Spring Asparagus & Mushroom Risotto

Spring is in the air… and on the shelves at the Calgary Farmers’ Market! May is the month for greens, fiddleheads, peppers, rhubarb, zucchini, greenhouse crops… and of course – asparagus!

We thought we would highlight this spring favourite in a simple risotto dish. You can always leave the mushrooms out if they’re not your favourite, or substitute another seasonal veggie in their place.

Risotto1Market Sourced Ingredients:

3 tbsp good olive oil from Soffritto

1 cup arborio rice from La Cucina

4 small shallots, diced from Cherry Pit

1 clove garlic, minced from Cherry Pit

10 oz mushrooms, sliced (whatever kind you like!) from Blush Lane

1/2 lb asparagus spears, cut into 2 inch pieces from Innisfail Growers

Freshly grated parmesan from Fresh DELIcious

1 tsp lemon zest from Blush Lane

Other Ingredients:

1 ½ tbsp butter

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

½ cup white wine

handful chopped chives

Salt & pepper to taste

Method:

This recipe requires a little bit of separate prep for the main ingredients, but then it all comes together in one pot for the grand finale!

Risotto2First, you’ll need to heat the stock up in a small pot. Once hot, turn the heat off and set the stock aside until needed. I used a nice homemade chicken stock from my freezer, but you can always pick up delicious stock from the Stock and Sauce Co. at the market!

While the stock is warming, heat a pan with half the olive oil and sauté the mushrooms. Get the mushrooms nice and brown and delicious, and then remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat the remainder of the olive oil in a large pot, add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the rice and allow to toast slightly. Now you can add your minced garlic and cook for 1 minutes. At this point, add the wine and give everything a good stir until the liquid is almost entirely evaporated.

The key to a good risotto is to add liquid gradually, and keep cooking it down before you add more. So start with about 1 cup of hot stock, add it to the mixture, reduce the heat and stir. Continue to stir every couple of minutes while it reduces. Add more stock as needed, about a cup at a time. The rice will absorb all the delicious stock as you go and develop that signature creamy texture that risotto is known for.

While you’re waiting and stirring, chop the asparagus into bite sized pieces, grate the parmesan, and zest the lemon. Set everything aside until needed.

Risotto4When you’ve added all the stock, and there is still some liquid in the pot, add the asparagus pieces so they have time to cook. Once the asparagus and the rice are cooked to your liking (add a bit of water if you run out of stock), add the cooked mushrooms, chives, lemon zest, butter and parmesan and fold in to the mixture. All that’s left to do now is to season the risotto with salt and pepper as required.

This asparagus mushroom risotto could be served as a side dish, but it’s perfect on its own as well. The asparagus season is short, so get your fill while you still can at the Calgary Farmers’ Market!

Simple Asparagus Soup

It’s that wonderful time of year when fresh, local produce really starts rolling in at the market! One of the most anticipated seasonal ingredients making an appearance right now is Edgar Farms‘ asparagus (available at Innisfail Growers).

Unlike many Alberta grown veggies, asparagus is a perennial plant (meaning that it lives for many years, so does not need to be replanted in the spring). Asparagus can be harvested for only a few short weeks each spring, and picking is always completed by the end of June. This allows the plant to store up nutrients to make it through the winter.  Edgar Farms has created an innovative way to harvest asparagus efficiently. See them in action in this video.

Asparagus can be enjoyed in many ways and while often viewed as a great side or compliment to a meal, asparagus is the star of the show in this simple soup recipe.

Asparagus x2

Market Sourced Ingredients

Serves 6

Simple Asparagus Soup

2 bundles of asparagus from Innisfail Growers

1 medium onion from The Cherry Pit

3 cloves of garlic from The Cherry Pit

6 cups of chicken (or veggie) stock from The Stock and Sauce Co.

Butter or olive oil

Salt and pepper

Optional garnishes:

Parmesan cheese from Fresh DELIcious

OR

Fresh mint from Terra Farms

OR

Fresh lemon & dill

Ingredients

Roughly chop your onions, garlic and asparagus. No need to get fancy since it will all be going into the blender eventually.

