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Table Talk: What’s cropping up? Our region offers a wide array of choice products

  • Turmeric and Cumin Pilaf GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Turmeric is a native of India, and plays a vital part in Indian spice mixes. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Turmeric is a native of India, and plays a vital part in Indian spice mixes. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Casey Steinberg of Old Friends Farm says growing turmeric is a challenge. “It’s a slow grower. It needs irrigation and it ties up space because it gets large.” COURTESY OF OLD FRIENDS FARM

  • In addition to fresh turmeric, in season, Old Friends Farm sells powdered turmeric and this turmeric honey. COURTESY OLD FRIENDS FARM

  • Crispy Skate with Red Pepper Strips and Avocado Dip ROBERT HOPLEY


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Every year, some 22,000 thousand new food products arrive in the nation’s stores, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many are variations on old products — new flavors or sizes. Others are more innovative: new cheeses, perhaps; fruit and vegetables from other countries; previously neglected fish, or inspired pairings of ingredients that create something that’s more than the sum of its parts. And while many new products come from afar, plenty are crafted by local farmers and entrepreneurs.

As local forager for Whole Foods Market in Hadley, Scott Braidman seeks them out. Among his 2016 discoveries are Marbl Chocolates made in Belchertown by Lisa and Bhavin Patel without lecithin or other additives. Beautifully shaped and elegantly packaged, the fillings include hazelnut, cocomint and double chocolate.

Similarly, at Grace Hill Farm in Cummington, Braidman found the raw-milk cheeses that Max and Amy Breiteneicher make from the milk of their grass-fed cows. Among them, Hilltown Blue tastes both tangy and creamy, while the raclette-style Valais is designed to melt enticingly over potatoes or other vegetable or toasted dishes.

Turmeric is the most surprising of Braidman’s discoveries. This yellow spice is a native of India, and plays a vital part in Indian spice mixes. It is widely grown in the tropics. But in Amherst?

Having already pioneered growing ginger locally, Casey Steinberg and Missy Bahret of Old Friends Farm turned to turmeric because they wanted a new crop they liked. Another motive was saving food miles. They say they hope their local spices will help reduce long-distance imports.

Growing turmeric is “an ongoing challenge,” Steinberg said. “It’s a slow grower. It needs irrigation and it ties up space because it gets large.”

Nonetheless, the farm now supplies fresh turmeric in season (autumn in this region), as well as powdered turmeric and Turmeric Honey, which makes a delicious tea.

Pickle-lovers will find Amherst’s turmeric in Turmeric Kraut, the newest product of Real Pickles of Greenfield. Like everything else it touches, turmeric gives the kraut sunshine color and warm flavor — especially welcome in winter.

Milking it in Hadley

Another venture that nurtures cooperation among local food producers is Mill Valley Farm Store, which opened last January at 102 Mill Valley Road in Hadley. As well as the raw milk of the farm’s Brown Swiss cows and the meat of its Black Angus cattle, the store features numerous local products including Carr’s Cider Vinegar from Hadley, hydroponic lettuce from Suburban Artisan Farm in Wilbraham, preserves from Sidehill Farm in Hawley, and a range of Grace Hill cheese. Soon it will sell its own cheese.

“We’ve been sending milk to Cream of the Crop Farm in Russell. Their cheesemaker is making a hard Cheddar-style cheese for us,” owner Bruce Jenks said.

Amid the store’s abundance, Maple Valley Ice Cream, made from the farm’s raw milk, draws attention. Among its many flavors is Brown Butter Chocolate Chip. Owner Laurie Cuevas explained that each year food science students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst develop a new flavor, and this was their 2016 invention. It’s a winner. The brown butter enhances the sweet creaminess deliciously balanced by the chocolate’s bitter edge.

Jugs of raw milk pack another large cooler. Unlike supermarket milk, this is not pasteurized so it retains natural organisms and enzymes that pasteurization destroys. Since it’s not homogenized it also keeps its blonde head of cream. Co-owner Laurie Cuevas says many customers credit raw milk with relieving problems such as allergies and poor bone density.

“I don’t tell customers what it’s good for,” she said. “They tell me.”

A newcomer

Looking beyond local fields and orchards, both Mark Penney, seafood team leader at Whole Foods, and Brian Crutch, who manages fish at Atkins Country Market, praise skate as a newcomer. Though Europeans esteem skate, Massachusetts fisherman used to discard it. Now they bring it ashore because stocks of traditional fish are depleted. Crutch similarly notes that sardines — once only found in cans — are now available fresh. He recommends turbot, too.

Elsewhere in Atkins, look for Pioneer Valley Popcorn made from corn grown in Colrain. Similarly, the bread pudding recently created by David McKenna of the deli department using Atkins’ cider donuts has become a runaway favorite.

Here are recipes for 2017 using some of 2016’s newest foods.

Salad of Pears, Hilltown Blue Cheese and WalnutsJust as apples and Cheddar form a winning team, so do pears and blue cheese. Walnuts are another traditional blue cheese partner. This recipe makes salad for two, but can easily be multiplied.

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 teaspoons lemon juice

1-2 handfuls arugula or watercress or baby spinach

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 large Williams or Bartlett pear

About 2-3 ounces Hilltown Blue cheese

About 6 walnut halves or 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts

In a bowl, whisk together the oil, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and the mustard to make a salad dressing. Toss the salad leaves in this and arrange on two salad plates.

Peel the pear and brush the cut surfaces with the remaining lemon juice to prevent them browning. Slice into 8-10 slices. Arrange these on salad leaves. Break the cheese into small lumps and scatter them on top of the pear slices. Also scatter on the walnuts. Serve immediately.

