Growing Good Eats in the Garden City

Make it Missoula is excited to welcome a YUMMY addition to our line-up of bloggers!–Heirloom Foodie.  Kristen Lee-Charlson Missoula’s resident “foodie” will be covering the Missoula Farmers Market and the sustainable food scene, while telling/teaching about food preparation. She’ll even provide a recipe or two.

By KRISTEN LEE-CHARLSON

After a long winter the farmers’ market season is finally here. I love all things about local food–the flavor of the strawberries (in June AND September), the long wait in winter for spring’s first radishes, gathering eggs from my backyard chickens, the short season for local asparagus, Dixon melons, the ridiculous surge of juice from peaches grown in Paradise, hearing from my farmer about the heirloom seeds she saved from last year and how they are hardy enough to grow in our precarious climate…and really knowing where my food comes from while supporting my neighbors.

These are just a few reasons for my obsession with the homegrown foods movement. And it’s not just about the flavor of local foods – it is indisputable that buying and eating local food helps the local economy.

Last summer, after running into my neighbor each week at Missoula’s Clark Fork River Market, I noticed that she was planting a small garden in her backyard. Not seeming like the “gardening” type, I asked her why she was doing this: “My husband says that all of the produce at the farmers’ markets isn’t grown here, it comes from Washington State because we can’t grow that kind of produce in this area.”

Wow! I have shopped at Missoula’s farmers’ markets for 10+ years – how could a family that frequents the markets miss that these vendors are growing or producing on soil and land in western Montana. And after all, Missoula is the “Garden City” right? We also know that the soil in western Montana and Missoula County in particular, is some of the richest for agriculture in the state.

In 1941, 70 percent of Montana’s diet was raised, grown, and often processed in the state – keeping our dollars right here. Today, about 10 percent of the food that Montanans eat is grown in state. In fact, the food most North Americans eat travels over 1,500 miles between the farm gate and the dinner plate, and food changes hands an average of 33 times between the producer and the consumer. That means that we are sending our dollars out of state with every food purchase.

Montanans currently spend over $3 billion on food each year; yet if each family spent just $10 each week on Montana-grown food products, we would re-direct over $200 million back into our state economy. Remember these farmers-ranchers-producers are our neighbors andfriends.

But, back to the food…this week at the market I scored both French Breakfast radishes ($1.50) AND asparagus ($3.) Following are a few recipes to tempt your taste buds and make cooking (and buying) local foods more accessible. Get out to the markets this weekend, support your farmer and eat some real good grub!

ASPARAGUS FRITTATA

Adapted from Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice

Serves 3–4

1 small bunch asparagus, about ¾ pound

1 large or 2 small leeks

2 tablespoons butter

4–5 eggs from family farm chickens, or 1–2 goose eggs, or 3–4 duck eggs

¼ cup cream, half-and-half, or whole milk

¼-½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste (you might want to use the lesser amount if using cheese; more if not)

Nutmeg—a little grated fresh, or ⅛ teaspoon powdered

¼ cup grated cheese such as cheddar or Monterey Jack, or crumbled feta (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300º.

  1. Break off the tough ends of the asparagus. Cut the spears into 1-inch pieces on the diagonal.
  2. Slice the leeks into thick rounds. Put them into a bowl of cold water and mix to get the dirt out.
  3. Melt the butter in an oven-safe skillet (cast iron or stainless steel). When it’s hot, lift the leeks out of the water in handfuls, shaking off any excess water, and put into the pan. Sauté over medium heat until just tender.
  4. Add the asparagus pieces to the pan along with about a tablespoon of water. Cover the pan and allow the asparagus to steam for one to three minutes, until just tender.
  5. Meanwhile, mix together the eggs with cream, milk or combination.
  6. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  7. Add the asparagus to the pan and pour the egg mixture over, then add the cheese, pressing it gently into the eggs. Let this cook on the stovetop over low heat for a minute or two, and then transfer to the oven and bake until the eggs are just set—this may be as little as five minutes. (You can also finish under a broiler, as long as the pan isn’t too deep and you keep a close eye to make sure it doesn’t burn.)
  8. Remove from the oven, cool for a few minutes, and slice and eat. Serve with salad and good bread, and maybe a few steamed new potatoes.

SWEET AND SPICED HERB RADISH SAUTÉ
Serves 4

1-1/2 to 2 tbsp unsalted butter (Lifeline is local and organic)
About 24 small radishes, trimmed, washed and dried
1/8 tsp sugar
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt to taste
2 to 3 tbsp water
1/4 cup snipped chives or thin-sliced scallion tops
3 basil leaves, torn
2 tbsp sour cream

  1. Heat butter in a 10-inch sauté pan over medium high. Add radishes and sugar, sautéing about 2 minutes.
  2. Lower heat to medium. Sprinkle radishes with salt, pepper and water. Cover and cook 1 minute.
  3. Uncover and boil off liquid, stirring all the time. Taste radishes for seasoning and fold in herbs.

Serve warm with dollops of sour cream.

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Kristen has been the publisher of edibleMISSOULA magazine for the past 4 years, a publication celebrating the bounty of local seasonal foods and farming. She is an accomplished chef, caterer and home-cook. As a mother, she is dedicated to educating and empowering others about traditional food preparation and the joy and economy of eating local. She sits on the board of the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition of Missoula County (CFAC) and serves on the Montana Food Systems Council; as well as being a strong advocate for more localized and sustainable food system. She is working on a new venture – the Heirloom Projectexploring traditional foods, farming & modernhomemaking.