Corn Pudding

cornpudding

Several years ago, I received two non-stick All-Clad mini baking pans as a birthday gift. They are adorable! And, before this evening, entirely useless. Tonight, I am happy to report, I finally found a use — a very good use — for them: corn pudding.

Corn pudding for two, that is. This original recipe, printed in the July 2007 issue of Gourmet, feeds 8-10 people as a side dish. It is such a wonderful recipe, and I made it several times last summer after hearing my mother rave. Tonight, in an effort to minimize potential leftovers, I made a third of the recipe and baked it in one of my adorable, All-Clad baking dishes. Success! I love this recipe. It takes only minutes to prepare and is a perfect late-summer, early-fall dish.

For the past few weeks I have been buying delectable corn at the San Clemente farmers’ market from the same Carlsbad farmer that sells the Cherokee Purple tomatoes I have been obsessed with all summer. I am submitting this recipe to the September 20th Farmers’ Market Report. If you have a farmers’ market story/recipe/discovery you want to share, you can play, too. Just read the rules first, then submit your post.

Happy first day of fall.

Corn Pudding For Two
Serves 2 as a side dish
(Note: Click here for the recipe written to serve 8-10 people)

2 ears corn, kernels scraped from cob
cilantro or basil to taste
1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
pinch kosher salt
2/3 cup 1%, 2% or whole milk
2 small or one large egg, lightly beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF with rack in the middle. Butter a small shallow baking dish (such as the one pictured above) or individual crème brulee dishes or ramekins.

2. Pulse half of the corn in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the herbs, flour, sugar, salt and remaining corn. Whisk together milk and eggs and add to bowl with the corn. Stir until just combined. Pour into baking dish or ladle into individual dishes.

3. Bake until the center is just set. About 30-35 minutes. (Maybe longer — I kind of lost track of time.) Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Roasted Tomato Soup Thickened with Bread (Pappa Al Pomodoro)

At an adorable café in San Clemente, a bowl of tomato-and-bread soup sent four ladies knocking on the kitchen’s door. Through an open window, the women praised the chef for his creation, swooning over the soup’s deep, rich flavors, begging him to disclose any secrets. Flattered and unafraid to share, the chef rattled off the ingredients: tomatoes, basil, onions, bread, salt.

The women stared in disbelief. They wanted something more. They wanted to hear that the soup was drizzled with white truffle oil; that it was lightened with a goats’-milk foam; that it was finished with an 80-year Xeres vinegar. Alas, simplicity, it seems, triumphs again.

Several of you out there recommended I roast or dry my small tomato harvest and store the tomatoes indefinitely in my freezer or fridge to be used as I please. I did in fact follow these instructions, but upon hearing this exchange between the chef and patrons at Cafe Mimosa last week, I couldn’t resist pureeing my tomatoes into a soup. Roasting, I discovered, sweetens and intensifies the tomato flavor, making the need for any exotic, unexpected flavorings unnecessary. Chef Tim Nolan surely wasn’t holding anything back. This rustic soup originates in Tuscany and, like so many traditional recipes — panzanella salad, bread pudding, bruschetta, French toast — was created as a way to prevent day-old bread from going to waste. Simplicity (as well as bread) is the common denominator of all of these recipes.

Whether the soup at Cafe Mimosa is vegetarian or not, I do not know, but my vegetables certainly needed some sort of a stock to bring the mixture to soup consistency. I used chicken stock and coarsely pureed the mixture with a large bunch of basil and a few dried out pieces of a French boule. Many of the recipes I found on the web for pappa al pomoodoro called for a fair amount of olive oil, but I didn’t think this soup needed any more than what was used while roasting them. Adjust this recipe, however, according to your liking — this batch of soup has been made completely to taste. If you start with a base of slow roasted tomatoes, onions, garlic and shallots, I assure you your soup will be a success. Served with a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano and a piece of crusty bread, pappa al pomodoro makes a wonderful late summer meal.


Slow roasted tomatoes, onions, shallots and garlic form the base of this Tuscan tomato soup.

