Tiny Urban Tidbits is where I share with you some insights, “tidbits”, or just random encounters from the week. I carry my camera with me everywhere I go, and I love capturing photos of interesting things that I discover. These may include new dishes from a restaurant that I’ve already reviewed, updates on what’s going on locally, or encounters I’ve had in the kitchen. It could even include a beautiful sunset, a funny sign, or just stuff I find amusing. Think of it as snapshots (literally!) of my weekly experiences with food – intertwined with stories, of course.
I am a member of the wellness committee at my workplace, and I love some of the benefits we dream up for our workers in an effort to keep them healthy. This year, we provided an opportunity for our employees to participate in a CSA (community supported agriculture) with Siena Farms in Sudbury, MA. Employees pay in advance for a “share” of the season’s produce. From June until November, crop share members receive a new box of vegetables every week, delivered straight to our workplace.
Siena Farms is owned by Farmer Chris Kurth and his wife, Ana Sortum, chef/owner of Oleana and Sofra Bakery (not to mention Top Chef Masters contestant this season!). The farm is named after their daughter, Siena.
Here’s a peek at what I got this week. I decided to share a box with a co-worker, so what you’re seeing is half a box (~$15 worth).
French Breakfast Radishes
Related to the turnip and the radish, these babies are milder in flavor and typically are harvested early in their growing season. If they are harvested too late, they become bitter and pithy.
Also known as coriander, this herb has a very distinct flavor, loved by some (like Bryan), and despised by others. About half a dozen unsaturated aldehydes make up the flavor profile for cilantro. Some of these aldehydes are very similar to aldehydes found in soaps. Other aldehydes contribute to the pleasant cilantro-like aromas that cilantro-lovers embrace.
There are several theories as to why people are so divided about cilantro. Some say that people who hate cilantro do not have the ability to detect the positive smelling compounds in cilantro, and thus only taste the soapy stuff. Harold McGee in an oft-quoted New York Times article surmises that our brains make associations between various compounds and food experiences. If a particular flavor does not match a food experience, some people may automatically classify it as “chemical” or “soap” and thus reject it outright.
I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m not like Bryan, who will happily eat cilantro in handfuls like he’s eating a salad. Yet, I am not turned off by it either, and will happily enjoy food garnished with the herb.
An interesting fact: in Mandarin Chinese, cilantro translates to “fragrant greens.” Maybe most Chinese people have the gene that allows them to smell the sweet smelling compounds?
This fragrant herb is best used fresh as it loses its flavors pretty quickly. I hope to make some delicious gravlax with it, maybe using the same method I used in making my citrus-marinated salmon.
Mottistone “Summer Crisp” Batavian Lettuce
This relatively uncommon lettuce is uniquely speckled with patches of red. Trevor from Siena Farms cautions against dressing these delicate leaves too heavily with strong acids or thick dressings.
Also known as rapini or broccoli rape, this relative of broccoli has a much more pungent and slightly bitter flavor. It pairs wonderfully with sausage for a fantastic Italian pasta dish.
You see this at every supermarket, but I have to say this is the largest Romaine lettuce head I have ever seen in my entire life. Keep in mind I was sharing this, so I had already removed half the leaves of this giant for my box-share buddy.
Though most people associate Romaine lettuce with salads (most notably Caesar), I personally love stir frying it with garlic,a little bit of salt, and a splash of soy sauce. It’s a great way to use up such a large head of lettuce (since vegetables shrink significantly when you stir-fry them), and it tastes light and refreshing.
Salad Mix: Mini Green Oak Leaf Lettuce, Arugula, and Peppercress.
I’ve never had peppercress, but Trevor says it’s tangy and peppery. I can’t wait to try making some salad with this delicate bunch of leaves.
Next Week: Mini Top Chef Masters Series
As Top Chef Masters is coming to a close, I thought I would do a mini-series based on the show. Some of you may be aware of this, but Cambridge was fortunate enough to send TWO chefs to compete in this season’s show. Ana Sortum from Oleana (wife of Farmer Chris from Siena Farms), and Jody Adams of Rialto, who made it pretty far before being eliminated because of her undercooked goat.
Bryan and I visited both of their flagship restaurants in Cambridge pretty recently. Next week, you’ll get a detailed look into the meals that we enjoyed at each of these two very different yet excellent restaurants.
Ana happened to be in the kitchen the night we dined there. Bryan caught a photo of her inspecting the dishes before going out.
No sighting of Jody, but I did think it was cute how all the waitstaff were dressed in that same white top and orange apron that Jody wears on the show. It felt like dozens of Jodys were roaming around the restaurant serving us.
Stay tuned next week for detailed descriptions and many photos of food from both of these excellent restaurants.
Until then, have a fabulous weekend!
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