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Chef’s Table: Juniper Hill

As a chef born and raised in rural Lawrence, I’ve learned a lot about seasonal eating on my daily walks in the woods and meadows of Douglas County. The first pungent plants of spring, like wild mustard, purslane and nettles, are the perfect foods to jump-start the sluggish digestive system of winter.

When Nancy Thellman of Juniper Hill Farm and Table and I sat down to talk about the menu for the Thursday Pizza Nights, I knew I wanted to feature some wild food alongside the beautiful produce coming from Scott Thellman and his hard-working farm hands on the Juniper Hill Farm.

Nettle Pesto

The seasonal Kaw Valley Pizza features a nettle pesto base with asparagus and wild mushrooms topped with fresh mozzarella. For our invitation-only tasting night, I included morel mushrooms on the pizza I had picked from an undisclosed location in the county. Any mushroom will work, however, if you don’t have access to morels. The pesto’s vibrant green color results from blanching the nettles and works the same for basil. Remember to use gloves when handling this stinging plant! I use sunflower or pumpkin seeds to make this a Kansas-based dish. I encourage eaters to spring for the real deal Parmigiana Reggiano or Grana Padana when making pesto. American parmesan is a moon-cast shadow compared to the rich flavor of these aged hard cheeses perfected over centuries.


1/2 to 2/3 cup blanched, chopped nettles

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped or pressed

2 heaping tablespoons toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds

2 tablespoons grated Parmigiana Reggiano or Grana Padana

Salt to taste

2-4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive oil, the best you can find


1. The best pesto, which means to pound in Italian, is traditionally made in a mortar and pestle and yields a delicious creamy pesto not duplicated in a food processor. But regardless of how you make it, place all ingredients, except oil, in the vessel of your choice and pound or pulse till well combined.

2. If using a food processor: With the machine running, add olive oil into the feeder tube to emulsify the pesto. The amount of olive oil depends on whether you want to use it as a spread or a sauce. For spread, 2 tablespoons. For sauce, 4 tablespoons.

3. If using a mortar and pestle, add 1 tablespoon of oil at a time until thoroughly incorporated.

Roasted Radish and Anchovy Crostini

Every season the Pizza Night menu will feature produce grown at Juniper Hill Farm. Early spring is the season of radishes, and I wanted to showcase the versatility of this humble vegetable. While everyone enjoys the bright bite of radish in coleslaws and salads, the mellow sweetness of roasted radish may be a new experience for diners. We serve fresh-picked radishes roasted in our wood-fired pizza oven till lightly golden over grilled crostini brushed with an umami-rich anchovy garlic butter sauce. It’s a great contrast of flavors and textures. For those who aren’t down with anchovies, have no fear--goat cheese mixed with fresh herbs like sage or rosemary makes a lovely base for roasted radish, and when topped with local honey, it’s almost like a desert!


1 bunch radishes

9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

4 tablespoons butter

8 anchovy fillets, finely chopped

4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

Pinch red pepper flakes

8 thin slices crusty bread, toasted

4 teaspoons chopped parsley or rosemary


1. Remove leaves and stems from radishes and trim the tails. Cut larger radishes lengthwise into sixths and smaller radishes lengthwise into quarters.

2. Heat skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Add 1 tablespoon oil and radishes in a single layer. Do not crowd, otherwise the radish will steam instead of brown. Add salt and pepper. Cook radishes, without moving them, until they are lightly colored on the undersides, about 3 minutes. Shake pan and continue cooking until tender, about 3 more minutes. You can also roast them in the oven at 400 degrees for 10 to 20 minutes.

3. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in anchovies, garlic, red pepper and remaining oil. Reduce heat and simmer about 4 minutes.

4. Brush each slice of toast with sauce and top with several radish wedges. Spoon additional sauce on top, sprinkle with parsley and flake salt.


Bitter is the signature flavor of spring. Grant Taylor-Ahlvers, bar manager for Pizza Night at Juniper Hill Farm and Table, created the Saffron-ic. This lovely cocktail celebrates the beautiful golden hue and subtle bitter notes from saffron, and the smoky richness of mezcal.


¾ ounce Mezcal

¾ ounce Suze liqueur

¾ ounce Strega (the word for witch in Italian, this is a saffron liqueur that boasts 70 spices)

¾ ounces Lemon juice

Lemon peel garnish

Splash of simple syrup if desired


1. Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker and shake till fingers are too cold to hold the shaker.

2. Pour over ice and serve with lemon peel directly in a glass.

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