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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Baby Baby

It doesn't matter what they are, I always fall for the baby vegetables when they arrive at the farmers market. Sometimes, I'm not sure if the tiny vegetables are intentional or if they're simply thinnings plucked from garden rows to make room for the big guns. Whatever the reason, I'm a sucker for the teeny-weeny stuff. Whether they're root vegetables, patty pans, yellow squash, zucchini, potatoes, or cucumbers, the little ones beguile me. So, when Stonehedge Farm had a few bunches of  baby beets (Golden, Chioggia, White, and Purple) innocently stashed next to bags of mizuna, mustard greens, and lettuces, I took the bait. Hook, line, and sinker.

I grew up loving beets. As a military kid in Vienna, Frau Olga plied me with all kinds of wild and wonderful Slavic beet dishes. As a transplanted Kentucky farm boy, I watched my grandmother grow, pickle, and can beets every year. Her arsenal of dusty canned beets from the dark dank cellar graced our table at almost every meal. Yep, I'm a beet lover.

Unless I'm pickling beets, making chilled summer borscht, hearty meat-laden winter borscht, or rolling out fresh beet pasta, I typically roast beets, chill them down, and add flecks of goat cheese before tossing them with a light vinaigrette. The slight fresh tang of the goat cheese pairs beautifully with the roasted sweet earthiness of the beets. It's a classic combo. That said, my market beets were too small to roast. They would have collapsed into mash from the prolonged heat. They needed a lighter touch. Without sacrificing my favorite go-to flavor profile, I took a different route.

Skillet Braised Baby Beets with Beet Greens and Chevre. 

I snipped the green tops from 2 small bunches of Stonehedge Farm baby purple and chioggia beets. After setting them aside, I brought  1/2 cup water to a rolling boil in a large cast iron skillet, tumbled the purple beets into the skillet, reduced the heat, covered the skillet, and let them braise/steam for 20 minutes. When the beets were tender, I scooped them onto a side plate, drained the liquid from the skillet, added 1/2 cup water back into the skillet, and repeated the process with the remaining baby chioggia beets. After letting the beets cool, I slipped off the delicate skins and set them aside.

With the beets on deck, I reheated the skillet over a medium flame, added a drizzle of olive oil, and sauteed 1/4 cup minced shallot. When the shallots turned translucent, I tossed the reserved beet greens into skillet, gave them a quick turn with a pair of tongs, and splashed the skillet with 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar. As the vinegar started to reduce, I tumbled the beets back into the skillet and pulled them from the heat. While the skillet was still warm, I tucked pieces of creamy Bluegrass Chevre into the beets and drizzled everything with extra virgin olive oil before finishing with flaky sea salt, stinging white pepper, and fresh beet greens.

Warmed by the residual heat, the wilted greens and soft melting cheese created a fantastic take on classic  beet and goat cheese salad. While almost glazed with the sweet acidity of the reduced white balsamic vinegar and fruity olive oil, the subtle earthiness of the jeweled baby beets balanced the creamy tang of the soft chevre, slight crunch of the fresh greens, and the biting heat of white pepper.

Tiny bites.
Big payoff.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Early Bird

I don't have an asparagus patch tucked into a corner of our downtown back forty. Because of that unfortunate void,  I have to hit the farmers market fairly early to snag a few bundles of fresh spring asparagus once it starts rolling in. Although fresh spring asparagus has gotten much more plentiful over the years, it still disappears quickly. Very quickly.  Last weekend, at the crack of not-enough-coffee, Michael and I stormed the market for the early bird special. We got lucky.

I typically roast asparagus. Not only is it easy, but it's a great way to subtly mask the slight woodiness of out-of-season asparagus. Most of my big time asparagus moments have involved large hard core events that require tons of out-of-season asparagus. Prepping and cooking thousands of  spears for hundreds and hundreds of people can be somewhat daunting. With a little forethought, well honed timing, and a frenzied two-step between ovens, roasting has always been my go-to method. Olive oil. Salt. Pepper. Roast. Call it a day. That said, freshly harvested spring asparagus is a game changer that doesn't need a heavy hand. It's best to let it speak for itself.

What grows together goes together.
A simple spring salad.

I guess I could have roasted, sauteed, or grilled the asparagus to add depth of flavor, but I wanted to keep it as simple and clean as possible. Using their natural breaking points, I snapped the ends off of a pound of gorgeous Lincoln County asparagus spears. After giving the ends a quick trim with a vegetable peeler, I tumbled the spears into heavily salted boiling water for 4 minutes, scooped them into a salted ice water bath to stop the cooking process, patted them dry with a dish towel, and slid the asparagus spears into the refrigerator to chill.

While the asparagus chilled, I threw together a very basic vinaigrette by whisking together 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence, a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt, and cracked black pepper.

I tossed the asparagus spears with the vinaigrette and nestled prosciutto ribbons to the side along with tiny Casey County baby carrots. After scattering shaved Silas Farm breakfast radishes over the top, I finished with an additional vinaigrette drizzle, chardonnay smoked sea salt, and flash-fried Madison County mizuna.