Two winters ago, before I began dealing with the chronic recurring knee and hip injuries that have been plaguing me, back when I was still logging ridiculous miles on the treadmill at my local gym each week, I would binge watch episodes of America’s Next Top Model and page through endless back issues of my favorite magazines on the cool Texture app my Carrot got me for Christmas.
Those were less healthy times. Clearly. Though my recent injuries have been debilitating and frustrating at times, they have transformed the way I look at my body, exercise, balance and healthy living. But that’s a story for another day.
Back then, I’d read fervorously on the treadmill. I’d read books on farming and magazines on pretty much any topic getting just enough education alongside my pop culture fix. I’d stay caught up on all my favorite food bloggers and read every article Modern Farmer and New Food Economy put out that had anything to do with my industry.
Deep in the weeds of winter reading one afternoon, I stumbled upon an article in Midwest Living about a group of friends who had a different kind of book club: a cookbook potluck club. I made notes of their process, created a Facebook group that mimicked it the second I got home, invited everyone in my life who enjoyed cooking as much as I did, and started spreading the word. A couple months later we had our first potluck and cooked from the recently published Molly on the Range.
We’ve had 5 or 6 cookbook potlucks since. With farming schedules, new babies, new businesses and moves keeping us all busy it’s hard to keep to any regular routine but the cookbooks we’ve cooked from and the gatherings we’ve shared have been nothing short of extraordinary. Most of these photos are from our potluck last Sunday where we dined on the Southern masterpieces of Sean Brock’s Heritage.
Each gathering the host rotates and each host gets to choose and purchase the book to share among the group. We’ve cooked from Ottolenghi and Slow Fires, which were both exceptional and expanded the way I looked at food, but the book I immediately ran out and purchased to keep as a resource in my veggie-centric kitchen was Six Seasons by Portland chef Joshua McFadden.
Have you all read this? I’m sure you have because even when I cooked from it in April I felt like I was arriving pretty late to the party. It won all sorts of awards and accolades last year, but since I gave up my treadmill running and binge-reading habits 18 months ago, I’ve been pretty late to most parties buried deep in my farm life.
Anyhow, if you haven’t seen it, the cookbook is a work of art organized by (you guessed it) six seasons of fresh produce. As a vegetable farmer, this approach stole my heart immediately. I know better than anyone that there are not just spring, summer, fall, and winter produce. There is also early summer (which were wrapped up in right now), mid summer, and late summer which each have a distinctly different flavor.
I loved everything about the book; not only his thoughtful use of six seasons. I loved the way McFadden played with textures, and the way he was sometimes playful, sometimes simple and sometimes refined. I loved his unexpected use of pickles. I loved that the pages upon pages of beautiful shots of vegetables showed such a deep respect for farmers and our food system.
The recipe below is inspired by McFadden’s recipe for Sugar Snap Peas, Pickled Cherries & Peanuts. He put peas in the spring section of his book but here in Wisconsin where we can’t get anything planted before mid-April, peas are certainly more of an early summer delicacy pairing beautifully with other early summer treats like fennel, scallions, and even strawberries (who tow the line between spring and early summer).
I pickled strawberries in balsamic instead of using the cherries, added fennel because I’m on a personal mission to make people love and appreciate fennel, and substituted pistachios only because it’s what I had in the house but loved the delicate texture they added.
I hope you enjoy and I hope you form a cookbook club all your own to transform the way you look at cooking.
All my early summer love,
SNOW PEA, FENNEL & PICKLED STRAWBERRY SALAD
Adapted from Six Seasons
Fennel gets such a bad wrap and it’s really not fair. Fennel is a beautiful, delicate vegetable that you can learn to love if you can just find ways to mellow it’s strong flavor. I love it sauteed, roasted or grilled (all things that make the flavor much milder) but I also really love the texture when it’s sliced super thin and eaten raw— especially in bright salads like this one. The technique outlined below where you soak both scallions and fennel in ice cold water really helps make the flavors of fennel more palatable.
Serves 4-6 easily as a side
Takes 30 minutes (including time to pickle strawberries though you can absolutely do that in advance)
1 cup hulled and halved fresh, local strawberries
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup champagne vinegar (just use 3/4 cup balsamic if you don’t have champagne vinegar on hand)
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided
1 fennel bulb, halved, cored, and very thinly sliced (it should almost look like coleslaw)
3-5 scallion, white, pale green and dark green portions, sliced thin
1 pound mixture of snow peas, ends trimmed and cut in half
1/2-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pistachios
- You will start by pickling you strawberries! Place the strawberries in a mason jar. Then in a small sauce pan combine vinegars, water, sugar and 1 tablespoon Kosher salt. Bring to a boil over high heat and as soon as it starts boiling pour over strawberries. Seal jar and flip upside down. Allow to cool while you cut up your vegetables for the salad.
- Start first by cutting up your fennel and scallions. Place in a medium bowl, fill it with cold water and a few ice cubes. Let sit in the bowl of ice water for 20 minutes then drain well and pat dry with a towel if the veggies still look super wet. This will dull the sharpness and intensity of the raw scallions and fennel.
- In a large bowl, combine the fennel, scallions, and pickled strawberries with peas, 1/4 cup pickling liquid, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, red pepper flakes, and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Taste and adjust flavors as desired. You may want a bit more of the pickling liquid for more brightness or red pepper flakes for more heat. Once you get the flavors right, top with the pistachios.