Root Vegetable Recipes

Roots in terra cottaMy default preparation for the cold-sweetened winter roots still thriving in the kitchen garden is to cut them into similar-sized pieces, brush them with olive oil, sprinkle on a little salt and roast them. The resulting softly caramelized chunks of turnip, parsnip, carrot, beet and celery root are delicious warm as a side dish to grains, beans or meat or at room temperature as a salad, perhaps with cider vinaigrette. But there are other ways to prepare these tasty roots and lately, inspired by recipes I’ve noticed in magazines and newspapers, I’ve been experimenting with gratins, soups and mashes, all delicious and not much more work than simple roasting.

In the December 2015 Food and Wine, chef Carla Hall shared a recipe she called Ombré Potato and Root Vegetable Gratin. The ombré of the title refers to the French term for graduated shades or colors. In this gratin, layers of red beets, orange sweet potatoes, yellow potatoes and white turnips bake in a cream and Parmesan cheese sauce. Servings of the finished gratin are as lovely as they are delicious. I used butternut squash instead of sweet potatoes; the orange color was right and the flavor was just as sweet. To slice the vegetables I used a mandoline for one batch and a food processor with thin slicing blade for another batch. Each worked well. The cream makes this dish quite rich though, so I’ll make it for special occasions rather than for everyday.

Ombre prep

Ombre assembling

Ombre serving

Ombré Potato and Root Vegetable Gratin

http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/ombre-potato-and-root-vegetable-gratin

Unsalted butter, for greasing

2 cups heavy cream

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 small shallot, minced

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 3/4 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (5 ounces)

1 pound red beets, peeled and sliced on a mandoline 1/16 inch thick

1 pound sweet potatoes or garnet yams, peeled and sliced on a mandoline 1/16 inch thick

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced on a mandoline 1/16 inch thick

1 pound turnips, peeled and sliced on a mandoline 1/16 inch thick

Preheat the oven to 375°. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a medium bowl, whisk the cream with the garlic, shallot, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir in 1 cup of the grated cheese.

In a large bowl, gently toss the beets with one-fourth of the cream mixture. Arrange the beets in the baking dish in 
an even layer, overlapping them slightly. Scrape any remaining cream from the bowl over the beets. Repeat this process with the sweet potatoes, Yukon Golds and turnips, using one-fourth of the cream mixture for each vegetable. Press a sheet of parchment paper on top of the turnips, then cover the dish tightly with foil.

Bake the gratin for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Uncover and top with the remaining 
3/4 cup of cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes longer, until golden on top. Transfer the gratin to a rack and let cool for at least 
15 minutes before serving.

In The New York Times the other day a Winter Vegetable Soup With Turnips, Carrots, Potatoes and Leeks caught my attention. Created by Martha Rose Shulman for her Recipes for Health column, it looked like a great way to combine the flavors of winter roots with the sweetness of leeks. And the recipe couldn’t be easier. Cut up all the vegetables and put them in a pot with some garlic, parsley, thyme and some water, simmer until the vegetables are soft then put the mixture through a food mill. The result is a smooth, flavorful soup. Next time I make it I will use less water than the recipe asks for because I like a thicker soup and I may use fewer leeks so the sweetness of the other vegetables comes through more strongly. The soup is delicious with the crème fraîche but also good without it.

Roots for soup

Roots in food mill

Roots soup

Winter Vegetable Soup With Turnips, Carrots, Potatoes and Leeks

http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017928-winter-vegetable-soup-with-turnips-carrots-potatoes-and-leeks

3 large leeks (1 to 1 1/2 pounds), white parts only, cleaned and sliced 1/2 inch thick

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 large carrots (10 ounces), diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 large or 2 medium turnips (10 ounces), peeled and diced

1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and diced

A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf and a few sprigs each thyme and parsley

Salt and black pepper

¼ cup crème fraîche, more to taste

Chopped fresh parsley or tarragon, for garnish

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, combine the leeks, garlic, carrots, celery, turnips, potatoes, bouquet garni, 1 1/2 quarts water, 2 to 3 teaspoons salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 40 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft.

