Week 9, 2018 | Kristin Kimball | Mar 16, 2018

Spring is playing hide and seek with us here. It’s snowing now, and yet there is half a mile of spinach planted in the south greenhouse, the geese are laying enormous spring-time eggs, and all the storage onions and the scallions are in the germination chamber, coiled to sprout. We let the woodstove go out this week for the first time since December. And it was a huge week in the sugarbush. The nights were just cold enough to reset the trees and the temperatures in the daytime rose fast, so the sap flowed quickly. Despite a low level of sugar in the sap – 1.75% – we’ve made almost 30 gallons of syrup already. It is good to see Jake and Abby get into the groove of work, pulling the sap wagon through the woods multiple times a day. They were out of shape after a long winter, which is a thing some of us can relate to. Their collars need to be loosened a notch to accommodate their fat necks – also totally relatable.

Mark says he has fielded some requests from members for ideas and recipes from our kitchen. So, here ‘tis. Fresh maple syrup has put me in mind of my favorite vehicle for it: Polenta. Polenta is a staple that tends to fall off my radar for a while then come back as to the repertoire for long stretches. Even if you are new to making it, you’ll find it really easy to make and extremely versatile to use. I like to make a large batch and then have it for different purposes throughout the week. This morning, we ate it fresh and hot with butter and maple syrup. Tonight, we’ll have it for team dinner, as a base under a rich beef heart ragout. Tomorrow, if there is any left, we’ll fry squares of it for another, different breakfast.

There are many opinions on how to make polenta, and Italians believe in a low ratio of corn meal to water, attentive stirring, and a very long cook time. However, don’t let perfection be the enemy of good, and remember that polenta is just a different way to say cornmeal mush. You don’t need a whole afternoon to make good polenta. I use 5 parts salted water to 1 part corn meal. For normal family-sized batches, bring the water to a boil and slowly whisk in the corn meal, to avoid the dreaded lumps. Return to a very low simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened and cooked to your liking. If it’s a hasty breakfast, that might be 20 minutes, but more time is better. For a large, team dinner sized batch, I use the un-Italian slow cooker method: Butter the inside of the slow cooker. Mix 15 cups cold salted water with 3 cups corn meal. Cook on high, whisking occasionally, until it begins to thicken. Then turn to low, and cook for about 6 hours, stirring when you think of it. Any way you cook it, you can pour hot polenta into a buttered pyrex dish or a buttered hotel pan or sheet pan. When it cools, it’s sliceable, and can be fried in butter until crisp, and then drizzled with maple syrup.

A quick note on ragout – it’s an easy stew and great for unfamiliar meats like heart or gizzard. I’ll post our old gizzard ragout recipe on the back here, but the thing to remember is that a basic ragout is a 2:2:1 ratio of stock, tomatoes and wine, and it’s hard to get wrong. And that’s the news for this stormy 9th week of 2018. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday. –Kristin & Mark Kimball

Chicken Heart Ragout
There are lots of delicious hearts in the freezer, and this is one of our very favorite meals. Adapted from The Joy of Cooking.

Rinse and pat dry:

2 pounds chicken gizzards and/or hearts

Remove and discard the tough membrane connecting the two lobes of the gizzards. Cook in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat until lightly browned:

2 oz pancetta or 2 slices bacon, diced

Add the giblets and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add:

1 teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon fennel seeds

Salt and pepper to taste

Stir well and cook for 1 minute. Stir in:

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups seeded peeled chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned

1 cup dry red wine

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 bay leaves

Simmer gently, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the hearts are very tender, 1½ to 2 hours. If the sauce becomes too thick, add more stock or water. If too watery, boil it down over high heat. Serve with hot cooked rice or pasta. Accompany with freshly grated Parmesan cheese