Friday, November 26, 2004

Streetside Finds

Earlier this fall, not long after I got back from a year-long stint in Germany, M. found out about an unusual street sale. Our friend Benoit knew of a guy who was going to be selling organic vegetables in front of someone’s walk-up on Casgrain. Montreal has its fair share of organic deliveries that take place on its side streets during the summer and fall (like the one we go to on Jeanne-Mance run by Fred), but those are co-operative ventures that you have to be a member of. In this case, the farmer was going to be selling to anyone who came by and he was said to specialize in heirloom vegetables. We didn’t know much else.

Later that evening (I remember it was warm and sunny—a far cry from the way things are now) we met up with Benoit, Hermine, and Gabe and we walked over to Casgrain. We found Benoit’s friend Patrice selling an assortment of yellow and orange carrots, large zucchinis, Jerusalem artichokes, and shallots, some lovely small, purple plums, and one plant we’d never seen before: he called it “ice plant,” and it was a strange succulent from South Africa that had a mild sweetness to it and a crisp texture. Patrice’s farm is an organic farm located in the Kamouraska region of Quebec, and, as we’d been told, he deals exclusively in heirloom fruits and vegetables and other exotic varieties. He calls his farm La Société des Plantes, and when he we isn’t selling his produce to the likes of us on the streets of Montreal, he’s supplying some of Montreal’s finest restaurants, packaging and selling his seeds, and putting together his beautiful catalogue [Note: Don’t worry, we’ll have a full feature article on Patrice and La Société des Plantes some time next year, after we’ve had a chance to make it out to Kamouraska to check out the scene]. We bought a big bag of carrots and a little of everything else. We started eating the carrots right there on the street and they were among the sweetest I’ve ever had.

We split up not long afterwards in order to pick up everything we needed for dinner: trout filets, bread, cheese, wine. When we reconvened Hermine made roasted trout filets with miso-maple glaze, Benoit shredded the carrots and zucchini into long, thin strands, and then I sautéed them in olive oil with garlic and herbes de Provence, and we set the table. We busted out some tapenade I’d brought back from Nice, and we were all set. Everything was excellent—Hermine’s trout was particularly delicious, delicate and sweet—but the real stars that evening were the carrots and zucchinis. It wasn’t the preparation, it was just the flavor of the vegetables themselves. They were so good I had to make two batches to satisfy us.

A few weeks later M. found out that Patrice was back. On a wet and blustery Saturday evening we raced out to Gilford east of Papineau to find him before he closed up for the night. This time around he had white carrots and white beets, tomatillos, chervil, homemade plum preserve, homemade herbes salées, and fresh horseradish. We raced back home afterwards I decided to make an impromptu borscht with garlic and onions, the carrots and beets, the chervil, a teaspoon of the herbes salées, and some dill I had in the refrigerator. This white borscht didn’t have the look of a classic borscht, for obvious reasons, but the flavor was out of this world, with a broth that was rich and sweet. I’d never tasted beets that were so sweet and delicious. I wish I’d had beets like that when I was a kid—I would have learned to love them about eighteen years earlier than I did. The next day Michelle took the fresh horseradish and prepared it. It’s definitely the most potent horseradish either of us has come across. We’ve been making the most of it, putting it on sandwiches, serving it with all kinds of meals, making hors d’oeuvres with it. Two weeks later we found yet another use for it…

Of the side dishes that we made to accompany last Sunday’s leg of lamb [Note: story and recipe to follow], the highlight was definitely the following:

Horseradish Mashed Potatoes

1 1/2 pounds potatoes, washed
1/3 c. freshly grated horseradish
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 c. heavy cream
3 Tbsp. butter
black pepper

Boil the potatoes in water and salt until tender. Drain.
Grate horseradish, keeping eyes as far away from the grater as possible, and add lemon juice right away.
Crush potatoes with a masher, add horseradish, cream, 2 Tbsp. butter, salt and pepper to taste. Mash until desired consistency is reached.
Heat remaining Tbsp. of butter in a medium pot, add potatoes, cover, place over medium heat, and stir until they are served.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

Note: we used table cream instead of heavy cream and it turned out perfectly fine.

(This recipe comes from The Cook and the Gardener by Amanda Hesser)


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