The concept of farm fresh food is gaining steam these days as Americans are looking at eating healthier. One way to accomplish this is by stocking fresh fruit and vegetables in your refrigerator. Farm fresh foods are superior to food that you purchase from the grocery store because they come directly to you from the farm. The fewer steps there are between your food’s source and your table, the less chance there is of contamination. Also, when you know where your food comes from and who grows it, you know a lot more about that food.
Now, with the local growing season in full swing, getting fresh produce is easier than ever. Farmers markets, produce stands and even roadside vendors are your best source for the freshest and most nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.”When you buy locally grown, you’re getting the produce at its peak form,” says Darlene Price, senior nutrition resource educator at Orange County Cornell Cooperative Extension. “It’s ready to eat right now. When you buy your fresh produce in a supermarket, you’re never really sure how long it’s been sitting.”
Seemingly endless varieties are yet another advantage local farmers have over their giant commercial counterparts, who are restricted to crops that can survive long storage and the arduous transportation process. Local farmers plant what’s delicious, healthful and in local demand. “The large commercial farmers have to plant foods that will survive a lot of abuse,” says Louis Schultz, coordinator of the Florida market. “We’ve gotten very removed from our food. The average supermarket potato travels 1,500 miles. Local farmers don’t have to worry about factoring all that in. They can plant anything.”
The diversity available at the local markets means that a larger range of nutrients and disease-fighting phytochemicals — which give fruits and vegetables their bright, deep color — is there for the taking. Nutritionists advise us to “eat the rainbow,” and the color spectrum at a local farmers market is simply unrivaled.
Besides shopping at a farmer’s market you can join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) as a way to ensure a steady supply of fresh, local produce. Community-supported agriculture is a food production and distribution system that directly connects farmers and consumers. Consumers buy “shares” in a farm’s harvest in advance.The term “CSA” is also used to refer to an individual farm’s CSA program.
Farmers earn important early-season capital and have a guaranteed market for their produce. Barring a disastrous harvest, consumers enjoy overall lower food costs, field-fresh produce and greater access to high-demand fruits and vegetables, such as long-stem strawberries and heirloom tomatoes. Most CSA’s provide weekly deliveries or pickups, farm visits and other special events for members. For example, my CSA provides a fresh Christmas tree in December for all its members.
The recipes in this post take advantage of locally grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Cherry Tomato, Fennel and Arugula Salad
- 2 oz grated Parmesan cheese, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 lb. baby arugula leaves
- 1 large or 2 small bulbs fennel, stalks trimmed, outer layer removed, and cored
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half (or substitute 3 medium tomatoes cut into bite-size pieces, about 2 cups)
In a food processor, blend the Parmesan cheese, buttermilk, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, mayonnaise and lemon juice until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Put the arugula in a large bowl. Using a mandoline set at a very thin setting or a vegetable peeler, shave the fennel and add to the arugula. Toss with a little of the dressing; just enough to coat the salad. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Divide the salad among 4 large salad plates and mound slightly. In another bowl toss the tomatoes with the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil and a little salt and pepper; scatter on the salads. Serve immediately, passing the remaining dressing at the table.
Baked Ziti and Summer Vegetables
Add color to baked ziti with yellow squash, zucchini and tomato.
4 servings (serving size: about 1 1/2 cups)
- 4 ounces uncooked whole grain ziti pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups chopped yellow squash
- 1 cup chopped zucchini
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 cups chopped tomato
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
- 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) ricotta cheese
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- Cooking spray
Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Coat an 8-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to the pan. Add squash, zucchini and onion; saute 5 minutes. Add tomato and garlic; saute 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in pasta, 1/2 cup mozzarella, herbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt and crushed red pepper.
Combine ricotta, remaining salt and egg in a small bowl. Stir into pasta mixture. Spoon pasta into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella.
Bake for 15 minutes or until bubbly and browned.
