Trennette Pasta with Tuna, Lemon, Capers and Spinach

Trennette is a three-sided, quill-shaped pasta that is a fun shape to use with chunky sauces. If you can’t find it, use penne rigate.

trenette-tuna-recipe3 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable broth
Zest of 1 whole lemon, plus 1 teaspoon juice
1/2 pound trenette pasta
1/2 pound spinach
1 (8-ounce) can high-quality, sustainably-caught tuna in olive oil, removed from oil and broken into large chunks
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
Sea salt and red pepper flakes

Whisk together the garlic, olive oil, vegetable broth and lemon juice. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Three minutes before pasta is done, add the spinach. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water before straining.

Toss the pasta gently with the sauce, lemon zest, tuna and capers. Add pasta water tablespoon by tablespoon if needed. Season to taste with salt and red pepper flakes.

Serves 4

Food Policy in Four Parts: An Introduction

For most, choosing what to eat seems as simple an affair as browsing the grocery store aisles. But in reality, there is an incredibly complex—and some might argue supremely ineffective—system governing what gets put before us and how it came to be.

food-policy-intro-postThis series has been a long time coming for me. Years ago, as I set about on my dual quest to learn more about agriculture and health, the relationship between the two became impossible to avoid. Yet linking them is a knotted rope of policy and politics that can stymie rather than support momentum towards a healthy environment, vibrant communities and nourished people.

The bottom line is three-fold:

  • Everything about our food system—and by food system I mean how food is conceived, grown, distributed, marketed and consumed—is interconnected, although most often those connections are not planned out very wisely or even deliberately.
  • We are at a crossroads. There is unprecedented opportunity for groundbreaking policy change; there is also the choice to continue down the path we’re currently on. The decision is ours to make.
  • As individuals, we have more power than we think to affect positive change when it comes to our food system. Marion Nestle, nutritionist and food policy activist, says that we need to vote both with our forks and at the ballot box. AG Kawamura, Secretary of California Department of Food and Agriculture, points out that to do that, we must first be educated about what we’re voting for.

And that is what this series on food policy is meant to be; a straightforward education on the primary pieces that make up our food system, and a needle to stitch them all together.

Watch for more in the coming weeks.

Oven-Baked Polenta with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Years ago, during a class at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, I made a polenta recipe by Gary Danko that cooked–fuss-free–in the oven. I adopted it and have never looked back (or slaved over another pot of polenta). This one incorporates No Work Slow Roasted Tomatoes (which live in my freezer over the winter). Go for good-quality polenta instead of the instant variety; the texture and taste will be immeasurably better (and there’s no stirring for you anyway!).


Slow Movement

By Kurt Michael Friese

I may have been the first in my family to “go pro” becoming a chef, but my life has always revolved around food. Growing up, the conversation over Saturday lunch was inevitably about what was for dinner – who was making what, where it would be procured, whether to sauté or steam the carrots or broccoli. In fourth grade I met the boy who would become my best man and godfather to my son at the lunch table discussing what was in our brown bags. So it’s not entirely surprising that I became passionate about the Slow Food organization early on.

slow-food-postSlow Food International started over 20 years ago when an Italian food and wine journalist named Carlo Petrini learned that McDonald’s was coming to his country (and even worse, to Rome). So he organized a protest. With the help of other media friends they staged a march that drew nearly 100,000 people to eat traditional penne pommadoro and lament the assault on their culture that McDonald’s represented.

The upshot of that protest was a budding organization named in opposition to the fast food that had provoked its birth. What began simply as a group of gourmands wary of the threat to their beloved cuisine quickly became a global movement of environmentally conscious foodies. Concerns over food security and food justice were soon added to the list. Today there are over 100,000 members joining together in local chapters called convivia (including the one I founded in Iowa) in 129 countries around the world promoting “good, clean and fair food for all.”

From the national and international level to the individual local chapters, Slow Food uses a wide variety of activities to educate and inform on the importance of real fresh food and the centrality of the farm, the kitchen and the table in our everyday lives.

