Make the Farm-to-Table Connection

The garden and the kitchen are “dancing partners,” according to a cookbook from the team behind Blackberry Farm, the luxurious farm and inn in Tennessee. Jeff Ross, farmstead educator and artisan chef at Blackberry Farm, brought that farm-to-table spirit to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

PHOTO: Jeff Ross at Blackberry Farm.
Jeff Ross at Blackberry Farm

Ross showed how easy it is to incorporate fresh produce and gardening into your life in his lecture, “Eating Between the Rows.” “I want to open people’s eyes to the edible food all around them,” Ross said.

Ross targets 30 to 40 items and encourages gardeners to think beyond the obvious to things like the florets of collard greens or other ways to use coriander. “These plants were historically grown as edibles, but that knowledge has been lost,” Ross said.

It’s not just edibles. Ross looks to the garden for home décor ideas, such as using okra pods in creative ways, and as an unexpected source of inspiration. “A garden shed can be very beautiful, and it changes nearly every day throughout the season.”

In addition to being a well-known restaurant and inn, Blackberry Farms is a fully working farm. Ross spent nearly ten years managing the gardens at Blackberry; now he helps chefs get more involved in the garden.

PHOTO: Morning at Blackberry Farm.
Morning at Blackberry Farm

Even though the farm is a large operation, the lessons learned there can be easily adapted in containers or raised gardens of just a few feet, according to The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry cookbook. It’s a matter of scale. So, grow smaller vegetables and pick them young. Choose the right plants—such as cherry tomatoes instead of beefsteak for an urban container, or squash blossoms and pick the squash when it is young.

PHOTO: Barn at Blackberry Farm.
The barn on Blackberry Farm

The cookbook includes a photo of Ross, in his work overalls, holding a handful of beans. Bush, shell, soup, green—Ross loves them all. “I want that to be my last meal.” It’s further proof that the farm-to-table connection is personal and powerful.

Try the marbled potato salad recipe below from The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm.


Marbled Potato Salad with Arugula Pesto

Tips: Use the smallest potatoes you can find. The leftover pesto keeps up to a week or more in the refrigerator; use on roasted vegetables or grilled steak.

For the potato salad:

  • 10 ounces, small purple Peruvian potatoes (about 20)
  • 10 ounces, small yellow creamer potatoes (about 20)
  • 10 ounces, small red bliss potatoes (about 20)
  • 9 cloves of garlic, lightly crushed
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil or bacon fat, plus more for drizzling
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
  • 3 3-inch fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 3 3-inch fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 cup lightly packed arugula
  • 1 cup pickled red onions, drained (optional)

For arugula pesto:

  • ¼ cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
  • Zest and juice of 1½ lemons (about 3 tablespoons)
  • ¼ cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 4 cups loosely packed baby arugula, stems removed
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely shredded pecorino cheese (about 2 ounces)
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper; toss to coat. Transfer potatoes to large baking dish or roasting pan. Tuck the rosemary and thyme around potatoes. Cover the dish tightly and roast until potatoes are tender, about 1 hour. Uncover; let potatoes cool to room temperature. Discard rosemary and thyme sprigs.

Meanwhile, prepare the arugula pesto. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, place sunflower seeds and garlic; pulse to finely chop. Add lemon zest and juice; pulse to combine. Add the parsley, half the arugula; pulse to combine. With machine running, add half the oil in a slow, steady stream. Add the rest of the arugula; pulse to combine. With machine running, add the rest of the oil in a slow, steady stream. Add cheese, salt, and pepper; process until smooth. You will have about 1¾ cups. Transfer to airtight container.

To assemble: Cut the potatoes in half and divide among 6 serving plates. Tuck in arugula among the potatoes. Scatter the pickled onions, if using. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the pesto over each salad; drizzle with olive oil or bacon fat. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 6.


Photos © beall + thomas photography.
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