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Can’t Beet It: We Dig Local Food!

Opinion | April 4, 2011

I like to live my life post-ironically by the mantra “Don’t just talk about it, be about it.” Over the past few years,  the nationwide trend of eating organic and using buzzwords like ‘sustainable’ and ‘local’ has proliferated to the point of becoming omnipresent. Lots of people talk about it, but not everyone is about it. After freshman year, I spent two and  a half weeks volunteering on an organic dairy farm in Italy. Through this experience, I was able to transcend just talking about this food moment and can now say that I am about it.

Spending time on an actual organic farm, I encountered what it truly means to eat and live organically, sustainably, and locally. Really locally. On my first night I was served raw veal that had been grazing in the adjacent pasture just days earlier. Instead of buying eggs, the guy who ran my farm would barter his delicious sheep and goat’s milk cheese for eggs from a friend of his, who raises chickens. I didn’t see any actual money the entire time I was there. It had no significance in this system.

Another important thing I learned, and excuse my language here, is just how hard it is to work on a farm. I hadn’t really done any manual labor in my life prior to this trip. So on the first day, when Mario gave me a scythe (think grim reaper) and sent me out into a field of stinging nettles, I had a reality check. My next reality check came five minutes later, when I was called insignificant in Italian. I honestly almost cried (read: I actually cried, but not in front of him).

Of course, the days progressed, and Mario and I grew closer as he began to understand my motives for being there and my utter lack of experience. And I began to understand the true meaning of all those buzzwords I mentioned before. I’m not trying to say that, in order to understand this enormous phenomenon behind the way many Americans eat, you have to go work on a farm—though I do recommend it. But I am saying that it’s good to shop at farmer’s markets as often as possible. And Somerville is one of the few places in Massachusetts that actually has one during the winter, indoors.

The Somerville farmer’s market is held at the Center for Arts at the Armory, located at 191 Highland Ave.  about a five- minute drive or a worthwhile 15-20-minute walk from Davis. I try to go most weekends, not necessarily to do all my grocery shopping (that would be impossible both from a financial and from a ‘they don’t have Raisin Bran there’ perspective), just to pick up a few special things. I buy honey from a local beekeeper (Boston Honey Company). I think about talking to the cute girl-fishmonger I’ve ever seen at Jordan Bros. Seafood.  Last week, I bought a pound of ground pork for $9 from Stillman’s Farm and used it to make homemade chorizo.

The stand that is always the busiest, though, is Winter Moon Farm’s, which sells pretty much the only produce that’s in season right now—root vegetables. Beautiful, beautiful root vegetables. Carrots—both purple and orange—turnips, watermelon, daikon radishes, parsnips, and my favorite: beets. Recently, at a restaurant called Torrisi Italian Specialties in New York City, I ate the best beets I have ever eaten in my life, roasted and served cold as a salad with olive oil, orange zest, and hazelnuts. So simple, but honestly so unbelievable. This recipe is an adaptation of what I ate there. I’m not sure exactly what they did, but I tried my best to recreate it, using both Winter Moon Farm’s red beets and Chioggia beets, an heirloom variety which is possibly the most aesthetically stunning vegetable on the planet.

If you want to come to the farmer’s market, send an email to luke.pyenson@tufts.edu. I go most Saturday mornings and I have a station wagon. Be about it.

Recipe:

Beet and Blood Orange Salad

Serves 4

Inspired by Torrisi Italian Specialties, NY

 

3 medium Chioggia beets

2 medium red beets

¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, crushed

2 blood oranges, peeled and sectioned

handful of mint, torn

Between 1/16 and 1/8 of a cup of good olive oil*

A dash of red wine vinegar

A little salt

NOTE: This salad would be great with crumbled soft goat cheese, feta, or ricotta salata, but I prefer it simple and without any cheese.

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Individually wrap the beets in tinfoil, and roast in oven for between an hour and an hour and a half, or until fork tender. Peel the beets (either with a peeler or by rubbing between paper towels), and set in the fridge to chill for at least an hour. Cut beets into little chunks and combine in a mixing bowl with the olive oil, vinegar, salt, and blood oranges. Garnish each serving with a healthy pinch of toasted hazelnuts and several torn-up mint leaves.

 

*It’s tough to give an exact amount for olive oil; start with a drizzle, and try to just barely coat them.