Preserving Diversity

One of Slow Food’s core agendas is to save real food before it becomes a quaint memory. During the time that Slow Food has been in existence, its Ark of Taste program has cataloged and reinvigorated hundreds of foods in danger of extinction. That may sound exaggerated, but the statistics are startling. 93 percent of American food product diversity has been lost since 1900 (75 percent of European food product diversity disappeared during the same time period). Thirty-three percent of livestock varieties have vanished or are near vanishing and nearly 30,000 vegetable varieties have become extinct in the last century; one more is lost every six hours. Another important Slow Food program, Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT), brings together food producers, chefs and consumers in identifying and preserving America’s unique foods and traditions.

Strengthening Small Farmers and Artisans

Small farmers and artisans, often struggling to remain economically stable, produce many of the foods spotlighted by these initiatives. Through programs like Terra Madre and Presidia, Slow Food helps strengthen these small producers committed to responsible and sustainable food production. The Terra Madre network and biennial conference brings together farmers, food producers, cooks, activists and academics to put their heads together, learn from and help one another, while Presidia provides a support network to artisan producers to help keep their production viable.

Fighting for the Health of Our Children

But Slow Food has a direct impact on our health too. Last fall, in an initiative that brought back memories of that fated cafeteria table, Slow Food USA brought the nation’s attention to the problem of unhealthy school lunches. Its Time for Lunch campaign and the Labor Day “Eat-Ins” around the country (think old-fashioned activism with a hot dish to share) raised awareness, and had an arguable influence on Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move campaign for healthier kids. Taken with the USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, it’s clear that Slow Food’s ideals are beginning to hit the mainstream.

Getting Connected

Members of Slow Food get connected through their local chapters, made up of people who care—and are curious—about the link between food, agriculture, health and the environment. Convivia gatherings can be social, educational or political in nature (or, in many cases, all three at the same time), and members also have access to regional, national and international events that celebrate good, clean, fair food.

The most profound benefit to joining Slow Food, though, is becoming part of the growing movement that is actively leading the way in changing how America eats.

Kurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.

Mama Kourtesi’s Beet and Green Salad

This salad, which I learned from Mama Kourtesi in Greece, is the essence of “whole eating.” She boils both beets and their greens and tosses it all in a simple dressing of oil and vinegar for a surprisingly tasty, super-versatile salad or side dish.

beet-green-salad-recipe1-1/2 pounds baby beets with greens attached
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Trim the leaves from the beets a half-inch from the base of the stem. Wash, dry and chop the leaves.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add beet roots, lower heat to maintain a vigorous simmer, and cook for 20-35 minutes (depending on size), until the tip of a sharp knife can penetrate to the beet’s center without resistance. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beets to a bowl and let cool until manageable. Peel and cut into 1/2-inch wedges.

Bring water back up to a boil and add beet greens. Boil for 5 minutes, until greens are wilted and stems are tender. Drain well.

Mix together beets and greens in a large salad bowl ,and toss with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Let sit for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4

Cultivate Your Soil

I’ve been gardening “organically” for nearly a decade now. But up until recently, I carried a narrow definition of “organic” in my head as what I wasn’t putting on my plants—no pesticides, no herbicides, no synthetic fertilizer. And while that is part of the equation, I’ve learned that organic gardening is so much more than what you don’t do; it’s about how you nurture the soil to be healthy long-term and, consequently, produce fruitful crops.

cultivate-soil-postThis isn’t revolutionary. In fact, Thomas Jefferson wrote this advice—about pesky pests—to his daughter in 1793:

“When the earth is rich, it bids defiance to droughts, yields in abundance, and of the best quality. I suspect that the insects which have harassed you have been encouraged by the feebleness of your plants, and that has been produced by the lean state of your soil.”

There’s a strong parallel here to the NOURISH Evolution approach. One of our fundamental aims is to help people get beyond thinking of healthy eating as being what we don’t eat (fat, carbs, sugar, processed, whatever) and instead take a long-term view to mindfully nurture themselves through the foods they do. And, to come full circle, a healthy garden can be one of the best ways to achieve that.

This week, consider cultivating a garden (from the soil up) as you ponder the concept that a healthy body is as much about what you put into it as what you refrain from eating.

If you’re curious about what it takes to start a garden, here’s a helpful guide from the Sonoma County iGrow program

Flash-Roasted Carrot Sticks with Cumin-Carrot Yogurt Sauce

Roasted carrots are a dinnertime staple, but this recipe spins them as more-ish finger-food appetizer or snack. The inherent sweetness of garden-fresh carrots is heightened by honey in this dish, and given a spicy kick from cayenne. Make the dip as spicy as you like with a little or a lot.


