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Dark Days: Quick Tomato Sauce and Locally Made Pasta

dark days meal

For those of you who’ve been keeping track, you might have noticed that I missed getting a Dark Days post up last week. I’ve taken to waiting until the last minute to cook and record my all-local (or mostly local) meals and I just ran out of time (last Sunday was Scott’s birthday, so we ate food of his choosing and not a bit was local. However, I believe in flexibility when I comes to birthdays).

home canned tomatoes

This week though, I got right back on the Dark Days wagon. I actually made this meal on Wednesday night, and we ate it all week long (truly, it was dinner for both of us on Wednesday and Thursday, and I finished it up on Friday night). It’s one of those dishes that is blessedly easy and can almost always be created from the contents of my pantry and freezer.

locally made whole wheat egg noodles

I’m fairly certain that most of you have your own version of a quick pantry pasta sauce, but here’s how I do mine. Heat up a big skillet and add a fat pat of butter or drizzle of olive oil (I used some local butter in attempt to play by the rules). Roughly chop one large or two small onions (from my Winter Harvest order) and add them to the pan. Let them cook for a few moments. When they’ve gained some color, create a well in the center of the onions and drop in one pound of ground beef (Meadow Run Farms). Use a wooden spatula to chop it up into crumbles. At this point, I also add some minced garlic, salt, pepper and dried oregano.

While the meat cooks, rinse a bundle of kale and chop it up into ribbons. Add it to the pan and stir to combine. If the kale is threatening to overflow the pan, reduce the heat a little and put a lid on it, to help it wilt down.

When the kale has wilted, stir it into the meat and onions. Now add your tomatoes. I start with a quart of home canned romas and sometimes add an additional pint (I love that I canned ‘maters in both pints and quarts last summer, it makes for great flexibility). Stir it all together, reduce the temperature and let it cook together for ten or fifteen minutes.

While the sauce cooks down, bring pasta water to a boil. I used the locally made whole wheat egg noodles the first night we ate this. The next night, Scott requested something slightly less akin to cardboard. I subbed in multi-grain angel hair.

Eat while watching the Olympics.

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Dark Days: Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges

sweet potato wedges

Kids, the larder was really bare of fresh, local foods this week. Couple my trip out of town last weekend with the fact that I missed the ordering deadline for my bi-weekly Winter Harvest delivery and that Philly got more than two feet of snow yesterday (canceling my neighborhood farmers’ market), I haven’t really grocery-shopped in more than two weeks. The pickings are slim around here.

So, this afternoon, I quartered two pounds of sweet potato fingerlings I had in the fridge, tossed them with some olive oil and kosher salt and roasted them at 425 degrees until they were browned, tender and crispy around the edges. I ate them with some scrambled eggs (from happy, local chickens) and called it good.

It was a useful reminder that while shopping locally doesn’t have to be hard, it does take some pre-planning. Normally, I have good systems in place to make it easy to keep my fridge stocked and full of options. But when one part of that system fails, I immediately fall back to shopping at Trader Joe’s, Di Bruno Bros. (they pride themselves on all their high-end, imported stuff. Tasty, but decidedly not local) and Sue’s Produce.

The forecast is calling for more snow, so my market might not happen again next weekend and the next Winter Harvest delivery is still another week away. Thankfully, the Fair Food Farmstand is still operating, so I’m going to run over there during my lunch hour on Tuesday and restock. And soon, I’ll have my system running again, funneling lots of good, local food from the farms, right to my kitchen.

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Dark Days: Roasted Potatoes, Local Greens and a Cast Iron Frittata

Dark Days dinner

Scott and I spent the weekend away, and by the time we rolled back into town tonight, I was hungry, tired and totally weary of eating food prepared by others (admittedly, part of my fatigue came from the fact that we didn’t plan particularly well and ate more fast food than I typically eat in a month).

On the drive home, I took mental stock of my fridge and pantry, and cooked the meal you see above three times over in my head before we had even crossed back into Philadelphia.