Pass the soup through the coarse blade of a food mill (or purée using a blender or an immersion blender).

Return soup to the pot and whisk in 1/4 cup crème fraîche (or more, to taste). Heat through, taste and adjust seasonings (be generous with salt and pepper). To serve, garnish each bowl with a spoonful of crème fraîche and a sprinkle of parsley or tarragon.

Finally, there are mashes, like mashed potatoes but made with roots or winter squash instead. I’ve been making lots of mashes this winter. Root Mash with Wine-braised Shallots from Yotam Ottolenghi and Delicata Squash, Potato and Celery Root Puree from Alice Waters are two, and now the February Food and Wine magazine offers a recipe for another, a winter squash and root vegetable mash from Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire, England. It combines carrots, rutabaga, butternut squash, parsnips and celery root, all my winter favorites. It’s meant to accompany braised short ribs but the other night I served it with grilled pork. The little bit of juice from the meat is a great flavor addition but the mash is just as tasty on its own. The technique—cutting the roots into half-inch pieces, sautéing them in butter until soft, then adding a little honey, and finally adding a little water—really concentrates the flavor of the vegetables. It also creates a lovely mixed texture; the softer vegetables, the parsnips and squash, melt into the mash while the firmer carrots, celery root and rutabaga soften but keep their shapes. I cut the honey down to just a tablespoon because the winter roots from my kitchen garden are so sweet already, especially the parsnips. The honey does add another flavor but I think the roots are sweet enough on their own. With or without honey, I’ll definitely make this mash again.

Roots mash in pot

Roots mash on plate

ROOT VEGETABLE MASH

http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/braised-short-ribs-root-vegetable-mash

5 tablespoons unsalted butter  

1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 pound rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 pound celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

6 garlic cloves, crushed

3 thyme sprigs

2 bay leaves

3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus more for garnish

Kosher salt

Pepper

In a large saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Add the vegetables, garlic, thyme and bay leaves and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, 10 minutes. Stir in the honey, cover and cook until softened, 15 minutes. Add 1 cup of water, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed, 20 minutes longer. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Stir in the remaining 1 Tablespoon of butter and mash with a fork until chunky. Fold in the 1 Tablespoon of parsley and season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

One final treat of this experiment with roots is the surprisingly pretty colors they add to the plate. Pinks and oranges and yellows are welcome during these grayer months, not quite daffodils and tulips but close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seed Ordering 2016

Just after the New Year my friend Diane asked me if I’d finished my seed orders yet.   I laughed and said I hadn’t even begun. The fun of the holiday weeks had filled up any garden planning time.

But I knew I needed to get started and that the first step, before I’d let myself open even one of the 2016 catalogs piling up on my desk, was to organize and inventory my seeds. After arranging the seed packets alphabetically in shallow cardboard boxes, I peered into each packet and jotted down what I had enough of for another year and what I’d run out of and needed to replace. This bit of organization always gives me the illusion that all I need to do next is order the seeds I’ve run out of and I’ll be done. It should be that quick and easy, but it rarely is.

Seed boxes on desk

In addition to noting what I needed to replace,  I found myself jotting down phrases like “a new red beet,” “another broccoli,” “a yellow carrot this year and a better red carrot,” “a new sweet corn” “a bolt-resistant variety of fennel,” “a new red pepper,” “a new orange or yellow tomato.” It’s not that I’d run out of these seeds, but it was time for some change. And seed catalogs with their enticing descriptions and photographs offered lots of possibilities for change, maybe too many possibilities. At least the list of changes wasn’t too long.

On first reading, every variety looks great and it’s lovely imagining all of them growing in my kitchen garden, but knowing I should choose only one or maybe two or at most three varieties I reread the descriptions paying attention to the details wrapped in the tempting prose. Flavor and texture, appearance and color, size, days to maturity/harvest, heirloom, open-pollinated or hybrid, germination needs, disease resistance, cold or heat tolerance, preparation or serving suggestions all vie for attention.