Chicken Cutlets with Bell Pepper Ragout
- 1 1/4 lbs ripe plum tomatoes (6 to 8), cored, halved lengthwise and seeded
- 1 medium red or orange bell pepper, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
- 1 medium yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
- 1 small onion, cut into medium dice
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium clove garlic, mashed to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, sliced into cutlets
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 2 tablespoons small capers, rinsed and patted dry
Position a rack 6 inches from the broiler heating element and heat the broiler on high.
Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with foil. Put the tomatoes cut side up on one side of the pan and the peppers and onions on the other side of the pan. Drizzle everything with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with the paprika, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Mix the seasonings into the peppers and onions.
Broil until the tomatoes are collapsed, about 7 minutes. Turn the tomatoes over, mix the peppers and onions again and broil until the tomato skins have large black spots and the peppers and onions are tender, about 5 minutes more.
Use tongs to pull the skins off the tomatoes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to a cutting board.
Put the peppers and onions in a large bowl and add the garlic paste. Chop the tomatoes and add to the bowl with the other vegetables. Mix well. Keep warm.
Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Put the flour in a shallow pan. Season the chicken with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; dredge in the flour.
Working in 2 batches, cook the chicken, turning once, until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and top with the ragout.
Wipe out the pan. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and fry the capers over medium-high heat until they pop open and become crisp, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle them over the chicken and ragout.
Fresh Fruit Salad with Creamy Lime Topping
- 1/4 cup light sour cream
- 2 tablespoons light frozen whipped topping
- 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lime peel
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 3 cups assorted fresh fruit (such as cut up mango, raspberries, blueberries, pineapple chunks, kiwifruit or strawberries)
- Lime zest for garnish
In a small bowl, stir together sour cream, whipped topping, the 1/2 teaspoon lime peel, powdered sugar and lime juice.
Divide fruit among six dessert dishes. Spoon 1 tablespoon sour cream mixture over fruit in each dish. If desired, garnish with additional lime zest.
- Veggie Haul: CSA Adventures Episode 1 (grassfedyogi.wordpress.com)
- Hooray for CSA! (alongaruralpath.wordpress.com)
- What is a CSA? (onespoonfull.wordpress.com)
- Cooking Your CSA: Arugula Walnut Pesto (freshpressedlife.com)
- Mini Meatballs over Summer Spaghetti (alilbitofrye.wordpress.com)
but it is not. With the exception of Polenta, which is ground cornmeal, corn, as we know it, is fed to the animals.
Ari Weinzweig, of the famed Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan has an excellent blog about the history of how polenta came to Italy. He writes that since corn arrived in Europe, after Columbus’ first visit to the Western Hemisphere, it would be reasonable to assume that the history of polenta would have seemed to have started in the Americas. However, grinding corn meal was a natural next step for people who were already making similar porridges from chickpea flour, chestnut flour, millet, barley and other grains.
Corn came to Italy long after this tradition of porridge eating was well established. In Italian it is referred to as granoturco (“Turkish grain”) which would indicate that, despite its North American origins, it arrived from the Ottoman east, most likely via Venetian traders. One old Italian name for corn is meliga, or melica, derived the even older word for millet.
Polenta remained a staple of the poor, primarily in the north, right into the early years of the 20th century. The Italian peasants who relied on the ground cornmeal they were cooking, were not aware, that it was noticeably different from the cornmeal Americans were eating. What had happened was that the Italians skipped a step from the traditional Native American preparation, leaving people vulnerable to a previously unheard of disease.
In the Western Hemisphere the dried corn kernels were soaked in water that had an added alkaline substance, such as wood ash, lye or quicklime and this step loosened the husk and released the natural niacin in the enzymes of the corn kernel. Humans need niacin; without it, our tissues start to degenerate. The Native American discovery of this process permitted them to make a cuisine that relied heavily on corn—supplemented by beans and squash—nutritionally viable. Polenta makers skipped this stage of the process. The corn was simply grown, dried and then ground. Convenience, it seems, was the reason Europeans skipped this step.
