And it's working. With the fervor of Internet pioneers, the area's young artisans and agricultural entrepreneurs are expanding aggressively, reaching out to investors, and working together to create a collective strength never before seen in this seedbed of Yankee individualism.
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THE DETAILS: The most visible sign of Hardwick on the rise is Claire's Restaurant, sort of a clubhouse for farmers, that began with investments from its neighbors. It’s a CSR, a community-supported restaurant, of which there are only a handful around the country. Fifty investors, who put in $1,000 each, will be repaid their money through discounted meals at the restaurant over four years. Blending the growing interest in eating local, healthy, organic food with a new business model seems to be a winning formula. ''Local ingredients, open to the world,'' is the motto on restaurant's floor-to-ceiling windows. Here, it's possible to attach not just a source but a name and a face to almost every item on the menu. ''There's the guy from Patchwork Bakery,” said Linda Ramsdall, the force behind the CSR, when I visited. “We’re using his bread tonight. 'That's Pete from Pete's Greens. You're eating his tomatoes.”
Most of what you eat at Claire’s is organic as well as local. Stephen Obranovich, the chef, makes sure of that. So there are no tomatoes in the winter. And asparagus was only on the menu for a short time this spring. Right now there are more than 30 local farmers, bakers, and cheese- and wine-makers providing the ingredients.
Obranovich’s recipes are delightfully creative, and make the best use of what is in season. He's sharing three of his recipes with us that are simple, cheerfully colorful and, most important of all, suffused with flavor—much of it coming from herbs, sometimes used in unusual ways. Like the basil in the strawberry-blueberry crisp. And a pesto made of almost any assortment of herbs you find appealing, used under and on top of the skin of roast chicken.
I’ve tested the three following recipes, and adjusted as needed for the home kitchen. The result? Three delicious, very summery treats you can make and share. And someday, should you make it up to Claire's, you can tell Chef Obranovich how you did with them.
Herb Pesto Chicken
Any mostly-parsley combination of herbs works with this recipe, or if you prefer, you can use sorrel alone. The pesto imparts a lot of flavor to the chicken and keeps it very moist.
Yields 4 cups of pesto, enough for two 4-pound chickens
4 large cloves garlic
1 cup pinenuts
2 to 3 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 bunches parsley with stems, washed and dried
2½ ounces oregano or marjoram, tough stems removed, washed and dried
12 ounces basil, washed and dried
1 cup packed coarsely grated aged cheddar cheese (at least 2 years old)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1. In a food processor, blend the garlic, nuts, salt, and pepper until smooth.
2. Add the parsley, marjoram, and basil in batches with some of the oil, and process until smooth, repeating until all of the greens and oil are used.
3. Add the lemon juice and any remaining oil, and process.
4. Add the cheese and process until it is just blended. Note: This mixture can be refrigerated for a few days, covered with a thin layer of oil to protect the top from browning. (The browning will disappear in the cooking.)
Yields 4 to 6 servings
1 four-pound chicken, cut into 10 pieces (4 breast quarters, 2 legs, 2 thighs, and 2 wings)
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil (enough for a light drizzle over the chicken)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat outdoor grill or stovetop grill.
2. Wash and dry the chicken; season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
3. Grill chicken long enough to achieve grill marks and impart flavor. Remove and cool.
4. Carefully pull the skin from the meat, leaving it partly attached. Spoon in a generous tablespoon or two of the pesto under the skin; replace the skin and spread another generous tablespoon or two on the skin. If you use the wings, just put the pesto over the top of them.
5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until juices run clear when a slit is made in the chicken.
6. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Strawberry Blueberry and Basil Crisp with Cracked Black Pepper
Basil is a wonderful addition to fruits, imparting an herbaceous note. Yields 6 servings. The topping yields enough for two crisps; cut the recipe in half for a single crisp, or refrigerate half the batch for up to two months or freeze for up to six. Defrost before using.
2 cups minus 2 Tablespoons old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons whole wheat or white flour, or combination
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
¼ to ½ teaspoon salt
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into ½-inch pieces
1½ teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1. Stir together the oats, flour, brown sugar, and salt.
2. Blend in the butter using your fingers until the mixture forms small clumps, or blend in a mixer at medium speed, but do not overmix. It should be crumbly.
The filling (for one crisp):
1 pound strawberries, washed and dried, tops removed, and cut in half or quarters or left whole, depending on size
1¼ pounds blueberries, washed and dried
Leaves from 1 small bunch basil, cut up into small pieces
½ to ¾ cup sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
4 teaspoons cornstarch
¼ to ½ teaspoon lemon juice
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)
1. Gently stir together all the ingredients but the cream or ice cream, and spoon into 10-by-15-inch glass baking dish. Note: Depending on the season, you can substitute rhubarb, cut in ½-inch-thick slices, for the blueberries.
2. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit.
3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and bake until top is golden, 20 to 25 minutes.
4. Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.
A cool and refreshing soup with a wonderful green color, you can make it without heating up the kitchen. Yields 6 cups.
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 spring onions, washed and trimmed and coarsely cut
1 English cucumber, washed, trimmed, and cut in thick slices
2 bunches radishes with their tops, washed and coarsely chopped
1 bunch beet greens (stems removed), washed and coarsely chopped
½ bunch each of basil, cilantro, and parsley, coarsely chopped
¼ bunch dill, washed and coarsely chopped
1 quart buttermilk
1 quart whole milk yogurt
¼ cup dry red wine
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ to 1 teaspoon hot chili flakes
2½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl or pot.
2. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your taste.
3. Working in batches, puree in a blender or food processor. Do not strain. Serve cold.