It's a truism that if we want to enjoy locally produced food, we have to support local farms. Maryland has been very progressive about preserving agricultural land, fighting to keep it from over-development. Al mentioned to Chef Jerry Pellegrino, one of the leading lights is Montgomery County, which is why they invited two lovely women who have written a fabulous cookbook inspired by the farms in the Montgomery Reserve. Claudia Kousoulas and Ellen Letourneau have written a cookbook called "Bread and Beauty, A Year in Montgomery County's Agricultural Reserve" and it is self-published.
Al says this is one of the most beautiful cookbooks he's seen in some time. The photography by George Kousouslas and Martin Radigan is first rate, and rarely has the Maryland countryside been so perfectly captured. The book can be ordered by visiting Bread & Beauty: The Book on-line. The cost is $49.99 and net proceeds benefit the work of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, and Mann Food Center.
The authors learned about the decades-old efforts to set aside the prime and productive farmland of Montgomery County in trust so that it could retain its purpose indefinitely. Roughly one-third of the county's land surface is in the Reserve, incorporating dozens and dozens of small family farms. The authors were not only interested in land preservation but in the product of the land as well.
Research led to encounters with farmers and the food they produce. And the food led to a collection of recipes that encapsulate the gift of the land.
She selected three recipes which are appropriate for this time of year and also reflect the charm of Montgomery County cooking.
BUTTON FARM SWEET POTATO SOUP
3 tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/3 cup 100% peanut butter (no added oils, salt or sugar)
1 hot pepper, diced (to taste)
3 tbs tomato paste
1/2 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan and sauté the onion until softened, about five minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté about one minute.
2. add the stock and sweet potatoes, bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer until sweet potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
3. Using an immersion blender, or processor, puree the soup and return it to the pan over low heat. Sir in the peanut butter, hot pepper, tomato paste and milk.
Bring up to heat, add salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.
Serves 6 to 8
PARSNIP CAKE WITH BROWN BUTTER CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
1 cup flour
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp mace or nutmeg
pinch of black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated parsnips
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
8 tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup powdered sugar
1. Grease an 8" round baking pan, line with a sheet of max or parchment paper cut to fit, and set aside.
2. Mix the flour, spices, salt, and baking powder to blend. Set aside.
3. Using a stand or hand-held mixer, beat the sugar, eggs, vanilla, and vegetable oil until smooth and thoroughly blended.
4. Mix in the flour, parsnips, and walnuts util just blended and no spots of flour are visible. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes at 350°.
5. While the cake is baking, make the frosting. Melt the butter over medium heat until it foams, the solids begin to separate, and it takes on a light brown color and a nutty aroma. (Keep an eye out, it can burn quickly.) Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
6. Using a stand or hand-held mixer, beat the cream cheese until soft. Keep beating and blend in the salt, sugar, and the brown butter, including the solids. Beat until smooth and blended.
7. To assemble he cake, let it cool in the pan for five minutes, then unmold it to cool completely. Once the cake has cooled, split it into two layers are spread the frosting between the layers. Reassemble and dust the top with powdered sugar.
Makes one 8-inch cake
MIMOSA SALAD WITH SHAVED RADISHES
(Inspired by two recipes from the book)
1 tbs Herbes de Provence, mixed with a pinch of kosher salt
1 cup well-drained whole-milk plain yogurt
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
Mixed salad greens
4-5 fresh Maryland radishes
Olive oil, vinegar, freshly ground black pepper
1. Spread the Herbes de Provence on a plate. Using a teaspon, shape walnut-sized balls of the firm, well-drained yogurt and touch in the Herbes de Provence to partially coat. Set aside.
2. Using a food mill or grater, mince the hard-boiled eggs finely or push through a sieve with the back of a spoon. Collect in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Wash and top the radishes. Using a sharp knife or mandolin, slice thinly, roundwise. Set aside.
3. Arrange the salad greens on a serving platter, dress to taste with oil, vinegar and pepper. Sprinkle the shaved radishes on top, and place the yogurt balls around to edge. Garnish with a dusting of the mimosa eggs.