Roasted Tomato Soup Thickened with Bread
Inspired By Café Mimosa’s Tomato Bread Soup
Yield = 1½ to 2 quarts

Notes: I now use water, not stock, in this recipe. See updated recipe here.

tomatoes, halved if large, left whole if cherry or grape, enough to fill a sheet tray
1 onion, peeled and chopped into big chunks
1 shallot, peeled and chopped into big chunks
1 head garlic, cloves removed and peeled
a few carrots, peeled and cubed
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper

3-4 slices bread (French or Italian)
about 2 cups chicken stock (or water), preferably homemade or a low-sodium variety
1 bunch fresh basil
crushed red pepper flakes
Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and crusty bread for serving, optional

Note: This recipe is all done to taste. Adjust as necessary.

1. Roast the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a rimmed sheet tray with all of the vegetables. This tray should be filled in a single layer. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand — I threw in the carrots because I had them, but leeks, celery, thyme etc. would all make nice additions. Drizzle olive oil over top. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and roast for about three hours until vegetables are soft and slightly caramelized.

2. Meanwhile, toast the bread. Slice the bread into ½-inch thick pieces. Place on the counter to dry or toast briefly in the toaster. You just want to dry out the bread; you’re not trying to brown it.

3. Puree the soup. When the vegetables are done, place them in a pot with chicken stock. To give you a rough idea, I had about 5 cups of roasted vegetables and used about 2½ cups of chicken stock. Bring to a simmer. Season with a pinch of salt and crushed red pepper flakes if using. Add the bunch of basil. Break two slices of bread into medium-sized cubes and add to the pot. Using an emersion blender or food processor or traditional blender, puree the soup roughly. It should be slightly chunky. Taste and add more salt or bread if necessary. Add more stock until soup reaches desired consistency.

Note: If you leave this soup relatively chunky, it would make a wonderful sauce for pasta.

How to Roast Peppers

RoastedPeppers

On Wednesday, I found the dollar bin at the Santa Monica farmers’ market. Well, a dollar bin of sorts. One of the stands was selling bell peppers, a mix of yellow and red, for $1 a pound. I picked up eight, slightly misshapen, on-the-verge-of-spoiling peppers for $2. That’s crazy. I basically had hit the jackpot. I took them home, roasted them, and now I have a stash in my fridge to be used as I wish. For dinner tonight, I made scrambled eggs and ate them with warm bread topped with some slivers of roasted red peppers. Yum.

So it seems, even with crazy-high food prices — the Washington Post recently reported that since March 2007, the price of eggs has jumped 35 percent; a gallon of milk, 23 percent; a loaf of white bread, 16 percent; and a pound of ground chuck, 8 percent — deals can be found. And “green,” delicious deals at that.

I know, I know. It’s not always so easy. But seriously, a simple way to buffer the sting of these high food prices is to eat more vegetables. These peppers, which taste so sweet when roasted, can be used in so many ways. Meat will not be missed. At least for a few days.

Here are some other tasty locations to place your roasted peppers:
• Sandwiches with cheddar cheese, mustard and red onion.
• Salads.
• Paninis filled with sautéed Swiss chard and Gruyère.
• Pasta or pasta salad.
• On pizza.
• In omelets.
• As a dip when coarsely puréed with feta and parsley.
• Quiche.
• A savory, summer tart.


Roasted Red Peppers
Yield = As many as you like. Estimate about half a pepper per person.

bell peppers, a mix of red, yellow, orange and green is pretty, but red are the sweetest and the best
parchment paper, makes for easy cleaning, but a thin coating of olive oil does the trick, too
olive oil
kosher salt or fleur de sel
fresh cracked pepper
basil
or parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 450ºF*. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper (for easy clean up — make sure it extends over the edges).

2. Meanwhile, cut peppers in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and white veins. Place peppers cut-side down on parchment paper. (Alternatively, rub a small amount of olive oil on the sheet tray.) Place pan in the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the skin is blistery and charred. Don’t be impatient here: If the skin isn’t blistery enough, the peppers will be difficult to peel.

3. Place the peppers in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for at least 20 minutes and up to 4 or 5 hours (or longer.) When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and discard.

4. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use. You can also store the peppers with the skins still on — I do this when I can’t get around to peeling them right away.

*Note: You could also broil the peppers. If you prefer broiling, which takes less time, do not line your baking sheet with parchment — it will burn. The peppers take about 20 minutes under the broiler.

Note: Bring to room temperature before serving — the cold masks their flavor. For a simple appetizer, slice the peppers into slivers. place on a platter. Taste. Sometimes the peppers are so sweet that they don’t need anything. If they need a little seasoning, however, drizzle lightly with olive oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, and top with fresh herbs. Serve with warm bread.

Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella

It has been done to death. Caprese salad that is. But there’s a reason it appears on nearly every restaurant menu come summertime: It’s so unbelievably good. I promise I’m not trying to bore you. I just have have a few things to add, in an effort, I hope, to maximize your tomato-eating experience this summer.

1. Tomatoes. I’m sort of stating the obvious here, but likely the tomatoes you pick up at your local farmers’ market will be superior to store-bought varieties. This past Sunday at the San Clemente farmers’ market, I learned from one of the Carlsbad farmers that the darker tomatoes tend to be sweeter. The man wasn’t lying. The tomato pictured in the upper left corner of this photo was the sweetest and tastiest of the bunch. It reminded me of a variety I discovered last summer, back in Philadelphia, called Black Prince, which I loved for the same reasons.

2. Fresh basil. Nothing like it. So fragrant. So sweet.

3. Mozzarella. I hate to be a snob, but buffalo mozzarella is so good, and there’s really nothing like the imported Italian varieties. However, as we are all so aware of our food miles these days, we can make smarter choices. I just discovered this Bubulus Bubalis mozzarella, which is made in Gardena (near L.A.) from the milk of water buffalo grazing in Northern California, if I understood the story correctly. Anyway, it is exceptional. And for Philadelphians, Claudio’s mozzarella is wonderful. (For all of you in between CA and PA, I wish I could give you more direction. Alas, my knowledge extends only to two places.)

4. Salt. Invest in a small tub of nice salt, like this one pictured below. I use it only on special occasions, like when I’m salting tomatoes or salting avocados or salting butter spread onto bread. So, basically I use it every day. My sister found this little tub in France earlier this summer but any variety of nice sea salt will do. (If you can’t resist this precious container, you can buy it from Salt Works.) And don’t be afraid to give the tomatoes a real sprinkling — I swear it makes them sweeter not saltier. Really.

5. Olive Oil. With good tomatoes, a drizzling of extra-virgin olive oil is the only dressing needed. I have yet to add a splash of vinegar to my tomato salads this summer. Though a splash certainly wouldn’t hurt. And it does make a nice little sauce to soak bread in.

6. Preparation. Try cutting your tomatoes into irregular shapes as opposed to thin slices. They look prettier; they’re easier to eat; and the tomatoes taste better, too. Really, they do. Cut the mozzarella the same way. And when you arrange it all on a platter, don’t toss it around to much. Just sprinkle the tomatoes and cheese with salt; tear basil leaves over the top; drizzle it with oil; and serve.



Two very hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, one heirloom tomato and a few very tired sprigs of basil picked from my garden. Yay, the tomatoes are turning red!

I am particularly enjoying the dark red heirloom tomatoes. They are sweet and delicious. I found these along with Bubulus Bubalis mozzarella at the Santa Monica farmers’ market this past Wednesday.

Melon & Cucumber Salad with Mint Vinaigrette


melon

So, I sort of have this habit. I tend to add cheese to every salad I make. In large quantities. And often nuts, too. And maybe dried fruit if I don’t have any fresh on hand. I tend to turn salads into mini meals themselves, even when, as I often am, just serving them on the side.

For whatever reason, I refrained from adding more than what was prescribed in this recipe: melon, cucumber, lettuce and a mint vinaigrette. And I’m so glad I did. This salad does not need anything else. It is light, refreshing, summery — perfect as is. Thank you Sarah Cain at the Fair Food Farmstand 2,378 miles away in Philadelphia for supplying such a wonderful recipe in the weekly “At the Farmstand” email.

