Friday, August 31, 2018

MARKETS: Hamptons Farmers Markets

The Eastern end of Long Island is a magical place, particularly for those who know it, for those of us who grew up heading out there with family and friends during summers and for special weekends. It's a wonderful place for "newbies" too, though I often feel they lack a clear picture of how the Hamptons has evolved over time. A lot of people see the Hamptons as Manhattan and Brooklyn East, a place where you lounge at the beach or by the pool by day, and head out to eat at trendy, expensive restaurants at night followed by the thump-thump of the Hamptons post-prandial club scene. And of course, the Showtime series The Affair has certainly brought attention -- desirable and undesirable -- to Montauk and the Hamptons in general.
But sadly, many don't know about The Hamptons of years ago: this part of New York was farm country surrounded by gorgeous beaches, clean Atlantic tides. Montauk was a fishing village, not a hipsters' paradise, and before 18-room monstrosities were constructed in Sagaponack, that land was one sprawling beachside garden, filled with potato fields and flowers, tomato plots and pumpkin patches. 

Some of that has remained, thankfully. And one Hamptons staple that I hope will never get "gentrified out" is the omnipresence of the Hamptons farm stand. Every Hampton (town) has at least one, and often they have several. These stands offer seasonal snapshots of the fruits (sometimes literally) of the farmland out east, and they reach their peak, in my humble opinion, in late summer. Now. Because in the northeast, your shoulder seasons can be questionable. Perhaps spring came late, and the farm stands won't have strawberries and fresh peas until June.
This can push everything back -- or forward, depending -- and so peaches may come in June or may not really come in until mid-July. But late August is undeniably the time, for me, when stands are at their most beautiful, overflowing with lingering stone fruit, gorgeous crimson tomatoes, summer corn, squash, berries, eggplant, those famous Long Island fingerling potatoes...really, an abundance of everything. Some pumpkins may even start coming in this early, but we still have several weeks left of summer, technically, so everything is at its peak. I don't need to mention that by purchasing at local farm stands, you're supporting local agriculture and farmers, and of course everything just tastes better when you're close to the hands that harvested that food. Period.

Below is a list of some of my favorite farm stands, as well as a photo montage that makes the term *food porn* seem like an understatement. Enjoy! It's the best time of the year for produce out east. Perhaps I'll see you on Sagg Main...

Dana's Favorites:

Green Thumb Organic Farm
829 Montauk Highway, Watermill
Amazing selection of heirloom veg and fruit, herbs and edible flowers.

Babinski's Farm Stand
160 Newlight Lane, Watermill
Good quality, plus some great baked goods.

Pike Farms
82 Sagg Main, Sagaponack
Great stand in front of their fields, so couldn't be fresher!

Round Swamp Farm
184 Three Mile Harbor Road, East Hampton
If there is a Bulgari of farm stands, this is it. Prices are head-spinning, but great prepared foods and baked goods.

Amber Waves Farmer's Market
367 Main Street, Amagansett
All-around great Hamptons farm stand with a wide selection.

Schmidt Brothers Produce
120 North Sea Road, Southampton
Though not technically an outdoor farm stand, they source some amazing, impossible-to-find greens, sprouts, herbs, and international produce that can be hard to find out east.

And for a P.S., here are some resulting dishes from Hamptons Farmers Market hauls...

Lobster boil with local corn, fingerling potatoes, green beans
Greek salad
Balsamic roasted carrots with carrot top pesto
Eggplant with labneh, pomegranate and pomegranate molasses
Heirloom tomato and green plum tart with herbed ricotta and fried shallots

New York cheesecake with summer fruits

Thursday, August 23, 2018


I've always adored cantaloupe. It was the melon toward which I veered, from a young age. And I've never tired of it. As I've gone from the messy gobbling of freshly-sliced cantaloupe passed to me from my father's deft hands, to the more sophisticated pairing of the melon with salty, unctuous prosciutto at countless outdoor cafes all over the Italian peninsula, my love affair with the orange melon has not faded.

So imagine my surprise when I started researching the cantaloupe, and found that the etymology of cantaloupe comes from the Italian word cantalupo, taking the name of the town Cantalupo in Sabina, a former papal seat outside of Rome in the province of Rieti, where the melon was supposedly first popularized in the west, grown in the papal gardens in the 15th and 16th centuries. The melon most likely originated in South Asia or Africa, and was introduced to Italy via Armenia. But most importantly for my personal connection to cantaloupe, the town of Cantalupo in Sabina is quite close to the town of Torri in Sabina where my dear friends live, and where I've spent a lot of wonderful weekends relaxing and cooking in the countryside near Rome. I dare say we've indulged in plenty a plate of prosciutto e melone in the area of this melon's namesake!

Cantaloupes are members of a family of vegetables and fruits that includes cucumbers, squashes, pumpkins, and gourds, called the cucurbit family.This family also includes lots of types of melons, including crenshaw, casaba, Persian, canary, and watermelon. The European cantaloupe's outer skin is gray-green and is lightly ribbed (like a basketball), whereas the North American cantaloupe has that familiar net-like skin covering, with a light grey rind.

