Arugula salad. Basil risotto with squash caponata.
This light summer meal — chock full of fresh local ingredients — was the focus of a free cooking class Aug. 22 in Quincy.
Presented by CalFresh Healthy Living Plumas County in partnership with the Lost Sierra Food Project, Chef Sean Conry described and demonstrated his cooking techniques in an outdoor class area at Rugged Roots Farm in Quincy.
The goal of the program is to help inspire everyone to prepare and eat meals using healthy local ingredients, said CalFresh Healthy Living Program Director Christopher Rouse. “All this amazing produce came from right here,” he said, pointing out that many of the ingredients for the evening’s meal were harvested on site and available for purchase at the Farm Stand.
“The reason I wanted to demonstrate risotto was because you can use it to show off your summer produce,” said Conry. He spoke about his travels in Italy, during which he sampled many regional variations of the creamy rice-based dish.
Cooked by adding liquid in stages to Arborio rice, risotto can be a starchy side for many dishes, he said. Conry said one of his favorite flavors involves winter squash, bacon, and sage as a side dish in the fall, but for summer, he flavored this evening’s risotto with tomatoes and fresh basil.
While the risotto cooked, Conry demonstrated the preparation of a caponata, a “light and subtle” vegetable topping. “It’s a nice way to use squash,” he said, adding garlic and red onion and finishing with capers, parsley, and basil.
Conry also prepared a simple salad of arugula, tomatoes, cucumbers, torn fresh herbs, and feta cheese. He showed participants how to make a French-style vinaigrette from scratch: combine finely diced onion, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and sherry vinegar, then slowly add olive oil while mixing to emulsify.
As he worked, Conry discussed other useful cooking strategies. For example, stock can be made ahead of time and frozen in smaller quantities, leftover risotto can be made into cakes and fried, and all the dishes can be adjusted to use seasonal ingredients. He also demonstrated presentation ideas and techniques for each dish.
After watching each step, class attendees were treated to a dish of each to try. “It don’t taste like Rice-A-Roni!” one called out happily. Another attendee, Malcolm Muir, said he used to think of risotto as flat and tasteless. “It’s a whole new world!” he said after tasting Conry’s flavorful dish.
Conry is an experienced longtime local chef who has been teaching nutrition, food, and culinary arts at Feather River College for 17 years. He said he enjoys teaching on the farm because it’s “fun to get out in the community and see all the familiar faces.” As one of the first farm-to-table chefs in the region, he worked closely with the producers at the Quincy farm and he said he appreciates seeing recent developments at the site.
To learn more about CalFresh Health Living Plumas County, including upcoming events and activities, visit https://plumascounty.us/2695/CalFresh. To learn more about the Lost Sierra Food Project, visit http://www.lostsierrafoodproject.org. Produce is available at the Farm Stand every Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m.