Meatless Monday: Locavore Lunch

This weekend they had some spinach at the Cary Downtown Farmers Market , which they haven’t had for a few weeks, and I was thinking about what spring dish could I use that for in my next Meatless Monday meal. As I loaded my basket with more beautiful local strawberries, it occurred to me that spinach salad with strawberries is a thing. It’s not a thing I’ve ever tried, because I tend not to like sweet fruit in a savory salad. But then, since we’ve been staying at home, I’m been experimenting more with my cooking. So I figured, why not try it?

As I was thinking about it, I decided to give myself an extra challenge: could I make my meal “locavore,” using only locally-produced ingredient? I like onions in my salad, and there are wonderful green onions at the Farmers Market right now…but what else? What would be a good protein to add to the mix?

Then I had an inspiration. I could use some of the delicious Maple View Farm whole milk to make fresh ricotta! That sounded like that would be just the right thing to round things out.

Of course, I would need ingredients for the dressing. While I couldn’t get that at the Farmers Market, I knew where to go. I did add one other purchase to my meal, however. We have a local winery that is just a couple of miles from my house called Chatham Hill Winery that was selling a lovely Pinot Grigio at the Farmers Market. I decided that would be a perfect wine pairing for my spinach salad.

Just half a block from the Farmers Market is a small shopping center called Ashworth Village, and one of the shops there is Peak Olive Oil, which sells their own specialty-flavored oils and vinegar. I had to call in my order and go pick it up later, but Saturday was such a beautiful day it was a pleasure to walk back downtown and pick up what I needed.

One of the tricky things of cooking TRULY locavore is that there is no local salt or pepper. It’s pretty hard for me to cook without those! So I figured I had to pick some oil and vinegars with some kick to substitute for, or at least cover up the lack of salt. I ended up making a vinaigrette with a blueberry ginger vinegar and, most excitingly, an olive oil infused with CHIPOTLE–one of my favorite spice additions. I thought that might make up for my lack of salt and pepper.

Making the ricotta was even easier than the yogurt (see my previous Meatless Monday post). I just heated up 1/2 gallon of milk to about 180 degrees (when it is bubbling all around the edges), then mixed in about 3 tablespoons of the vinegar. I stirred it gently until the milk had clumped into curds (which happened really quickly), then drained it in a colander covered by cheesecloth. I left it draining for about an hour, and–tah dah! I had fresh ricotta from local ingredients and no additives.

It’s recipes like this that make cooking seem like magic sometimes!

So for lunch, all I did was wash some spinach, strawberries, and a few green onions, tear them or slice them or chop them into appropriate sizes, make a dressing of 3 tablespoons of Chipotle olive oil to 1 tablespoon of the vinegar (which ended up being more than I needed, but I wanted the proportions to be correct), add about 1/4 cup of the ricotta…and there we were: Spinach Strawberry Ricotta Salad!

Made even better with a glass of wine:

So, full confession: this may not TECHNICALLY be locavore, because the grapes for the wine and vinegar and the olives were not grown locally. The winery makes a lot of its wine from grapes grown in the Western Piedmont (like around Winston Salem), so that at least North Carolina ingredients, but I don’t think anywhere in North Carolina has the climate to grow olives. But both are small local businesses with fantastic products, so I’m counting them.

It was a great challenge that worked out well. I really liked the salad, although I admit that I will probably add some salt and pepper and substitute a different vinegar the next time I make it. But there is nothing like pushing ourselves to take advantage of wonderful local produce and other food or beverage items, especially now a lot of us are doing a lot more cooking at home.

Thanks to Parker Farm, HS Howell Farms, and Queen B Farms/Maple View Farm for working so hard to produce and bring us all the major ingredients in the salad–and in many of my family’s meals.

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