Thursday, July 28, 2011

On Effin Rabbits and Reproducing Sorrel

wild-sorrel.jpgWild sorrel spreading like...wild sorrel

It's almost August, and I find it hard to believe how quickly the summer is passing. By now, there have been some resounding successes in the garden. The radishes bubbled up out of the ground like Champagne fizz; the zucchini continues to reproduce like rabbits.

But there have been some utter failures, too.

The rabbits have also been reproducing like rabbits. Every time I walk into the beet and Swiss chard patch, two of them scamper out through the fence. Now that no beets are left, I thought they'd have moved on to the lettuce. For obvious reasons, it is my great hope to bring you a rabbit recipe in the coming weeks.

Luckily, there's one section of the garden that the rabbits steer clear of: the herbs. None of them munch on the rosemary; it's the size of a small bush by now. There's a basil plant that thinks it's an oak tree. The sage and thyme have tripled in size since I placed them, toddler-size, in the ground.

Many of my herbs are grown from the same plants year to year, even though it gets too cold in the winter for them to stay in the ground. Each fall, I dig them up, cut them into smaller versions of themselves, and replant them in an indoor window box; they live there until the following spring, when I move them back to the garden to spread their roots.

And I use herbs a lot in my cooking. I blend them with salad greens, I call on them to accent sauces, I use them to flavor just about everything. This is where I could give you a recipe for pesto using, like, four different kinds of basil. Or for a Martini infused with rosemary and thyme. But you've already seen something like that, I'm sure. Instead, let's talk about sorrel. No one knows what to do with sorrel, and it has been creeping its way into American food one farmers' market at a time.

I planted sorrel once, years ago, and have never had to since. By now, it has moved beyond the garden fence and into the yard. When the grass is mowed, the air is filled with a fresh, citrusy scent. The herb has a subtle lemony flavor, and because it's a green, it often shows up in salads. But I like to use it the way you might use citrus fruit in a bright dessert.

There's just enough gelatin in these panna cottas to hold their shape; the result is a creamy, lemony-herbal pudding that just melts away when you eat it. I serve the panna cottas topped with berries or lightly sweetened whipped cream.


Sorrel-Buttermilk Panna Cottas
8 servings

Vegetable oil (for ramekins)
2 1/4 tsp. unflavored gelatin
6 cups sorrel
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt

Lightly oil eight 3- to 4-oz. ramekins.

Sprinkle gelatin over 2 Tbsp. cold water in a small bowl and let stand 1 minute to soften.

Puree sorrel and buttermilk in a blender until very smooth, about 1 minute. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl, pressing on solids. Discard the solids.

Heat cream, sugar, and a pinch of kosher salt in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add gelatin mixture; stir until it dissolves. Pour cream mixture into buttermilk mixture, stir to combine, and divide equally among ramekins. Let cool completely, then cover ramekins with plastic wrap and refrigerate the panna cottas until they are set, at least 4 hours. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dr. Zucchini, I presume...


My sister Cecily recently earned her doctorate in anthropology. For years, the quest had consumed her. It began with a thought, a notion, which she planted and then nurtured. She worked hard for a long, long time and now, finally, she is where she wanted to be. And I'll bet she's tired of answering the question of what comes next. Yes, she wants to use her degree for something good, but what that will be, well, she's not quite sure yet.

With her newly minted "doctor" status, I think Cecily may find my comparison of her Ph.D. to the zucchini in my garden to be kind of silly.


But I can remember back in early May when I sowed squash seeds in perfect rows. I was so full of hope that they would take and that I'd have enough zucchini to feed my family. I watered and weeded the plants as they grew and reached toward the sun. I worked with them for what seemed like a long time, and now here I am with so much goddamn zucchini I don't know what I'll do with it.

(I'm not alone; a local farm is practically giving it away. Their vegetable stand offers three squash for a dollar and each squash weighs at least 2 1/2 pounds. That's about 13 cents a pound. Worms cost more.)

So here I am, exactly where I wanted to be--swimming in zucchini--and I'm running out of ideas for ways to use it. I've been eating it raw and shaved as a salad. I've pickled it, fried it, grilled it, and roasted it. Still, I've got a lot of zucchini to get through. So when Dr. C came down to the farm last weekend, I asked what she wanted for lunch. Answer: pizza. So I figured now that we've earned our zucchini, here's what we're going to do with it:


Zucchini Pizza
4-6 servings

2 lb. zucchini
2 tsp. kosher salt plus more for seasoning
1 1/2 lb. pizza dough
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for pan and dough
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 hot chile, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

Trim zucchini and thinly slice crosswise using a mandoline or a very sharp knife. Toss zucchini in a bowl with 2 tsp. kosher salt and transfer to a strainer set over a bowl; let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Rinse the zucchini, then squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Oil a 12x17" baking sheet. Rub surface of dough with oil. Stretch dough to form a 12x17" rectangle, filling the baking sheet.

