We know many of you want to eat as local and seasonal as possible. Like us, however, you may open your weekly CSA box with a bit of dread, thinking you couldn’t possibly eat another zucchini or bunch of greens that week. Or maybe you just stare into the box in puzzlement, thinking to yourself, “How do you even cook spaghetti squash?” before allowing the strange yellow gourd to waste away on your windowsill.
Well, to inspire all of us to think beyond salad and sad, rotten vegetables, we challenged three local chefs to take that CSA box and turn it into something grand. Or, you know, just something. Participants in our little experiment were Dean Maupin, executive chef of the Clifton Inn; Rice Hall, chef of the Blue Moon Diner; and Martha Stafford, owner of the Charlottesville Cooking School. We chose these pros because we know all three to source as locally as possible for their operations. In addition, they represent three clear segments of the eating and dining market: Maupin serves the high-end, foie gras-loving crowd; Hall caters to the hip diner crowd; and Stafford works with the crowd that wants to try the dishes at home.
Instead of Iron Chef’s kitchen stadium, we launched our event at the Meade Park farmer’s market, and instead of issuing our challengers one “secret ingredient,” we asked the chefs to use all of the ingredients provided to subscribers of Roundabout Farm’s weekly CSA shares for pick-up on September 10. The chefs showed up at Roundabout’s market stall with no prior knowledge of the contents. Here’s what they got:
2 lbs. red potatoes
1 large head heirloom garlic
1 butternut squash
1 other squash (spaghetti or delicata)
1.5 lbs tomatoes or eggplant
1 bunch leeks
5 sweet peppers
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 bunch parsley
The chefs then took their boxes to their own professional kitchens and prepared the dishes the next day with no time limit. (A head-to-head-to-head over open fire at Meade Park would have rocked, but we didn’t clear that with the fire marshal). We imposed no real restrictions on additional inputs to the dishes, local or non-local, and simply asked the chefs to highlight the local veggies and herbs and knock our socks off with flavor.
Though we didn’t impanel celebrity tasters to settle the score, we can tell you that we were more than pleased with what the chefs prepared. Each one spun the local staples into something fabulous, added other local goodies (e.g., Polyface Farm eggs, Meadowcreek Dairy cheese; grass-fed Culpeper beef), and remained loyal to his or her own genre of cooking.
Here’s what they did! And, after your mouth is watering, click here for all the recipes.
Dean Maupin’s four-course meal
(1) Tempura Sweet Long Pepper stuffed with Meadowcreek Dairy’s Grayson Cheese and finished with Rosemary Honey
(2) Swiss Chard and Leek Tart with Heirloom Tomatoes, Burrata, and Parsley Pesto
(3) Tortellinis of Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Maine Lobster and Vanilla Chardonnay Butter Sauce
(4) Tenderloin of Culpeper Beef with Butternut Squash and Sage Gratin
Dean Maupin’s Tortellinis of Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Maine Lobster and Vanilla Chardonnay Butter Sauce
Of his upscale, elegantly plated fare, Maupin said, “I wanted to keep it in the style of what we do here, so I thought, ‘What the hell, why not lobster?’” We especially loved the colorful tart, which tasted like Virginia sunshine wrapped up in a warm, creamy pillow.
Rice Hall’s brunch of champions
Spaghetti Squash and Leek Pancakes with Sautéed Chard and Bacon, topped with Poached Organic Eggs and served with fresh Heirloom Tomatoes, Butternut Hashbrowns and Garlic Chips
When we saw the hashbrowns, we thought, of course! It’s one of Blue Moon’s signature dishes, after all, but Hall says that going with the late-riser’s favorite meal wasn’t obvious to him at first. ”I was struggling to come up with a dinner entrée when my wife [and Blue Moon partner Laura Galgano] said, ‘Why don’t you just do brunch?’”
Rice Hall’s Spaghetti Squash and Leek Pancakes with Sautéed Chard and Bacon, topped with Poached Organic Eggs and served with fresh Heirloom Tomatoes, Butternut Hashbrowns and Garlic Chips
The spaghetti squash and leek pancakes were especially genius—with a hint of sugar, they had that perfect sweet-savory balance.
Martha Stafford’s rich and rustic sides
(1) Crostini with Slow Roasted Sun Gold Tomato, Lemon Zest and Cracked Coriander
(2) Salt Roasted New Potatoes with Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil
(3) Sautéed Rainbow Chard with Leeks
(4) Layered Baked Fall Vegetables
Martha Stafford’s Layered Baked Fall Vegetables
To come up with her recipes, Stafford says she got her juices flowing both literally and figuratively by making a simple vegetable stock with the leeks and parsley. Stafford then thumbed through one of her favorite cookbooks, The Improvisational Cook, by Sally Schneider, for inspiration. She focused on cooking techniques and seasoning to bring out the flavors of the foods. “Simple recipes like this work when you use ingredients in season. They would be too plain otherwise,” she says.
We were especially surprised and delighted by the salt roasted potatoes—so simple, so flavorful and so fun to scoop out of the salt and dip in gooey roasted garlic.