Seed catalogs on desk

I started with beets, narrowing down Territorial Seed Company’s sixteen offerings to five candidates—Boro, Merlin, Cylindra, Lutz and Avalanche—and comparing them to beet descriptions in Fedco, Johnny’s, Pinetree and Adaptive. Boro has a slight edge over Merlin because I’m worried that Merlin, touted in Johnny’s for its sweetness, might be too sweet, and Boro’s “sumptuous, thick leaves” remind me of how much I like beet greens. Then there’s Cylindra, an heirloom with “bold, earthy flavor” and unusual shape that might be fun to try though Johnny’s catalog description notes that: “roots tend to push up out of the ground as they grow” and that for smoother shoulders hilling is a good idea. Would I get around to that? I’ve grown Lutz before for its winter-keeping qualities and liked it. Maybe it’s time to grow it again. And then, just to slow down the decision making process a bit more, there’s a white beet, AAS winner Avalanche, something completely new. I grow golden beets now, and white might be a nice addition to create a color trio. After nearly half an hour, I was ready to move on to broccoli.

So this is why it takes so long to complete seed orders. But it’s such a pleasant way to spend some January days. After several afternoons working through my list and through all my catalogs, I finally made my orders. And it’s still only mid-January.

The new entries are: Boro, Lutz and Avalanche for beets, a sprouting broccoli called Summer Purple, Yellowstone and Atomic Red carrots, Honey Select sweet corn, Preludio fennel and Mantovano fennel, Lipstick red pepper, and for orange tomatoes, two heirlooms, Persimmon and Valencia. These new varieties will arrive with all the other seeds that I ordered. The new garden year has begun.

January King Cabbage

This year I planted January King cabbage, an heirloom cabbage that Adaptive Seeds claims: “overwintered under row cover & a good covering of snow, & survived our 5 ̊F lows in December 2013.” I remember ordering seeds during a particularly cold spell last year and looking for vegetables that would survive whatever the next year’s winter would bring. January King was an excellent choice. So far this winter, our nighttime temperatures have reached the mid 20s, and January King is thriving. I hope I don’t have to test it or any of our other winter vegetables at even lower temperatures!

Cabbage, JK young

It’s a beautiful cabbage, soft green outer leaves tinged with purple. By the middle of our unusually warm fall, plants seeded indoors in early June and set out in mid-July had filled out into gorgeous rosettes and gained more comments for their beauty than any other vegetable in the winter garden. Then with our coldest nights, they took on a frosty beauty that clearly justified their name. Now their leaves are darker green with even stronger purple.

Cabbage JK frosted

Cabbage JK post frost

I grow just a few cabbages each year, sometimes a red like Ruby Perfection or a smooth green like Gonzales and often a crinkly-leaved Savoy like Melissa or Alcosa. Savoy is my favorite for both its tender texture and mild, sweet flavor, so it was a bonus that cold-tolerant January King is also a Savoy-type. Its leaves are not so crinkly as other Savoys but are very sweet and tender, especially after several strong frosts.

The reason I grow only a few cabbages is that a four or five pound cabbage can last a long time when there are just two people to eat it. Its cousins Brussels sprouts, kale and collards which we can harvest in smaller amounts seem much more manageable for two, but cabbage is just enough different from the other crucifers that it adds another taste to winter meals. For that reason it’s worth growing.

Cabbage JK on counter

Cabbage JK half

 

And in the past few weeks I’ve been experimenting with a recipe that makes me glad I have lots of cabbage. In the December 2015 Food and Wine magazine, chef Carla Hall shares a recipe for Sautéed Collards and Cabbage with Gremolata. I followed her instructions exactly the first time with delicious results. I quickly sautéed the thinly sliced collards and cabbage with a little olive oil, shallots and garlic until “wilted and crisp-tender,” added a little crushed red pepper and lemon juice and then served it with a few spoonfuls of the gremolata, a mixture of finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, lemon zest and juice and olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. The sweet, lightly browned cabbage and sweeter collards combined wonderfully with the mixture of sharp lemon, herby parsley and pungent garlic.

