Vail seasonal: Ode to Colorado farmers | VailDaily.com

Vail seasonal: Ode to Colorado farmers

Sue Barham
Vail, CO Colorado

Special to the Vail Daily/Nelson Kunkel

VAIL VALLEY, Collorado –Colorado and the Vail Valley will adorn her best outfits over the next few weeks.

Venture out to the Western Slope where the farmlands will be awash in color. The weather is warmer there than in the Vail Valley, and plums, grapes, pears and apples will be in abundant supply. Visit the orchards and vineyards, and delight in fruit picked right from the source.

Colorado’s farmers number in the thousands, people who love the land and treat it with respect for future generations. For many, it is a way of life passed down from their forefathers. For others, it’s a statement – a departure from commercially produced foods, livestock or plants, and the desire to serve their communities.

One needs to visit a farmer or the local farmers market just once to taste the difference in locally grown crops. Many restaurateurs make the commitment to support the local farm communities and by doing so offer their patrons a plethora of flavors from Mother Earth, she who is right under their feet.

Ryan Hardy, executive chef of the Little Nell in Aspen, started his own farm several years ago and supports other Colorado farmers all over the state. He says “For every $1 you spend on Colorado products, you are pumping the equivalent of $7 back into the local economy, in terms of fuel and energy costs.”

“It’s the responsible thing to do,” agreed Jeremy Kittelson, Avondale’s executive chef. “By buying as much as we can locally, we are offering our guests the freshest meals possible, and keeping fuel and shipping costs at a minimum.”

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Responsibility is key. Many of the smaller farmers and ranchers throughout Colorado and the United States share this organic philosophy. Disillusioned by the government and corporate pressure that regulate larger farming operations, they share a common conviction. The movement back to sustainable production methods and time tested systems that require no pesticides is respectful of the land, and promotes its health for years to come. This commitment is ultimately all about health – healthy animals, nurtured land and food that simply tastes better and is better for you.

Armando Navarro, Larkspur’s executive chef, says Gypsum’s LaVenture Farms is a perfect example of this. “Chris is personally invested in her farm. In building a relationship with her, we know exactly what we are getting – how it is grown and cared for along the way. We are sharing her commitment with our diners, and they in turn know that their plate is filled with her local bounty.”

With the summer drawing to a close, we have only a few more farmers markets locally. It is worth the trip to the Western Slope or to a market in Denver or Boulder to prolong the abundance of these locally grown foods. Jennifer Olson, author of Colorado Organic, says our society has become too convenience – based. “With just a small effort, you can get incredible fruits and vegetables, as well as grass-fed beef and farm fresh eggs. Going to a farmer to get vegetables pulled from the dirt that day allows you to use the most simple preparations to bring out the natural flavor. Once you’ve enjoyed this way of eating, you wonder how you ever stopped at a fast food joint.”

Enjoy Colorado’s end of the summer bounty. Make a big batch of tomato soup, freeze some, and pull it out on a cold, wintry day. Can some peaches and eat them on top of oatmeal. Buy up lots of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and make a pot of ratatouille – another dish you can pull from the freezer for a breath of summer when the weather is bleak. And get to know your Colorado farmers, as Jennifer said, “shake the hand that feeds you.”

10 very ripe beefsteak tomatoes

2 yellow onions

5 cloves garlic

1 quart of water

1 small can chopped tomatoes

1/4 lb. Fresh basil, chopped

1 cup heavy cream

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add fresh and canned tomatoes and water, cook for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add basil and heavy cream. Blend and strain through a sieve.

Yield 2 1/2 quarts. (Note: if planning to freeze this soup, omit the heavy cream. Add cream after thawing and reheating, and blend in.)

1 large eggplant, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes

2 zucchini, sliced

2 yellow summer squash, sliced

1 red pepper, diced

1 large yellow onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, diced

4 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped into one inch pieces

1 cup fresh basil chiffonade

Salt and pepper to taste

Spread eggplant cubes on a paper towel and sprinkle generously with salt. Allow to sit until moisture is released, then blot moisture off. Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet or wok to medium high. Saute the eggplant until it begins to brown. Add zucchini, squash, and pepper and saute until they begin to soften. Add onion and garlic saute till translucent and fragrant. Add tomatoes and cook just a few minutes until they are soft and release their juices. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Blend in basil. Yield 3 quarts. Freezes well.

Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American Classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.