There’s a commercial on TV about some sort of food where the voiceover says something along the lines of “Nobody comes home and says, ‘I can’t wait to eat a big bowl of lettuce.'” But that’s exactly what happens in our house on the days our local hydroponic farmers, Steve and Connie Carpenter, open their farmer’s market. I promise you that once you eat fresh hydroponic lettuce, you will never let plastic-packaged iceberg pass your lips again. Steve’s explained why lettuce develops more flavor when it’s grown hydroponically, but all I know is that a sandwich made with good toasted homemade bread and some of this tender-yet-crunchy lettuce is beyond delicious. Literally, it’s one of the things we just stand there and eat out of our fridge. But if you want actual recipes, go to http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100428/ARTICLES/4285000 to find some recipes from a “Meatless Meals” cooking class I covered recently. Sherry Campbell, my friend and the director of the Shoals Culinary Center in Florence, Alabama, is a confirmed meat lover, but fresh and homegrown vegetables rank right up there with her, too, and she gave us some wonderful veggie recipes — although of course she admitted that at home she’d add a nice grilled steak to the menu. Go to http://www.jackolanternfarm.com/ to find out more about Jack O’Lantern Farms. Farmers’ markets are gearing up here in northwest Alabama/northeast Mississippi/southern middle Tennessee, and we can’t wait.
I love going to cooking classes, mainly because that sort of gives the illusion that I actually cook — you know, much like driving past a gym while you’re wearing tennis shoes makes you think that maybe possibly you might work out sometime eventually. But I do truly learn things in cooking classes, such as the one I took recently at the Shoals Culinary Complex in Florence, Alabama. Justin Letson, chef de cuisine (I’m not really sure what that means, but I’m impressed anyway) at the nearby Robert Trent Jones Golf Course, demonstrated a fall menu featuring apples, pork and one of his favorite dishes — Pommes Anna. This potato dish is known for its beautiful spiral design of thin and delicious potato slices, and Justin shared his secrets for making it perfect: Patience, a steady hand and patience. And a mandolin you can use — several class members admitted to buying one, taking it home, getting frustrated at not being able to operate it and taking it back. I haven’t even taken mine out of the box … since I bought it a couple years ago. And, granted, while patience is not my strong point. But this dish is so stunning and lovely, I may finally face my mandolin fear and summon up some patience and give it a try. And you should, too. Justin’s recipe for Pommes Anna is below, and if you want to find out more about his apple recipes — which really were the stars of the class — read the TimesDaily story at http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20091104/ARTICLES/911045000
Prepare 1 cup brown butter (melt butter over medium heat until nutty brown), 6 tablespoons minced garlic and 6 tablespoons of a fresh herb blend (suggestions include thyme, rosemary, oregano and sage). With a mandolin, slice 4 potatoes 1/8-inch thick and arrange slices in a spiral pattern in a buttered non-stick oven-proof saute pan. Drizzle potatoes with butter and sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper and herb mix. Repeat layers as often as desired. Place pan on stove top for a minute until sides start to lightly sizzle and bubble. Place pan in 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes until cooked through. Test with knife — if insertion and removal are easy, it’s done. Invert onto plate, slice and serve.