Now, for my friends out there looking for simple recipes, this one is for you. If you can chop up a melon and a cucumber, you can make this dish. The dressing is made right in the jar, which means no whisking and minimal cleaning. I love it, and you will too.

The dressing for this salad is made right in the jar: Equal parts vinegar and oil along with a pinch of sugar and salt, a dab of mustard and tons of mint and parsley combine to make a bright and flavorful dressing.


Cucumber And Melon Salad with Mint Vinaigrette

Recipe Courtesy of Sarah Cain, Supervisor of the Fair Food Farmstand in Philadelphia
Great with a grilled meat, especially lamb.
Serves 4

½ cup of extra virgin olive oil

½ cup of best white wine vinegar (I used rice vinegar and loved it.)
½ teaspoon of dijon style mustard

3 tablespoons of finely minced fresh mint

1 tablespoon of finely minced parsley

big pinch of sugar

big pinch of salt

2-3 cups mixed honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon, peeled, seeded and diced

2 cups mixed greens

1 English cucumber, diced

1. In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine the dressing ingredients.
 Shake like crazy. Let stand a room temp for 40 minutes to meld the flavors.


2. Meanwhile, combine the melon, greens and cucumber in a large bowl. (I also added some more mint and parsley (roughly chopped) to the salad.)

3. Shake the dressing vigorously before pouring just enough to moisten the chunks of melon, greens and cucumbers.

4. Serve.

Favorite Summer Salad: Shaved Zucchini & Pecorino

zucchinisalad

There’s something about the combination of raw (or briefly blanched) and young (or thinly shaved) vegetables with Pecorino Romano cheese that I find irresistible. Which vegetables meet this criteria? I can name only a few — asparagus (shaved), fennel (shaved), fava beans (briefly blanched) and summer squash (julienned on a mandoline) — but many more exist. When fresh, these vegetables need little more than salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice — no cooking is necessary (with the exception, of course, of the fava beans).

After discovering this zucchini salad last summer, I prepared it often, and on more than one occasion, made myself sick to my stomach. I think raw zucchini might be a little harsh on the stomach? Don’t let that deter you, however. Just a little warning.

Now, why Pecorino over Parmigiano? Parmigiano Reggiano would be a fine substitute, but there’s something about Pecorino that I’m really liking these days — I think it’s its saltiness. Cut it the same way as in the fava bean and pecorino salad: Stick the tip of a big chef’s knife right into the block and twist until nice chards break from the block.

Zucchini and Pecorino Salad
Serves 2 as a side dish

1 zucchini, about 8-inches long
Pecorino Romano cheese, to taste
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, halved

1. Shave the zucchini on a mandoline into thin spaghetti-like strips. Place in a bowl. Stick the tip of a big chef’s knife into a wedge of Pecorino and twist until nice chards break from the block. Add to the bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle olive oil over the mixture. Squeeze with lemon. Gently toss and serve.

Fava Bean and Pecorino Salad

I cook fava beans once a year. When I spot the first of the season at the market, I fill up a bag, take them home and set to work, peeling, blanching and then peeling again. I open Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables and weigh my options: purée them and stir them into risotto or eat them raw with prosciutto and Pecorino. I’m sorry, but anything that calls for two peelings is not going into my blender. And so, I eat the fava beans raw, tossed with olive oil and lemon juice and mixed with parmesan or Pecorino. And I don’t share them with anyone because the two pounds I peeled yields only enough for a small snack. But they are so good. Definitely worth the double peeling. At least once a year.

OK, so I’m being a little dramatic, but seriously, fava beans are a lot of work. I will cook them more than once this year, and I will share them, but I will cook them only at opportune times, like when I invite friends over who have small children with little fingers who will work swiftly.

With this salad, I like the Pecorino to be in big chunks. I’m a big fan of shaving cheese with a peeler or with a sharp knife, but with this salad I use a different technique: I stick the point of a large, sharp knife directly into the block of Pecorino and twist. It breaks into nice, flaky shards. Parley is a nice addition to this salad, but not critical. And a finely chopped shallot or red onion is also a nice touch.

