Saturday, August 24, 2013

{Eat} On, Wisconsin!

Few activities bring me greater joy than riding a bicycle. This euphoria is increased greatly when I'm pedaling into unexplored (by me) territory on a mission (think: grocery store).

A week ago we resurrected my grandmother's hand-me-down bike, vintage 1978. All it needed was new inner tubes and I was able to use the (much more refined) cruiser instead of my cousin's mountain bike, which was a smooth ride, but a little heavy-duty for my purposes. Most days I was been able to speed around the bike-friendly town, letting nothing but the fear of being run over by a train (a real possibility around here) distract me from the freedom of zooming around town and through lightly wooded neighborhoods. 

One of the best rides I've had was going to the farmer's market 3 miles away in the village. I don't know how long it took me to get there and back because I was so thrilled to be carrying a backpack full of produce on my back. I bought peas, beets, green beans, bread and rose-scented soap.

 That particular expedition checked off an item on my bucket list. And, though it was not the particular trip during which I purchased the ingredients for this coming recipe, it was something of the inspiration.

The other piece of inspiration went by the name of PS23. I didn't go to Wisconsin expecting to find farm to table dining opportunities, but that's life for you. I asked what we were doing for dinner one night and they said "PS23. It stands for Public School 23." I thought, "that doesn't answer my question", and some amount of confusion ensued. It turns out the restaurant is called Park Side 23. Anyway, let's get to the point. They claim they're the only restaurant in the area to grow much of the produce they serve on the premise. There's a large garden off to one side where they not only plant vegetables and fruits, but also host Farm Suppers. It was pretty incredible. And the food was amazing. Meat, as you know, is not my main focus when it comes to food, but I'm so, so glad that I stepped out of my range and ordered the Pork Osso Bucco. I'd never had the dish before, but I'm not sure I'll order it again after this experience as nothing will be able to compare. It was flavorful and juicy and fall-off-the-bone tender. Served over creamy polenta with a colorful arrangement of glazed radishes and apples, it was the best thing I could have asked for.

Then I discovered a book by the name of Whole Larder Love by Rohan Anderson (he also runs a blog) at the library. I'm notorious for flagging recipes in beautiful cookbooks and then never finding time to make the dishes themselves. This time I actually had the opportunity to make a soup and sauce, and furthermore, they were in the spirit of the book: as home-sourced as possible. It's worth getting the cookbook (either purchasing it or renting it from the library), if only to read his page-long commentaries on the different ways to produce and gather food. 

If you have the means, I highly recommend getting your ingredients as locally and freshly as possible. You'll find the taste is outrageously good. All of the produce came from the Farmer's Market and the meat from Angelina's Deli, a small, family-run Italian market. 

I'm not sure how much of a difference this really makes, but I got
non-imported prosciutto to try to cut down on fuel impacts.

Prosciutto Zucchini Soup
from Whole Larder Love
The original recipe for this soup prescribed 2 tablespoons of sour cream to add some richness. First of all, I didn't have any. Second of all, and most importantly, the finished soup was quite thick and smooth, even without the added dairy. One other note made by Rohan is that the prosciutto can simply be omitted if you're cooking for a vegetarian audience.
  • 4 1/2 - 5 ounces prosciutto
  • 3 large zucchini, roughly diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup hot water + 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon 21 Seasoning Salute (from Trader Joe's, or any other spice mix you like)
  • olive oil
1) Cut the prosciutto into small pieces, removing as much of the fat as you like. Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot with a splash of olive oil. Cook the prosciutto to golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

2) Using the same pan, heat a little more oil, if needed. Cook the zucchini, onion, and garlic for about 10 minutes, or until mostly soft. Add liquids (it helps if all of them are warm or hot, as it speeds the cooking process) and spice. I found that I didn't need to add any salt because the prosciutto was quite salty to start with.

I forgot to take a picture of the pureed soup at the end.
I will admit that most of the would-be-eaters were not entirely thrilled about the idea of zucchini soup. I made the mistake of not heating it up thoroughly before serving, which put off some of the others. (The problem was that I was serving it at a barbecue, which has a distinct chaotic quality in my mind because I never know when the grilled food will be done.) Most of those who tried it were pleased, and I think the meatiness of the prosciutto appeased the more carnivorous members of our company.


The sauce I made was quite an adventure. It wasn't difficult at all, except for one step, that I'm sure will be a lot easier for you than for me. My grandmother doesn't have a food processor and the push-it-through-the-sieve-with-a-wooden-spoon method prescribed by the cookbook wasn't working all that well for me. It may have been that the sieve was too fine. Anyway, we whipped out the good old-fashioned food mill, given to Oma by her mother. If you've never used one, it's a saucepan-shaped container with a perforated bottom and a spinning (not sharp) blade that crushes the food against the holes, forcing it through as a paste. It works quite well and is very easy to wash compared with the dangerous blade of the food processor. The only problem it had was with the tomato skins, which are fairly tough and mostly refused to go through, which was fine, since I didn't need a lot of sauce. 

