A Hint of Spring in a Truly Local Meal

By Alison Boyd-Savage

A visit to the monthly market at K.K.’s The Farm, a warm oasis on a chilly February Sunday, provided the inspiration and ingredients for much of this month’s menu. I was on the hunt for local produce and was happy to find large bags of their iconic spicy mix of winter greens, perfect for a fresh and tasty salad. I always find room for the beautiful fungi from Agathe Snow at Mattituck Mushrooms. 

A menu idea or two was forming in my head as I selected locally grown lions’ mane, shitake, and oyster mushrooms. Fresh local cilantro in February is very rare, so I grabbed a bunch together with a few woody stems of the most fragrant rosemary this side of Provence. The cilantro features in the salad dressing and the rosemary will star in both a drink and a cake as the subject of a future column. 

Rust Glover from Consider Bardwell farm in Rutland Vermont offers four special cheeses made with milk from cows and goats raised on 200-acres of lush New England pasture. My favorite is Middletown Blue, which I am serving with the salad. Stop by the next market on March 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to meet all of the wonderful local producers and get a head start on spring.

Winter Mushroom Ragu

My co-chef for this month, Peter Cunningham, decided to make a mushroom ragu to serve with creamy polenta. A last-minute addition of miso gave it a slightly Asian flair, but it still paired well with the polenta. I would also serve it over rice or noodles and as a side dish. 

We added sliced sausages to make a hearty plate, but the dish is vegetarian and could be adapted for vegans with the omission of the butter (substitute a little extra olive oil). Peter dry roasted the mushrooms first to stop them losing too much water and to lock in the flavor. It’s a technique I shall definitely copy in the future.

4 to 5 cups of local mushrooms, cleaned 
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms soaked in 1½ cups hot water
2 medium leeks, white and pale green part only, cleaned
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
¼ cup minced parsley
1 tablespoon white miso
¼ cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
¼ tsp. Aleppo pepper
¼ tsp. fine sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Drain the porcini mushrooms (reserve broth!), chop and set aside. Remove stalks from shitakes and break apart the fresh mushrooms into small pieces. Heat a heavy skillet, add all the mushrooms and dry roast over medium heat, turning both sides as they brown. Keep a very close eye on them as they cook. When they are lightly browned and reduced in volume by about a half, remove from pan and set aside.

Heat two tablespoons of oil to the skillet and add in the leeks, shallots, Aleppo pepper and salt ,and sauté over medium heat until softened and nearly translucent. Turn up the heat and add the wine. Stir until the mixture starts to simmer. Whisk the miso paste together with ½ cup of the porcini soaking liquid and add to the pan with the chopped porcinis. 

Continue cooking until the liquid reduces slightly, before adding the roasted mushrooms, stirring to combine. With the pan on low heat, add the butter, parsley, and Aleppo pepper. Gently warm, before adding the parsley and folding all of the ingredients together until combined. If the ragu gets a little dry, you can add extra porcini soaking liquid and a little more oil or butter. Adjust the seasoning and serve over creamy polenta, noodles or stir into a risotto. For a heartier dish, we added some grilled and sliced Italian sausages.

Creamy Polenta with Butter and Parmesan

4 cups water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup quick cooking polenta
4 Tbsp. butter
½ cup finally grated parmesan
Fresh black pepper

Bring the water and salt to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Very slowly add the polenta in a thin stream, stirring constantly. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until creamy. Whisk in the butter, parmesan and black pepper and serve immediately.

I aimed to use all local greens and I nearly succeeded. At the last minute I added some watercress that I had on hand, to lighten it up. The late winter spicy mix is quite intense in flavor, and it gets milder and more varied as the days grow longer. It suits a punchy dressing with a hint of sweetness. We made a cilantro pesto (no cheese) and stirred it into a honey vinaigrette. You can adjust the amount of pesto, lemon juice and honey to your taste. If you do not have spicy mix, you can select your own leaves. A mix of mild and pungent greens such as radicchio, watercress, dandelion greens, chard and kale would work well. The Middletown Blue Cheese is only available at the K.K.’s monthly market or at the seasonal Shelter Island market.

Winter Greens Salad with Cilantro Pesto Dressing

Cilantro Pesto

1½ cloves garlic peeled
3 cups cilantro packed, washed and dried
¼ tsp. coarse sea salt
1/3 cup pignoli nuts
1/3 cup olive oil

Place the garlic and sea salt in a heavy pestle and mortar and pound until creamy. Gradually add the cilantro and continue to grind with the pestle until all has been added and you have a thick paste. Gradually add in the oil and pignoli nuts until you have a smooth mixture. Cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to use. You can make the pesto in a blender, but the flavor and texture will not be quite as good.

The Dressing

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. rice wine or apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. honey or to taste
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/3 cup cilantro pesto

Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Add salt to taste.

The Assembled Salad

6 cups greens torn into small pieces
2 cups watercress
1/3 cup hazelnuts
1 organic gala apple
3 oz. blue cheese sliced or crumbled

Lightly toast the hazelnuts in a heavy skillet and cool on a plate. Chop coarsely. 20 to 30 minutes before serving, place the greens in a large bowl and add about 1/3 cup of the dressing. Using your hands, massage the dressing into the greens and set aside. Make sure everything is well coated. This step will help to soften and mellow the leaves. When ready to assemble, arrange the greens on separate plates or one large platter. Drizzle on a little extra dressing before adding the apple (sliced at the last minute), cheese and hazelnuts.

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