Of all of the cantaloupe's nutritional elements, it is highest in vitamin A/beta carotenes and vitamin C. It also contains a variety of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, among which are the flavonoid luteolin. The melon is also rich in potassium, fiber, folate, magnesium, and vitamin K.

Perhaps most interesting and potentially promising about cantaloupe's nutritional benefits is its capacity to prevent metabolic syndrome, presently in research studies with humans. This could translate to health benefits as relates to heart health, since many heart issues are initiated by inflammation and oxidative stress. It is also thought that cantaloupe consumption can help improve blood sugar metabolism and insulin resistance in humans the way it has in animals. 

The cantaloupe didn't become a commercial crop in the United States until the very end of the 19th century, but now it's available everywhere in the summer -- though in my opinion, it's best purchased from a local farm stand where you can smell the musky scent of ripe melons that have been sitting in the summer sun. 

The best way to consume a cantaloupe? Whichever way you like it best, of course. But besides the joy of eating it in slices out of hand, or halving it and filling the scooped-out center with berries and eating it with a spoon (both classic modes that will always be delicious)...I've started to use the melon in savory preparations too.

If you pair it with another member of the cucurbit family, toss in some fresh herbs, maybe a little red onion, and use some vinegar and olive oil to dress it more like a savory salad, the melon takes on a whole new dimension. It's great with cucumbers, given a bit of an Asian treatment with rice vinegar, lime juice and zest, olive or avocado oil, sea salt, and fresh herbs like cilantro and mint. You could, alternatively, puree the melon and along with the usual vegetables, sherry vinegar, ground almonds, and olive oil, turn the cantaloupe into a memorable savory-sweet gazpacho. It's great along with other fruits and vegetables in a salsa to accompany summery grilled meats, and even steak fish like swordfish or tuna.

And of course, cantaloupe is always a sweet ending to a summer meal. I sometimes serve the interesting combo of sliced cantaloupe with a salad of pitted cherries tossed with lemon juice, pistachios, and mint. Its unexpected flavor and textural combo gives a bit of a middle eastern lift to the final course of a meal. And it's refreshing. So whether you prefer sweet or savory preparations for your melon, the important thing is to consume as much of it as possible before cantaloupe season is over!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

DINNER PARTIES: Marble House Project Farm-to-Table Dinner

When I received the email telling me I'd been selected from among roughly 700 candidates to win a residency at the Marble House Project in Dorset, Vermont, I was a little incredulous. I'd applied on a bit of a whim, never expecting to be awarded the culinary residency, especially since so few of these residencies exist for those of us in the food world. I thought about applying as a writer (something I'd end up doing a lot of anyway during my chef residency, since I'm working on various culinary book projects) -- but since my primary career for the past 18+ years has been as a chef, and this opportunity was so rare, I went for it. Culinary residency it was.

Marble House Project hosts one of 3 culinary residency programs in the U.S., and the other two are really year-long paid chef positions cooking for the other artists in residence. This was different. At MHP I was considered to be an artist in my own right, and though we'd all rotate cooking dinner for our fellow residents Monday through Friday, I wasn't expected to do more than anyone else in the Marble House home kitchen. As the sole culinary resident in my session, I was given my very own work kitchen/cooking barn in which to experiment, test recipes, and just generally cook up a storm. When other artists retreated to their studios to create (film and photography, sculpture, music, dance, film, animation, and writing), so did I. Nobody had any imperatives to complete projects during the program. This was a safe haven in the verdant hills of Vermont where we could just create, and hopefully show our work to the public during "Art Seed" the final SAturday of our session. Except, well...I had the imperative of creating a farm-to-table dinner for 40 people, on the Friday night at the end of our three week residency. So, there was that.

But we chefs live to cook for others, to bring people pleasure, to feed bellies as well as souls. So I was enthusiastic about making this farm-to-table meal a happy task, and an excuse to get to know the area a bit, speaking with the local farmers and food purveyors. Since I was simultaneously working on Italian recipe testing, I decided to marry the Mediterranean flavors I dealt with on the daily, with the local culinary strong suits of Vermont. This meant putting the amazing dairy products of the Dorset area front and center. I made my own ricotta cheese with the high-quality milk from Larson's Dairy Farm in nearby Wells. (Bonus: the owners were an absolute pleasure to work with!). 

I sourced specialty items from the Dorset Farmers Market. I sourced local organic chicken from a nearby farm, and the only fish I used was river trout, a local substitute for sardines in a classic Venetian preparation. There were a surprising amount of "Italian connections" for lack of a better term, in the Dorset-Manchester area. Al Ducci's Italian market (featuring Bennington's Maple Brook Farms' homemade mozzarella and burrata) and Fortuna's sausage for some great homemade salumi were two mainstays. I worked with the Vermont Butcher Shop to source locally made guanciale (cured pork jowl) -- and though it was nothing like the original Roman version, it was its own version of the classic, and it gave my pasta all'Amatriciana a hyper-local touch. 

