To be a cook in New England is to have a relationship with food that is different from that in most other places. We live in a land of stark contrasts, of distinct seasons that shape our appetites. The dark winters, with their abundance of root vegetables and stews; the spring thaw, with its rush toward the first ingredients fresh from the ground; then suddenly we’re off to the summer’s bounty of fresh berries, corn, and peaches. And then the climax: Before winter arrives again, we’re offered the best of the calendar year: September and October, the shoulder season, when our lands and seas are at peak bounty. We enjoy the last of the tomatoes and corn and welcome the first fall squash, wild mushrooms, and foraged greens.
In recent years, the corner of New England where I live has become a center of activity in the movement toward more local, seasonal eating. This notion of “farm-to-table” cuisine is no longer new, of course; it has almost become the stuff of cliche. But I would argue that our approach–our efforts to shorten the distance between the grower and the plate and our commitment to supporting our neighbors–is more earnest and earned. Here in southern New England, relationships between farmers and chefs are closer than most. This area is home to some of the best food and farms in the country–I’m convinced of it. This is the way food should be made–with respect and love, and a great sense of place. To celebrate the love of food and the land we share, we invited some of our favorite neighboring producers to my mother’s backyard in Little Compton, Rhode Island, on a warm September weekend, when late-afternoon sunlight dappled the trees and the breeze carried the aroma of a smoking grill. Each of our guests has had a hand in the success of our restaurant, Farmstead, in Providence, Rhode Island, and they all have great stories to tell. I’ve always felt that the best chefs are more than skilled technicians; they’re storytellers of a sort, people who take raw ingredients and tell a tale, through composed dishes, about what the land is offering that week. Because of farmers like these, I try to tell better stories, every year.
We started the evening with a glass of sparkling wine from Westport Rivers’ vineyard, with owners Bob and Carol Russell offering the toast. Joining them was Steve Ramos of Bristol, Rhode Island, who is such a vegetable guru that my cooks race to greet him whenever he shows up at our back door–whether it’s with a delivery of baby carrots aligned like multicolored soldiers, each one scrubbed clean with a toothbrush, or tomatoes separated by variety and color, a rainbow spectrum from his two-acre parcel.
Eva Sommaripa of Eva’s Garden in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts (see Yankee‘s July/August 2013 issue for more on her farm), is an almost mythical figure–known by all as the eccentric matriarch of sustainable farming in New England. Speaking with Eva on the phone as I place my order is one of my favorite moments of the week. She seems to have a deeper and more intense relationship with her land than most of us ever experience with our closest family.
Living in a coastal community, we’re also blessed to know fishermen such as Steve Arnold, whose vessel, based out of Point Judith, Rhode Island, brings us beautiful scup, squid, flounder, bluefish, and, in season, the majestic, silvery-skinned striped bass. Steve is a cofounder of Wild Rhody, an organization that provides completely traceable seafood to restaurants, letting me go online and track each entree back to its origin by way of an identification tag. In the early days of my restaurant, Steve would send me morning text messages listing what was coming out of the water in real time. Sipping coffee at the breakfast table, my toddler son on my lap, I’d hear what was flopping on the boat’s deck and begin planning that day’s menu.
Our local food treasures aren’t limited to land and sea; they’re also in the air. Jim Hamann is an apiarist whose bees provide liquid gold. I buy every last bottle of his delicately floral spring honeys and his mahogany-colored fall nectar, which gets its hue from knotweed and has an almost beerlike flavor. We serve it alongside our artisanal cheese plate, but also braise vegetables with it, put it in vinaigrettes, and spoon it over vanilla ice cream.
My wife, Kate, is the house baker at Farmstead, and her rustic cobblers overflow and ooze with the best local berries and stone fruits. She tops her creations with cream from Arruda’s Dairy in Tiverton, Rhode Island, whipped to soft peaks. Lately, Kate has incorporated unusual herbs into her desserts: lavender, rue, angelica, and lime balm among them. Two of our favorite herb growers are Matt Tracy and Catherine Mardosa of Red Planet Farm in Johnston, Rhode Island, just four miles from the west side of Providence.
Matt and Catherine are the ultimate urban farmers: dedicated to providing fresh foods to the Greater Providence area through their CSA (community-supported agriculture) operation during the summer months. We meet with Catherine every February and peruse the seed catalogue over coffee to plan for the growing season ahead.