Cabbage JK and collards

In later iterations, I’ve substituted kale for collards, then radicchio for collards and once used apples instead of another green. All were delicious with or without the gremolata. And we went through an entire five-pound cabbage with all these variations on this great technique.

There are lots of other cabbage recipes I’ll be making in the next winter weeks. Old favorites are cabbage risotto, a rich and creamy blend of rice, dissolving cabbage and melting cheese, and cabbage with buckwheat pasta and fontina cheese, a satisfying combination of earthy textures and flavors known as Pizzoccheri in Italy. And of course there is slaw and its many variations. With all these possibilities, two people and a cabbage don’t sound so daunting after all.

Sautéed Collards and Cabbage with Gremolata

Carla Hall

INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup finely chopped parsley

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic plus 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest plus 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt 

Black pepper

4 shallots, halved and thinly sliced (3/4 cup)

1 1/2 pounds green cabbage, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick (9 cups)

1 1/2 pounds collard greens, stems discarded, leaves sliced 1/4 inch thick (12 cups)

3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

In a small bowl, combine the parsley, minced garlic, lemon zest, 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice and 6 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper and mix well.

In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the shallots and sliced garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until light golden, about 5 minutes. Add the green cabbage, collard greens and the remaining 
2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the collards and cabbage are wilted and crisp-tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Stir in the crushed red pepper and the remaining 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Transfer the greens to a platter, top with the gremolata and serve.

MAKE AHEAD

The gremolata can be made up to 3 hours ahead and kept covered at room temperature.

 

Thanksgiving Vegetable Choices

Thanksgiving dinner is a wonderful meal for sharing winter vegetables from the kitchen garden. The challenge is to figure out how to serve the greatest number of these tasty roots and greens without overwhelming the guests or the turkey.

This year, in an effort to combine lots of root vegetables into one earthy, colorful dish, I’m planning to cut rutabaga, turnip, carrots, parsnips, beets and celery root into bite sized pieces, roast them at about 400 degrees until they are soft, then toss the still-warm roots with an apple cider vinaigrette and serve this dish at room temperature as a salad. I may even arrange the roasted roots on a bed of radicchio or arugula so I can include these favorite hardy greens in the mix. Thanks to my friend Nancy for the inspiration for this salad.

Brussels sprouts are another favorite winter vegetable and Thanksgiving classic that many but not all guests like. A little camouflage goes a long way to creating converts. Rather than simply steaming whole sprouts, I sometimes slice them thinly and sauté them quickly in butter. Or I will halve or quarter them, toss them in olive oil and roast them at 450 degrees until they begin to crisp, usually in five minutes or so. Either way their appearance is unfamiliar enough that people try a few and then try more.

Mashed potatoes are the perfect vehicle for gravy and an essential part of Thanksgiving dinner but winter squash also mashes beautifully and holds gravy just as well as mashed potatoes do. Instead of serving one bowl of potatoes and one of squash, I’m considering a single bowl of Alice Waters’ Delicata Squash, Potato and Celery Root Puree from Chez Panisse Vegetables (1996), not two but three vegetables in one dish. It’s deliciously rich on its own and gravy would only make it better. Mashed potato purists might resist until they try it, but just to be safe, I may serve a separate bowl of mashed potatoes.

Finally, winter salads are sometimes on my Thanksgiving menu and when they are they often feature our apples or pears mixed with hardy greens, kale, mache, arugula or radicchios, and maybe toasted nuts or even crunchy bits of raw celery root. This year, I have a lovely crop of flavorful, dark green mache thanks to seeds saved and shared by my friend Heike. I could make a simple mache salad with sherry vinegar vinaigrette, but if I decide my roasted roots dish fills the salad slot, I might skip the greens and serve a platter of roasted pears. Their caramelized sweetness would mix well all the other dishes and provide a sweet complement to tart cranberry sauce.

So many vegetables, so many choices: I’ll decide by Thursday morning. And I’ll post photos of the finished dishes then.