Now let's take a quick look at cost. We all think that eating fresh food is more expensive, and, unfortunately, it seems like it is in this case. The box of 5 pounds of tomatoes from the farmer's market was $5, labelled for soup because some had some small blemishes and soft spots. The basil was $1 and the garlic was $0.66 per head. The total yield was approximately 3 cups of sauce, which is about the amount that you'll find in a normal 1 1/2 pound jar of store-bought sauce. I had definitely expected a larger amount of sauce for the number of tomatoes that were involved, but they really cooked down. So that means that it cost me about $6.33 (I didn't use the entire head of garlic) to make a jar of sauce versus $3-$4 to buy one. On the other hand, you're entirely in charge of what goes into the food and can control the wholeness of the ingredients you're using. It's all a tradeoff when it comes to food, after all. 

Roasted Tomato Passata
from Whole Larder Love
  • 5 pounds fresh tomatoes
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 1 large bunch basil
  • olive oil
1) Wash, core and thickly slice the tomatoes. Lay out on a large baking sheet (I had to use two). Peel the garlic, leaving as whole as possible and scatter among the tomatoes. Rinse half the basil and roughly chop, sprinkling over the tomatoes. 

2) Roast in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes or until there are a few blackened edges. If you're using two pans, rotate them every 15 minutes to ensure even roasting. I recommend stirring the tomatoes every 15 minutes, regardless of rotation, to prevent sticking.

3) Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Place the tomatoes in a food processor, sieve or food mill to crush into a sauce. When you've achieved desired consistency, add the rest of the washed and chopped basil. Place in a glass container and refrigerate until use. 

I used mine for a quick, simple pasta salad. I used about 3/4 cup of sauce for half a pound of dry pasta and tossed in the rest of the chopped basil then (rather than adding it to the sauce itself). I added half a 15-ounce can of large black olives, roughly sliced. I considered adding artichoke hearts or hearts of palm, but decided not to because I don't really like vinegary pasta salads. 


Earlier I mentioned the Village Farmer's Market, which takes place on Thursday afternoons. The market that my grandparents more often frequent is the one that takes place next to the civic center and near the library. It's quite a bit closer to their house and much larger. While we're there, at least, my grandmother purchases a good amount of our produce at this market. My grandfather is quite content with his weekly morning bun from Wild Flour Bakery. 

This summer there was a new (to me) vendor present. Her stall was called Aleka's Kitchen. The first Saturday I bought tyropita, a feta cheese-filled triangle and the second Saturday of my visit I purchased a square of flaky spanakopita. While at her stand, I tried a garlicky raw walnut dip called skordalia, which was delicious. When I was presented a few days later with some rather sad-looking eggplants, I decided to make a dip that incorporated those walnuts I had so enjoyed. I also added feta cheese, as you will see below in the picture, but it was rather unappetizing after it had been sitting in the dip overnight and didn't end up adding that much flavor.

Paprika Eggplant Dip

  • 3 large Japanese eggplants
  • 1 heaping cup button mushrooms, stemmed and brushed clean
  • 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
  • 1 teaspoon coriander, ground
  • 2 heaping teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika, divided
  • 1/4 heaping cup walnuts, lightly crushed/chopped (you probably could use more, I couldn't taste them very much)
  • broth, to thin out the dip a bit
1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash eggplants, removing any brown spots. Place on roasting pan in oven and bake for about 30 minutes, checking occasionally with a fork. The eggplant should be completely tender when you remove it from the oven. Once cooled, peel off the skin and set aside the eggplants.

2) Heat a splash of olive oil in a small saute pan. Slice the mushrooms into thick slices. Saute with the cumin and coriander until tender. Remove from heat.

3) Place the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and grind until only small pieces remain. Add the eggplant and mushrooms and continue to blend until it has reached your desired consistency. I was using a blender, which was much more difficult for pureeing something this thick, so I had to constantly add more broth to keep it from clogging. If you're looking for a  more spread-like consistency (like a loose veggie pate), don't add broth and see how it goes. Overall, I probably added between 1/4 and 1/3 cups of broth, which was not my original intention, but it turned out well anyway.

4) Place in a serving bowl and stir in the paprika, garnishing the top with another sprinkle of paprika for color.


Inspired by Kath of KERF, I'm making a list of some other interesting experiences I had while in Wisconsin. I'm trying this format because I've already spent a few hours writing this post and I'd love to get this out on the Interwebs a little faster so I can start working on the next one. 

Notable Consumables, Products & Events
  • Wisconsin State Fair - the only place worth eating a solid meal is in the Wisconsin Product building. Plus the Cream Puff Pavilion, obviously.
My grandfather's favorite place to eat.

Just an example of why America is overweight.

Sky glider provides a great view of fallen flipflops.

A must-drink at the Fair. More in the vein of shake than milk.

The Starry Night as interpreted by a talented icing worker. 

I can only see the oxymoron here.
  • Mulberries - my grandmother has a mulberry tree on the side of the house that gives up just the right amount of fruit to make one batch of jam. This year I was lucky in that there were some berries leftover that I got to sample.

  • Pizza - we took a whirlwind trip to Chicago for one night in the middle of our stay and ate at Roots for dinner. This is probably my favorite pizza place in the world. Not that I've been to Italy or anything. What makes this place so unique is that it defies tradition, throwing out decades of labels that now define the Chicago deep dish vs thin crust rivalry. Instead, it's a medium-thick MALT crust with various specialty themes, such as cheeseburger, taco and BLT. Oh, and don't forget the mozzarella stick appetizer. No pictures. It was too delicious to wait.

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