Sunday, April 29, 2007

From field to table: feasting at Hogs Back

The delicate, gauzy green of springtime Minneapolis is reaching its annual pubescence. Seemingly overnight, millions of tiny buds have exploded into miniature leafy tufts, the pearlescent violet bunches in my backyard promise a lush (albeit fleeting) abundance of lilacs at any moment, spring-fevered folks of all ages are venturing out clad in shorts and tank tops, and though most home gardens have yet to flourish, our dandelion-ridden front lawn has already bloomed into opulent yellow splendor. With a record number of barbecues at the house (are we up to 6?), perhaps we have been egging summer on more persuasively than we had realized.

Meanwhile, lacking the heat and barbecue quota of a population-dense city, rural western Wisconsin is lagging slightly behind. The grass on gently rolling hills is still subdued from its winter dormancy and not yet spiky and unruly. The forests lining the St. Croix shimmer a sea of speckled green over a profusion of stark, spare trunks and branches. Cows laze about at every other turn, practicing for the summer heat yet to come. All in all, the farms appear calm, just beginning to come back to life after the cold. But at Hog's Back Farm in Arkansaw, WI, the greenhouse reveals the true anticipation of growing season: trays upon trays sprout everything from feathery fennel, delicate tiny field greens, beet leaves appearing to be veined with real blood, and dozens of other still wispy, fluttery herbs and vegetables. It is a fascinating snapshot for a city girl like me, to see the precipitation of what I think of as raw product... this is it, it's more than raw, it's barely nascent. Appropriately, the occasion for this visit was a birthday. Dinner naturally centered around the few yet precious goods that may be culled this early from the farm (nettles, ramps, chives), the farms of nearby neighbors (lamb, raw milk and cream, spinach), and, in the case of my desserts, the fruits typical of spring (rhubarb and strawberry) which had to be "faked" by using stuff from California since the local crops just aren't ready. Perhaps I redeemed myself slightly from this treason by using chives from my much-neglected garden for the bread. You can see all 30 photos here (and note my woeful ignorance to look up from the damn food long enough to take some pictures of the beautiful surroundings!! Next time. Promise.).

Potato and egg yolk ravioli, parmesan broth,
seared lamb liver with chives and white truffle oil

Chickpea and nettle soup

Family style: grilled lamb, risotto, sautéed spinach,
and a relish of grilled ramps, pine nuts and bitter honey

Artisan cheeses with potato-chive rolls

Intermezzo: rhubarb, granité and poached

Raw milk panna cotta with almond praline,
strawberries and strawberry syrup

Assorted macarons

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