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


To cook the polenta, Shick makes a vegetable stock from the green part of the leeks, which adds flavor while making sure nothing goes to waste. Then she cuts up the white part of the leeks, blanches them and sautees 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 still in season, she advises peeling it and slicing it thin, then throwing it raw into a salad with some mandarin oranges, herbs and balsamic vinegar.


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

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

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

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

When you’re shopping at the farmers market, Schick suggests trying some produce that you’ve never tasted before. Think rutabaga, salsify and sunchoke, also known as the Jerusalem artichoke.

Then, to get ideas on how to prepare them, she advises talking to the farmer. Ask them what that strange looking vegetable is, and how they themselves would prepare it. Along the way, you’re going to get to know who is growing your food and make a new connection to the agricultural community.

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

Along with her blog, Shick is working on a memoir inspired by her search for her Italian-American roots. She hopes to offer some cooking classes on Zoom someday that would also be rooted in her style of plant-forward, Italian cooking.

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The following recipes are from Ellen Shick of Santa Rosa.

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

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

Fava Bean and Pistachio Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

1 pound whole fava pods (makes 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: Break open the thick, outer pod and remove the beans inside. Drop the beans in boiling water to soften the outer skin, about 1 minute. Drain, cool and slip off skins. You will be left with the soft, inner flesh of each bean.

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

Arugula and Parsley Pesto

Makes about ¾ cup

2 cups arugula leaves, washed and dried

1 small bunch Italian parsley, washed and stems removed

1 tablespoon pine nuts

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

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

Finishing salt, such as Maldon

Add arugula and parsley to food processor and press to break up leaves. Add pine nuts. Drizzle in the olive oil and process until a paste is formed. Transfer to mixing bowl. Add salt to taste.

Top with roasted red bell peppers, if desired, and finishing salt.

Note: For the roasted peppers: bag and seal to continue steaming for about 10 minutes. Remove peppers and when they’re cool enough to touch, peel off the skin which should come off fairly easily. Cut open the peppers and remove 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 terroir of the community and the very soil of Sonoma County. By leaning into a plant-based diet, I feel more alive and in harmony with my surroundings. On a wider scale, our local farmers are on the pulse of regenerative farming, the health of our soil and the preservation of heritage varieties.


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