Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Food Manifesto aka My Soapbox

Lovely Kale In My Garden
What are you most passionate about? What is that one subject you could talk about for hours with anyone willing to listen? For me, its food. I love to read cookbooks and cooking magazines, watch cooking shows on tv, garden, and put away my harvest for the winter months. Lately, I have been watching movies like Food Inc.Super Size Me, and King Corn to make myself more aware of the food crisis going on in America. It truly amazes me that farmers in the corn belt who grow corn for the big conglomerate companies won't even eat the corn they grow. Food has become a raw material to be turned into other products instead of being an item sold in the grocery store. How did this happen? And even more amazingly, since corn is a by-product in almost everything it seems (from soft drinks to gasoline), when the price of corn goes up so does everything else. King Corn especially makes the connection between the conglomerate companies that grow the corn and then use the corn by-products as feed for their CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations aka feed lots). Cows are not grain eaters by design. They thrive on grass, but grass does not fatten them up the same as grain does. So cows are fed corn and other grains to make them extremely fat before they are biologically ready to be that weight, then they go to slaughter. If a cow is left to age beyond a certain point, the animal’s legs will not be able to support its own obese body weight and it cannot walk. We support this adulteration of cows every time we buy beef from the grocery store. This fact in itself makes me want to know where my meat comes from, whether it’s a cow, pig, or chicken. Yes, you do pay more for humanely raised meat, but the knowledge that the animal had a good life and died an honest death is worth the extra cost.
Beautiful Salad Green Growing In My Garden

Speaking of paying more for quality food, my hope is that as the slow food revolution continues to move forward, more people will demand to have high quality food at a lower price and as a result, the price will slowly go down to meet the demand. It is a shame that people in poverty and on diminished incomes are forced to buy inferior food products filled will artificial flavors, preservatives, and by-products in order to eek out a meal. Have you actually looked at the ingredient list on the back of a bag of Tyson chicken nuggets? Technically, the list should include chicken and some sort of breading, but the list is a mile long. Don’t even look at the sodium content.

It is time for us to re-examine how we view food. True, we are all busy people and at the end of a long day working or parenting, we just want a quick meal on the table to feed our family. But maybe its time to consider joining a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), shopping the farmers markets and fruit stands for fresh, just picked veggies and fruits, or going in on your own or with other people to buy a cow (or % thereof) or pig. There is a certain peace of mind in knowing the farmers that raise or grow your food. If you are like me and get overwhelmed by all the produce in the middle of the growing season and you have no idea how to cook it, take some time to be purposeful about finding new recipes that celebrate the vegetable of choice and your family may just enjoy a new tasty meal. Below is a recipe I tried from one of my favorite new cookbooks that celebrates local CSAs, Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America's Farmers. Erika's husband gave me a big bag full of kale and spinach from their garden, and I wanted a nice way to use is all up before it spoiled. So, below is my attempt at making a delicious pesto out of the greens! If you want more information about where to find a CSA or locally grown beef in your area, is a nice place to start. Let me know if you find anything exciting!

Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America's Farmers
Fuisili with Winter Pesto 
1/2 lb Tuscan kale, with ribs removed (I used spinach and kale)
1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese (I used freshly grated parmesan since that's what I had in the freezer).
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds fuisili or spaghetti

My additions to the pasta:
1 package Italian chicken sausage
1 can diced tomatoes (although sun dried tomatoes would be even better)
1/2 cup sliced green olives 

1. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the kale and boil until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. With a wire-mesh skimmer or tongs, transfer the kale to a sieve or colander and run under cold running water until cool. Drain again and squeeze to remove excess moisture. Keep the pot of water boiling. 

2. Put the kale, walnuts, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until nearly smooth. Add the ricotta and pulse again until blended. With the motor running, add the olive oil through the feed tube. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and stir in the pecorino, then season with salt and pepper.
Winter Pesto
3. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook, stirring often with tongs, until al dente. Just before the pasta is ready to drain, scoop some boiling water from the pot and use it to thin the pesto to a loose sauce consistency. Set aside an additional 1 cup boiling water to use for further thinning, if needed.

4. Drain the pasta and return it to the hot pot. Add the pesto and, using tongs, toss the pasta with the sauce, thinning with some of the reserved hot water if necessary. 

5. Cook the chicken sausages in a skillet. Remove from skillet and slice into rounds. Add the sausage rounds to the pasta.
The Final Product. Not Pretty, But VERY Tasty

6. Add tomatoes and olives to skillet. Cook for approximately 5 minutes, until heated through but not to the point of the tomatoes breaking down. Add to pasta and mix with tongs until well incorporated. Serve immediately. Pass additional pecorino at the table.

More Kale In My Garden
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