Heat up the butter or olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and sauté for about 5 minutes until tender. Add the asparagus and chicken (or veggie) stock to the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until asparagus is cooked. When all ingredients are soft, remove from the stove and puree in a blender (making sure to allow steam to escape through the lid).  When the desired texture has been achieved, pour back into a clean pot and heat through. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Simple as that!

You can enjoy the soup right away or add a simple garnish for some extra flavour. Choose a garnish that you enjoy like mint, lemon and dill, or Parmesan cheese.

Soup x3

My personal favourite was the lemon and dill variation. Just add a splash of fresh squeezed lemon juice and a sprig of dill for an energizing twist. Try the mint if you’re looking for something a little different and refreshing, and you can never go wrong with Parmesan cheese! This soup is super versatile and with slight variations can meet the needs and tastes of everyone in your family.

Don’t forget; local asparagus is only available until the end of June! Enjoy this easy meal before the asparagus is gone. Come down to the Calgary Farmers’ Market to pick up your ingredients today!

Innisfail Growers Cooperative

We hear the question often: “why isn’t the market open every day?” The answer is simple really. There is a lot that goes into bringing the fresh produce you see at our market; they’re here even when we’re not open, they’re in the fields growing food for our tables, and even farmers need a day of rest. Recently, we visited the five farms that make up the Innisfail Growers Co-Operative: Beck Farms, Edgar Farms, Uppergreen Farms, The Jungle Farm, and Hillside Greenhouses. The farms are scattered around the Innisfail area, filled with hardworking farmers, warm hearts, and incredible produce. We made the short journey with local food blogger Dan Clapson and illustrator, food writer, and Food On Your Shirt creator Pierre Lamielle. We were expecting to learn a few things, but we came away with more knowledge and warm hospitality than anticipated. There is a passion that lies within the hearts of these farmers and their families and it shows in their many offerings which can be found at the Innisfail Growers Co-Op booth at our market. So what did we learn? Where did we visit? Get ready for the whirlwind, here goes everything we can try to wrap up in one post.

Close your eyes and imagine what a thriving greenhouses smells like. If you said “green”, you’d be spot on. But green is a color, it doesn’t have a smell you say. Well, that’s where you’d be wrong. Carmen and Jose Fuentes of Hillside Greenhouses are the newest members of the Innisfail Growers Co-operative joining in 2003. They occupy 18,000 square feet of greenhouse filled with tomatoes, mini cucumbers, and green beans. We were pleasantly surprised to see that they had just started harvesting the beans and cucumbers to be sold at the market, with the tomatoes requiring a little more love and time. If you’re wondering what it was like to have your nose awash in the smell of green, pick up some of Carmen’s beautiful tomatoes at the Market and stick your nose right in the bag… get right in there and give it a good, deep sniff. Smells good doesn’t it?

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All of their greenhouses are herbicide and pesticide free, instead using biological controls: “good” bugs take care of the “bad” bugs.

Hillside Greenhouse Collage
Beans, Tomatoes, Cucumbers! Oh My!

All the tomatoes you find at the Innisfail Growers table have been ripened on the plant and picked 1-2 days in advance. This is what gives them such great home grown flavour!

Shelley Bradshaw, with her husband Rod and two sons have been crafting the art of growing carrots for over 20 years. Over the years, they have perfected planting in Alberta’s rich, dark soil to bring us their famous Nantes carrots, but also beets, parsnips, dill, hot peppers, and more! Nantes carrots are by nature a sweeter variety, but Shelly’s carrots are particularly crisp and sweet due to the unique terroir; the cool nights we experience in Alberta are key to producing sweet tasting, crisp vegetables because it prevents the naturally produced sugars from turning to bitter starch.

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This is Shelley and this is her mower. Doesn’t she look at home?
Beck Farms Collage 1
Shelley took the time to show us their impressive set-up; we can’t wait to see it up and running during harvest.

Once dug from the ground the carrots are brought to the farm yard where they are washed, sorted, inspected and bagged. Ready for you to eat. We may have snagged a carrot or two… it was quality testing, really.

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We went up at the beginning of May so the fields were bare, but this gives you a good idea of the before picture. Don’t worry, we’ll be back up to Beck Farms for harvest time. Shelley has promised to put us to work.