Roasted purple potatoes (they’ve been kicking around for nearly a month now, so they were a little wrinkled but cooked up just fine), a little salad (I was praying that these greens, which I bought a week ago, hadn’t turned to sludge in the crisper, and aside from a few wilt-y pieces, were just fine — a testament to their freshness upon purchase) and a frittata made from Meadow Run Hill Farms eggs, some of the ham from last week’s pizza, a hunk of hard goat cheese from Hail Family Farms and some buying club onions and chard.

We were sitting down to eat within an hour of getting home, without calling for take-out or resorting to a heat and serve option. And most of that wasn’t active time, I de-stickered and washed all those jars I bought over the weekend while the potatoes roasted and the top of the frittata set up in the oven. Proof positive that eating local can be quick and simple, even in these dark days.

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Dark Days: Local Bits, Pieces and Pizza

roasted brussels sprouts and ham

I had a harder time cooking for the Dark Days challenge last week than I ever have before. It’s not that we didn’t eat locally. There was carrot soup, made from farmers market carrots and onions, and simmered in chicken stock that I made from local chicken feet and pressure canned last summer. A roast chicken that had once happily roamed a pasture out in Lancaster County. Freshly made (although not by my hands) fettuccine, tossed with sauteed portobello mushrooms, kale, onions and ricotta (the veg was all-local and the ricotta was freshly made from Claudio’s).

But there were also things like the cauliflower I pureed with some dill havarti on Tuesday night. The cauliflower was from the Italian Market, bought two for a $1. Cheap, nutritious, but from far, far away. The cheese was a hunk of Trader Joe’s finest, of origins unknown.


And last night, I made whole wheat pizza to satisfy a craving of Scott’s, who was coming off three weeks of no carbs and, in that moment, needed a slice as much as he also needed air, water and sleep. It is not wise to respond to a hungry man’s request for pizza with the words, “we can’t have pizza, because my flour and cheese aren’t local.”

So I made pizza, following Joy’s recipe for dough with flour from the bulk bins at Whole Foods. One was topped with some of my homecanned tomatoes, whole milk mozzarella from who-knows-where, buying club onions and Claudio’s pepperoni. Another wore that same base, with local ham, those same onions and slivers of red pepper from Mexico.


We ate the pizza with a side of roasted brussels sprouts (bought from local farmers at my Saturday market) and a great deal of satisfaction.

While there is no one meal I can look at from the last seven days and say, “Yep, that one there, that’s my Dark Days meal for the third week in January,” the challenge was with me in some way with each bite I took. And I think that that’s really the goal.

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Dark Days: A Local Salad in January

all-local salad

I’m feeling a little lazy tonight, so instead of telling you about the local sausage we ate tonight with some of my homemade, home-canned, red sauerkraut (the picture is still on the camera, which is all the way across the room), I’m going to feature a little salad I had for lunch yesterday.

I had a lazy Saturday morning, so slow-moving and indulgent that it was afternoon before I managed to walk over to the farmers market. When you go to a farmers’ market within it’s last hour, you run the risk of finding nearly nothing left. I was fortunate in that I was able to pick up carrots, eggs, some gorgeous portobello mushrooms, a slab of locally made goat cheddar and most wonderfully, a bag of tender salad greens.

bag of local salad greens

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that I was able to buy locally grown salad greens in January. It’s not like I live in Southern California or Florida. I’m in Philadelphia, where last week we had lows of 19 and 20 degrees. Finding them was a joy. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t completely abstained from salads during these cold months. However, they’ve been dull tasteless things in comparison to these greens. They were so soft and delicate. And, at $3.25 for a six-ounce bag, they weren’t that eye-poppingly expensive (the stand was even running a “two for $6 deal.” I’m kicking myself for not buying a second bag).

local goat cheddar

I tossed half the bag with a sprinkle of balsamic (not local), olive oil (nope), salt and pepper. Topped with some of that goat cheddar and eaten with a hunk of multi-grain baguette (also purchased at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market). I didn’t share this salad with Scott. I ate hunched over my bowl, chasing those last slivers of lettuce onto my fork with a bread crust. Had I had a red slicing tomato along side, I would have thought it was July. I was a balm to my potato-weary soul and I feel restored.

