. I placed the other slice of bread on top of the pile, and voila, a sophisticated grilled cheese.

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It All Comes Down To Taste

When I did some research on Alice Waters, I found both articles of extreme praise and subtle condescension. Some people love her through and through, attempting to emulate everything she stands for. Others, though, while complimenting her talent and intentions, quietly allude to her hard and fast philosophies as elitist; they say her lifestyle is not one that the average American can live up to.

I say you can hate on Alice Waters if you want, but you have to admit that people respect her first and foremost because her food is legendarily delicious.

A quick review: Alice Waters opened her restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California, in 1971. Today it is one of the most highly regarded restaurants not only in the United States, but in the world.  Chez Panisse was one of the first restaurants to use local, organic ingredients and hormone-free meats. Waters’ choice for fresh and local food was initially just because she knew that these ingredients gave her food the best flavor. Now, though, people know Alice Waters as a local and organic food activist, crusader for the Slow Food movement, and mother of The Edible Schoolyard. Slow Food USA works to globally promote “good, clean, and fair” food and the “from plate to planet” ideology. Slow Food emphasizes that food is a universal right, and highlights the link between the food we eat and the health of the earth. The Edible Schoolyard sets up farming programs in schools, where children learn to organically grow and cook produce.

No one would listen to Alice Waters or travel thousands of miles to eat at Chez Panisse if her food didn’t taste good. And that’s what initially drove her search for organic ingredients – taste.  In a 1996 interview, Waters was asked why she prefers organic produce and she responded, “Taste, for sure.” She then continued with her other reasons, “And I’m interested in it because I know I need to support the people who are taking care of the land and thinking of the future, people who are thinking about how communities come together. It’s my feeling that that can happen when the person growing the food is connected with the person who is eating it.”

I think that many Americans have the same line of thinking – taste is the initial draw to local and organic ingredients, and the environmental benefits are an added appeal. The environmental impact may gain importance for some, but I’ve found that most people were originally attracted by taste.

I talked to my class’s Head Adviser, Ben Taylor, who also happens to be a food enthusiast, and he said the same thing. Mr. Taylor is a dedicated cook; a subscriber to Cook’s Illustrated, he said that cooking is the center of gravity for his friendship circle. “It would be lying to say that the environment is my primary motivation,” he said. “The best taste is my priority.”

Mr. Taylor’s high standards for ingredients, though, go hand in hand with the local food movement – he referred to tomatoes that hail from afar as “phlegm balls.”

Often times the terms local and organic are clumped together, but I saw organic strawberries at the super market grown in Mexico, and there’s a farm in the town next to mine that uses pesticides. One does not necessarily mean the other. “Local means more to me than organic,” Mr. Taylor said. “From an environmental standpoint it can be superior. You could have an organic product that has created a gigantic carbon footprint to get to your supermarket.”

And, to those Alice Waters critics out there, you can shop local without breaking the bank. You don’t have to spend your whole paycheck at Whole Foods to find local food. There’s Elm City Market, for one thing, which I wrote about in a previous post. Mr. Taylor recommends Big Y. He said that when the grocery store near his house turned to Big Y, he was initially disappointed. A lot of the imported ingredients he liked weren’t there. But then he noticed a lot more local produce. And it’s true – in the name of local economies, the earth, and health, Big Y is working to promote local ingredients.

The subtle criticism of Alice Waters that I have encountered suggest that she is unrealistic with her expectations that everyone will soon enough live as she does. These same articles, though, always mention the delectable flavor of her food and the beauty of the ingredients. So no, we can’t all live like her, buying solely from farmers’ markets and cooking with fireplaces in our kitchens. But if we follow our taste buds, we will be on the right track.