Early in the 18th century, some Italians began to fall victim to a new disease, called pellagra. (The name means, literally, “rough skin.”) The symptoms also included nervousness, sore joints, mental illness and left people looking pallid and unhealthy. At first corn was blamed, and actually banned, as the cause of pellagra. With little else to eat though, many peasants continued cooking polenta just as they had. Finally, early in the 20th century scientific advancement made it clear that nutrient-deficient diets, not corn itself, was the cause of pellagra. Of course, it is no longer a health problem that people have to worry about and polenta is one of the most important dishes in the northern Italian cuisine.
What made me think so much about corn today, is that it is corn season where I live. I received my first share on Saturday from the CSA. I belong to near my home. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When you join a CSA, you are essentially buying a farm share. Members pay in advance for a growing season so farmers have operating capital. During the growing season, members receive a box of produce from the CSA on a regular schedule. The produce is superior to anything you will find in a supermarket. Most likely the produce from the CSA was picked the morning you received it. Taste and freshness are the stand out qualities of locally grown produce. If you have an opportunity to belong to a CSA or shop at a Farmer’s market, I would urge you to do so. After I had this big bag of corn on the cob sitting on my kitchen counter, I began to think about how corn would fit into the Italian cuisine, that is, if they had it.
Mario Batali, in his book, The Italian Grill, says that Italians do not grill corn, but if they did, this is what they might do.
Corn As Italians Would Eat It
6 ears corn, shucked
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 to 1 1/2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano (freshly grated)
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
Hot red pepper flakes
Preheat a gas grill or prepare a fire in a gas grill.
Place the corn on the hottest part of the grill and cook for 3 minutes, or until grill marks appear on the first side. Roll each ear over a quarter turn and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then repeat two more times.
Meanwhile, mix the oil and vinegar on a large flat plate. Spread the Parmigiano on another flat plate.
When the corn is cooked, roll each ear in the oil and vinegar mixture, shake off the extra oil, and dredge in the Parmigiano to coat lightly. Place on a platter, sprinkle with the mint and pepper flakes, and serve immediately.
Sweet Corn and Zucchini Gratin With Fresh Basil
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 3/4 pound zucchini, thinly sliced or diced
- Kernels from 2 ears sweet corn (about 2 cups)
- 3 large eggs or 3/4 cup egg substitute
- 1/2 cup skim milk
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, washed, dried and coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, washed, dried and coarsely chopped
- 3/4 cup Sargento® Shredded Reduced Fat Italian 4 Cheese Mix, shredded
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 2-quart gratin or baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.
Set aside the kernels from one of the ears of corn.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until it begins to soften, about three minutes; add the red pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the onions and peppers are tender, about five minutes. Add the garlic and the zucchini, stir together and add another generous pinch of salt and some pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the zucchini is just beginning to look bright green and some of the slices are translucent. Stir in the kernels from one of the ears of corn. Stir together for a minute or two, and remove from the heat. Pour into a mixing bowl.
Place the remaining corn kernels in a blender jar, and add the eggs, milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Blend until smooth. Pour into the bowl with the vegetables. Add the basil, parsley and the cheese, and stir everything together. Pour into the gratin dish.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is browned and the gratin is firm to the touch. Serve hot or warm.
Corn, Cherry Tomato, Mozzarella & Basil Salad
- 1-1/2 cups red cherry tomatoes (about 8 oz.)
- 1-1/2 cups yellow cherry tomatoes (about 8 oz.)
- 3/4 lb. fresh mozzarella (use bocconcini or cut large balls into cubes)
- Kernels cut from 1 ear raw fresh corn (about 2/3 cup)
- 1/2 teaspoon. kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup julienned fresh basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 1/4 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place them in a serving bowl. Add the mozzarella cubes and the corn kernels, season with the salt and pepper. Drizzle with the vinegar and then with the olive oil. Toss gently. Top with basil.