Day After Thanksgiving:

With the turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce, we enjoyed roasted roots with apple cider vinaigrette, mache salad, roasted Brussels sprouts and Alice Water’s squash, potato, and celery root puree.

T-day vegetables

T-day diners

Apple Cider Vinaigrette

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup apple cider

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

2 Tbsp. finely shopped shallot

1 Tbsp. whole grain Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp. honey

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Cover with lid and shake well. Makes 1 ¼ cups

Store vinaigrette, covered, in the fridge. Let stand 10 minutes or until room temperature. Shake well and check seasoning before using.

 

 

Roasting Colorful Carrots

It is the season for roasting winter vegetables, roots and squash, Brussels sprouts and leeks. It’s my favorite kitchen garden season and especially welcomed this year because its arrival means I can return to the chapter on roasting vegetables in Yotam Ottolenghi’s wonderful cookbook Plenty More (2014). I got this fourth Ottolenghi cookbook last fall and used the roasting chapter often throughout the winter, particularly enjoying the excellent winter squash recipes and a recipe for roasting carrots with cumin and coriander and a touch of honey. It’s the carrot recipe that’s first on my list to make again.

In his introduction to the recipe Ottolenghi suggests: “Make this extra vibrant by using different-colored carrots.” There’s a beautiful photo to support his advice, but last winter I had only my favorite orange Mokum carrots growing kitchen garden. With only orange carrots, the recipe was still very pretty and definitely delicious but I told myself that next year I would plant purple, white, and even some red carrots. I’d seen them in farmers’ markets and seed catalogs for a decade or more and it was time finally to plant some in my kitchen garden.

Carrot colors PFMaineColorful carrots aren’t new, just newly popular. As John Navazio summarizes in “More Colors for Carrots, (2000)” “The ubiquitous orange carrot is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was first documented in Dutch paintings in the 1600s. But the first cultivated carrots, which originated in Afghanistan around a.d. 900, were purple. And then in the 10th century, yellow carrots were documented in the Middle East. These early purple and yellow carrots were used for human consumption as well as for animal fodder. By the 14th century, carrots had reached Europe and China. Europeans, preferring the yellow types for their tables, began selecting for culinary attributes such as flavor, texture, and storability. By the 1600s, white and orange carrots emerged on the scene, the latter being prized for the human diet, probably because of its rich color. Over the next 200 years, orange became the carrot color of choice.”

In this fascinating article, Navazio goes on to explain that while plant breeders have long focused on improving the “flavor, texture and nutritional value” of orange carrots and ignored non-orange carrots, this focus is changing partly because the older, purple, yellow, red and white carrot varieties “have a virtual potluck of tastes” and partly because they “contain important healthful phytonutrients.” In the rest of the article he profiles the best of the colorful carrot varieties, offering history, nutritional information, planting and cooking tips for the “passionate purples, mellow yellows, true reds and wonderful whites.”

Inspired by Ottolenghi, Navazio and the beautiful bunches displayed at farmers’ markets, I studied seed catalog offerings and last January ordered Purple Haze and White Satin from Fedco and Red Samurai from Territorial, and not ready to abandon orange, more Mokum.  In April I planted some short rows of purple, white and red. The purple and the white carrots germinated and grew quickly. At harvest they were as beautiful as I’d anticipated and even better they were delicious, especially when roasted.

Carrots, colored, in basketPurple Haze is slender with a long, tapered root, dark purple on the outside and bright orange inside. White Satin is thicker and grows very quickly, rising above the soil level. I was happy to learn from Navazio that these tall “shoulders” which turn green in sunlight are safe to eat. The flesh underneath the green is as white and juicy as the rest of the carrot. The only disappointment was Red Samurai, which formed a robust top above ground but underground formed only a long, skinny, pinkish taproot, woody and flavorless. I’m hoping Territorial Seed Company will respond to my email asking for advice.

