I may be exposing my suburban roots, but it thoroughly impresses me when an entire meal can be harvested from a back yard. Nowadays, there is plenty of talk of local, sustainable food and happily this concept is growing through, for instance, local farmers’ markets, movements such as Slow Food, and committed practice by chefs and home cooks alike. I do my best to buy locally grown and raised food, grateful that I live in a part of the country where we have an abundance. I am mindful of what and how we eat, yet also realize that this is a process to move through in order to change a pattern of living and eating into a new way that feels intuitively correct.
So, you might understand that I could not help but feel like a self-aggrandized neanderthal when I had the pleasure of sharing a meal with my sister and brother-in-law in the Danish countryside last week, where they created “just another dinner” from food harvested from their property. Here I am in a state of attempted-permanent-mindfulness of eating locally and sustainably, when I walk into their kitchen and find an environment where this is the norm – naturally and reflexively.
And what a meal we had. It began with homemade salumi made of venison and duck hunted from the nearby forest. As we nibbled on the lean slices of salami, my brother-in-law went outside to harvest some crayfish from the lake. He returned with a bucketful of squirming crustaceans as well as an armful of enormous porcini mushrooms that he just happened to spot growing by a grove of trees on the way to the dock. In the meantime, after I had rather naively inquired as to whether there was a salad I could help make, my sister-in-law returned from her garden where she went to find some vegetables, profusely apologizing that she did not have any lettuce. As she heaved a basket on to the table, it brimmed with heirloom tomatoes, chard, new potatoes, red potatoes, yellow carrots, crab apples, garlic, zucchini, crookneck squash, red onions and grapes. She declared that this was just one day’s worth of a harvest, and it all should be eaten, as there would be just as much to harvest tomorrow. So, we got cooking.
The porcinis were cleaned, sliced, dressed with olive oil and salt. I made a salad of colorful heirloom tomatoes, red onion and chard; potatoes were roasted with olive oil and garlic; apples and carrots were sliced and put in lemon water for the children; we sautéed the zucchini and crookneck squash; the crayfish were boiled and cooled; homemade bread was warmed and sliced; the table was laid while we gamely tried to find room for all the plates and food. As we tucked in to our meal, my brother-in-law told us to save some space for the pigeon and duck he had braising in the oven that he was eager for us to taste, adding that he had saved the largest porcini mushroom for a cream sauce that would accompany the birds.
This was a delicious, abundant meal created from food hunted or grown near or on the property. The beauty of it is that there was no need for a written recipe. Each dish reflected the main ingredient, either cooked or raw, enhanced with salt, pepper, some olive oil, perhaps some vinegar and lemon.
However, I cannot resist writing at least one recipe:
Salad of Mixed Heirloom Tomatoes, Red Onion, Chard Leaves and Basil
2 pounds (1 kg.) assorted baby heirloom tomatoes, sliced or halved, depending on size
2 cups mixed red and green chard leaves, stems removed
2 small red onions, peeled, thinly sliced
1 cup purple and green basil leaves, stems removed
1/3 cup (80 ml.) extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Arrange tomatoes in the center of a serving platter, alternating colors.
Arrange chard leaves around the edge of the platter.
Top tomatoes and chard with red onion slices.
Garnish with basil leaves.
Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Add salt and pepper to taste.