Fava Bean and Pecorino Salad
Serves 4

2 to 3 lbs. fresh fava beans, shelled
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 oz. Pecorino Romano
extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 lemons
finely chopped parsley

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the fava beans and cook for one minute. Drain, then plunge the beans into an ice bath and let cool. Drain again. Peel the beans and place into a mixing bowl.

2. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Break the Pecorino into big chunks and sprinkle them into the bowl.

3. Drizzle olive oil over the mixture and toss. Sprinkle with lemon juice to taste. Add the parsley, toss again, and serve.

Blood Oranges and Ettinger Avocados

bloodoranges

OK, I know, my consumption of oranges and avocados is getting out of hand. What’s pictured below is just my mid-morning snack. Ben drew the line last night before dinner. He told me he was starting to get “freaked out.”

To be fair, let me put his comment in context. For the most part, we have been eating the widely recognized Hass avocados — the dark, rough-skinned variety. Last night, however, I changed things up a bit and pulled out the Ettinger avocado I had purchased at the Sunday farmers’ market. A woman working at the Eli’s Ranch table told me Ettinger avocados have a “buttery texture” and “a pine nut flavor.” They also look like ostrich eggs, which I believe is what freaked Ben out.

I told Ben to look away as I sliced into its flesh. I didn’t want him to lose his appetite. Once on the plate, sprinkled with a little salt, however, these avocados look just like all the others, and Ben could eat his meal in peace.

Blood Oranges. Since reading a post in Matt Bites about a blood orange and campari cocktail I have been wanting to a.) make the drink and b.) experiment more with blood oranges. I have yet to make the cocktail but I have been eating my fair share of blood oranges. Mixed with avocados, sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with olive oil, they make a yummy, simple salad or, as I mentioned above, a nice mid-morning snack.

Last night, I made a vinaigrette using the juice of two blood oranges, shallots, olive oil and salt (using the same method described on the sidebar below) and tossed it with arugula and shaved parmesan. Yum.

That’s all for now. I will try to refrain from mentioning oranges and avocados in the near future.

A Simple, Yummy Snack
Serves 1

1 avocado
sea salt
2 blood oranges
good extra-virgin olive oil

1. Cut the avocado in half. Remove the pit. Scoop out the flesh. Cut into large chunks. Place on a plate. Sprinkle with sea salt.

2. Slice off the ends of each orange. Using a sharp knife, slice off the peel, removing as much of the pith as possible. Cut the orange into large chunks and add to the plate of avocados. Season with a touch more salt.

3. Drizzle with olive oil. Eat.

A crate filled with Ettinger avocados. OK, so they don’t really look like ostrich eggs, but they are significantly larger than Hass.

Garlic-Cheese Butter & A San Clemente Sunset

GarlicButter

I’m becoming a real purist. I have now renounced fake butter, a big deal in the Stafford household. I mean Ben and I practically fell in love over a tub of Brummel and Brown. Not really, but for many years, this butter-like spread, made with yogurt, was a staple in our refrigerator. Toast at breakfast and warm bread at dinner always received a dab of Brummel and Brown, its unfailing room-temperature texture convenient and its health claims welcome.

So what has inspired the sudden shift? I know, I know. I mention Michael Pollan in every other entry. His latest book, however, has really influenced how I shop and what I eat. And for the better. Butter is really good.

Until today, never had I read the ingredient list printed on a tub of Brummel and Brown. Here it is: water, vegetable oil blend (liquid soybean oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil), nonfat yogurt (cultured nonfat milk), salt, gelatin, vegetable mono and diglycerides, soy lecithin, (potassium sorbate, calcium disodium edta) used to protect quality, lactic acid, artificial flavor, vitamin a (palmitate), beta carotene (for color).

Now, let’s review a few of Pollan’s eating algorithms as outlined in In Defense Of Food:

1. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
2. Don’t eat anything incapable of rotting.
3. Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A.) unfamiliar, B.) unpronounceable, C.) more than five in number, or that include D.) high-fructose corn syrup.