Carrots, colors, in roasting panIn late July I planted much longer rows of Purple Haze, White Satin and Mokum. Thanks to good weather and a tent of Reemay that foiled carrot rust fly, I’m now harvesting lovely bunches of colorful carrots for winter roasting with cumin, coriander, thyme and honey. The tahini yogurt sauce Ottolenghi suggests adds just the right nutty, acid flavors to balance the carrot sweetness but a simple squeeze of lemon before serving is good too and keeps the focus on the vibrant, flavorful carrots. Either way, I’m happy that I’m finally growing and roasting these colorful carrots. Next year, I’ll find a better red and add a yellow to the mix.

Carrots, colored, roasted

Honey-Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt

From Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More (2014)

The inspiration for this was Sarah’s grandmother (“nan”) Dulcie in Tasmania, who always used to add some honey to the pan before roasting her carrots. I’m not sure what Dulcie would have thought about a tahini yogurt sauce served alongside, but the sweetness of the carrots certainly welcomes it. Make this extra vibrant by using different-colored carrots.

Serves 4

Tahini-yogurt sauce:

Scant 3 tablespoons/40 g tahini paste

2/3 cup/130 g Greek yogurt

2 tablespoon lemon juice

1 clove garlic, crushed salt

Carrots:

Scant 3 tablespoons/60 g honey

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted and lightly crushed

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed

3 thyme sprigs

Salt and black pepper

12 large carrots, peeled and each cut crosswise into two 2 1/2-inch/6-cm batons (3 pounds/1.3 kg)

1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C.

Place all the ingredients for the tahini sauce in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Whisk together and set aside.

Place the honey, oil, coriander and cumin seeds, and thyme in a large bowl with 1 teaspoon salt and a good grind of black pepper. Add the carrots and mix well until coated, (Don’t worry if the mixture doesn’t coat the carrots; it will when it warms in the oven.) then spread them out on a large baking sheet and roast in the oven for 40 minutes, stirring gently once or twice, until cooked through and glazed.

Transfer the carrots to a large serving platter or individual plates. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a spoonful of sauce on top, scattered with the cilantro.

Farm-to-table Meals in Italy and Israel

We’re just back from a month of traveling in Italy and Israel where a highlight of both places was the food, particularly the farm-to-table meals. On a weeklong village-to-village walk in the Sabine Hills north of Rome, we stayed three of our nights at farms that served amazing dinners and a fourth night enjoyed another wonderful dinner at a farm near our hotel. The most delightful of these agritourism farms was Le Mole Sul Farfa near Mompeo. In Israel, on a splendid visit with our niece, her husband and their daughter who live in Tel Aviv, we shared the best lunch of our trip at Goats With the Wind a goat farm and restaurant high in the hills above the Sea of Galilee. Enjoying the food of another country is a huge pleasure of traveling, and farms and farmers are the best source of this pleasure.

At Le Mole sul Farfa, dinners combined traditional Italian recipes with imaginative vegetarian cuisine prepared from the farm’s vegetable gardens. Our host Stefano Fassone introduced the meals by describing the source of the ingredients and their preparation. Highlights were homemade pappardelle topped with tomato sauce, black olives and a touch of lemon zest, thin slices of fried eggplant wrapped around mozzarella and baked, and thinly sliced beets topped with a tangle of arugula then sprinkled with walnuts from the tree outside and goat cheese from a neighboring farm. Dinner ended with glasses of Stefano’s homemade limoncello.

But while Le Mole sul Farfa’s lovely accommodations and amazing meals were more than enough to make it our favorite agritourism stay, the tour of its grove of ancient olive trees that produce the farm’s main crop made our visit here the highlight of our Italian travels.

Late in the afternoon, Stefano walked with us through his grove of olive trees, describing the extensive Roman villa that occupied the site 2000 years ago and provided olive oil for the expanding city of Rome. When Stefano bought the land local farmers told him that there were caves on the property, but as he investigated the “caves” he discovered that they were actually vaulted storage areas that were the basement of a villa, the first evidence of the villa that had occupied the site.

Stefano's vaultGiving us flashlights, Stefano took us into an ancient vault to see a further discovery that links his olive groves to the original Roman farmers: three large troughs connected by channels, one higher and one lower*. Standing in the dusky light, we listened as Stefano explained how ingenious Romans designed these troughs to separate oil from the water that resulted from crushing the olives. Today Stefano uses a centrifuge to separate oil from water but the olives remain the same, a crop that has been farmed and processed for centuries.

