Friday, August 13, 2010
Farm to Fork Dinner at Wilson Farm
Growing up in Lexington meant frequent trips to Wilson Farm for fresh veggies (and somehow, I'd always manage to get a honey stick too). No autumn was complete without a trip through their haunted house and a big, fat caramel apple with peanuts. Wilson Farm has been operating in Lexington since 1884 as a family-run farm, and they work 33 acres in Lexington (probably some of the most expensive farm land around, considering the price of houses in town) and 500 more acres in Litchfield, New Hampshire. So when I heard through Twitter that the farm would be hosting a farm-to-fork dinner in the fields, complete with over 50 items grown on the farm, I jumped at the chance to attend.
My friend Melody came with me, and we arrived to quite a crowd gathered next to the store. Turns out this was only about half the night's crowd - there were 100 people at the dinner! Farmer Jim Wilson walked us through the field, explaining their state-of-the-art greenhouse and their Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques in abbreviated form (every two weeks in the summer, Jim leads a much longer tour that is worth attending). Right smack in the middle of the field, three looooong tables were set up along the rows, and we headed for seats at the end of the table nestled in amongst the tomato plants. While the attendees were a good mix of ages, our table was skewed a little older - we just happened to take the seats across from a sweet and funny couple our age, though, so I didn't have to spend too much time talking about why I was taking pictures or what the purpose of my blog was. The tables were decorated with beautiful arrangements of not just flowers, but also radishes, beans, kale, basil, and dill.
Fresh bread was passed around (the farmstand has a pretty fantastic bakery), as were herb olive oil and a tremendous roasted eggplant dip (recipe here). There was also red and white wines, and carafes of water with sprigs of salad burnet, an unusual herb that tastes a bit like cucumber, a bit like melon. Chef Todd Heberlein introduced each course as it came out, but since we were at the end of our table, it was a bit hard to hear.
The first course, "Prosciutto and Melon," was brought out in shot glasses - always an interesting way to start a meal. The amuse bouche turned the typical salty-and-sweet combination of melon and proscuitto on its head - it was served as a chilled honeydew melon soup with crispy proscuitto bits on top. I'm not usually a chilled soup fan, but the saltiness of the bacon (as well as the crispy texture) added a lot to the dish.
As the second course was passed out, the chef joked that a lot of people thought it was risky of him to serve not one, but three types of beets to the crowd. He insisted that he would convert some people into beet fans with this dish, and he won over quite a few with his mixture of Chioggia beets tossed in creme fraiche on a bed of beet greens, served with purees of red and golden beets. Walking around the table to say hello, though, he did jokingly scold me for not finishing my plate - what can I say, I can only eat so many beets at one time, which is about a million times more beets than I would have eaten even a few years ago.
Course three featured a little patty of corn and chorizo pudding, as well as an heirloom tomato gazpacho salad and a grilled Athena melon salad. The pudding (recipe here), featuring sweet corn and spicy chorizo, was a great match for the lighter salads alongside it. The tomato salad was amazing, filled with more kinds of tomatoes than I could count, cucumbers, and peppers - it's easy to forget what a tomato really tastes like over the long winter, which is why late summer should be filled with big bowls of tomatoes just like this. Heavenly. The grilled Athena melon (similar to a cantaloupe) was served on a bed of salad greens tossed with a roasted tomatillo vinaigrette. I loved this dressing - light and tangy - and it paired beautifully with the supersweet melon. I'd love to make a dressing like this with all the tomatillos that are coming in in my own garden.
By the time the main course came out, everyone was pretty full, but of course we had to try it all. The protein was striped bass from Martha's Vineyard, served over an amazing crunchy vegetable slaw with Thai basil pesto. I wanted to eat more of that slaw, I just couldn't fit it in! There was ricotta and swiss chard stuffed pasta, topped with a ratatouille sauce, that was hearty without being heavy, and the ratatouille, which can often turn out mushy or even slimy, still had a bit of firm texture to it, and the flavors of each of the vegetables was pronounced. The sides were Beans, Beans, and More Beans (a crispy green and yellow bean salad, tossed with roasted tomatoes, feta, and olives) and Cranberry Bean and Corn Stew (sweet corn, creamy and perfectly cooked cranberry beans, a little tomato, and some kale and collard greens). Both of these sides would be perfect as a light lunch.
Of course, we were all really stuffed by then, but dessert was yet to come. It was the only course that Chef Heberlein didn't have a hand in, as the bakery department had made it. When the menu said "Stone Fruit Tart with Our Own Berries," I figured we each get a little slice of tart with a handful of berries - more than enough dessert after such a big meal. But no, the plate we were served could have been a meal on its own, with a delicate puff pastry topped with a variety of stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, plums), ginger whipped cream, deliciously ripe berries, sesame tuile cookies in big fat curls, and underneath it all, a whole almond macaroon. Four of us could have shared one plate and been happy - instead, I put the dessert shelf in my stomach* to good use, eating more than my fair share.
It was dark by the end of the meal, and we walked back through the fields, lit by small candles, full and happy after such a wonderful meal. This is the second time Wilson Farm has hosted a Farm to Fork dinner, and hopefully they will continue this tradition next summer. Keep an eye on their Happenings page for other great events, like their upcoming tomato festival.
*Melody and I had a teacher in elementary school that taught us about the dessert shelf. Think about it - even when you're full, you still have room for something sweet. It can only be because there is a shelf in your stomach that ONLY dessert can fit onto.