Pat Williams, of Alton, selects freshly-picked sweet corn at Beans & Greens Farm in Gilford. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LAKES REGION — Labor Day weekend might mark the end of summer for most people, but for local farmers, and those who adore their produce, early September is a time when all of the efforts expended during the summer are finally coming to fruition.
"It's the best time of the year," declared Kevin Halligan, chef-owner of Local Eatery in Laconia.
Halligan, and other fanatics of local produce, said the Labor Day weekend presents a great opportunity, as the abundance of fresh produce is arriving in time for parties and cook-outs. So, instead of hot dogs and potato chips – or, at least, alongside them – consider serving something that highlights the best of what grows nearby. Need a suggestion? Keep reading.
As a restaurateur who pledges to serve local ingredients as much as possible, Halligan is busily preparing produce for storage, so it can be used later this winter. One example is kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish, Korea's answer to sauerkraut. Though it sounds exotic, the preparation is simple. Halligan slices cabbage and puts it into a large glass jar, filled about two-thirds. The most basic version adds garlic, salt and chili paste, Halligan also adds sugar, carrots and daikon radish, though there are myriad other flavorings listed in recipes available online. After the ingredients are mixed in the container, he lets it sit at room temperature to ferment, occasionally shaking it to combine the ingredients and opening the lid to let gasses escape. After two days, it reaches his preferred level of fermentation and he refrigerates it until he's ready to use it. Kimchi aficionados use it as a main dish served with rice, or as a condiment on anything from pizza to hamburgers.
If you don't have the two days to let your kimchi brew, Halligan also suggested availing yourself of the many peppers ready for picking at this time of year. He's particularly taken with the shishito pepper grown by White Oak Pond Farm in Holderness. The shishito is a sweet Japanese grilling pepper that Halligan plans to simply roast whole and serve with fish.
At Tavern 27, in Laconia, chef and co-owner Leslie Judice is also inspired by the shishito pepper. She's planning to dice the peppers, along with other local peppers, to stuff inside of discs of cheese that are then fried, a bite-sized dish she calls "pepper poppers." A native of Louisiana, Judice is a fan of all the hot chili peppers that take all summer to develop their heat, and come into season around Labor Day. For people who are nervous about biting off more heat than they can palate, she suggests mixing the peppers with cheese.
"I think peppers and cheese is always safe. The cheese is going to cut the heat of the pepper," she said. For a picnic or cook-out, she suggested mixing diced peppers with cream cheese or sour cream for a dip. Or, for a more adventurous use, cook the peppers with sugar to make a spicy simple syrup that could be drizzled over watermelon chunks or mixed into a cocktail.
Although a transplant from New Orleans, Judice has accepted the challenge of every New Hampshire chef who uses local ingredients – finding ways to serve the zucchini and summer squash gardeners start leaving in roadside ditches and on neighbors door steps in late summer. She has noticed that many people will use zucchini in cakes and sweet breads, but don't use zucchini for other desserts.
"They're kind of fun because they act like apples (when baked)," she said. "Take an apple crisp recipe, even an apple pie recipe, and substitute half the apples for zucchini." Judice slices the zucchini thinly, and leaves the skins on, so that people know what she's serving them, but suspects that if they were peeled and cut into chunks most people wouldn't suspect that their dessert had zucchini in it.
At Moulton Farm, in Meredith, farm chef Jonathan Diola thinks that the tomato is what defines the end of summer.
"For me, with a good product like tomatoes, the simpler the better, as long as you add a few ingredients that bring the flavor out," he said, such as a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt added just before serving, to make a summery tomato salad. For a slightly heartier dish, mix cubes of day-old bread, cucumber and red onion into the salad. The resulting dish is called panzanella.
"It's so good, because the bread just soaks up the flavor of the tomato," he said. And for a yet more unusual use for tomatoes, he thinks to his time spent in Spain, where a slice of bread would be spread with soft cheese and tomato jam. To make tomato jam, he recommended starting with a tomato such as a beefsteak, blanching it so that it can be peeled, remove the seeds, then mixed in a bowl with sugar, balsamic vinegar and a little cinnamon, and finally spread in a pan and roasted at low temperature for about four hours, or until it reaches jam-like consistency.
Martina Howe, at Beans & Greens Farm in Gilford, doesn't need a complicated recipe at this time of year; she's happy to relish in the flavors inherent in the fresh produce. She suggests a simple cucumber salad, where cucumbers are sliced and mixed with a little bit of sour cream, and lightly seasoned with dill, salt and pepper.
For her, though, there's nothing better at this time of year than fresh sweet corn, and she likes hers unadulterated and barely – if at all – cooked.
"The biggest mistake people make with corn is they always want to put something on it," she said. But, if the corn is fresh, it doesn't need butter or salt to be flavorful. "To me, just steam it. Don't boil it, because you boil out much of the flavor. Just steam it for three or four minutes, just to warm it up." She also suggested cutting the kernels off a raw ear of corn, and mixing it with seasonings to make a fresh corn salad.
Whatever home cooks decide as the menu for their Labor Day offerings, Howe hoped they will find a new way to showcase the best of what's ripe at this time of year.
"Get away from your standards, dive out into new territories. If you need help, come on down, we'll help you," she said.
Moulton Farm, in Meredith, grows cherry tomatoes in colors that range from green and pale yellow to deep purple. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)