We love this dynamic–and it’s just another example of why national publications such as Travel & Leisure have called Providence one of the best food cities in the country.
Around our table that evening I also saw friends such as Patrick McNiff of Pat’s Pastured, a pasture-based meat producer in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, and Dan Geer, whose 70-acre horse operation, Rising Phoenix Farm in North Smithfield, produces gorgeous corn, heirloom beans, eggplants, and peppers on 3 of those acres. Dan proudly fancies himself “the Pepper Farmer,” and he has mastered late-season breeds like ‘Wonder Bells’, ‘Chocolate Beauties’, and the ‘Dulce Rojo’ peppers that we buy to produce our own smoked and sweet paprikas. Dan is also the king of “side projects,” grinding his own corn for our polenta. Add to that the flint cornmeal from Kenyon’s Grist Mill, Rhode Island’s oldest manufacturing business, and suddenly we have everything we need, right here around this table.
So the next time you ramble down the one-lane roads that crisscross southern New England, slow down, peek over the stone walls, and pull into the drive of that small farm with the dilapidated barn. You may just find nirvana in a cornfield, or inspiration by way of a self-serve vegetable stand with a coffee can for dollar bills.
Chef Matt Jennings calls this appetizer for Herbed Deviled Eggs “Green Eggs & Ham,” because the filling is made with fresh herbs and prosciutto. Total Time: 50 minutes First, cook the eggs: Place them in a large saucepan with enough water to cover them by at least an inch. Add a teaspoon of vinegar to the water (this will help prevent the whites from leaking out if any of the shells crack while cooking); then add a pinch of salt and set over high heat. Once the water is boiling, cover the pot and remove from the heat. Let sit, covered, 12 minutes. Meanwhile, purée the herbs: In a small food processor or blender, whir them until finely chopped; then drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture forms a sauce. Set aside. Drain the water from the saucepan and run cold water over the eggs. Let them sit several minutes, changing the water if necessary to keep it cool; gently roll the eggs around to crack them a bit (this makes peeling easier). When cool enough to handle, peel the eggs. Using a sharp knife, slice each egg in half lengthwise. Gently remove the yolk halves and place them in a mixing bowl. Arrange the egg-white halves on a serving platter. In the bowl, combine the yolks, prosciutto, mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of the herb puree, celery, shallot, mustard, and Tabasco. Mash and stir to combine; then season with salt and pepper to taste. Carefully fill each egg white with a portion of the yolk mixture. Garnish with paprika or crushed red pepper, plus fresh herbs. Serve cold.
Herbed Deviled Eggs
Hands-On Time: 50 minutes
Yield: 24 pieces
Chef Matt Jennings calls this appetizer for Herbed Deviled Eggs “Green Eggs & Ham,” because the filling is made with fresh herbs and prosciutto.
Total Time: 50 minutes
First, cook the eggs: Place them in a large saucepan with enough water to cover them by at least an inch. Add a teaspoon of vinegar to the water (this will help prevent the whites from leaking out if any of the shells crack while cooking); then add a pinch of salt and set over high heat. Once the water is boiling, cover the pot and remove from the heat. Let sit, covered, 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, purée the herbs: In a small food processor or blender, whir them until finely chopped; then drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture forms a sauce. Set aside.
Drain the water from the saucepan and run cold water over the eggs. Let them sit several minutes, changing the water if necessary to keep it cool; gently roll the eggs around to crack them a bit (this makes peeling easier). When cool enough to handle, peel the eggs.
Using a sharp knife, slice each egg in half lengthwise. Gently remove the yolk halves and place them in a mixing bowl. Arrange the egg-white halves on a serving platter. In the bowl, combine the yolks, prosciutto, mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of the herb puree, celery, shallot, mustard, and Tabasco. Mash and stir to combine; then season with salt and pepper to taste. Carefully fill each egg white with a portion of the yolk mixture. Garnish with paprika or crushed red pepper, plus fresh herbs. Serve cold.
Late-Summer Herb Vinaigrette
Late-Summer Herb Vinaigrette is one of Matt Jennings’ go-to dressings for fresh greens and vegetables at Farmstead. This recipe makes enough to generously coat a salad for 8 to 10 people, but you can easily double it as needed.
