By Dan Colton
Earlier this summer, I was sitting around the farm with the other interns on Boardman Hill, discussing the plan to prepare dinner later in the evening. Considering the plentiful organic produce fields directly outside our door, we already knew that everyday our meals would include large amounts of fresh foods – all we had to do was stay creative.
I needed to find a new dish. I’d been cooking the same recipes over and over, and was on the lookout for something new. The dish would have to be popular with the five other interns living with me on the farm this summer—plus the occasional friend stopping by for the evening—not to mention filling enough to be worth the effort.
I learned early on that farm fresh produce doesn’t require extensive doctoring to taste phenomenal. First-hand I’d tasted how good ingredients make for good food. The fresh taste of the produce doesn’t need many additions or spices. The only herbs we consistently use are basil, parsley, rosemary, and cilantro, which are all growing in the backyard garden.
I decided to stick to my established comfort zone: the grill. Starting off with halved tomatoes, I placed the halves with their flattened sides directly onto the grate at medium temperature, and let them cook covered for about four minutes. Once cooked to completion, the tomato skins begin to show signs of being withered and cracked. Upon first bite, I discovered the hint of a smoky flavor which added an interesting twist to the dish. My recommendation is to garnish the tomatoes with light coating of olive oil, shredded fresh basil, and a shake of sea salt.
With the initial experiment successful, I moved onto test other produce. An onion, whole and unskinned, takes roughly 20 minutes of grill time at medium-low heat. The onion won’t need to be turned—the outer layers will protect it from burning. It emerges wonderfully caramelized. To serve, remove the first few layers and slice them into bite-sized pieces.
Zucchini and summer squash can be cut into wedges or strips lengthwise, oiled and salted, and then grilled on both sides on medium-low heat for 10 minutes.
My favorite grilled vegetable is undoubtedly the beet. Start by removing any beet greens which may be attached. Wash the beets and wrap them in tinfoil. Place them in a grill for about 45 minutes on medium-low heat. Patience will reward your taste buds. You can use a fork to spear the beets as to check their texture if you start to get antsy. You’ll want the fork to slide easily into the beet with very minimal resistance.
I did some homework, too. By checking Hannaford’s Grocery and the Saturday Rutland Farmers Market, I was able to compile a simple comparison of respective meal costs. I’d like to mention that feeding a family of four with a dinner of grilled produce is easily affordable on most budgets, and also much healthier than many other options. Frugal people interested in healthy eating will be further interested to learn that organic produce is by-and-large much cheaper at the Farmers Market than at Hannaford. For a dinner of grilled veggies (three beets, 3 tomatoes, 3 zucchini/squash, and 2 onions) for four, the cost at Hannaford is $11.63. The same meal with organic Hannaford produce is $22. At the Rutland Farmers Market, I found the same meal with organic, local produce at a cost of $14.03.
For those of you most concerned with saving a few dollars— $2.40 in this case—Hannaford is the cheapest option. (For those of you working on lower incomes, it is important to note that vendors at the Rutland Farmers Market accept EBT and Farm to Family coupons. About one in four Vermont families are eligible for the Farm to Family coupons, according to the Vermont Department for Children and Families). But when considering the small cost difference and positive benefits of eating organic and locally, going the Farmers Market route would be my recommendation.
Earlier this week, about a dozen people gathered at the farm to celebrate a few August birthdays and the bounty of Vermont summer. Being that we’re on a farm, a lot of food was included, and we grilled many of the vegetables mentioned before. Dinner that night especially great—overflowing plates of roasted veggies straight from the farm, Boardman Hill Farm pork ribs and sausages, fresh salads loaded with local produce, hot casseroles, and bread. But the biggest hit of all was the chocolate-zucchini cake (a recipe I’m in the process of ‘declassifying’ from its owner, and one that I’d like to share with you), which we ate in the warm night below the shine of early August’s ‘Super Moon’.
The experience of good, local food is something I want to share with the community. I want others to know where their food comes from. I want agriculture to reemerge as an exciting aspect of our society. Above all else, I want to see people excited about summertime not only for the good weather and vacation time, but because the tomatoes are picked and ready to grill.
Dan Colton is a beginning farmer and journalism student concerned with the security of healthy foods for everyone.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.