Summer has finally arrived, bringing with it an abundance of fresh vegetables. But what to do with all that kale? And how do you even cook a turnip anyway? Fortunately, local chef Alisa Jestel is here to help, through a series of cooking classes happening in Petersburg this summer in collaboration with Farragut Farm. Ari Snider went to the first class and has this report.
About 15 people showed up for the first of three cooking classes that aim to teach simple, healthy recipes that make use of local vegetables from Farragut Farm. Jestel is no stranger to fresh veggies, having run a farm-to-table restaurant in Washington State for several years. She says the best way to prepare delicious, healthy food is to start with high quality ingredients.
“[I am] very familiar with the farm-to-table, I think it’s the best way to go. Your product is only going to be as good as what you start with,” she said.
Now, Jestel works as a chef onboard the Kestrel, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game research vessel homeported in Petersburg. Today the students are divided into four groups and assigned a dish or two to make, following recipes that Jestel has prepared specially for the class.
“Today we’re doing a big variety of dishes,” Jestel said. “We’ve got a grits and greens dish that we’re gonna pair with some shrimp that was donated to us by the fishing vessel Saga. We’ve got a lot of fresh kale so we’re gonna do a kale gratin, kind of a nice ooey gooey kale dish that nobody can say no to.”
Also on the menu: Kale Caesar salad, roasted baby turnips, and homemade salad dressing. After Jestel gets everyone set up, it’s off and running. The kitchen quickly comes alive with the happy hustle and bustle of food preparation. Over on the salad team, Larisa Lewis is preparing the kale. She says she came to the class because it’s a rare opportunity for hands-on learning.
“We don’t have much for cooking classes here it’s usually, for me it’s Youtube and finding stuff online,” she said. “But it’s nice to be able to come and be in-person.”
Over on the frittata team, Mary Midkiff is slicing up Swiss chard, and hoping this class can give her some inspiration for summer cooking.
“I’m a teacher, so during the school year I cook very little and I try to cook more during the summer,” Midkiff said. “So I thought this would maybe motivate me.”
Midkiff says she likes Jestel’s emphasis on preparing both main dishes and condiments from scratch.
“I like when she was talking about salad dressings and making your own,” she added. “And I’ve done some of that in the past so I think this will give me some ideas and hopefully some confidence to try new things.”
Things seem to be off to a good start. But about halfway through Jestel faces a minor rebellion from the salad team, whose members are questioning the instructions that call for putting the crouton bread in the blender.
“So this group was questioning my knowledge of croutons,” Jestel said, laughing. “So the whole thing with this is you know a lot of people are familiar with croutons, homemade croutons are great they’re really easy, you can do them a lot of different ways. This just adds a unique crunch to the kale salad.”
And so the unorthodox method leads to another teaching moment, which is exactly what Jestel was hoping for. Crouton disputes notwithstanding, the dishes are coming together quickly, which is also part of the lesson Jestel is hoping to get across here.
“So all of these recipes are designed to be able to be done in 30 minutes or less,” she said. “I don’t believe things need to be lengthy or too challenging in order to be delicious. Again it goes back to when you’re starting with really great fresh ingredients, you don’t need to hide them underneath a lot of other flavors.”
And, just like that, it’s time to take the dishes out of the oven and dig in. Each group plates their creations and lays them out buffet-style. Then, the moment of truth. Larisa Lewis, who was preparing the salad earlier, is happy with the results.
“It’s good! I would have never thought to use kale for a Caesar salad,” she said.
Mary Midkiff, the teacher who was looking for some ideas, says the class has helped her get a handle on some veggies she would otherwise avoid.
“Just kale and chard and some of that stuff I stay away from because I kind of think of it as bitter sometimes, gives me some ideas about how to maybe make it palatable,” Midkiff said.
All the dishes got rave reviews, and by the time people started taking seconds they were already asking about signing up for the next class.
There will be two more classes on Saturdays this summer: July 20th and August 17th. To sign up email Marja Smets at email@example.com.
Selected recipes from the June 8th class
Farmers Market Frittata
Butter or olive oil
8 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1-2 cups chopped veggies
1 cup cheese of choice
1/4 cup fresh herbs (optional)
Bacon/sausage/other protein (optional)
1. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. head butter or oil in nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add protein (if using) and cook until protein is cooked through. Add chopped vegetables and cook until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. In a medium mixing bowl mix together eggs and milk. Season with salt and pepper.
4. If using herbs and cheese, pour 1/2 cup of each over the vegetable mix in the pan and stir to combine.
5. Pour egg mixture over top and tilt the pan to get even coverage. Using a rubber spatula give the mixture a quick, gentle stir to insure even distribution of ingredients.
6. Top with remaining herbs and cheese. Cook until eggs at the edge of the pan begin to set. 3-5 minutes.
7. Transfer skillet to the oven and bake until the eggs are set, usually 8-10 minutes. To check, make a small cut in the middle of the eggs and look for raw egg. When done, remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes in the pan.
8. Transfer frittata to a cutting board and cut into wedges. Great served warm, room temp, or even cold right out of the fridge!
Grits and Greens with Shrimp
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups cream or milk
1 cup grits
1 tablespoon olive oil
6oz hard chorizo or summer sausage, diced
2lbs peeled shrimp
2-3 cups diced greens
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter
Hot sauce to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
Paprika to taste
1. In a large sauce pan bring the chicken broth and milk to boil, gradually whisk in the grits. After well mixed, switch to a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
2. Reduce head to medium-low and simmer the grits, stirring frequently. Cook for 15-20 minutes until thickened. Season as desired with salt and pepper.
3. In a large pan head the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook for 2-3 minutes until sausage begins to crisp.
4. Add the greens, garlic, vinegar, and sugar. Toss to combine. Stir frequently and cook until greens soften and liquid reduces.
5. Add in the shrimp and toss to coat. Cook until shrimp is just done. Season as desired with salt, pepper, and paprika.
6. Stir the cheeses, butter, and hot sauce into the grits. Taste and season as desired with salt and pepper.
7. Transfer the grits to a serving platter and top with greens and shrimp mixture. Dust the top with paprika as desired.
2 bunches of kale
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups heave whipping cream
8oz (1 cup) good quality cheese (cheddar or gruyere)
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. In a large mixing bowl toss kale with cream and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
3. Pile the kale into a 9×13 baking dish and sprinkle the top with cheese.
4. Place the baking dish on a cookie sheet (to catch any cream that drips over, line the pan with foil or parchment paper for easy cleanup).
5. Bake at 425 degrees for 30-45 minutes until cream thickens and the top crisps up and browns like kale chips!