Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Gastronomical Sovereignty--How Lo-cal Can You Go?: Vancouver Island Mac & Cheese

Hooray for blog swaps! Enjoy Kristy's post and recipe below and check mine out over on her blog.

Good morning lovely readers of Cooking My Way Through My CSA! 

I'm Kristy of Gastronomical Sovereignty, a food blog where I contemplate the ethical dilemmas of culinary deliciousness... With wine, of course. When Sam asked me if I wanted to swap posts over our love of happy food and mac and cheese, I jumped at the chance. Why wouldn't I want to eat local, organic, seasonal, happy cheesy goodness?? I'd have to be insane to say no. And while I do go a 'lil crazy from time to time, I'm certainly lucid enough to know I want macaroni and cheese. Anytime, anywhere.

The actual mission? Make a mac & cheese dish that is as local as possible to demonstrate what is locally available in the middle of February on both the East and West coasts. Heck yeah!

I live on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It's kind of a local food mecca. With some of the most arable land in the world, it's easy to belong to aCSA that delivers to your back door each week, or grow as much of your food as you want, visit the farms producing your food, and hit up the downtown farmer's markets - sparse as they may be right now. Yet, in mid-February I am fighting the need to go to the grocery store down the street for what should be readily available through healthier, happier food ways. It was in trying to round-up the ingredients for this dish that a thought occurred to me:

I think there's an efficiency sustainability coefficient. When all that happy food is available in the capital region but is spread out through out to every corner of town, how efficient is it for me to access it? Victoria isn't a large city - only about 78,000. But it would take me literally 4 hours (by bus) to round up everything I needed for this meal. Who has time for that?? I'm a huge advocate for slowing down our busy lifestyles and living smaller, but I'm a full time student, I have 2 blogs, I work because I have to (well, normally I do. Yay unemployment!), and I'm trying to get a freelance career off the ground. Who has time for 4 hours of grocery getting for one meal??? And even if I had a vehicle, how energy efficient is it to drive to each corner of the city to pick up the food that's already had to be driven from the farm to the store? It's like, double the gas and consequential emissions!

My point is this: There's not just the qualitative aspects of happy food that need to be addressed - the social, ecological, animal and ultimately political ones - but also the quantitative. What exactly IS the efficiency sustainability coefficient of local food? What does it really look like and how can we actually make happy, seasonal, organic, free-range, naturally fed, small scale food a reality? And really, how convenient can we make inconvenient food?

All this is an aside though: By sheer luck - or maybe it was fate that day - the downtown farmer's market had everything I needed to make my mac and cheese. Well done, Victoria Downtown Public Market Society! I've included links to the producers who provided me with such stunning ingredients for my dish if you wanna pay them a little how's your father. Feel free to use any variant of any of the ingredients that's available to you.  This was by far, the best mac & cheese I'd ever had - and the most expensive! I don't know if it was the integrity of the ingredients or if I was just a superstar chef that day - which, let's be honest, I am - either way, it was stellar: creamy, flavorful, filling, a good texture contrast, and oh so gooey. 

Vancouver Island Mac & Cheese

6-8 oz. Fresh Stinging Nettle Rotini or other short noodle pasta. (Cowichan Pasta Company).
2 Cloves Fresh Garlic, finely chopped. (Gabriola Gourmet Garlic).
1/2 Large Onion, diced. (my garden).
1 Bunch Rainbow Chard, roughly chopped. (Haliburton Community Organic Farm).
1 - 2 Lbs Hubbard Squash. (Haliburton Community Organic Farm).
Handful of Fresh Sage, roughly torn. (my garden).
1/2 Lb Happy Bacon, chopped. (Terra Nossa Family Farm).
4 oz. Raw Goat's Milk Cheddar Cheese, grated. (Hilary's Artisan Cheeses).
4 oz. Tomme Dor Cheese, grated. (Moonstruck Organic Cheese Inc.).
2 C 1% Milk. (Avalon Organic Dairy).
1 Loaf Asiago Sourdough Bread. (Cascadia Bakery).
2 Tbsp Butter, unsalted. (Avalon Organic Dairy).
2 Tbsp Flour.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil. 
Kosher Salt & Fresh Cracked Black Pepper.

What to Do:

(the first two directions can be done up to a day ahead of time) 

First, make the breadcrumbs for your topping. Pre-heat your oven to 275 degrees F. Tear the bread into approximately 1" pieces and lay as a single layer on two baking sheets. Place in the oven and let dry out for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven, toss into a food processor, and pulse until coarsely ground. Set aside.

Turn your oven up to 400 degrees F. If need be, cut the squash in half and dig out your seeds. Cut away the skin and chop into approximately 1" pieces. Throw on the baking sheet with the sage, toss with a bit of olive oil and salt & pepper and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes. You want it cooked but still holding it's shape. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Heat a large non-stick pan over medium-low heat. Once hot, throw in your bacon. Cook until desired crispiness is reached, flipping occasionally. Careful, it's greasy hot! Remove from the heat and place on an old towel or paper towels to drain any excess grease. Set aside with the squash. 
Meanwhile, bring a medium pot filled with salted water to the boil. Add the fresh pasta and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes until El dente. Drain well. If using dried pasta, boil for about 7-8 minutes.
In your bacon cooking pan (with a few Tbsp of bacon grease - hey! Mac & Cheese is supposed to be unhealthy!) add the chopped onion. Stir well and allow to soften for a couple minutes. Add the garlic, stir, and then the chard. Allow to cook down some. Remove from the heat and add to the squash bacon mixture. 
Now: If your oven is off, turn back on to 400 degrees F.
 Make sure the pot you used to cook the pasta is dried well. Melt the butter over medium-low heat until just sizzling. Pour in the flour and stir constantly, until fragrant and starting to change color - about a minute or so. Remove from the burner and gently pour in the milk, and season with salt and pepper, stirring all the time. Place back over the heat, turn up to medium/medium-high and allow to thicken. You will know it's thick enough when it coats the back of a wooden spoon and you run your finger across it and the mark stays there. 
Add in the grated cheese, stir well to melt and combine, and then mix in the veggie bacon mixture and the pasta.
Pour entire mixture into a lightly greased 9 X 9 baking dish. Top with breadcrumbs to cover the entire top and place dish on a baking sheet to catch drips. Put in the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the top is golden and crisp. 

Oh hell yes. 



  1. That looks great and glad to hear from a fellow Islander :) My husband and I live in the Comox Valley and love all of the local foods we can get through the winter.

    1. Ooooh! Comox is so beautiful! Do you have a lot of food available up there? Or do you have to come down island a bit?


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