Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Coolness of Cauliflower, the Charm of Chard

photos are from Growing Whatcom's winter produce list

When my mom took Home Ec in the Great Depression, Lincoln High School couldn’t afford much in the way of ingredients for cooking classes. She remembered making shirred eggs, over and over.  A little margarine to line the custard cup, an egg, a splash of milk, salt and pepper---bake and done. However she learned to be a cook legendary among our friends, that wasn’t it. 

Thinking back to my own Home Ec classes in the 1960s, it’s probably telling that I cannot recall a single thing we cooked, although I’m pretty sure Jello was involved. I can remember meals going back to early childhood, but that class at Sumner High with Mrs. Boushay, who was very nice, is a culinary blank spot. (Recalling the madras miniskirt suit I made in the sewing unit is another matter. I was not born to match seams in plaid.)

I’m pretty sure that the students taking Lois Rienstra’s cooking classes at the high school where I teach will remember what they ate. The other day Bobbi Sue came to my English class bubbling about the dish she and her cooking partner had made that was “pure awesomeness.”  When I asked her about it, she zipped back down the hall and brought me some, and she was right. Bobbi Sue is not one of your teenage vegan greenie types, nor does she think a whole lot of things in life are awesome, but the recipe that made us both happy featured cauliflower, chard and potatoes, fresh from the Growing Whatcom CSA. 

Obviously, things are changing in high school kitchens. Lois has put a portion of her program’s buying power into local food this year, which is particularly appropriate at our rural school since many of the students are from farming and farm-working families. Some of her young cooks spend summers and vacations growing the very vegetables that they are learning to cook with imagination and respect. It’s good to see those transformations—fieldworkers into chefs, a kid’s response to Swiss chard going from “gross!” to “awesomeness!”   Lois’s catering class takes the local food message back out into the community by including CSA produce in their monthly Lions Club dinners and other commercial jobs. 

Growing Washington has recently added a Winter CSA, extending the season another 8 weeks into late December. This is good news for me, because the catering class has agreed to make food from Winter Harvest for our Literature Live night at Village Books, Dec. 8. I hope that any local readers will stop by to say hi, have a snack,  and see what good work they do. 

I am also excited to start getting my own winter CSA box from Osprey Hill Farm in Acme, starting next weekend.
Both programs have information online:

And here’s the recipe for Bobbi Sue’s “pure awesomeness,” courtesy of Growing Whatcom CSA:
Cauliflower, Chard and Leek Gratin
1 medium head of cauliflower, florets only
1 bunch of chard, cleaned, stem removed and chopped
1 leek, white and light green parts only, washed well and chopped
¼ cup chopped shallot
1 T olive oil
2T butter
2T flour
¼ cup cream
1¾ cup 2 percent milk
1 cup grated Grana Padano cheese (optional)
 ½ cup grated Parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Steam the cauliflower until tender crisp, about 10 minutes. Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large pan, sauté the leek and shallot for a few minutes until just starting to turn golden. Add the chard and sauté until just wilted. Mix with the cauliflower in a roasting pan.

Make the béchamel. Start by melting the butter in a sauce pan. Add the flour and whisk until it begins to turn golden and smells “nutty” and no longer like raw flour. Add the cream and milk slowly, whisking as you go to keep it smooth. Add the nutmeg. Whisk over low heat until it thickens. Add the Grana Padano cheese and whisk until melted and smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce evenly over the cauliflower mixture. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 F for about 15-20 minutes until the top turns golden and is heated through.

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