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Dark Days: Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup

soup with kale

I’m coming to realize that during the winter months, Sunday is nearly synonymous with soup in my brain. Here in Philly, it barely got above 30 degrees today, making soup doubly necessary. Luckily, I had everything I needed in my pantry and freezer to make a big pot of sausage, kale and white bean soup.

navy beans

First step was to break out the pressure cooker and cook off two and a half cups of navy beans. I bought these lovely little white beans at the Headhouse Square Farmers Market last fall and have had them tucked into a jar since then. To be perfectly honest though, I don’t know for sure whether they’re locally grown. The woman who operates this particular stall isn’t the most friendly and so I rarely try to engage her in conversation. I realize, though, that it’s poor locavore behavior on my part.

Side note about navy beans. I spent years thinking that since they had the word navy in their name, that meant that they were navy in color (somehow I never connected those small, creamy beans my mom put into soup with the name “navy”). It wasn’t until I was far past voting age that I learned that they were actually essentially white beans and were called that because they were commonly served to sailors. Live and learn.

Anyway, 2 1/2 cups of navy beans, cooked with 6 1/2 cups of water in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes will give you six cups of tender beans, which just happens to be an ideal amount for this soup.

two quarts of ham stock

For the liquid component, I used two quarts of the ham stock I pressure canned last July. Lately, I’ve been really working on using the foods I’ve preserved (I get so excited about stocking my pantry that I sometimes forget that preserved food needs to be in near constant rotation) and so having an opportunity to use some of my canned stock was an added boon when making this soup. It’s also great because I know that the ham hocks I used to make that stock were local and humanely raised.

carrots celery onion garlic sausage

The soup started in the same way that many of my soups start. One minced onion, three fat carrots (diced) and four celery ribs (that darn celery is the only non-local component in this soup. I wasn’t thinking when I added it.) diced and sauteed in some fat/oil. I used some of my local lard (when my porcine-free mother reads this post, I am certain she will cringe at the number of pork products that went into this meal) but you could use also happily use olive oil. As the veggies browned and softened, I crushed and minced four big garlic cloves and the leaves from one sprig of rosemary and added them to the pot.

Once the veggies had some color, I created a well in the center and added two pounds of fennel sausage (set free from its casing) from the Meadow Run Farm buying club. I am addicted to this sausage. It has great flavor, is relatively lean and comes from those same happy, local pigs that provided the hocks that made the ham stock. Two pounds of sausage makes this a very meaty soup. Next time I make it, I will probably cut the meat by half. However, right at the moment, my husband is doing phase one of the South Beach Diet, and so I went a little heavier than normal on the protein for him.

After the meat was cooked and stirred into the veggies, I added the ham stock and beans, but the lid on and allowed the soup a bit of simmer time.

washed kale

I recently joined Winter Harvest, which is a wintertime buying club here in the Philly-area, run by Farm to City. It is a terrific way to get reasonably priced local produce, meat and dairy when most of the area farmers markets are shuttered for the season. In my first order, I got red and yellow onions, some sweet little beets, vividly orange-yolked eggs, a gallon of raw milk and the bundle of kale you see above.

Kale is one of my favorite vegetables, particularly because it can be prepared raw or cooked. It plays really well in soup and was a shining star in this particular batch. Stripped from the stem, I washed the leaves well (nothing makes a dish sadder than sandy grit from poorly washed greens) and chopped them to bits (first, fine ribbons. Then, rotate the board 90 degrees for bittage). I stirred the chopped greens into the soup during the last fifteen minutes of cooking.

kale stems

Had I planned better, I would have stripped the stems from the kale sooner, cut them into small bits and sauteed them with the onions, carrots and celery (probably would have been a good substitute for the non-local celery, too). Sadly, I didn’t think that far in advance and so ended up pitching the stems. However, they are quite edible (my mom likes to eat them raw with a bit of hummus).

When the soup was finished, it was deliciously warm, filling and happily, almost entirely local (particularly if you skip over the celery and don’t look too closely at my beans). If you’re not a pork person, you could easily substitute turkey sausage and some homemade chicken stock. It wouldn’t have that smoky flavor that the ham stock lends, but would still be quite delicious (although, now I’m wondering about making stock with smoked turkey wings. Could be delicious and just the thing for the pork avoiders in the crowd).

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