Crispy Skate with Red Pepper Strips and Avocado Dip

Skate looks different from other fish and that has long meant buyers were uncertain how to cook it, so fisherman discarded it. But as other fish stocks have been fished out, in 2016 it has been appearing in fish counters more often. It comes as ridged triangular-shaped “wings.” The ridges are actually elongated flakes of fish, and the “wings” are what skates flap up and down in order to swim.

In Europe, skate is much appreciated for its fine scallop-like flavor. The classic treatment is to poach it then serve it with brown butter and capers, which requires speedy work in the final seconds. This recipe treats skate quite differently and although you wouldn’t want to keep it hanging around so long that it loses its crispiness, speed is not quite so much of its essence. Treat it as casual finger food with a dipping sauce on the side, or serve on sandwiches, in tacos or with the turmeric pilaf below.

¾-1 pound skate wings

½ cup milk

About ½ cup Cream of Wheat cereal or semolina

1 large red pepper

Peanut, canola or olive oil for frying

Salt to taste

Cut lemons and basil or snipped parsley for serving

For the avocado dip:

1 Hass avocado, peeled

About 1 tablespoon lime juice

2 tablespoons plain or lime-flavored Greek yogurt

Salt to taste

Cut the skate into thin strips — about ½-inch wide — following the natural division. Put these in a bowl with the milk and toss to coat them. Have the semolina or Cream of Wheat in a plastic bag. Add the strips 3-4 at a time and toss to lightly coat them.

Lay them out on a plate or board for 15-20 minutes to let the coating set. During this time, wash the red pepper, and cut into ¼-inch strips, discarding the seeds and the pale inner ribs as you go.

To cook, you need two frying pans: one for the skate and one for the pepper strips. Put 2 tablespoons of oil in the pan for the pepper strips and heat over lowish heat. Add the strips and cook gently until they have softened slightly, which takes about 4-5 minutes. Heat a ¼-inch of oil in the other pan over high heat and add the skate strips. Cook for about 3-4 minutes turning the strips with tongs until golden brown on all sides.

When they are done transfer to paper towels to absorb excess oil. Serve the pepper and skate strips together — either in a basket with avocado dip.

To make the dip, mash the ripe avocado with the lime juice, adding the yogurt a little at a time until you get a dipping consistency. Add salt to taste. Alternately serve on individual plates with salads or vegetables as sides.

Turmeric and Cumin Pilaf

In Europe, rice dishes, such as paella and risotto get their yellow color from saffron. In India, traditional pilafs get an even brighter hue from turmeric. (Saffron is much more expensive, so it’s kept for special occasions.) Indians also use turmeric in many spice mixtures, and it’s a particular favorite in vegetarian dishes. This vivid pilaf is so flavorful it almost needs no accompaniment, but you can serve it with beans or vegetables, and also with meat. Quantities here are enough for 2-3 depending on what else is being served, but you can multiply as needed.

1 cup basmati rice

cup raisins

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot or onion

¾ teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

2 cardamom pods gently crushed, or 2 cloves

cup frozen peas, defrosted

¼ cup pomegranate seeds or 1 tablespoon chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish

Put the rice in a bowl and run cold water over it. Then let the bowl fill with cold water and let it stand for 10 minutes. Put the raisins in another bowl and cover with water.

To make the pilaf, drain the rice. Heat the butter in a medium pan over low heat. Stir in the shallot or onion and let it soften for 3-4 minutes. Now stir in the cumin seeds then the turmeric, and finally the rice. With the pan over the heat, stir to mix everything and let cook for a minute.

Now add 2 cups of cold water, the salt, bay leaf and the crushed cardamom pods or the cloves. Increase the heat and let the liquid bubble away without stirring until the rice has absorbed most of it and the surface is pitted with steam holes. Drain the raisins and stir them in with the peas. Cover the pan tightly, and lower the heat to as low as possible. Cook for 1-2 more minutes then turn off the heat leaving the pan sitting on the burner.

Leave for 5-6 minutes or until all the remaining liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender. For serving fluff it with a fork and served on a warm serving dish, lightly greased with butter. Garnish with the pomegranate seeds or the parsley or cilantro.

Golden Milk

Indians have long appreciated turmeric as an aid to digestion. Ancient Chinese medicine valued it to control bleeding, and the ancient Greeks as an appetite stimulant. Today, turmeric is being credited with a range of other healing properties. Golden Milk is a way to get its benefits in a comforting drink. Some recipes call for using coconut or other nut milks rather than cow milk. Here milk from local dairies such as Mill Valley Farm is a good choice

2 cups raw milk (or other milk)

1 teaspoon powdered turmeric

¼ teaspoon powdered ginger

sprinkle of black pepper.

Turmeric honey or other honey to taste

Place ½ cup milk in a saucepan and add the turmeric and ginger. Stir or lightly whisk to mix, then add the rest of the milk and put the pan over medium heat. Bring to simmering point, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and add a grinding of black pepper. Serve immediately, or store in the fridge for up 2 days and drink either cold or reheated.

Affogato

Serve this half drink, half dessert with a teaspoon. It comes from Italy, where its name means “drowned,” and the traditional flavor choices for the ice cream are vanilla or coffee. It’s good also with Maple Valley Egg Nog ice cream — and there’s nothing to say you can’t experiment with their many other flavors, including the Brown Butter Chocolate Chip, the one invented for the company by UMass students. Some recipes add a shot of liqueur such as amaretto or Baileys Irish Cream.

1 scoop vanilla or coffee (or other) local ice cream

1 shot hot, freshly made espresso

Scoop a ball of ice cream into your cappuccino cup or small bowl.

Pour the hot espresso over the ice cream just before serving.