EAT LIKE A FARMER: LA TAVOLA MARCHE

The end of August brings the start of school and the first glimpses of cooler fall weather... but Starbucks had better hold their freakin' horses on those Pumpkin Spiced Lattes, because 'tis still the season for TOMATOES... and corn! zucchini! melons! okra! and all the things! This is the most back-breaking part of the season for farmers - when days are mostly spent harvesting the heavy fruits of a spring + summer's worth of hard labor.  With such an abundance flooding the markets, it's more important than ever to support your local farmers, buy in bulk, and get into the kitchen to preserve these wild + wonderful late summer harvests!

Speaking of which... in a few weeks I'll be posting some tips + recipes for preserving the season's tomato harvest... but for those of you living in the Santa Barbara area, I'm excited to announce that I'm teaching a hands-on Tomato Preservation Class on Sunday, September 17th! This class is a fundraiser for Veggie Rescue, a local organization that collects excess produce from local farms, farmers markets + backyards and distributes it directly to schools and organizations serving those in need, at no cost to recipients. In this 2 hours hands-on class, we'll tackle several simple + delicious ways to preserve tomatoes - from freezing to slow roasting, quick pickling, and hot water-bath canning. You'll walk away from this class with tons of new skills, a recipe packet, a belly full of snacks, and a few jars of preserved tomatoes to take home! Here's the link to more info and tickets - seats are very limited.

Now that I've got you all dreaming about tomatoes, it's time to share a new Eat Like a Farmer interview featuring folks who are growing some gosh darn beautiful tomatoes (see exhibit A, and B, and C)! This interview is with Ashley and Jason Bartner, the founders of La Tavola Marche, which is an organic farm, inn, and cooking school based in the sun-kissed Italian countryside in Le Marche region. For over 10 years, this husband and wife team has been living the dream and sharing the delicious secrets of cucina povera (peasant cooking) with an immersive and hands-on farm to table experience for their guests. If any of you are planning a trip to Italy in the near future, I highly recommend checking out La Tavola Marche's incredible cooking classes - from homemade pasta and sauces, to wood-fired pizzas, antipasti and dessert, and many more. Even if you can't make it all the way to Italy, you can keep up with La Tavola Marche via their drool-worthy Instagram account, awesome videos, and super fun podcast. Big thanks to Ashley for taking the time to take part in this interview series - keep reading for the full interview!

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Where is your farm located and what to you grow? We have a farm, inn and cooking school deep in Le Marche in the Italian countryside. We grow a lot! Our main crops are hundreds of tomatoes (in 12 heirloom varieties), potatoes, onions (red, white & Tropea) as well as dozens of salads & beans, tons of peppers, pumpkins, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, melons...I'm sure I'm forgetting something!

Walk us through a typical day on your farm and in your kitchen (ie what do you eat on a typical day)? A typical day starts at 5:30am with a big cappuccino then Jason heads to the garden to water (all by hand) and picks crates of ripe veggies daily while I water the flowers, prepare breakfast for the guests and let the hens out of their coop. By 10am our morning chores are done and we either prepare for a lunch cooking class or plan the dinner menu. After lunch, usually during the summer it's a big salad of cucumbers, onions & tomatoes still warm from the sun we take a power nap and prep the kitchen for what's cooking that night! If we have an afternoon/dinner cooking class - we start by taking the guests straight to the garden to collect the ingredients for dinner and return to the kitchen with baskets overflowing! A typical summer menu - with all the produce coming from our garden, even the eggs for the pasta is from our hens (the only things not; lentils (which are locally grown), anchovies from Sicily and the meat from our neighbors farm): 

  • ANTIPASTI: Stuffed Eggplant, Peperonata, Lentil Salad, Slow Roasted Tomato with Anchovy, Baked Vegetables with Breadcrumbs
  • PRIMO: Homemade Tagliatelle (pasta) with Zucchini & Zucchini Flowers
  • SECONDO: Mixed Grill, Roasted Potatoes + Salad
  • DESSERT: Poached Peaches in Local Rose with Fresh Whipped Cream

What is your favorite fruit or vegetable grow, and what's your go-to method to cook it? The tomatoes of course are amazing but it's our onions! I can't get enough - especially the oblong Tropea onions that are sweet enough to eat like an apple. Besides thinly sliced in salads my favourite way to eat them is Verdure Gratinate - baked with breadcrumbs. I know it sounds ridiculously simple and it is - but it's my favorite!

