Today was a double meeting catering day that made a difference.
I planned for a single catering endeavor, the occasion for which was a Santee Sioux garden/market/farm to school steering committee meeting. Since the day we discussed fresh, local, healthy food over cheeseburger baskets, I’ve turned each subsequent meeting into an opportunity to cook and share a homemade, healthier lunch that uses seasonal ingredients. Today’s menu:
- Roasted Garlic and Potato Soup
- Lazy Whole Wheat Bread
- Pasta Salad with Roasted Sweet Potato, Cauliflower, Parsnips, and Kale Stems
- Winter Fruit Salad
I cater in constant fear of running out of food, and this usually results in leftovers (if it doesn’t, I’ve failed a little bit). Due to my overestimation of both food required and meeting attendance today, leftovers after lunch were somewhat significant. The extra soup went home with one of the committee members, and the rest of the menu, ice-packed and boxed up, went onwards with me.
From Santee, my boss and I proceeded to South Sioux City for a 5:30 meeting with our community gardeners there. Snacks at these monthly meetings are a sometimes occurrence, and we hadn’t planned any refreshments for today. But with plenty of bread, pasta, and fruit remaining, I set out a little buffet table for my catering’s second wind.
Gardeners trickled in and sat down, and the meeting began. At our Siouxland Community Garden meetings, everything takes twice as long but comes out twice as interesting while the conversation is translated back and forth between English and Spanish.
When the meeting had wound down, people began to visit the side table where I’d set out my salads, then returned to the table to eat as they chatted about their gardening plans. I sat back and listened to the conversation flow around me, ready to relax after a long day but also enjoying the chance to immerse myself in Spanish again.
As I sat half-listening, I noticed that people were beginning to talk about the food. ¿Qué es esto? No lo reconozco. Pero está rico.
I perked up and joined in the conversation, dredging the words for “apricot” and “fig” (albaricoque and higo) out of my memory. The fruit salad was a hit, and as I talked about it, I realized how similar it had turned out to the fruit-laden ponche we had sipped at Decembers’ community garden fiesta. The festive beverage had brimmed with exotic fruits I’d never seen before, some of which Google managed to turn up English names for, and some of which it didn’t (translatable or not, I can’t wait to try tejocote again the next time I get a chance).
When talk turned to the pasta salad, I tried to explain a parsnip.
“It’s like a carrot, but white, and it’s bitter raw,” I offered in Spanish. “But when you cook it, it’s very sweet.”
“Wow. It’s so sweet, I thought it was an apple,” a woman replied.
“I’ve never seen these before. What are they called in Spanish?” asked another gardener.
Google turned up chirivía, but the word was meaningless to the audience. In Mexico, there just aren’t a lot of parsnips to be had.
Here, though, they’re one of my favorite winter vegetables. Tossed with a little oil and salt and into a hot oven (my number one treatment for any vegetable), they become sweet enough to pass for apples. And now that I’ve had a lively parsnip discussion with the gardeners in South Sioux City, maybe parsnips and the other winter vegetables that accompanied them in a pasta salad will expand some fresh produce horizons in the Nebraskan winter, just as last month’s ponche opened my eyes to new worlds of Latin American fruit.
Sometimes I forget that these meeting caterings are more than just a chance for me to cook creatively for a large audience, a once-frequent pastime that I really miss. I get carried away enjoying the planning, the shopping, and the cooking, so much so that the eating becomes secondary, and the learning opportunity lags behind that. But on days like today when I get to puzzle over parsing parsnips, I remember all over again that spreading good food knowledge is not just possible, but deliciously fun.
Recipes after the jump
- 2 heads plus 2 cloves garlic, divided
- 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil, divided
- 2 onions, sliced
- 5 large starchy potatoes, peeled and cut into 1” cubes
- 6 cups (or more) water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock (I actually used leftover liquid from cooking beans)
- 2 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
- 1 cup milk or half-and-half
- 1 small bunch green onions or chives, chopped
Preheat oven to 350º.
Cut the tops off the two whole heads of garlic, exposing the cloves. Place heads in a baking dish, drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and a pinch of salt, and cover with foil. Roast until tender when cloves are pierced with a knife, 45-60 minutes. Squeeze cloves out of papery exterior. (Can be done in advance – refrigerate until ready to use.)
Heat the remaining tablespoon oil in a large pot. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent. While onions are cooking, finely chop remaining 2 cloves garlic. Add garlic to onions and cook until fragrant.
Add roasted garlic cloves, cubed potatoes, a 1-ounce chunk of the cheese, and water or stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender or food processor in batches to blend).
Add milk, then add more water or stock to reach desired consistency if needed. Add salt to taste.
Top with chopped chives and remaining cheese, grated.
- 2 medium sweet potatoes
- 1 small head cauliflower
- 2 parsnips
- 10 kale stems (I had these frozen from my garden – you could also use broccoli or omit)
- 4 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil, divided
- 1 pound pasta, small shape
- ⅓ cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon minced rosemary
- ½ tablespoon minced sage
- Black pepper
Preheat oven to 400º.
Cut each vegetable into ½” cubes and put into separate bowls. Add one teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt to each. Spread each vegetable on a separate baking sheet and roast until tender, 20-30 minutes. (Can be made in advance – refrigerate until ready to use.)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta as directed, then drain and rinse with cold water.
While pasta is cooking, whisk together mayonnaise, mustard, remaining 1 tablespoon oil, cider vinegar, and herbs to make a dressing.
Stir together cooked pasta, roasted vegetables, and dressing. Add more salt and black pepper to taste.
Serves 10-12 as a side dish or meal component.
Winter Fruit Salad
Based on this recipe from Smitten Kitchen
Citrus fruit is never local in Nebraska. But it is seasonal, and it stores and ships well, so I’ll justify it that way.
- 4 cups water
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 3 star anise (if you have them around – I did)
- ½ plump vanilla bean (if you have it around – I didn’t)
- zest of 1 lemon, orange, or Meyer lemon, peeled off with a vegetable peeler
- 12 dried apricots, cut in half
- 8 dried figs, cut in quarters
- 2 tablespoons juice from the zested fruit
- 2 firm-ripe pears
- 1 apple
- 3 oranges, cut
- 1 grapefruit
In a saucepan, combine the water, sugar, star anise, vanilla, and zest. Bring to a boil to dissolve sugar, then remove from heat. Add dried fruit and set aside to cool.
In the meantime, peel and slice the pears and apple. Toss with the citrus juice.
When the dried fruit in syrup has cooled, add the pears and apples to the pan. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours to 12 hours.
Whenever you get a chance, prepare the oranges and grapefruit. Cut the peel away from the flesh, then cut out each individual section, leaving no membranes (see instructions here). Refrigerate the citrus sections until ready to use.
When ready to serve, remove the apple, pears, and dried fruit from the syrup. Toss with citrus sections and a few tablespoons of syrup, and serve. (Save the syrup for making cocktails – I promise you won’t regret it.)