Can it be said often enough that we are living in strange times? I waited in a bread line this week. An actual line to buy bread. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this scenario.
My local bakery, in an effort to maintain physical distancing in their store, has a two-customer limit so I waited outside and stood in contemplation of my purchase and my regret for not spending my pandemic “downtime” mastering my sourdough skills like the rest of the country.
Thankfully, when it was my turn at the counter, there was an abundance of bread on the shelf to buy.
Abundance. It is a word I have contemplated a lot since our world changed in early March.
I live in Langley, B.C., in the heart of the Fraser Valley, where we are in the throes of peak berry season and are the very poster children for abundance.
Our local farms provide early season strawberries followed quickly by raspberries, blueberries, second crop strawberries, blackberries and even a few tayberries.
A few hundred kilometers down the road, we have access the world’s most delicious stone fruit; peaches, cherries, nectarines and apricots. That will be followed by figs, grapes, apples, pears and finally cranberries.
Local farmers raise healthy, delicious protein in abundance; turkey, chicken, pork and beef. Fresh field and hothouse vegetables are everywhere, grains are grown and milled or turned into craft beer and spirits. What a time to be alive.
Fortunately and unfortunately, COVID-19 has drawn our long overdue attention to our regional and national food security. It’s been entertaining and heartwarming for me to see the country “homesteading”. Cooking meals at home, basic and gourmet, baking copious amounts of cinnamon rolls, canning, preserving and finding creative ways to use all the food they purchase.
When food is in short supply, food waste becomes a more relevant topic and forces creativity with leftovers and food that would typically be discarded.
I am excited that people aren’t cross-border shopping, and found local producers for the products they wanted and found great recipes, online cooking classes or tutorials to learn the necessary skills.
I am excited that people are learning what is grown and made locally, getting to know their growers and farmers and understanding a bit more about how food gets to our tables.
They’re even starting to grow their own food. These changes to our food supply have been in so many ways a blessing; self-sufficiency has suddenly been brought into sharp focus.
I love local. For me, most importantly because I want choices — fresh, seasonal choices. I love to cook, most importantly because it brings people together and as it turns out, it brings people together even when we can’t physically be together.
Online dinner parties, recipe sharing, food drop-offs and even grocery shopping for an elderly neighbour have been cornerstones of communication and an expression of care and compassion during the last four months. I couldn’t love it more.
So, now is the time to take full advantage of what is local to you and plan for the fall and winter. Freeze the veggies, make the jam and pickle all the things. Your future self will thank you for the abundance you create now.
I am happy to share a couple of recipes that have been fun to cook, highlight local ingredients and taste great any time of year in any part of the country. They can be adapted to change the ingredients from spring to winter when the access to our ingredients change.
All of the components in these recipes can be roasted just as well in the oven or made with a stovetop grill pan. Always roast or grill twice as many veggies as the recipe calls for and save them for later. You’ll be adding them to just about everything when you have them in the fridge.
Grilled turkey thighs with herbed orzo salad, and charred veggies
Serves four. Preparation time, about 20 minutes. Cooking time, about 40 minutes
Prepare the turkey:
- 2 whole boneless, skinless fresh local turkey thighs
- 1/4 c. of your favorite barbecue dry rub 60 mL
- 1 jar of good quality orange marmalade
- zest & juice of one orange
- 1/4 c. sriracha sauce 60 mL
- 1/4 c. honey 60 mL
- 1/4 c. brown sugar 60 mL
Combine all sauce ingredients in a pan and heat over medium heat, bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and remove from heat.
Grill the fresh turkey thighs indirect at 350F for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Baste with the sauce and continue to cook 10 minutes and repeat one or two more times.
The glaze will set up like candy when it is done. Your internal doneness on your turkey thigh should be about 165 degrees. Remove from the grill and allow to cook while you assemble your salad.
Prepare the orzo salad:
- 2 bell peppers, seeded and chopped into large wedges
- 1 onion, peeled & sliced thick
- 1 zucchini, chopped into thick slices
- cooking spray
- 10 ounces uncooked orzo pasta (or any small cut of pasta)
- 2 tbsp. + 1/2 tsp. champagne or white wine vinegar 33 mL
- 2 tbsp. grated Parmesan30 mL
- 2 tbsp. olive oil30 mL
- zest & juice of 1 fresh lemon
- 1 tsp. kosher salt5 mL
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper2.5 mL
- 3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled 187.5 mL
- 1 c. chopped fresh herbs — any will do 250 mL
Preheat grill to medium-high (400 F to 450 F).
Gently drizzle onion, bell peppers, zucchini with olive oil, and season with salt. Place vegetables on a clean, hot grill. Grill, uncovered, until soft and edges are browned, about two minutes per side for zucchini and five minutes per side for onion and bell peppers. Remove from heat, and let cool. Chop vegetables into small pieces, and transfer to a large bowl.
Prepare orzo according to package directions for al dente. Drain and rinse under cold running water; stir orzo into vegetable mixture. Add vinegar, Parmesan, oil, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper to orzo mixture; stir to combine. Gently stir in feta, tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh herbs.
Slice the turkey thighs and serve with the orzo veggie salad.
Asparagus and herb risotto with goat cheese
From my cookbook, Eating Local in the Fraser Valley, this recipe tastes like summer to me. The rich earthiness of the asparagus pairs well with the slightly acidic tang of the fresh chevre.
This is delicious served on its own as a main course or with a green salad. As a side dish, it can class up simple oven-roasted chicken. It’s recipe I’ve been serving variations of for years. Once you have the technique for a great risotto, you can customize the flavours to highlight seasonal ingredients like the asparagus, which can be substituted with local mushrooms or cubes of roasted squash in fall. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Serves two as a main course. Preparation time, about 10 minutes. Cooking time, about 40 minutes.
- 1/2 lb. fresh asparagus, ends trimmed0.23 kg
- 3 c. homemade chicken or vegetable stock 750 mL
- 4 tbsp. unsalted butter60 mL
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil 15 mL
- 1/2 c. finely chopped yellow onion125 mL
- 1 1/2 c. Arborio rice 375 mL
- one tub fresh local chèvre (goat cheese)
- 1/2 c. grated Parmesan 125 mL
- 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1/2 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley7.5 mL
- salt and pepper
Prepare a bowl of ice water.
In a sauté pan of salted boiling water, blanch the asparagus until the spears are fork-tender. With a set of tongs, transfer the spears to the ice water to stop the cooking immediately. Once the asparagus has cooled, cut the tips off and reserve for later. Chop the spears into ¾ inch pieces and reserve.
In a medium sauce pan, bring the stock to a simmer over medium heat.
In a large heavy bottomed sauté pan, place two tablespoons of the butter, the vegetable oil, thyme and the onions and cook over medium heat until translucent.
Add the rice to the sauce pan. Stir to coat it well.
Add a ladleful of warm stock and stir with a wooden spoon to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
When the liquid is evaporated, add another ladleful of stock, repeating until the grains of rice lose their chalky centres and are firm yet tender, about 25 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs.
Stir in the chèvre and add the asparagus stocks. When the risotto is done (it should be soft, yet still slightly al dente), about another eight minutes, turn off the heat. Stir in the remaining two tablespoons butter, then the asparagus tips, Parmesan, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer the risotto to a serving platter and serve immediately.
Angie Quaale owns The Well Seasoned Gourmet food store in Langley, B.C., and is the author of Eating Local in the Fraser Valley.