My garden has turned from a wish list and a stack of magazines to rows of two-inch seedlings on every available counter. But beyond bunches of chives and small pinches of fresh herbs, the hints of actually finding local and seasonal ingredients in my own back yard lead me smack into the realization of how far off the first harvest actually is. And it's not just me: the CSA and Farmer's Market won't start up for two months, and the "I'm Local" labels at Whole Foods are few and far between. I'm still surprised that there does not seem to be much local greenhouse fare, but there is one: a Maine farm has started to supply Whole Foods with beautiful vine-ripened tomatoes. And in keeping with winter really not being all the way over, Deep Root Farms in Vermont is still supplying Whole Foods with lovely root vegetables. Our own farmer's market fruit and local meat CSA deep storage, in the freezer, hasn't quite run out yet. Plus last week we got a surprise offer to be part of a morel recipe challenge sponsored by Max's. We've been looking longingly at the beautiful piles of Pennsylvania mushrooms for a few weeks now, and the challenge put us over the edge - Pennsylvania is for at least the next month a part of New England. So, tomatoes, parsnips, pork chops, morels, and peaches for supper. To our surprise, and relief, the pairing was not only delicious but fast and easy (ok, fast-ish: an hour and a half total start to finish for a full meal including dessert and five complete egg hunts for the 2-5-year-old crowd). And with so much of the food having been paid for long ago, it was if not quite free at least not a lot immediately out of pocket.
Morel Mac N Cheese
Cook 1 lb Penne, drain, and put into a large mixing bowl with 1 T olive oil or butter.
Chop 8 small morels into small pieces and saute in 1 T melted butter for about five minutes.
Melt 6 T butter over medium-low heat, add 6 T flour, stirring constantly. Add 3 cups milk and stir until smooth and thick. Add 1.2 tsp. garlic powder, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. salt. Remove from heat and mix in the morels. Mix the sauce gently into the pasta. Put into a deep baking pan, cover with 1 lb grated mixed cheeses (cheddar, muenster, colby, fontina...) and bake at 350 for 45 minutes.
Peel 3 parsnips and slice, lengthwise, into 1/4" thick slices. Lay on a cookie sheet, coat with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 350 for 15-20 minutes, turning halfway through. They should be nicely browned all over and just beginning to become crispy. Remove from the oven and let cool. Cut each slice into 2" pieces. Slice 2 large tomatoes as thinly as possible. Lay out one layer of tomatoes on a serving platter, then one layer of parsnips, another of tomatoes, and another of parsnips. Drizzle with 1-2 T balsamic vinegar (we used a delicious fig balsamic). Set aside for at least 15 minutes and up to an hour.
Morel-Braised Pork Chops
Soak 5 ounces fresh morels in 1 cup white wine for 10 minutes, then remove, saving the wine, and slice lengthwise into eighths.
Salt and pepper both sides of 6 3/4" pork chops. Sear, in one very large or two medium, oven-ready pan(s), in 2T olive oil. Remove the pork chops and set aside. Saute 2 large shallots, finely chopped, in the pan(s) with anything left over from searing the pork. Add the morels and the wine. Place the chops on top and sprinkle with 2T roughly chopped chives. Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes. Set the pork chops on a serving platter. Using a slotted spoon, remove the morels from the sauce and distribute over the pork chops. Put the pan with the remaining sauce back on the stovetop over medium heat. Simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup half and half or cream. Pour a little over the chops and morels, put the rest into a sauce boat and make sure that everyone dribbles on extra at the table!
Peach Bread Pudding with Hard Sauce
In a large bowl, mix 3 eggs. Add 2 cups milk, 1/2 cup half and half, 1/4 cup dark rum, and 1/2 cup dark brown sugar. Mix well. Stir in 8 ounces dried bread pieces broken into 1/2-1" chunks. Let the bread sit in the milk mixture for at least 30 minutes, pushing down any pieces that stick up above the wet mixture.
If using frozen peaches, melt 1 T butter in a heavy pan. Add 20 ounces frozen peaches. Saute on very low heat, stirring as little as possible, until the peaches are completely defrosted. Let cool to room temperature. Stir the peaches and the yummy juice that has appeared in the pan into the bread mixture. Pour into an 8 by 8" casserole. Bake, uncovered, at 375 for one hour, then at 400 for 15 minutes.
In a medium pan, melt one stick butter. Whisk in 1/2 cup dark rum and 1/3 cup powdered sugar. Whisk until completely blended. Pour a little over the top of the bread pudding before serving, and set out the rest on the table for self-dousing.