Making Sense of Salt

If you’ve been cooking our recipes here on , you’ve probably noticed that the vast majority of them have no measurement when it comes to salt–only “sea salt” listed in the ingredients. The reason is twofold. First, range of preference varies widely when it comes to how heavily to salt a dish. Second, I’m more interested in encouraging people to wisely discern how much salt suits both their taste and needs than dictate how much to use in a single dish.

making-sense-salt-postI’ve heard it time and time and time again: Someone reads this or that saying to cut down on sodium, so the reader throws the salt dish out with the brine. But judiciously seasoning whole foods with salt both during cooking and afterwards—almost as a garnish—is not what we need to be worrying about. Way back when there were no Doritos or boxed mac ‘n’ cheese and humans lived off vegetables and meats and fruit and grain, the average person consumed about a gram of sodium per day compared to today’s average of 10-12 grams and even more. That’s not to say that salt was shunned by humans in the old days; quite the opposite in fact. Salt, which is made up primarily of sodium chloride, has been a prized ingredient for millennia, both for its ability to draw out the natural flavors of foods as well as its role in preserving them.

The issue with salt—and the hypertension and kidney problems associated with excessive sodium intake—lies more in processed food than in seasoning at the stove. One hot dog, for instance, has over 900 milligrams of sodium in it, whereas a quarter teaspoon of salt—a generous pinch that could easily season a dish for four—has only 500 milligrams.

Another element to using salt wisely is understanding what type to use for what application. A fine, crystallized sea salt works well as a cooking seasoning since it disperses evenly, but might very well overwhelm a finished dish. Salts with a coarser texture make excellent “finishing salts” to be used, almost as a garnish, at the table.

Still skeptical about salt? Here’s a breakdown of how a day’s meals can stack up sodium-wise with meals cooked from (using a 1/2 teaspoon sea salt in the tartines and 1/4 in the carbonara) versus processed and packaged foods.

Sodium Chart
Sodium Chart

If you’re salt sensitive or if you have a predisposition to hypertension, certainly you’ll want to watch your sodium intake. But the numbers above show–with processed foods coming in over 300% higher in sodium than those on –that if a pinch of salt is going to make whole foods more appealing to you, it’s probably worth it in the long run.

Go Slow

It’s March first and, maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the year is already zooming by. Ironically, well before the year began I had slated March to be a time when we slowed down here on NOURISH Evolution. Not in the sense of fewer posts or reigned in momentum, but in terms of taking a big breath and diving deeper. Into why fresh, seasonal sustainably-farmed, -caught and -raised food tastes better and is better for our bodies and the earth. Into how our communities are strengthened and nourished when we choose to eat these foods (and, by contrast, are depleted when we don’t). Into where the choices we make at the grocery store, as isolated as they may seem, really do have an impact on things like national health care; global warming; the obesity crisis and hunger in developing nations.

That last sentence may freak you out, but it’s true. Michal Pollan wasn’t exaggerating when he said that we vote with our forks three times a day, and this month we’re going to explore to a deeper extent the wider consequences of the choices we make regarding the food we eat.

But, I believe, that requires us to slow down first. There’s vulnerability in slowing down and allowing for introspection, and I think that’s a healthy place to be as we move ahead into this month. I know it’s where I need to be, and somehow it keeps getting reinforced. By the book proposal I’m working on, about soulfulness and seasonality and themes that resonate to our very core. By the very first My Nourish Mentor group call today, where the enthusiasm and eagerness for deliberate change was electric. By being asked to be part of the leadership team of our local Slow Food chapter as the organization takes dynamic strides towards an exciting vision (you’ll find out more about the Slow Food organization this Friday in a piece by Kurt Friese). All of these experiences are humbling. All are exhilarating. And all require the presence of mind and authenticity of spirit that simply isn’t possible when whipping through them at warp speed.

This week—this month—I invite you all to join me in going “slow.” Does that mean committing to hours a day contemplating Big Things? No; in fact, my schedule is only going to ramp up over these next few months. What it does mean is that we’ll try to catch ourselves when barreling down a well-worn road of habit, take a few deep breaths and, at the very least, notice what we’re doing. At the very best, we’ll change course and, step by step, start carving out the path we really want to take.

Check back frequently on NOURISH Evolution this month to see what we uncover at this snail’s pace.