Tuesday, May 29, 2012
In E. B. White's classic book, Charlotte's Web, the compassionate heroine, a grey spider called Charlotte, does her darnedest to convince a farmer not to slaughter his little pig Wilbur by weaving messages in her web - "Some Pig", "Terrific", "Radiant", and finally "Humble".
Wilbur, of course is saved, and goes on to be a ribbon-winner at a local fair.
I was reminded of the good lives that animals can enjoy before they become our dinner when I visited Rob and Heather Kitchen's Pigasso Farms. I drove into a parking filled with fat, clucking chickens enjoying dirt baths and laying their eggs wherever they felt comfortable. As I got out of my car several juvenile pigs ran up to the edge of a fence to greet me, snorting and smiling. I walked around to find huge fenced in areas, one populated with piglets in all sorts of stylish color combinations and another area for ginormous pregnant sows keeping themselves cool and comfortable in big, muddy puddles. I got teary watching a mom, Fern and one of her babies nuzzle each other, lovingly looking into each other's eyes. My emotion was two-fold - happiness at the scene I was witnessing and extreme sadness at other scenes of sows standing in areas so tightly closed in that they can't sit, turn around to scratch their backs - and never can kiss their babies. That is the horror of factory farming. Pigasso Farms is the living example of how things can - and should be done. As Rob said of his animals, "they only have one bad day". From the day Rob's pigs are born they are habituated to the trailer that will eventually bring them to the slaughterhouse. For them it's one of their playgrounds. This isn't a cynical observation - if you're a carnivore, the meat of humanely-raised animals is what you should search out.
At one point during my visit as I stood at the fence with Rob and Heather I felt a stinging sensation on my knee. I looked at the plants in front of me and asked, "Are these nettles?". "Yes" was the answer. My first thought was - "yum" - these deep green leaves are very flavorful. And I thought about this recipe recently published in the New York Times. Is there a more perfect Pigasso Farms recipe?
FARRO PASTA WITH NETTLES AND SAUSAGE
4 - 6 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced small
salt and pepper
1 pound hot Italian fennel sausage, casings removed
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pound farro pasta (or another type of dried pasta)
1 pound rinsed nettle leaves (or other greens like bok choy or mustard, roughly chopped)
ricotta salata cheese for grating (or Romano or Parmesan)
1. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil.
2. In a wide, deep skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium-high burner. Add the onion and a little salt, and let the onion begin to soften. Add the sausage meat, breaking it into rough pieces with a wooden spoon, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are lightly browned and the sausage is done, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and stir to well coat. Turn off the heat.
3. Salt the pasta water and begin cooking the pasta. When the pasta is nearly ready, reheat the onion and sausage mixture over a high burner. Add the nettles or greens to the pan along with 1/4 cup pasta water and stir until wilted and tender, about 2 minutes. Check the seasoning.
4. Drain the pasta when al dente and mix with the skillet ingredients in a large warmed bowl. Serve with coarsely grated ricotta salata.
Go here for hints on how to handle the stinging nettles.
SUSANSIMONSAYS: Recently visited local dining spots that serve food made with locally sourced ingredients include:
Flatiron in Red Hook, New York - upstate, not Brooklyn. Chef/owners Jessica Stingo and Craig Stafford are assiduous in their promise to keep ingredients local and seasonal. As a result the kitchen turns out very tasting food served in a comfortable room. I was happy with my asparagus crepes served with ramp aioli. The aioli was my request as the dish is meant to be served with Romesco sauce and I have a BIG problem with the red peppers that make that sauce. The chef was most accommodating with making the switch.
Local 111 in Philmont, NY - chef/owner Josephine Proul's restaurant - a reimagined service station - is named for the local ingredients used in its kitchen and its address on the main street in Philmont.
Once again I chose a dish with asparagus - got to eat as many as possible while they're still around. Warm asparagus with Hudson red cheese, bacon, almonds, parsley and poached egg was the perfect lunchtime dish - especially after a holiday weekend of non-stop eating. The table shared a big bowl of home-fried potatoes which were delicious, and surprise - tasted like potatoes.