Brummel and Brown fails on every account except 3-D. Now, the tablespoon of Brummel and Brown I spread on my toast every other day likely wasn’t going to kill me. And maybe none of these ingredients is actually that bad for me. But do we really know? A tablespoon of butter on my toast surely won’t kill me — we’ve been eating butter for over 4,000 years (according to a quick google search). So why should I eat partially hydrogenated soybean oil (a trans fat*) and soy lethicin when I can eat cream? I prefer to eat cream, the sole ingredient in a batch of unsalted butter.

Because I have failed to write up an extensive entry on In Defense Of Food, I have enclosed a link to my notes, if anyone cares to learn more about the book.

*Brummel and Brown explicitly states on its tub “No Trans Fats,” but an asterisk leads to a qualification based on FDA labeling regulations related to fats: Less than one gram of fat is declared 0 grams per serving.

So, on Sunday at the San Clemente farmers’ market, when Jordan Stone of Delaney’s Culinary Fresh asked me if I was “anti-butter” I shook my head “no” and began sampling. My favorites included sun-dried tomato asiago, basil parmesan, and garlic asiago, a tub of which I ended up taking home. Spread onto warm bread, this butter, flavored with roasted garlic, Asiago cheese, herbs, lemon and sea salt, makes the Stafford household very happy.

Contrary to how it may appear, I am not a sales rep for Delaney’s Culinary Fresh. Just a huge fan. I’ve now used several other products including the artichoke tapenade (as an hors d’oeuvres with a baguette), the sun-dried tomato marinara sauce, and the basil Asiago sauce (for an instant dinner with garlic-basil spaghetti). Yum!

This is the sunset Ben and I enjoy every evening from our apartment. Just kidding. It’s the view from The Beachcomber, a great motel in San Clemente. Each room has a mini kitchen. Come visit!

Roots of Change Meeting & More Arugula

arugula

Before I moved out to California, Bob Pierson, director of Farm-To-City, told me my new state would be decades ahead — agriculturally speaking — of the East Coast. While I have been amazed at the number of farmers’ markets out here, only after yesterday am I beginning to understand what he meant.

You see, despite the obscene amounts of avocados and oranges I’ve been delighting in, I’ve actually spent the past month feeling proud of Philadelphia and the diversity of local foods available to those living in and around the city. While the farmers’ markets run only from May until December, Philadelphians can shop year-round at the Fair Food Farmstand and have the option of joining buying clubs during the winter. As I mentioned recently, I lived ten blocks away from a source for local grass-fed beef, lamb and pork, raw milk, raw-milk cheeses, nitrate-free bacon, fresh chickens, eggs and seasonal fruits and vegetables.

I have encountered no such stand or source like the Fair Food Farmstand in my time thus far on the West Coast. Now, I could eat sautéed Swiss chard, mustard greens, kale, etc. mixed with rice and parmesan every night. However, I do have a husband to feed, and my recent dinners, I suspect, have left him wanting. The last time I made a meatless dinner, Ben said, “Mmmm, this is delicious,” and he cleared his plate. About an hour later, he was scrambling eggs and scouring the fridge for a morsel of protein to add to the pan.

So, I ventured down to San Diego two days ago to attend a Roots of Change meeting in search, I’ll admit, of meat. I wandered into the room, spotted the legendary Melanie Lytle and claimed a chair at her table. Before long, I saw the California Bob Pierson had described.

Like many people across the country, Californians are concerned about the current state of our food system and the future health of our communities and planet. These worries foremost, believes Larry Yee (County Director), are driving the “food revolution.”

People partake in this revolution in countless ways: by using reusable shopping bags at the grocery store; by boycotting bottled water; by shopping at farmers’ markets; by joining CSAs and buying clubs; by shopping for humanely raised meats; by purchasing organic and locally grown foods.

California, I learned, has taken this effort to the next level: Roots Of Change has drafted a comprehensive plan to create a sustainable food system in the state of California by the year 2030. This plan demands the collaboration of food producers, food distributors, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, foundations, etc. As Yee noted, a sustainable food system — not just a sustainable agriculture system — is the goal of this ROC initiative. In a state where many people with diverse interests coexist, an “enlightened leadership,” says Yee is critical to the success of this project.

