17 July 2011

South Meets West in Northeast

Article & Photos by Elizabeth Miller

The King Farmers Market is the perfect example of the old adage that, sometimes, smaller really is better.  With a smaller footprint to wander, the entirety of the market can be taken in in much less time than one of the larger markets, but one shouldn’t be led to believe that a smaller market results in a less worthy pool of fresh and tantalizing goods.


Inspiration struck me almost immediately this week when I visited the King Farmers Market for the first time and, with fewer stands and people with which to contend, happened to walk right up to the Gee Creek Farm Stand and spot a big bag of freshly milled corn grits staring back at me. Perhaps due to the fact that Portland is not a hot bed of grits fanaticism, seeing fresh grits (as opposed to boxed, quick cooking grits) available at the market was a pleasant surprise.  I am not from the south, but I have a soft spot for grits, having developed a taste for them while visiting friends in North Carolina a few years ago.  Paired with some large leaves of Gee Creek Farm chard, I had a sense that the grits and I were going to get along just fine.

Providing accompaniment to the Southern aspect of my plans for grits, Groundwork Organics and Winters Farms both offered up a variety of bright and crisp vegetables that were practically calling out to be combined together into a light and summery potato and vegetable salad.  Not so much a fan of heavy and creamy salads, I decided to make a simple pickle for half of the salad ingredients and then top the salad with a smooth vinaigrette.  Envisioning a thick and creamy plate of grits, topped with tangy, garlicky chard and accompanied by a tart and vinegary salad, I headed home with my purchase, prepared myself to bring a tiny bit of the South to my house, albeit with a Western twist.

Grits with Sauteed Chard

Chard is what Popeye wishes he ate

1 cup freshly milled grits

3 cups water

½ tablespoon butter

¼ cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

1 bunch (about 12 ounces) chard, washed and trimmed of large stems

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 large cloves garlic

juice from half a lemon

salt and pepper to taste

Soak grits in a large bowl of fresh water for  1 minute.  Skim loose bits of corn hulls and chaff from top of water, then drain grits in a fine mesh sieve.  Bring 3 cups of water to a boil, then slowly whisk in soaked grits. Whisk constantly for about 1 minute, until grits have just barely begun to thicken.  Lower heat under grits as low as it will go, cover the pan, and slowly simmer grits for 45 minutes to 1 hour, whisking every 5 minutes or so.  Grits are ready when they are thick, creamy, and no hard bits can be detected when grits are tasted.

When grits are finished cooking, thoroughly whisk in butter and Parmesan cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Gritty Realism

Right before the grits have finished cooking, roughly chop the chard, discarding any hard and woody stems.  Slice the garlic into thin chips.  In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  When the oil is heated, drop in the garlic chips and, stirring constantly, sauté the garlic until it is just fragrant, about 20 to 30 seconds.  Add the chard to the pan.  When chard has wilted, reduce heat to low and sauté for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.  Squeeze the juice from half a lemon over the chard, and stir to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve sautéed chard spooned over grits, with additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.


Potato and Pickled Vegetable Salad in a Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 medium cucumber, about 8 ounces

1 bunch radishes, about 12 ounces, stems and tips removed.

½ cup white vinegar

½ cup water

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1 ¼ pounds new potatoes

¼ cup fresh peas

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

To pickle vegetables, very thinly slice cucumber and radishes into small coins.  You can use a mandoline do to


this, but I was able to complete the task by using a very sharp knife and lots of focus.

In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, water, salt, and sugar until both salt and sugar have dissolved.  Add thinly sliced cucumbers and radishes to the pickling liquid, and toss everything to evenly cover all the vegetables with pickling liquid.  Tightly cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or as long as overnight.  When ready to use, remove vegetables from pickling liquid and drain thoroughly.

Bring a pot of water to a bowl.  Prepare a small bowl of ice water, and set aside.  Add the fresh peas to the boiling water, and boil until peas are crisp tender, about 30 seconds.  Using a slotted spoon or a strainer, immediately remove the peas from the boiling water and plunge them into the ice water.  When peas have cooled, about 1 minute, remove them from the ice water and set aside.  In the same boiling pot of water, add the new potatoes. Boil the potatoes in their skins until they are mostly soft, and a fork is able to easily slide into a potato when pushed lightly.  Drain potatoes and allow to cool.  When cool, slice potatoes into medium, bite-sized chunks.

In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and olive oil.  Whisk until the dressing has become thick and emulsified, about 30 seconds.

In a large bowl, combine drained pickled radishes and cucumber, peas, and potatoes.  Add 2/3 of the dressing and gently toss to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste, then taste the salad to see if you would like to add more dressing.  I like my salads lightly dressed, so I opted to not add any more dressing, but you might prefer a salad with more dressing.

Not just for breakfast anymore