Returning to the grove, Stefano took us to several of his largest trees and told us botanists who conducted DNA studies on the trees determined that these trees were 1500 years old. Stefano thinks they may be even older, perhaps as old as the villa.

Stefano's trees trunksLooking at these gnarled, gray trunks topped by healthy leaves and a heavy crop of this year’s olives, it was hard to grasp what they represent. They carry this year’s crop of olives but they have been producing olives for centuries, as villas were established, abandoned, and slowly covered in earth. And here they are today tended by a 21st century farmer and producing a crop that sustains his family.

Stefano's grove

This sense of the past in the present was just as strong in Israel. On one of the many delightful food adventures our niece planned for us, we made our way from urban Tel Aviv to the Goats With the Wind farm and restaurant, driving from highways to smaller roads and eventually to a steep and rocky dirt road winding up a hillside. Soon we saw goats and then the entire flock passed by us surrounding the car on all sides and moving on. We continued to the farm, a collection of stone buildings with fancifully painted gates.

GWW stone wall

We felt like we’d entered another world and this sensation continued as our lovely host led us to a small pavilion surrounded by a wrought iron fence and topped with a rush roof. Kilim rugs covered the floor and pillows surrounded low tables topped with colorful cloths. Just being here was a visual feast but then the food began: a loaf of fresh whole wheat bread, a bowl of labaneh, a thick yogurt-like cheese topped with olive oil, and a plate of fresh ricotta fried in sumac, then large bowls of salad, one eggplant, one tomato, one red cabbage and cucumber, all fresh and flavorful. And finally our host, laughing at us as we cheered each time she appeared, brought a board of cheese, a sampling of all the goat cheeses the farm makes.

GWW lunchAnd we had wine, a lovely red also made at the farm. We ate slowly, savoring the food, the place and our time together, knowing we were in the present but feeling also that we’d been transported to an earlier time.

We thoroughly enjoyed the restaurant part of Goats With the Wind but it’s also a farm and we were welcome to tour it and the kitchen and to ask questions. As our host explained, the goats we saw on our drive in are milked daily and the milk is made into cheese. The goats in their stone enclosures or on the rocky hillsides around the farm were both the source of our delicious lunch and also part of the ancient landscape, something that has lived on the land for centuries, like the olive trees.

GWW kitchen

GWW goats

Now we are back home with photos and notes to help us recall our adventures and memories of flavors and preparations to inspire experiments in the kitchen. With my Italian and Middle Eastern cookbooks and the fall and winter vegetables flourishing in the kitchen garden, I’ll see what I can create to prolong the pleasures of our travels.

*For another story about Le Mole Sul Farfa that includes a photo of the olive oil tanks, go to this 2009 article by Sue Watt:

Autumn Equinox

9:15 Equinox view

Today is the autumn equinox, the end of summer and beginning of fall. In the kitchen garden, this end of one season and beginning of the next has become especially visible. Over the past weeks and days I’ve pulled the withered foliage of summer growing plants from their beds and in their place have spread compost and planted cover crops. As I smoothed and admired the dark brown soil of these beds my eye also wandered to other beds filled with the robust foliage of fall and winter crops, shiny green and red of chard and varied leaves of radicchio and kale, blue green spears of leeks, scoop-shaped leaves of Brussels sprouts, giant rosettes of winter cabbage, flopping leaves of rutabaga and turnips and feathery tops of carrots, parsnips and celery root.

9:15 Kale

 

9:15 Leeks9:15 Brussels sprouts9:15 Winter Cabbage9:15 Celery rootIn the rush of summer harvests I paid little attention to these slowly growing hardy greens and roots but now they stand out against the emptied summer beds. They signal the beginning of a new season in the kitchen garden, meals rich with strong, earthy flavors, perfect for the shorter days ahead. After our long and lovely summer, I’m ready for the new season to begin.