Total Time: 10 minutes
Hands-On Time: 10 minutes
Yield: about 3/4 cup dressing
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon champagne or white-wine vinegar
- 1 small garlic clove, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped lemon zest (see "Note")
- 1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, marjoram, thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
InstructionsIn a small food processor or blender, combine all ingredients and blend until emulsified, 45 seconds to 1 minute.
Additional Notes:This recipe makes good use of a whole lemon, incorporating both the zest and the juice. For the best flavor, use a vegetable peeler to peel off the yellow outer layer of the rind; then chop it into small pieces with a sharp knife.
Cheesy Chive Biscuits
Kate Jennings likes to serve these tender biscuits with honey butter, which she makes by beating 1/4 cup honey and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt into a stick of softened unsalted butter. The honey plays off the chives and cheddar in an inspired way–but the biscuits are also incredibly delicious unadorned, too.
Total Time: 25 minutes
Hands-On Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 18 to 20 biscuits
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1-1/4 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, plus more for baking sheet
- 3 cups shredded cheddar or other sharp cheese
- 1 bunch chives or scallions, finely chopped
- 1-3/4 cups buttermilk
- Milk or cream (for brushing
Preheat your oven to 375° and butter a baking sheet. Set aside.
In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sprinkle the butter over the dry ingredients and work it in with a pastry cutter or your fingertips until the mixture looks like wet sand, with pea-sized bits of butter remaining. Stir in the cheese and chives (or scallions); then add the buttermilk and stir just until the mixture is evenly moistened. Don't overmix.
Turn the dough out onto a floured counter, dust with flour, and roll out to a 1-inch thickness. Cut into rounds using a 2-1/2-inch biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass; then transfer to the prepared baking sheet and brush tops with milk or cream. Gather and reroll the dough scraps as needed. Bake until the biscuits are golden brown, about 25 minutes, turning the sheet halfway through baking for even browning. Serve warm.
Tomato Tart with Cornmeal Crust
Providence-based Narragansett Creamery makes a wonderfully nutty Asiago-style cheese called Atwell’s Gold, which Kate Jennings loves to combine with tomatoes and scallions in this simple tart. You may substitute regular Asiago or any good melting cheese of your choice.
Total Time: about 2 hours
Hands-On Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
For the crust:
- 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
- 1/2 cup cornmeal (Kate uses local Kenyon's Grist Mill white or yellow meal)
- 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, plus more for pan
- 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
- 3-4 tablespoons ice water
InstructionsGrease the bottom of a 9-inch round tart pan with removable rim; set aside.
Make the crust: In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, and salt. Sprinkle the butter over the dry ingredients and work it in with a pastry cutter or your fingertips until the mixture looks like wet sand, with pea-sized bits of butter remaining. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs with 3 tablespoons of the ice water; then add to the flour mixture and stir with a fork until the dough begins to hold together. If needed, add an extra tablespoon of water.
Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead four times. Press into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 day.
Preheat your oven to 425°. On a floured surface, roll the dough out to a 12-inch circle; then transfer to the tart pan, pushing the dough into the corners and letting it drape over the sides. Run your rolling pin over the edge of the pan to trim off the excess crust. Then prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork, line it with foil, and top with dried beans or pie weights to keep the dough from puffing up as it bakes.
Par-bake the crust until just set, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the foil and weights, and spread the bottom of the crust with the mustard.
For the filling:
- 2 pounds tomatoes, sliced thin (Kate uses assorted heirloom varieties)
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced crosswise
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 pound Asiago or Atwell's Gold cheese, shredded (see headnote)
- 1/2 bunch (about 4) scallions, thinly sliced
InstructionsIn a large bowl, toss the tomato and onion slices with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and mustard. Sprinkle a little cheese on the bottom of the tart; then arrange the tomato and onion slices in overlapping concentric circles. Top with the rest of the shredded cheese, and sprinkle with the sliced scallions. Bake until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbling, about 55 minutes.
