By Joe Dizney
“Cooking and eating are one long science experiment,” says Shelley Boris, a partner in Fresh Company, local chef and co-sponsor of the Garrison Institute’s upcoming Modern Earth Day Dinner.
Sounds a lot like life in general to me, and with recent headlines pointing out the fact that some of our long-term — shall we say, lifestyle — experiments have egregiously failed our environment, it’s time we all respond thoughtfully rather than react hysterically, therefore I applaud the theme and thinking behind this year’s feast.
Spring heralds growth and a celebration of the earth as the source of all our nourishment, and while unchecked science, economic and technological progress can be blamed for our current and ever-more-serious problems, we must admit to a larger amount of “operator error” before demonizing specific institutions or industries.
Our crises are man-made — by our less-than-skillful apprehension of the world and manipulation of the tools, technologies and systems that we have invented, adopted and embraced. But again, from Ms. Boris: “Some of our ‘experiments’ are successes and some are failures, but there will always be the quest.”
For the Garrison Institute fête, Fresh Company will be questing: “experimenting” with dehydrators to make shiitake chips (served with a parsnip mousse) and liquid nitrogen to prepare maple ice cream crisps to name a couple of “cooking” procedures they will playfully employ in the name of culinary artfulness.
Lest this sound too experimental, rest assured the ingredients are locally and organically sourced from purveyors such as Glynwood and Blooming Hill farms, Red Barn Produce, Lanza’s and Hudson Valley Fresh among others, and the menu centers around more “traditional” fare, like roast pork and tilapia brandade. The molecular gastronomy employed here is to make a larger point: technology and progress are not in themselves bad. It is up to us how we use them — or better, how we employ them and support their continued use.
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But this is a food column and the question remains: What’s for dinner?
To that point, the recipe for this week suggests a mindful meeting of terroir and technology. Spring onions are among the first vegetables to arrive locally. Kale, bok choy and other exotic greens, usually seasonal, are now grown year round — locally, organically and aquaponically — by Continental Organics (located just north of West Point) and available at the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market.
At Continental, a recirculating aquaponic-aquaculture system (RAS) continually distributes water and nutrients through the farming facility, converting system “inputs” into beneficial “outputs.” Hence, in addition to greens and tomatoes, Continental will also be supplying tilapia for the Earth Day Dinner brandade. (Explained simply: “People feed the fish, the fish feed the plants and the plants clean the water.” This is an admirable and exemplary model for sustainable and sound environmental and business practices.)
For this recipe, the greens, based on a recipe from Shelley Boris, are a simple sauté with spring onions and garlic. She suggests them as a side or as an ingredient in other dishes like frittatas or with pasta or rice. Here, pancakes based on a favorite recipe from Georgeanne Brennan could just as easily be buckwheat (from your favorite recipe); the bacon is by no means required. The warm parsley-butter sauce is suggested but also not necessary. Enjoy in good conscience.
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Note: The Garrison Institute Modern Earth Day Meal will be held at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 24, at the Garrison Institute. The event also features a talk, An Earth Day for the Age of Us, by respected environmental journalist Andy Revkin. Reservations required; $40 per person ($45 cash or check at the door) includes beer and wine. Full menu and reservations / tickets available by phone at 845-424-4800 or online at the Garrison Institute website.
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Spring Onion Pancakes with Greens and Bacon
Serves four as a main brunch or dinner course.
For the pancakes
1 cup all purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1¼ cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
½ cup finely chopped green onion tops
For the parsley-butter sauce
6 tablespoons butter
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
Juice of ½ lemon
For the greens
2 tablespoons oil for cooking
4-6 cloves garlic, sliced thin
2 cups spring onions (white part), quartered and cut into 1-inch pieces (substitute scallions or leeks)
1 bunch bok choy (cut into 1-inch pieces) or 8 small heads baby bok choy (cut into quarters or eighths)
1 small bunch kale (red Russian, lacinato, or curly green), stems removed and cut into 1-inch ribbons, blanched or steamed 3-4 minutes, drained (substitute spinach or other dark tender green)
8 slices bacon (optional)
1. Heat oven to 200˚ F for warming.
2. Prepare the pancake batter: Mix and sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. With a whisk, beat eggs and milk in a bowl until well mixed; add butter and mix. Add milk and egg mixture to dry ingredients and beat with a spoon until free of lumps. Stir in onion greens to incorporate. Set aside.
3. Prepare the parsley-butter sauce: Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Keep warm until ready to serve, whisking in chopped parsley and lemon juice at the last minute.
4. If using bacon, in a large skillet cook until just crisp, drain on paper towels and keep warm in oven.
5. For the pancakes: Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium and grease lightly (if using bacon, drain and strain bacon grease and use this; if not use vegetable oil). Spoon about 1/3 cup of the onion pancake batter into skillet and cook until bubbles form on top and bottoms are golden brown (2 to 3 minutes). Flip pancakes and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until tops are golden. Remove pancakes as they are done to a heated pan and keep warm in oven. (Do this in batches of 3 or 4. You should have 8 pancakes total.)
6. For the onions and greens: While you cook the pancakes, heat another skillet (or large saucepan), oil and garlic over low heat. Cook until garlic is just tender (4 to 5 minutes). Raise heat to medium and add spring onions, kale and bok choy. Toss while cooking until done (2 to 3 minutes). Salt to taste and keep warm over low heat.
7. Assembly: For each plate, layer one pancake, topped with two strips of bacon followed by some greens. Top with an additional pancake and finish with a drizzle of the butter-parsley sauce. Serve immediately.