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Santa Rosa blogger shares tips on how to eat like an Italian

To cook the polenta, Shick makes a vegetable broth from the green part of the leeks, which adds flavor while ensuring that nothing goes to waste. Then she cuts the white part of the leeks, blanch them and sauté them with the green garlic.

“Some of them I put in the polenta when it’s done,” she said. “And the rest I sprinkle on top.”

For the kohlrabi, which is always in season, she advises peeling and thinly slicing it, then tossing it raw into a salad with a few tangerines, herbs and balsamic vinegar.

“It’s really delicious, like a crisp apple,” she said of the kohlrabi. “Sometimes I like to mix kohlrabi with fennel in a salad, especially at the end of a meal. It really cleans the palate.

There are still plenty of sweet carrots growing in the fields of Sonoma County right now, so Shick offered up a carrot cake dessert, giving it its own twist. Instead of grating raw carrots, she chose to roast them first.

“Somehow the roasting made it super moist,” she said. “I wanted it to be vegan, so that was fine.”

For the frosting, she whipped coconut whipped cream with coconut milk, maple syrup and vanilla, then added a sprinkle of walnuts on top.

When shopping at the farmer’s market, Shick suggests trying produce you’ve never tasted before. Think rutabaga, salsify, and Jerusalem artichoke, also known as Jerusalem artichoke.

Then, to get ideas on how to prepare them, she advises talking to the farmer. Ask them what this strange vegetable is and how they would prepare it themselves. Along the way, you’ll get to know who’s growing your food and make a new connection with the farming community.

“They always have so many ideas,” she said. “Lee James (of Tierra Vegetables) has so much knowledge. You ask her a question and she continues.

Alongside her blog, Shick is working on a memoir inspired by her search for her Italian-American roots. She hopes to one day offer cooking classes on Zoom that would also be rooted in her style of plant-based Italian cooking.

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The following recipes are from Ellen Shick of Santa Rosa.

When we think of pesto, we think of the classic Genoese version with basil and pine nuts. However, the many variations of pesto throughout Italy depend on local ingredients, tradition, and season. When this year’s favas and wild arugula hit the market, using them for pesto seemed like the perfect way to support the season and put a creative spin on a classic idea. These fava and arugula pestos can be brushed with bruschetta or tossed over cooked pasta.

Sometimes I like to forgo the food processor and make the bean pesto with a mortar and pestle. It feels more authentic, and this hands-on approach allows for easy adjustments and consistency control.

Broad bean and pistachio pesto

Makes about 1 cup

1 pound whole fava pods (yields ½ cup beans)

20 pistachios, shelled

1 whole garlic clove

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 ½ teaspoon lemon juice

Salt to taste

To prepare the favas: open the thick outer pod and remove the beans inside. Drop the beans into boiling water to soften the outer skin, about 1 minute. Drain, cool and remove the skins. You will end up with the soft, inner flesh of each bean.

Add the soft beans, pistachios and garlic to a food processor and grind into a rough paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir in the olive oil and add the lemon juice little by little. Add salt and adjust to taste.

Arugula and parsley pesto

Makes about ¾ cup

2 cups arugula leaves, washed and dried

1 small bunch of Italian parsley, washed and stemmed

1 tablespoon of pine nuts

2-3 tablespoons of olive oil

Roasted red peppers, cut into strips, as an optional garnish (see note below)

Finishing salt, such as Maldon

Add the arugula and parsley to the food processor and beat to break up the leaves. Add the pine nuts. Drizzle with olive oil and mix until a paste forms. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Add salt to taste.

Garnish with roasted red peppers, if desired, and finishing salt.

Note: For roasted peppers: bag and close to continue steaming for about 10 minutes. Remove the peppers and when they are cool enough to the touch, remove the skin which should come off fairly easily. Cut the peppers and remove the seeds, stem and ribs. Use on bruschetta, in salads or on sandwiches.

When I shop at the Farmer’s Market or pick up my weekly CSA box at Tierra Vegetables, I feel connected to the land of the community and to the soil of Sonoma County itself. By focusing on a vegetable diet, I feel more alive and in harmony with my environment. On a larger scale, our local farmers are listening to regenerative agriculture, the health of our soils and the preservation of heritage varieties.