When I tell them what I do, people who don’t write cookbooks are curious about how they’re made, especially when a book has recipes from multiple contributors. And since the Portland Farmers Market Cookbook
isn’t my first collection of other chefs’ recipes, I think I’ve gotten better not only at putting such a book together, but explaining the mechanics of how that happens.
My other “collaborative” cookbook project was for the Chefs Collaborative. It included 115 recipes from chefs scattered across the country, and rounding up those recipes was a bit like, well, herding chefs. Definitely a challenge. For this book, I wanted to highlight the entire market community: Portland Farmers Market vendors, chefs, and shoppers.
I started to think about writing a Portland Farmers Market Cookbook
during my second term as a board member. The thought had crossed my mind before that, since cookbook author is one of the freelance hats I wear. It wasn’t until I did the math that I realized that, if I got started the next day (!), the book’s release could coincide with the 25th anniversary of the market. That was when I decided there would be, there must be, a PFM cookbook. I knew I had a dedicated and talented partner in crime in Mona Johnson, former market communications manager. An accomplished chef herself, Mona had long hoped that PFM would put a cookbook out into the world. She and I schemed and made a case to executive director Trudy Toliver, who was enthusiastic from the start. And so I began to write a proposal, we found a publisher, and we got to work.
This project was the perfect fit for my experience as a cook and writer, and my interest in advocating for a more sustainable food system. When I left restaurant kitchens to focus on writing, I quickly realized that I am drawn to food issues and the broader implications of what and how we feed ourselves. Sitting on the board of Portland Farmers Market was an excellent place to explore and give voice to those passions. My six-year term was meaningful in many ways, but mostly in giving me a sense that we can all help make a difference in the social, environmental, and economic challenges facing our food system by educating others about them. Shopping at farmers markets is one way of doing that. Writing a farmers market cookbook might be seen as another.
I had a deep and dynamic pool of local culinary genius from which to draw content for the Portland Farmers Market Cookbook
. And there was the added advantage of knowing many of these people. Still, there were multiple spreadsheets involved, and what felt like endless visits, phone calls (one of the contributors called me the Velvet Bulldozer), and emails to get what I needed when I needed it in order to meet my deadlines. The list of contributors and recipes evolved and changed over time, to create a balance that is representative of our PFM community: farmers, ranchers, fisherman, foragers, food artisans, chefs, and shoppers. I believe I also achieved a combination of straightforward preparations, along with recipes for more advanced and/or adventurous cooks. I didn’t want the book to exclude market shoppers in other areas of the country either, with too many recipes that called for ingredients unique to our region. And yet it was very important to me and to the staff and board that the book evoke a sense of place, capture the essence of Portland and our markets, and be something to take into the kitchen. It’s like a big, long game of Tetris.
Once I had 100-plus promising recipes, I began to test, revise, remake, and sometimes reimagine them. There’s another tricky task in putting together a collection of recipes: At a certain point, when the majority of them are in and the ingredients you want to include are well represented, you get to a funny place where you have to ask a contributor for a recipe highlighting a certain ingredient. Or call in a favor from someone you’ve worked with. Maybe you ask them to submit a different recipe or change something up in the one they’ve already given you. That’s not a problem when you’re collaborating with chefs — most of them like a good challenge, and to show that they can stretch — but you might not ask a farmer who grows cane berries for a leek recipe! So you get duplicates. And there are recipes that don’t come in on time, or don’t make the cut, casualties of the editor’s red pen.
What I offer below is neither. Just a case of bad timing that forced me to leave this one behind, even though it has become a favorite, and comes from a favorite vendor, Lonesome Whistle Farms. The Portland Farmers Market Cookbook
’s loss is your lagniappe. Enjoy!
÷ ÷ ÷
Abenaki Polenta Tart with Fresh Corn and Summer Squash
From Karen Guilleman and Lonesome Whistle Farms
This summer tart has an unusually delicious crust made from polenta. To add extra flavor to the crust, use the corncob after you remove the kernels to make a quick broth for cooking the polenta.
The vegetables in the filling don’t need to be cooked first because they’re thinly sliced and lightly salted, which softens them slightly. The mild cream and egg custard lets the flavors of the vegetables take the spotlight, and the cheddar cheese in the crust to shine through.
Make this tart throughout the seasons, with caramelized onions and wilted kale in the winter, or thinly sliced new potatoes and nettles in spring. The combinations are endless.
Makes one 10-inch tart
1 to 2 ears corn
3 teaspoons salt, divided
2 small summer squash
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup Abenaki polenta
1/3 cup packed grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 2 ounces)
4 eggs, divided
1-1/2 cups cream
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil
Slice the kernels from the cob, and reserve. You should have about 1-1/2 cups. Break the cob(s) in half and place them in a heavy bottomed pot (that you will use for cooking the polenta) with 4 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes to make a quick broth. Taste and add more salt if needed. Discard the cob.
While the broth is simmering, thinly slice the summer squash and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss gently to distribute over all of the slices and transfer the slices to a colander to drain for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch spring form pan or a deep 9 x 9 inch baking dish.
Measure out 2-1/2 cups of corn broth (add a little water if necessary to make 2-1/2 cups), return it to the pot, and bring the broth to a boil over medium-high heat. Slowly add 1 teaspoon salt and the polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Continue whisking for 30 seconds, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for about 15 minutes. The polenta is ready when it is slightly thick and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Remove the pot from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring after 3 minutes and again after 7 minutes. Add the grated cheddar cheese and one egg and mix well to combine.
Pour the polenta mixture into the greased baking dish and smooth with a spatula. With damp fingers, push the sides up slightly to create a lip. Bake the crust for about 12 minutes until the top starts to color. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the crust to cool for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Squeeze the squash slices to remove the excess liquid and distribute them over the top of the crust. Sprinkle the corn kernels on top. Whisk together the cream, remaining 3 eggs, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and cayenne pepper. Pour the cream mixture over the vegetables and tap the pan on the counter to distribute. Bake the tart for 40 to 50 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the filling is nicely browned on top. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.