In deep mid-winter it does get hard to work locally grown food into our cooking. Some smart folks have put up preserves or done some pickling, but most of us are having a little trouble eating local. Chef Jerry Pellegrino points out that if you can get to one of the year-round farmers markets, there are definitely some things we can toss into our market basket.
Chesapeake Bay oysters are all members of the same species, often referred to as "Eastern Oysters". They can take a specific name from the body of water where they are found, for example Choptank, Patuxent or Chincoteague. In addition to wild caught oysters, there are dozens of oyster farm operations around the state.
You can buy oysters by the bushel, by the dozen or shucked in a jar with their oyster liquor. The winter months are prime time for local oysters.
One classic Maryland recipe is Oysters on Toast Points. Start off by gently sautéing oysters with their liquor in butter until the edges curl. Remove the oysters, and build a sauce in the skillet by sautéing minced onions, parsley, and crumbled bacon. Thicken with a little flour and toss in a bit of sherry. Put an oyster on a toast point and dress with the sauce. You can sprinkle on a little parmesan cheese as a garnish.
Kale is a very hearty winter vegetable, and it does very well in high tunnels.
Farmers like Cinda Sebastian of Gardners Gourmet Farm keep the supply of kale coming all winter. Shoppers will see several varieties of kale these days including flat leaf and curly leaf. Quite faddish a few years ago, kale has settled into our standard repertoire of cooking and is very much a staple.
Here's a nice way to work some healthy kale into a carb heavy dish. We'll be making a sauce to go with a batch of linguine. Wilt about three cups of kale in a skillet. When it is cooked down, remove and set aside. Next gently sauté two tablespoons of minced garlic in butter along with a quarter cup of crisped and crumbled pancetta. Put the kale back in the skillet, and toss it all with a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with the pasta, and garnish with both shaved pecorino bits and grated parmesan.
Apples, harvested last fall, are easy to keep and come to market fresh and unspoiled. There is so much to do beyond apple pie and baked apples. The first thing that came to mind was a version of choucrute garni, Alsatian sauerkraut.
This dish always has the sauerkraut, about 2 or 3 types of pork, boiled potatoes and cut up onions. You can make it even better by tossing in a handful of sliced raw apples and let them simmer in the broth. A very nice addition.
There are zillions of soup dishes involving apples. Using chicken broth as a base, purée your apples with some butternut squash and shallots, hit it with a curry seasoning and finish it with a dollop of sour cream.
The winter squashes stay on stage all winter long, and offer some of the best flavors of the season. Butternut may be king, but close behind is the little green and gold acorn squash. Acorn squash has a touch of bitterness contrasting with its natural sweetness. This means flavors like maple syrup or brown sugar are natural partners. Because its skin is so thick and all but impossible to peel, acorn squash is always cut in half, de-seeded, and baked or steamed.
Here's an idea that goes a step farther. Slice the squash halves into little crescents before baking. Whip up a glaze of butter, brown sugar and molasses in a small saucpan. Brush it on the squash, then bake in a moderate oven for about 25 minutes, or until tender. Garnish with ground hazel nuts and you have a great winter side dish.