I looked up from my cart and saw, horrifyingly, that it was one of the baristas from my favorite grocery store in the city, Foragers Market. By my reaction, one might have implied that I was caught strolling out of our neighborhood porn shop with a black plastic bag in my hand. My jaw dropped, face flushed.
It’s not that she isn’t lovely. She is. We chat in the mornings, we comment on each other’s hair. “It looks lighter! I like it!”
In any other situation, I would have been delighted to see her. But not here. Not at the mass market grocery store that’s right beside Foragers Market.
At home, I disparage this retailer and take every opportunity to avoid it. I hate the fluorescent lighting, the clinical smell, the cheese fridge…so close to the household products aisle that your $10 wedge of Gruyere tastes faintly of Clorox.
Never mind the bloated out-of-season vegetables, straight from GMO farmland. “They don’t care about the food Rodney! Please don’t shop there!”
And here I was. Busted. With a big old pile of industrial corn.
This was very off-brand. Gene Simmons in a three-piece-suit off-brand.
I love Foragers Market. But when it comes to large volume foods with expensive ingredients, I’ve been known to wimp out. Under the veil of daybreak, I’ll slink next door and toss vats of ricotta and conventional veggies into my cart.
It’s a momentary breakdown that happens every few months. I might as well confess my sins before another person spies me in Aisle 3, hunting for tomato paste.
My strong preference is to pay up for quality ingredients, but sometimes, particularly when I’m testing a new recipe for the kids, I can’t bear the rejection of a pricey meal. Small-batch ricotta made by hand on an organic dairy farm upstate; the season’s most tender baby zucchini, now in the early stages of harvest. “It’ll all be cooked within an inch of its death!” the voice rings in my head.
I squeaked out my justification: “I didn’t want to make a $30 lasagna for the kids. In case they don’t like it. Please….don’t tell anyone that you saw me here.”
My friendly barista told me that my secret was safe with her. “I do it too” she said as she nodded at her container of broccoli salad.
And so ended the snobbiest exchange in the history of checkout counter conversations. I can only imagine the eye-rolling that was happening between the cashier and the woman in line behind me.
It’s hard to say whether it’s a character flaw or impassionedness about a cause that I so thoroughly support. I’m not snooty by nature. Clothes, material goods, they’re all secondary.
But food….my soapbox is sturdy enough to have its own eco-friendly kitchen.
What can I say, I slip up sometimes. Those giant zucchini were calling my name…eager for a brush of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, and some QT on my indoor grill pan. The corn cobs, half-shucked, covered in plastic, they called out to me too; perhaps a primal yearning for foods are still a month or two out of reach. But, still, I felt guilty.
I redeemed myself *slightly with the addition of carrot top pesto made from last summer’s CSA; pulled from the freezer and folded into the ricotta. Not to mention the non-Clorox parm that I showered over the top.
The kids ended up loving it. Two out of three at least.
Which gives me the green light to make it again using the best ingredients that I can find.
I can only imagine how great this will taste in the prime of summer when the corn and zucchini will be straight from the Hudson Valley. When I’ll bring the mozzarella home, still warm, from the cheese vendor at our local Farmer’s Market.
“Be fussy about your ingredients” coaches April Bloomfield, chef, cookbook author, zen master of all things delicious.
If you’d like to look into ways to add more farm-fresh products into your meals, I recommend signing up for a CSA. Ours starts next month, another adventure with Bialas Farms located in the black dirt region of Orange County, NY. You’ll get more fresh vegetables than you’ll know how to handle, which is exciting and just a little bit daunting. But it teaches you to be creative and resourceful in the kitchen, and it’s of tremendous value to the farmers themselves.
Kasha Bialas, owner of Bialas Farms, and a person whom I now call a friend, was featured last summer on Michael Ruhlman’s site where she talked about the benefits of eating locally. It’s a well-written post that gives you behind-the-scenes insight into the work that goes into maintaining a farm, and what you can do to support your local farmers.
If you’d like more information about CSAs in your area, I found my CSA on the Local Harvest website, which is thorough and easy to search. And if you need cooking inspiration, you can follow along on the CSA category posts listed on my sidebar, as well as the CSAs, Greenmarkets and Farmstands feed that I edit for the cooking website feed feed. Even better, if you’re in the southern NY/northern NJ area, you can sign up for a Bialas farm share and get Kasha’s weekly newsletter, which is full of ideas and tips for cooking with her first-rate produce.
By the looks of the Bialas Farms Facebook page, we’re shaping up to have another bountiful summer. I can hardly wait…Have a great week everyone.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 4 cups of whole milk
- Pinch of freshly-grated nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons salt, divided
- 16 oz package of lasagna noodles (not no bake, although you could give them a go, I’ve used these in my lasagnas plenty of times)
- 3 large zucchini sliced lengthwise into 1/4 slices
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh pesto (I used carrot top and pumpkin seed pesto but you can use any that you’d like- repurchased would work fine here)
- 1 egg
- 1 32-oz container of whole milk ricotta cheese
- 3 ears of corn, shucked and kernels removed
- 2 1-lb balls of fresh mozzarella
- 1/3 cup of parmesan
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Start out by making the white sauce; heat a medium saucepan on medium heat and then add the butter. When the butter has melted, add the flour and cook the roux for a minute or two until the flour is well incorporated.
- In a slow and steady stream, add the cream, whisking thoroughly to prevent lumps. Keeping the heat on medium, the white sauce should come to a gentle simmer; then turn to low and let it cook down while you prepare the other ingredients (this will take about half an hour). Whisk every so often to prevent the bottom of the sauce from browning. The sauce will be ready when you can trace a line on the back of a wooden spoon that’s drawn through the sauce. At this point you can season with the nutmeg and set aside.
- While the white sauce is thickening, switch gears and par-boil the noodles.
- Bring large pot of salted water to boil, and in three batches, boil the noodles until pliable but still al dente (approximately 4 minutes).
- Remove all of the noodles and keep them on baking sheet, separated by parchment paper.
- You can also concurrently grill the zucchini. Preheat a grill pan on medium-high heat
- Brush the zucchini slices with a touch of olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper
- When the grill is hot, grill the zucchini in 2-3 batches, flipping halfway through, until they’re cooked through and are sporting some nice dark grill marks.
- Place the zucchini aside.
- Last of all, make the ricotta layer. In a large bowl, mix the pesto, ricotta cheese, and egg with a large pinch of salt.
- Using deep 9x13 baking dish, spread 1/4 of the sauce on the bottom of the dish.
- Layer with 3 cooked noodles, spread with 1/4 ricotta mixture, add 1/4 of the corn kernels, a small pinch of salt to season the corn, and then 1/4 of the zucchini slices. Add 1/5 of your fresh mozzarella slices (you’ll need to reserve some for the top layer that gets baked).
- Continue with this same layering pattern. When you get to the end, add 3 layers of noodles, top with your remaining white sauce, and the remaining mozzarella slices. Shower the whole thing with your grated parmesan cheese, cover with foil, and pop into your heated oven.
- Bake for 30 minutes covered, then remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until the top is nicely melted and bubbling. You can broil for a minute or two to get the top nice and crispy if you'd like.
- Let the lasagna then cool for 10 minutes, covered, before slicing as it will help maintain the integrity of the slices.