Sprinkle half of cheese evenly over dough. Scatter zucchini, garlic, and chile evenly on top. Sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with 1/4 cup oil.

Bake pizza until the underside is well browned and the dough is cooked through, 12-16 minutes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hi There: I Like to Party...


I come from a big family. On one side, I am the oldest of 24 cousins. Fortunately, everyone takes a turn pouring sweat into the farm. Christy scraped hundred-year-old wallpaper from the hallway a few weeks back. Ryan planted a fig tree in the barnyard. Leif came up last weekend to line the driveway with boulders that will help prevent erosion. That's the sort of work Leif likes--the hard kind that involves loading and unloading heavy things into and out of a pickup truck. The kind that makes you feel like you deserve a beer or four. Did I mention that in addition to hard work, Leif also likes to party? So it was no surprise that we spent Saturday night soothing our sore muscles with hopped-up suds.

Come Sunday morning, we needed a little pick-me-up: a dose of natural sugar to get our blood running again. Fruit sounded good, so we drove the truck up to the top of the hill where, along the tree line, we found hundreds of wineberries.

Wineberries grow in the woods and along the roads near our farm--and pretty much everywhere else in the Northeast. A wild relative of the raspberry and originally from northern Asia, the wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius) was introduced in this country to breed hybrid raspberries, but it escaped captivity and took very well to the climate and soil here. Some people (probably the same folks who call dandelions "weeds") say that it's an invasive species that has taken over the woods. I call it a treat. The berries, which look like polished rubies and taste like raspberry wine, ripen during June and July.


Leif and I spent an hour picking and ended up with quarts of berries, some of which we ate for breakfast. We were left with plenty more. "You know what these will go well with?" I asked after breakfast. "Yeah," said Leif, "vodka."

So I decided to make a wineberry cordial.

Fruit cordials are impossibly easy to make and they're a fun way to preserve seasonal fruit. Just pick your favorite (I love any berry); make sure it's perfectly ripe and unblemished; pour vodka over it, and let it sit for a few weeks; strain and sweeten. The elixir you end up with is packed with flavor. I serve cordials after dinner, or before dinner with a splash of soda water over ice.

In addition to the "use the best fruit you can find" rule, it's also important to use good-quality vodka. Luckily for Leif and me, some of the world's best, Boyd & Blair is made right here in Pennsylvania using locally grown potatoes.


Wineberry Cordial
Makes about 1 quart

The alcohol macerates the berries, sucking out all their flavors; a little sugar syrup added at the end seals the deal. All fall and winter I serve the sweet taste of midsummer to only my most important guests. If you live in an area where there are no wineberries, use raspberries instead.

2 1/2 cups wineberries
3 cups vodka
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

Place wineberries in a sterilized glass quart container with a lid. Muddle the berries with a muddler or the handle of a wooden spoon until they are all smashed. Add vodka to the container, filling to the top. Cover the container and place in the refrigerator or a cool, dark place for 3 weeks.

Strain the cordial through a fine-mesh sieve. Discard solids.

Bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring. Add sugar syrup to the cordial, a little at a time, until cordial is sweetened to your liking. (You'll want to use at least half of the sugar syrup.) Return cordial to container and store covered at room temperature.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Eat The Baby!


It's been an ongoing fantasy of mine to build an outdoor wood-burning pizza oven here at the farm. It's high on my list of projects, and this coming weekend I'm going to meet John Schwarz and John Hickey at the Smallholding Festival in Ottsville, Pennsylvania. They will be fielding questions and demonstrating how to build an earthen oven. I expect to come home with all the information I need to cross the pizza oven off the to-do list.

(By the way, if you're within driving distance of Ottsville, you should come to the festival this Saturday, July 9; for more information, go to I'll be there spit-roasting Pennsylvania Dutch-influenced porchetta.)

The impetus behind building a wood-burning oven is not just to take advantage of wood smoke as a flavoring agent. It's to get me out of the kitchen on sweltering summer days. The farm has no air-conditioning. On prickly, humid days, even the thought of turning on the oven leaves me a little nauseous--but not enough to make me want to eat salad for every meal.

Back in the day, my family had a solution for this problem. Just off the back of the farmhouse was a little shack. It had a rough wooden floor and a slanted tin roof. Inside was a washbasin and a cast-iron wood-burning stove they used to cook on. The structure was torn down in the early 1970s, but my aunts and uncles who remember it still call it the summer kitchen.

