Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Garden To Table" - Literally.

*The Produce I Come Home To...*

Whenever I go home on the weekend, I end up cooking for my friends and family. It is always assumed that when Giuli is in New Jersey, she doesn’t get a break, but takes over the kitchen. Just a heads up for you prospective students out there, your family will want you to show of your culinary skills whenever you visit your house as well!

As many of you know, I grew up in a rather, unique setting if you will. My father is a mason and his hobby is gardening. All over our backyard are planters full of vegetables, fruit, banana trees, flowers, figs, etc.

During my childhood, my brother and I would always get excited around August and September. Yes, the weather definitely had something to do with this, but most importantly, it would be FIG season! Each summer we would collect and sort as many figs as possible per day. This past weekend, I picked around three pounds of figs alone. My mother usually makes fig jam and the rest of the bunch either gets frozen for the week or gobbled up as snacks throughout the day. We even have neighbors and random strangers who walk by our house and pick figs off the tree as a mid-afternoon bite.

I guess I was privileged to grow up around this kind of environment; I never really appreciated it until I came to school and gave some figs to my friends. A bunch of them had never eaten fresh figs before in their life. Many dissected them as if they were eating a piece of meat. This shocked me because I was forced to eat figs right off of the tree when I was young since we grew so many!

Whenever I walk into my garden now, I look at what my dad has grown and the wheels start turning in my head. “What can I make with these products?” I also consider food waste and try my best to use every bit and piece of the plant in cooking. For example, the beets grown in our soil have tough stems but when cooked, blanched or boiled, these stems become tender like celery stalks and can be applied in many ways. This past weekend, not only did I pick some figs but I made fig vinegar (simmered some balsamic, cider vinegar and simple syrup with figs to taste), sun-dried tomatoes (salted, drained fresh tomatoes cooked on low heat for two hours) and eggplant caponata (a hearty mixture of eggplant, tomato paste and assorted vegetables). Talk about a summer harvest!  

Beautiful Sun Dried Tomatoes...


When I came back to school this past Monday, I delivered some of our figs grown in the garden to the Chef at Caterina de Medici. To my surprise, he actually applied them for the assaggio (amuse bouche) at lunch service. I was so happy that a product, grown in my own garden in New Jersey had been served to the public. This is only the beginning for sustainability folks and I encourage each and every one of you to grow as much as you can and make use out of it! Pride is what it’s all about.

The Fig Assaggio in Caterina :)

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