Yesterday, I learned a lot about my new state and, in particular, San Diego County:

California is:

• the nation’s most populous state; the nation’s largest food producer; and the world’s 5th largest supplier of food and agricultural commodities.

In San Diego County:

• there are more organic farms than any other county in the country.
• 63% of the farms are 1 to 9 acres.
• 92% of the farms are family owned.
• 22% of the farms are Native-American owned.

California, many of the speakers noted, is the most important agriculture place on Earth. With its countless forward-thinking foundations and entrepreneurs, California sets the trends for the world.

About half-way through the meeting, Michael Dimock, (President of ROC and MC of the event), passed the mic to the crowd.

• Naomi Butler, a nutritionist with the County of San Diego, stressed the importance of getting food into our school systems via garden and farm-to-school programs. We have to start, said Butler, “by changing the taste buds of our kids.”

• A young, private chef emphasized educating children on these matters because “they are the future.”

• Others inquired about increasing points of contact — farmers’ markets, co-ops, distribution centers, etc.

• One chef noted, “We have particular issues down here,” referring to the unique problems facing San Diego County. She worried about the welfare of the Spanish speaking community — how are we going to deal, she wondered, with immigration?

• One woman noted the number of farmers that will soon retire (a nation-wide reality) — what will happen to their farms?

While the challenges are vast, the bottom line, as Eric Larson (Executive Director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau) concluded, is straightforward: profitability. If farms are profitable, they’ll stay in business. Farmland is expensive in California and in a globalized world, small farmers face serious competition.

I drove home from the meeting feeling slightly overwhelmed, but understanding this: We have a lot of small farms in San Diego County. These small farms use organic and sustainable techniques. Our health as a community rests on the survival of these small farms. And the survival of these small farms demands the work of many hands.

I feel a little embarrassed knowing I had ventured down to the meeting primarily to learn how I could find meat for Ben and me. There are far more important issues to tackle, namely getting good food into schools and low-income communities. Alas, I am inspired by the many people involved in this daunting task, and hope to play a role in the ROC’s effort. Want to pitch-in? Join the ROC Leardership Network.

As I mentioned in my last post, the farmers’ market arugula has been delectable, tasting particularly spicy. This bunch comes from Don’s Farm in Wildomar, CA (purchased at the Sunday San Clemente farmers’ market … shocker). As Don calculated my total, he looked a little nervous, apologizing for some of the dirt, explaining he had pulled the arugula out of the ground in complete darkness at 4:00 that morning. Don had nothing to worry about — a quick soak in cold water removed any lingering dirt. Besides, for greens this fresh and tasty, anyone can live with a little dirt.

I find a simple lemon vinaigrette to be the best dressing for arugula, (a deduction likely influenced by my love for Melograno’s arugula and prosciutto salad). I don’t have a precise recipe for this dressing, but I follow Alice Waters’ method as described in Chez Panisse Vegetables. She begins many of her vinaigrettes by macerating finely chopped shallots for about 20 minutes in either citrus juice or vinegar. She then adds salt, pepper, sugar, maybe mustard (I don’t have my book on hand to verify), finishing each dressing by slowly whisking in extra-virgin olive oil. It could not be simpler.

Arugula, Orange & Avocado Salad
Serves 4

1 shallot, finely diced
1 to 2 lemons, depending on size
sugar, to taste
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
extra-virgin olive oil

1 to 2 heads arugula
2 oranges
2 avocados
Parmigiano Reggiano,
shaved

1. Place the shallots in a small bowl. Squeeze the lemons over top, removing any seeds that fall in. Let sit for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the salad: Place the arugula in a large bowl filled with cold water to soak. Peel the oranges, removing sections from the pith if desired. Slice the avocados in half; remove the pit; scoop out the flesh; and slice into strips or dice into cubes. Set aside.

3. To the bowl of shallots, add a ¼ teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in the oil. The mixture won’t totally emulsify. Taste, adjusting seasoning as necessary (with more sugar or oil, for example, if the mixture is too tart).

4. Drain the arugula and spin dry. Place the arugula in a bowl. Top with the oranges and avocados. Add dressing to taste. Toss gently. Divide among plates. Top each salad plate with a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano.