After my guest chef stint at EVOO, I was wiped out. I wasn’t used to standing on my feet for 12 hours in a day… and two days in a row. As fun as it was, I decided it was time to hang up my apron for good.
Until Slow Food Boston called…. They wanted to do a special dinner for their members that would offer insight into how to cook with CSA veggies. As they wrote in the event’s description:
“Do you have a love-hate relationship with your CSA? Do you love supporting local farmers and being able to really taste summer in New England? But are you perplexed by what to do with 12 Japanese eggplants, a bunch of callalloo and six pickling cukes?”
Having just published The Farmer’s Kitchen, they decided I would be the ideal chef to cook for such an event.
But we needed a venue. I called Steve Johnson… he’s been a star chef in Boston since I moved here in 1994. And at his latest restaurant, Rendezvous, he’s become a locovare guru – I see him shopping weekly at the Central Square Farmers’ market, and read in the paper about his rooftop garden and fishing adventures that supply the restaurant. His restaurant would be the perfect spot for a Locavore Feast.
We set the date, the price and capped the guest count. The final detail was writing a menu. Unlike the EVOO dinner, Steve and I wrote the menu together – each dish blending one of his recipes with one of mine from the cookbook. Even the pasta dish, which on the surface was all my recipe, took on a Rendezvous flair from toasting the cooked orecchiette.
Toasted Orecchiette with Homemade Sausage and Broccoli Raab (page 65)
Seared Scallops with Braised Leeks and Mustard Vinaigrette (page 157)
Swiss Chard Dolmas with Moroccan Beet and Carrot Salad (page 58) and Cucumber Raita (page 106)
Roast Chicken with Caramelized Cherry Tomato Sauce (page 217), Early Summer Succotash and Garlic Scape Pesto (page 250)
The intimate crowd of 26 guests filled the front of the restaurant. Friends and couples arrived, a few guests arrived solo, but by the end of the evening, we were all conversing as long-time friends… perhaps the effect of communal tables with honestly prepared foods and plenty of wine to savor.
Everybody kept asking about Steve’s dolma recipe since it was not listed in the book. If it were not for my nut allergy, I’m sure he would have added walnuts.
And just like a chef, Steve offers the technique and ingredients, but no measurements. As with most recipes, trusting your own judgment and taste is key.
Steve Johnson’s Swiss Chard Dolmas
"Cook the bulgur briefly in lightly salted water with a little bit of minced garlic. When the bulgur is tender, I drain the excess water. When the bulgur is cool, I mix in some minced red onion, chopped golden raisins, lemon zest, a pinch of ground coriander, a tiny pinch of ground allspice, a tiny pinch of maras pepper and ground black pepper, and some freshly chopped mint.
"Obviously, different wrappers can be used. Although grape leaves are the most common, I like to use either red or green chard when it's available; it gives the whole thing a more "green vegetable" flavor. The leaves are a little difficult to work with, because I use them uncooked to wrap the stuffing, but after cooking them everything works out fine in the end. In a hotel pan or baking pan, I steam the packages for 10 minutes using a splash of water, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt."