Mini Foodies, Ratatouille at 8am and Other Delicious School Garden Developments
September 30, 2011
What's better than ratatouille for breakfast?
But while over at MEarth Hilton Bialek Habitat by Carmel Middle School today for a different volunteer duty than my typical—normally it's weeding and mulching around the gorgeous gardens; this time it was to help judge a first-period student chef team ratatouille cookoff—I saw some things that might just be better than grazing on the classic French peasant food at 8am.
More on that in a minute. First the ratatouille.
There were six entries from six teams of French class students. Each whipped up at least a very serviceable plate.
Although they were working with in-you-face-fresh produce they harvested themselves, a huge and beautiful opportunity for any age chef, I can't imagine pulling off ratatouille this tasty as a tweener.
The group who called itself Le Chat Noir (bonus points from French teacher?) delivered a shockingly on-point traditional take.
The Fearsome Fivesome (I did tell them there was only four of them) cheffed up a version enriched by roasted garlic that won over all but one judge.
And groups like the Mighty Ratatouille Unicorns, Norway and The Green Beans even accented their plates with things like a ring of oregano leaves, architecturally-placed green beans and edible flower-kale mini-bouquets, respectively. The Padres technique in bringing together the most tomatoey style—"we melted the tomatoes with the peppers," one adorable student chirped—also impressed. I mean, these prodigies were rocking Caribbean salts, balsamic vinegars, nutmeg, fresh basil and green beans "al dente." I still struggle to deploy those things today.
The other school-garden-centric things going on that rival the riches of ratatouille for brekkie:
• The inspired MEarth kitchen-classroom with retractable walls, solar panels. The garden was already a vibrant model for organic gardening/environmental education before the first LEED-certified public school building in the county was erected. Now it's almost ready for use.
The best way to sift through all the clever green qualities used in the building is to visit MEarth's Facebook page by clicking here.
• The relatively new MEarth orchard is already ripening heirloom apples and figs and the like. That meant students could help irrigate, amend and ultimately harvest fruit for a different French cooking class—crepes—as they did the other day. Scroll down to peek at the recipe they used below.
• Last month a parade of some of my favorite real-ingredient outlets—Bernardus, Carmel Belle, Earthbound Farm, Big Sur Bakery, Sweet Elena’s, Fifi’s, Happy Girl, Wild Goose, 1833—rallied for a regional “Eating for Education” push to support school lunches and gardens on the 40th anniversary of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse.
The local beneficiary was…MEarth. The one-day total has already eclipsed $1,600.
• Down the road at All Saints School, a new collaboration with Earthbound Farm to do 100 percent organic school lunches—whole wheat mac ‘n’ cheese! turkey meatloaf!—a first in the country as far as I can tell, got love from real-foods-in-schools champion/celeb chef Jamie Oliver, whose website profiled the push. (Dory Ford’s AquaTerra Culinary also deserves huge kudos for pioneering healthy school lunches locally. He serves four schools.)
• Last week in Seaside, meanwhile, students from three elementary schools brought more than homework home—they toted California-grown grapes, red pears, peaches, plums, rainbow carrots, pluots and sugar-snap peas. The fresh development came after K-5ers were unleashed on a campus farmers market as part of a push by Monterey Peninsula Unified’s new Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to expose students to seasonality, healthy foods and even managing money: Kids were given $2 in quasi-currency to prioritize what they wanted, and the scene that resulted was as sweet as strawberries.
“They loved it,” Nutrition Services Supervisor Jenn Gerard says. “They took stuff I wouldn’t expect. Cabbage! Broccoli!” In the future, she hopes to bundle info on local farmers markets and EBT options with take-home produce. Any and all farmers, parents, teachers interested in collaborating can buzz her at 645-1267 or email@example.com.
Here's that recipe for spiced apples that go wonderfully in crepes.
Spice Poached Apples or Pears (Recipe adapted from: Around my French Table, by Dorie Greenspan)
Makes 6 servings
½ C honey 1/3 C sugar 3 C water Zest and juice of ½ orange, zest removed in wide strips with vegetable peeler Zest and juice of ½ lemon, zest removed in wide strips with vegetable peeler 2 pieces of star anise 1 piece of thin cinnamon stick (about 1 ½ inches long) 1 piece of vanilla bean (about 2 inches long) 3 medium apples or pear, peeled, halved and cored
Put all ingredients except for fruit in a large sauce pan, turn the heat to medium high, and bring to a boil.
As soon as the liquid boils, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer the syrup for 5 minutes.
Carefully drop the apples or pears into the frying pan and bring the syrup back to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook until the fruit can be easily pierced with a thin knife, 10-15 minutes depending on the fruit, check early and often.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the apples or pears into a bowl.
Turn up heat and boil the syrup for another 10 minutes, at which point you will have about 1 ¼ C.
Pour the syrup over the fruit, cover and let cool until slightly warm or at room temperature.