What kitchen tools could you not live without? Hand scrubber - Jason's hands are always a mess after the garden and stained black from the tomatoes. But I'm not the cook - Jason is and his favorite kitchen tools are his Falk Cooper pots and pans.

Name the top three ingredients used most in your kitchen that don't come from your farm. Pork, pork, pork - I think we need to get pigs!

Favorite cookbook? For Italian food: The Silver Spoon. For old American comfort food: The Joy of Cooking.

Do you have go-to methods for preserving your harvests through the year (ie jamming, pickling, freezing)? We preserve/jar hundreds of kilos of tomatoes each summer as well as pickle our peppers, beans and onions. We jam our plums (when they grow) as well as apple sauces/preserves in the autumn.  We braid our garlic and onions and I have learned the old school Italian tradition of making liquors as well and will 'preserve' our cherries, walnuts and wild plums in homemade after dinner drinks! The only thing we freeze are cherry tomatoes and thick slices of peppers to use in stews over the winter.

What advice do you give folks for cooking with your produce, especially when using ingredients they may not be familiar with? If it grows together it goes together.

How has running a farm influenced your relationships with family, friends, and your local community? Yes! Having a garden has connected us to the land, culture and people of this area more than anything we have done. We are foreigners in a very foreign land and by honoring their traditions and way of living we have 

Please share a favorite recipe for a simple, straight from the farm dish that you are craving this summer. 

Quick Pickled Peppers, Carrots & Onions

A favorite way to keep veggies a bit longer into the season is a quick pickle - that great briny flavor with a crunch without the wait of a month or more for a proper pickle. A dish of these puckery peppers makes a perfect antipasti/appetizer through the fall, I love adding heaping spoonful to my plate with grilled sausages (or dunked into a Bloody Mary) while watching football!

INGREDIENTS

  • Any vegetables of your choice, sliced thin - carrots, green beans, peppers, onions, etc. 
  • Water
  • Vinegar (white wine, red wine or apple cider - just don’t use a soft vinegar like balsamic)
  • Salt
  • Fresh herbs/aromatics of your choice (thyme, rosemary, dill, peppercorn, cardamon, etc)
  • Chili/pepper of your desired strength
  • Honey or sugar
  • Whole head of chopped garlic

INSTRUCTIONS

  • This is a ratio recipe. In a pot on medium heat, combine 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. Add a couple tablespoons of honey/sugar, a couple tablespoons of salt, aromatics, chili, etc. - everything BUT the vegetables.
  • Once the sugar and salt are dissolved give it a taste. Make sure its not too puckery or too bland - just nice and briny, slightly acidic with a nice taste. Adjust as necessary with more salt, water vinegar or sugar. Bring to boil.
  • Begin adding your vegetables based on hardness - for example:  carrots first, after 20-30 seconds add onions, afterabout 20-30 seconds add peppers. Bring to a rolling boil.
  • Once soft but still with a crunch, shut off the heat and strain out the vegetables and herbs (Do NOT throw out the liquid)! Place on a baking sheet in one flat layer and place in the fridge to cool. Keep the pickling liquid/brine in the pot to cool as well. 
  • Once both the veggies and liquid are cool, place the veggies along with all the garlic and herbs into a jar and cover with the liquid. Keep in the fridge and it will be good for up to 2 weeks, getting better as it sits.