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Does Organic Matter?

Keeping it Fresh With Local, Organic Fruit and Vegetables

Our ancestors didn’t use chemicals and pesticides to grow their food, so why are we? If you want to limit your exposure to substances from a lab, then opting for organic is the way to go. Local produce is fresher and may retain more nutrients. In addition to being free of damaging chemicals, eating locally sourced, organic food supports the local economy and reduces our carbon footprint by minimizing transportation, fostering a stronger connection between consumers and farmers. Supporting local farmers' markets promotes sustainable agriculture and provides access to fresh, seasonal produce. 

While organic foods may lower pesticide residues in your diet, and some studies suggest they could have higher nutrient levels, the overall health impact is still debated by some. In any case, many Americans are eating less meat and relying instead on vegetables and grains for a meal’s main focus. Consequently, organic vegetarian food has evolved from the sometimes bland, predictable 1960s fare of tofu, cheese, and brown rice into flavorful, adventuresome dishes.

The following recipes take advantage of the best vegetables winter has to offer. Some dishes are innovations and others stem from ethnic traditions. The common theme here, though, is that they are all warming, hearty, and perfectly suited to this season.

Roasted Vegetable Napoleons

(Makes six)

Ingredients:

- 1/2 cup olive oil

- 1 pound eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch thick slices

- 1 1/4 pound zucchini, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch thick slices

- 4 large plum tomatoes (about 1 1/4 lb), cut lengthwise into 1/3-inch thick slices

- 2 medium red onions, cut into 1/3-inch thick slices

- 1 pound medium red potatoes, cut into 1/3 inch thick slices

- 3/4 cup ricotta cheese

- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

- 1/2 pound mozzarella, cut into six 1/4 inch thick slices

- 6 fresh rosemary sprigs.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450F and brush 2 baking sheets with some of the olive oil. Arrange as many vegetables as possible in one layer on sheets. Brush the veggies with the remaining oil and season with salt and pepper.

Roast vegetables in the middle and lower thirds of your oven, switching positions of sheets in the oven halfway through roasting, until just tender and lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the vegetables.

In a small bowl stir together ricotta and thyme. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Put 1 eggplant slice on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Spread one tablespoon of the ricotta mixture over eggplant. Cover with 2 potato slices and layer with 2 zucchini slices, 1 onion slice, 1 mozzarella slice, 2-3 tomato slices, 2 zucchini slices, and 1 onion slice. Make 5 more napoleons using the remaining vegetables, ricotta mixture, and mozzarella in the same manner.

Insert a metal skewer through the center of each napoleon to make a hole from top to bottom. Trim rosemary sprigs to be 1 inch taller than napoleons and remove bottom leaves from each sprig, leaving 1 inch of leaves rising from the top. Insert 1 sprig into each napoleon and bake in the middle of the oven for 5 minutes, or until mozzarella is melted and vegetables are heated through.

Chicken Skewers with Meyer Lemon Salsa

(Makes six servings)

This versatile salsa also pairs well with scallops or roast fish.

Ingredients:

- 8 Meyer lemons

- 1/2 cup finely chopped English hothouse cucumber

- 1 Serrano chile pepper, finely chopped

- A pinch of sugar and salt

- 1 1/2 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2 in pieces

- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

- 1/4 cup plain yogurt

- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

- 2 tablespoons scallions

- 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

- 1 teaspoon cracked coriander seeds

- 1 teaspoon turmeric.

Directions:

Cut all peel and white pith from lemons and discard. Working over a medium bowl, cut between membranes to release segments into the bowl; squeeze in juice from membranes and discard the membranes. Strain juice into another bowl.

Combine segments, 1 tablespoon of strained lemon juice, the cucumber, 2 tablespoons of scallions, and diced chile in a small bowl; mix well. Stir in sugar; season salsa with salt and pepper.

In a mini food processor or blender, puree 1/4 cup cilantro, yogurt, oil, garlic, coriander, and turmeric. Pour marinade over chicken and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes. Preheat broiler.

Thread 4 pieces of chicken onto each skewer and transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil the chicken skewers turning once and watching closely to prevent burning, until browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes.

Transfer skewers to plates. Spoon Meyer lemon salsa over chicken. Garnish with remaining cilantro and 1 tablespoon scallions.

Fresh Fruit with Grand Marnier Sabayon

(Makes three servings)

Ingredients:

- 2 eggs

- 1/4 cup granulated sugar

- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

- 1/4 cup Grand Marnier

- 1/2 cup heavy cream

- 2 cups diced fresh nectarines (remove any seeds)

- 3 strawberries sliced lengthwise (optional)

Directions:

In a bowl of a double boiler, whisk to blend the egg yolks, sugar, orange juice, and Grand Marnier. Place the bowl in a double boiler of simmering hot water and continue to whisk constantly for about 4 minutes until it has the consistency of lightly whipped cream. Cool to room temperature.

In a separate bowl, make the sabayon. Whip heavy cream with an electric mixer on high until light and fluffy. Fold in sabayon with a rubber spatula. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Serve 1/3 cup of nectarines with 2 tablespoons of sabayon. Optional: turn on the oven broiler. Place fruit in oven-proof ramekins. Spoon the sabayon completely covering the fruit. Broil for 1 or 2 minutes, until the top of the sabayon is lightly browned and slightly crusted. Garnish with sliced strawberries (optional).

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