What a good idea! An outdoor kitchen to use in the summer when it's hot. Huhh.


My pizza oven, when it exists, will be the stove I use for baking during the summer. At least that's the plan. The problem is that I want to bake now. I explained this to one of my aunts, Denise, as I was asking about the old summer kitchen. She had a temporary (and not a little dangerous) solution. At her house, she plugs a portable convection oven into an extension cord, places the oven outside, and cranks it up to high heat. She makes pizza and bread and brownies and, my favorite, Dutch Baby, which she serves with berries. (Note: We do not recommend hauling your oven outside, ok? So please do not try this.)

Dutch Baby is a large pancake/popover that's cooked in a cast-iron skillet at about 450 degrees. That's hot, but if you're lucky enough to have a summer kitchen, who cares? But even if you don't have the space to build your own outdoor wood-burning oven, or you're like me and keep putting the project off, this recipe is worth sweating for--or at least cranking up the A/C.


Dutch Baby
Serves 6

1 cup assorted berries
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. orange liqueur

1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3 large eggs (remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before using)
2/3 cup whole milk, room temperature
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Special Equipment: You'll need a 10" cast-iron skillet.

For the berries: Stir together berries, sugar, and liqueur in a bowl and let stand at room temperature until ready to serve.

For the batter: Put skillet on middle rack in oven and preheat to 450 degrees. Stir together sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside.

Beat eggs with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and frothy, then beat in milk, flour, vanilla, and salt and continue to beat until smooth, about 1 minute more (batter will be thin).

Put butter into hot skillet and let melt, swirling to coat. Add batter and immediately return skillet to oven. Bake until puffed and golden-brown, 18-25 minutes.

Serve immediately, topped with berries and cinnamon-sugar mixture.

Monday, July 4, 2011

And so, I'm a weed farmer...

This pot can also be read on
ian-knauer-farm-weeds.jpgWeeds? Purslane? What's the difference?

If you keep a garden year after year, you start to notice which plants take naturally to the soil and the climate that are specific to your plot and which do not. Each little pocket of farmland has its own microclimate and the plants respond to it.

Tim Stark is a Pennsylvania farmer who lives and farms about 30 minutes from me. He sells his goods at New York City's Greenmarket every Saturday and penned a funny and moving book, Heirloom, all about his tomatoes, for which he has become famous. Tim's tomatoes are used at many, if not most, of New York's top-end restaurants, including Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where the staff grows many of its own vegetables but has come to accept that Tim's tomatoes are superior.

I live quite close to Tim's farm, yet tomatoes are always a struggle for me. I add oyster shells and compost to the soil, I give them space to grow, I trim them back when they need it... Tim does none of this. His tomato plot looks more like a forest than a garden, yet his tomatoes are so much better. He just has the perfect microclimate for tomatoes, I guess.

I have the perfect microclimate for weeds.

ian-knauer-farm-purslane.jpgPurslane grows just about everywhere, so take advantage!

I could spend hours each day pulling weeds and I would still have more weeds than vegetables. When I first started keeping this garden, I felt frustrated at how quickly and thickly the weeds grew. Now, I just accept it. In fact, I even encourage the weeds, because within the wild tangle there is a hidden gift: purslane.

My friends tease me that I feed them grass from the driveway as salad when they visit the farm in the summer. In fact, there's a lot of truth to that. The summer months are teeming with wild edible greens that, when tossed together with a simple lemon vinaigrette, become the most satisfying summer salad there is. Purslane grows just about everywhere--including along the driveway of the farm. I have found it growing in Brooklyn and in Central Park. It spreads over sidewalks and in alleyways all over the States. It grows especially well in my garden.

And so, I'm a weed farmer. But even you'll admit, in a salad like the one below, weeds can be pretty great eating.


Purslane Salad
6 servings

It's lemony in flavor and has a crisp crunch to it. It makes for a perfect base to this salad. If you're not adventurous enough to forage your own purslane, you can find it at almost every farmers' market in the summer. It's also called pigweed, little hogweed, or verdolaga, depending on where you live.

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. finely chopped shallot
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 mixed cherry or small ripe tomatoes (halved or quartered if large)
6 cups tender purslane leaves (about 1 lb.)
4 cups mixed baby greens (such as arugula, flat-leaf parsley leaves, lamb's quarters, spinach, and mizuna)

Combine lemon juice, shallot, salt, and pepper in a large bowl; whisk in oil. Add tomatoes, purslane, and greens; toss until coated.