My husband collecting freshly laid eggs
Of course, we have our own Marble House hens for delicious, fresh eggs from happy chicks; these made for some delicious fresh egg pastas and helped to make one of the main dishes, shakshuka, a stand-out. And although the cooler spring weather had caused most of the Marble House garden to run close to a month behind season, I used what we had and what we could forage -- herbs, strawberries, asparagus, ramps, edible flowers -- to speak to the seasonality of the menu. And of course, I had to incorporate Vermont's finest local dark maple syrup into dishes wherever I could! This syrup came directly from a local neighbor's trees and it was delicious and flavorful. The entire meal was accompanied by Mediterranean wines picked (with the help of owner John) from the local natural food store, Nature's Market, in Manchester, where they know their wines!

The prep required a whirlwind four days of intensive shopping, sourcing, and prep. I had great help in the form of Marble House staff and volunteers from among my fellow residents, assisting me with everything from candying flowers to rolling out homemade gnocchi, from sautéeing and smoking to chopping, slicing, and dicing. It was a series of small miracles, but it came together on Friday, June 1st in what turned out to be a magical night at Marble House. Below, I share the menu and a collection of photos from the constantly-changing buffet. It was a culinary journey through the Mediterranean, from all over Italy, north to south, to Spain, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, and beyond -- all filtered through the flavors and spirit of Vermont.

I explained to the crowd, seated in the big barn at two long, family-style tables decorated with MH flowers and greens, that this was a feast created with my fondest food memories in mind. It was both a nostalgia trip and something completely new for me, with the influence of the community of food producers I'd found in Vermont married with my love of Mediterranean meals, the tradition of which is to linger at the table for many hours. 
I explained the buffet would always be changing, morphing, and when some serving platters were emptied, often, that was it for the dish. This was a marathon and not a race. Those who stuck around for the dessert buffet would reap the rewards. And the diners were kind enough to come and tell me how much they enjoyed the marathon after it was over. I hope you enjoy getting a glimpse here!

*Please scroll down for gorgeous photos, many of which are thanks to fellow resident and photographer, Francisco Vazquez Murillo.

Mediterranean Meets Vermont

Signature Spring Cocktail: Rhubarb-strawberry-basil spritz
Selection of local cheese, salumi, homemade black grape mostarda, honey, grissini
Crostini, Vermont mozzarella & burrata, homemade ricotta with herbs, heirloom tomatoes
Green gazpacho shots

Salads and Antipasti
Israeli Salad
Orange & fennel salad with red onions + kalamata olives
Fregola sarda, sautéed vegetables, herbs, Vermont honey-saffron-lemon vinaigrette
Lebanese eggplant with pomegranate & tamarind, Vermont yogurt, pistachios, mint
Local Chioggia beets with Vermont goat cheese, lavender vinaigrette

Pasta all’Amatriciana with Vermont guanciale
Homemade gnocchi with heirloom cherry tomatoes, basil, Calabrian chile oil
Homemade fettucine with ramp-almond pesto
Timballo of anelletti in tomato sauce with eggplant and ricotta salata

Grilled chicken kebabs, beet hummus, sumac onions & warm pita
Koufounisi-style gigante bean stew
Wood fire-grilled shakshuka with Marble House eggs
Pork tonnato
Trout en saor with Vermont maple syrup agrodolce

Moroccan potato salad with harissa vinaigrette, green olives, preserved lemon, sumac, parsley
Grilled leeks, ramps, scallions with Romesco sauce
Grilled green and purple Marble House asparagus

Homemade ricotta cheesecake, balsamic strawberries
Vermont maple cheesecake topped with blueberry-tarragon sauce
Torta sbrisolona
Torta caprese
Biscotti & meringue baci
Baklava with local Vermont honey
Chocolate salami

Orange, fennel, and black olive salad

Chioggia beet and goat cheese salad with lavender vinaigrette
Fregola sarda with vegetables, herbs, Vermont honey-lemon-saffron vinaigrette
Lebanese eggplant with pomegranate and tamarind, yogurt, and mint

Koufounisi style stewed gigante beans with tomato, Greek oregano, and warm spices

Homemade fettucine with homemade ramp-almond pesto

Pasta all'Amatriciana with Vermont guanciale

Homemade potato gnocchi with fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes, basil, and Calabrian chile oil

Green herb-marinated locally farmed chicken kebabs, sumac onions, beet hummus

Lightly smoked shakshuka with Marble House Project eggs and herbs

Pork tonnato
Grilled ramps, leeks, and scallions with Romesco sauce

Moroccan potato salad with harissa vinaigrette, green olives, chickpeas, preserved lemon, sumac, parsley

Chocolate chip cheesecake made from homemade ricotta, MH strawberries in balsamic

Homemade baklava with Vermont honey

Chocolate "salami" with pistachios and candied ginger

Torta Caprese (flourless chocolate cake with ground almonds)

Homemade almond and hazelnut biscotti

Marble House