Grill-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Sage, Rosemary & Thyme
Matt likes to roast this pork shoulder–rolled around an herb paste of sage, rosemary, thyme, lemon, and garlic–slowly on the grill, giving it an extra hit of smoky flavor by tossing in handfuls of applewood chips. If you have the setup and the inclination, it’s a great way to cook. However, we’ve also roasted the meat in a standard oven, and we find that the seasonings alone make it wonderfully flavorful. You’ll find instructions for both methods (including those for cooking on a gas grill) below.
Total Time: about 3 hours 20 minutes
Hands-On Time: about 1 hour
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
- 1 cup sweet wood chips, such as apple or cherry (optional)
- 20 fresh sage leaves
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
- 3 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed
- 4 medium-size garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 3-3/4-4 pound skin-on boneless pork shoulder, butterflied to even 1-inch thickness (see "Note")
- 1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1-1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 2 large Spanish or white onions, roughly chopped
- 1-1/2 cups dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio, plus more as needed
- 1/2 cup water
InstructionsIf you're cooking on the grill, first soak the wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the sage, thyme, rosemary, garlic, lemon zest, and olive oil. Pulse just until the mixture becomes a chunky paste. Unroll the pork and season on both sides with 1 tablespoon of salt and 1-1/2 teaspoons of pepper; then rub all over with the herb-and-garlic mixture.
Let the meat sit 25 minutes while you prepare the grill for indirect heat: If you're using a charcoal grill, pour about 80 briquettes into a chimney starter and light it. When the briquettes are coated with ash, pour them onto the bottom grate, banking them to one side; then replace the top grate. If you're using a gas grill, set the burners on one side of the grill to medium-high; leave the others off. If you're using your oven, preheat it to 350°.
Meanwhile, turn the pork so that one of the long sides is facing you. Starting from the bottom, carefully roll the meat, jellyroll style, into a compact package. Using butcher's twine, tie the roll crosswise every inch or so to create a uniform thickness.
Scatter the onions in the bottom of a small foil roasting pan. (If cooking in your oven, use a regular roasting pan.) Place the pork on top of the onions, and pour the wine into the pan.
When the grill (or oven) is hot, get ready to cook the pork. If you're using a charcoal grill, throw the wood chips directly onto the coals. If you're using a gas grill, put the chips into the smoker box. If you're using your oven, forget the chips.
Set the pan containing the pork on the cool side of the grill. If you're using your oven, put the pan on the second-to-bottom rack. Cook the pork--adding more wine to the bottom of the pan as needed to keep it wet--until the internal temperature is between 140° and 145° (the meat will continue to cook after it comes off the heat). Cooking time will vary from grill to grill and with the type of fuel you're using, but estimate 2 to 2-1/2 hours. If you're using a charcoal grill, you'll need to add an extra handful of charcoal to the fire every 30 minutes or so.
Remove the pork to a serving platter and cover with foil to keep it warm. Deglaze the roasting pan with 1/2 cup of water, and strain juices into a small pan. Skim off the fat, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Slice the pork, arrange on a platter, and drizzle with the pan juices.
Additional Notes:It can be difficult to find skin-on pork shoulder, so if you can't, don't worry. This recipe works beautifully with the standard boneless pork shoulder available at most supermarkets. If you're not comfortable butterflying your own meat, ask your butcher to do it.
Plum & Raspberry Cobbler
Kate Jennings will sometimes add lavender or lemon thyme to this Plum & Raspberry Cobbler, but we present it here in its basic form, scented with cinnamon and ginger.
Total Time: 1 hour
Hands-On Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 6 large or 8 small servings
For the filling:
- 7 large, ripe plums, pitted and cut into 1/4-inch-thick wedges
- 1 pint fresh raspberries
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch salt
InstructionsIn a medium-size pot over medium-high heat, stir together the fruit, sugar, butter, cinnamon, and salt until the plums are tender and release some of their juices, about 6 minutes. Set aside.
For the topping:
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1-1/4 cups heavy cream, divided
- Garnish: sanding or granulated sugar
InstructionsPreheat your oven to 425°. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Add the butter, and use your fingers to work it in until it's mostly blended, with some pea-sized pieces remaining. Add the cream, and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until evenly moistened (lumps are fine).
Divide fruit among 6 large or 8 small oven-safe ramekins. Top generously with dough, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until topping is golden brown and fruit is bubbling, 30 to 40 minutes.