Fresh Corn Risotto
- 6 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (12 ounces)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup corn kernels (from 2 ears)
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil with the bay leaf. Keep the stock warm over very low heat.
- In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring until opaque, about 3 minutes. Add the white wine and cook, stirring, until completely absorbed, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the stock 1 cup at a time and stirring until it is absorbed between additions. After about half of the stock has been added, stir in the corn, then add the remaining stock. The rice is done when it is al dente and creamy, about 25 minutes. Stir in the cheese and butter; season with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaf and serve.
Pasta with Fresh Corn Pesto
Pesto is traditionally made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan, and olive oil. Here, the classic Italian sauce is reformed with corn in place of the basil. The finished dish has a creamy richness that is reminiscent of carbonara.
- 4 bacon slices, cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
- 4 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 6 large ears)
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving
- 1/3 cup Pignoli (pine nuts), toasted
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces penne or fusilli
- 3/4 cup coarsely torn fresh basil leaves, divided
- Cook bacon in large non-stick skillet over medium heat until crisp and brown, stirring often. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from the skillet. Add corn, garlic, 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper to drippings in skillet. Sauté over medium-high heat until corn is just tender but not brown, about 4 minutes.
- Transfer 1 1/2 cups corn kernels to small bowl and reserve. Pour remaining corn mixture into processor. Add 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and pine nuts. With machine running, add olive oil through the feed tube and blend until pesto is almost smooth. Set pesto aside.
- Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot. Add corn pesto, reserved corn kernels, and 1/2 cup basil leaves. Toss pasta mixture over medium heat until warmed through, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls to thin to a desired consistency, 2 to 3 minutes. Season pasta to taste with salt and pepper.
- Transfer pasta to a large shallow bowl. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup basil leaves and reserved bacon. Serve pasta, passing additional grated Parmesan alongside.
Pasta With Italian Sausage,Tomatoes and Corn
- 2 ears of corn, grilled for 3-4 minutes, turning occasionally to grill evenly on all sides. Set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut off kernels.
- 8 ounces ziti
- 6 oz. green beans, cut into 1 inch lengths
- 1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 links of sweet or spicy Italian sausage, casing removed
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- Salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Fresh basil, hand torn
- 4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
Bring a pot of water to boil and add salt. Add pasta and cook for 7-10 minutes, until al dente. During the last 4 minutes of cooking add the green beans. When pasta is done, drain pasta and beans, and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium sauté pan, cook sausage and garlic over medium heat until browned, 5-7 minutes, breaking up into bite-sized pieces. Add pasta, beans, grilled corn, tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Gently stir in basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.
Italian Vegetable Soup
- 4 ears corn, husks and silks removed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- 1-32 oz container reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
- 2 large zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)
- 8 ounces green beans (stem ends removed), cut into fourths
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) no salt added, diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup orzo
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Basil Pesto
- Stand ears in a wide bowl. With a sharp knife, carefully slice downward to release kernels. Discard cobs; set kernels aside.
- In a Dutch oven or 5-quart pot, heat oil over medium. Add onion; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add broth and 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Add zucchini, green beans, pepper, corn, tomatoes and orzo; cook, uncovered, until orzo is tender, 8 to 11 minutes. Add herbs, crushed red pepper, cheese and salt to taste. Top each serving with a tablespoon of basil pesto.
- Polenta and Vegetable Bake (bookcasefoodie.wordpress.com)
- Make Your Own Polenta! (deliciousgf.wordpress.com)
- Review: I Love Corn (bookingmama.net)
- San Francisco Italian Restaurant Palio d’Asti Cooks Up a Pot of Polenta for Italian Winter Comfort (prweb.com)
- Michelle Obama’s corn soup with summer veggies (seattletimes.nwsource.com)