Edgar Farms

We hadn’t exactly done a whole lot to work up an appetite, but it was lunch time nonetheless. Elna and Doug of Edgar Farms had prepared a fantastic meal for our gang; it isn’t everyday you can sit down to a table filled almost entirely of local products: Beck Farms shredded carrots and Honey Mustard Dressing, Hillside Greenhouses tomatoes and cucumbers, Uppergreen Farms’ thick-cut roasted french fries, Edgar Farms Angus Beef burgers and homemade asparagus relish, pickled beets, mustard pickles, and what Elna promised to be the best sauerkraut in the world; she wasn’t exaggerating. And to finish the meal, a home-baked, fresh-out-of-the-oven rhubarb pie. We could get used to this sort of hospitality! But isn’t that part of a farmers’ charm? Down-home heart and a table full of friends.

Edgar Lunch Collage We’d had our fill and were all ready for a nap, when Elna and her lovely family rolled us out the door to show off their farm, a Country Store open seasonally, and a shiny new kitchen to bring you all of their delicious offerings. They have an impressive set-up to say the least.

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Believe it or not, this field is actually filled with asparagus. It just wasn’t quite ready to show it’s beautiful little spears.
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Amanda and Elna digging for asparagus.

Doug & Elna Edgar and family started off growing asparagus on a hidden-away acre “so their neighbors wouldn’t think they’d gone crazy” in 1986, but soon expanded to 21 acres. The largest asparagus field in Alberta, the Edgar’s farm produces some of the sweetest, most tender asparagus, with the addition of beans, preservatives, pies, and natural beef on their sixth generation family farm. When picking, they snap the asparagus off at ground level so you won’t have to cut off the tough bottom before you prepare it. It arrived at the market a little early this year and we just couldn’t keep our hands off of it!

For a simple and delicious asparagus recipe, check out our Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart featuring Edgar Farms scrumptious spears.

Edgar Farms Collage 1
Pierre was eager to get his hands dirty, but we’re pretty sure it’s a lot harder than it looks. For an idea of just how it works, check this video out.

Edgar Farms is only 5 minutes west of the QE2, so it’s not much more than a hop, skip, and a jump to pay them a visit for their Annual Asparagus Festival on June 1st and 2nd. And if you can’t make it for the festival, you can meet the farmers, experience picking for yourself, learn what is involved in growing, plus taste the freshness straight from the fields at their Innisfail Growers Customer Appreciation Day on Sunday, July 28th!

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The Women’s Institute has been managing this school for many, many years. The farmers in the community often supply food for community events held here.

3 down and 2 to go, we hopped back in the car and sped down the dusty gravel roads trying to keep up with Shelley (our guide for the day). If you’ve ever tried to follow a farmer zipping around in their neck of the woods, you’ll know it was no surprise we nearly lost the undercarriage of our little city vehicle once or twice. But we had potatoes to see!

Upper Green Farms

The Buyks family has been growing potatoes for Innisfail Growers since 1993. Originally from Holland, John and Corry bring years of vegetable growing experience to their family farm. Although their four children have now all graduated from university, their son Hanno and his wife, Megan, are involved with the farm and help to bring you the fresh potatoes you know and love. When we arrived at their farm, John was about to head into the fields to start planting but he took a few minutes to explain the planting process to us. In our city slicker minds, we equated this contraption to a potato Ferris Wheel. Every summer, they spend hours and hours walking through the potato fields to ensure the plants are healthy. The baby potatoes are all hand picked, selected, and sorted to bring gourmet quality and freshness to your plate. There is no potayto-potawto debate here, they’re just in a league of their own.

Upper Greens Collage 1
These ‘ugly’ sprouted potatoes are actually what John will load into the potato ferris wheel to be planted… like a seed.

The Jungle Farm

And last, but by no means the least, we were off to meet 4th generation farmers Blaine and Leona Staples just north of Innisfail. The Staples are best known for their strawberries, but also grow greenhouse crops, specializing in flowers and a number of field crops such as lettuce and pumpkins. Everyone in the family helps out on the farm in the summer time; Leona’s eldest son is even experimenting with his own crop of garlic this year. After the summer of berries and freshly picked vegetables, you can also get your halloween pumpkin from your local Innisfail Growers Booth or straight from The Jungle Farm (where they just happen to have a pretty cool pumpkin cannon, yeah you read that right. Cannon).

Jungle Farms Collage 1 There are an endless number of activities to do on The Jungle Farm from picking your own strawberries, choosing the perfect pumpkin right out of the pumpkin patch, planting your very own flower planters and baskets, riding the wagon to the corn maze, enjoying a leisurely stroll along the gnome walk, or zipping down the slide. It’s fun, trust us.

Jungle Farms Collage 2
We consider this quality control too.

Our first farm tour was an outstanding experience, a beautiful beginning to what we hope will help connect our farmers to our guests. We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Shelley, Carmen, Elna and Doug, John and Corry, and Leona (and their lovely families) for letting us invade their farms and homes. We are humbled by your hard work and appreciate you and your produce beyond words.

Stay tuned for future farm tours of our other fabulous vendors here at the Calgary Farmers’ Market and our return to Innisfail to help with the harvest. That should be interesting!

AND, if you can’t make it up to Edgar Farms for the Asparagus Festival or to visit all of the farms for their Customer Appreciation day… Karen Anderson of Calgary Food Tours is offering an exclusive Alberta Farm Tour on Sunday, August 11th!

In the comfort of a bathroom equipped and air-conditioned Sahalla Coachlines executive bus, with a coffee and pastry to go from two of Calgary Farmer’s Markets’ yummiest vendors, you will sit back and enjoy the 75 minute drive North along Alberta’s most fertile growing belt to Innisfail Growers. You will be greeted with a refreshing snack and then tour Edgar Farms and Hillside Greenhouses before enjoying a farm fresh lunch in the Little Red Deer Community Hall. After lunch you’ll pull a few of Beck Farms’ famous carrots, spot spuds in the mud at Buyks farms and then enjoy Leona Staples’ great cooking with dessert at The Jungle Farm!  For more information and to purchase tickets, check out Calgary Food Tours Inc.

Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart

It’s always an exciting day when the asparagus spears start gracing the shelves at the market. As if they come with fireworks and streamers, it’s an announcement of sorts that Spring is here and Summer is just around the corner. It’s the start of a beautiful, colorful, and delicious growing season and we are delighted to showcase the local asparagus from Innisfail Growers. It is our hope that when you read through our market blog, you find something that catches your eye and calls to your stomach. And it’s easy enough to whip together after a long day at work. This Asparagus Goat Cheese Tart, we are proud to say, is simple and sophisticated; your dinner guests will never expect you threw it together in a few simple steps.

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Market-Sourced Ingredients

Serves 6-8

1 bunch of beautiful Edgar Farms Asparagus from Innisfail Growers Co-Op

1 package of Puff Pastry and 1 200g tub of Chèvre Fresh Goat Cheese from Blush Lane Organics

100g Bison Bresaola from Olson’s High Country Bison

1 Lemon from Souto Farms

Fresh Herb selection from Terra Farms (we’re partial to parsley, basil, and chives but choose the herb you love)

Salt & Pepper

Olive Oil

Puff Pastry Collage

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Set out the puff pastry and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. We chose to sprinkle fresh herbs all over the pastry, fold it over, and roll it thin with a rolling pin. Prick it all over with a fork and bake it for 10 minutes (called ‘proofing’), or until lightly golden brown.

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While the puff pastry is proofing, mix in the fresh herbs and zest of one lemon into the goat cheese. Remove puff pastry from the oven after 10 minutes, place twoonie-sized chunks of herbed goat cheese on the puff pastry and place back in the oven for 20 minutes.

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Wrap one piece of bison bresaola around each asparagus spear. Drizzle a little olive oil over prepped asparagus and season with freshly ground pepper and sea salt. Grill asparagus for two minutes and then flip, continue grilling for two minutes on second side.

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Place bresaola-wrapped asparagus spears on top of the goat cheese puff pastry. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon on the top, and serve in strips. This is really quite perfect on its own but would pair nicely with a simple green salad or a selection of fresh tomatoes. And a glass of wine, of course.

Edgar Farms is only 5 minutes west of the QE2, so it’s not much more than a hop, skip, and a jump to pay them a visit for their Annual Asparagus Festival next weekend (June 1st and 2nd)!