|The Grain Grinder at Oak Grove Plantation|
In beautiful Hunterdon County there is a real plantation. An old gate opens into 160 acres of sprawling farmland that surrounds a big, old plantation house. The farm, Oak Grove Plantation, grows a fantastic diversity of vegetables (more than 250 varieties of tomatoes alone!) and excellent grain products like cornmeal, whole wheat flour, popcorn and wheat berries.
The owners Susan and Ted Blew bought the farm in 1977. According to Susan it was so overgrown you could barely see the house and the fields. They cleaned it up and over years of trial and error learned “exactly what varieties work on our farm and how to get the best of them.” No wonder then that chefs line up for their products, sometimes all the way to their Union Square farm stand in New York City.
You can always find Oak Grove Plantation polenta on Tre Piani’s menu. The heirloom corn is ground on the farm in this funny looking old machine (see picture) and makes exceptionally tasty polenta. Now, as the days get colder, it’s the perfect time for a creamy bowl of polenta, mixed with some fresh kernel of Jersey corn. You can top it simply with Jersey late summer tomatoes and basil, or try a meltingly tender lamb braise.
Creamy Polenta with Jersey Corn Kernels
1 cup polenta
3 cups water (more for a softer polenta)
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons butter or ghee
1 cup fresh corn kernels
Bring water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Stir in salt. Pour in polenta steadily, stirring constantly. Continue to stir until polenta is thickened. It should come away from sides of the pan, and be able to support a spoon. This can take anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes. Stir in the butter and corn. Taste and add salt and butter if needed. Pour polenta onto a wooden cutting board, let stand for a few minutes.
Lamb Braised with Jersey Tomatoes and Pecorino
½ cup olive oil
2 lbs. boneless leg or shoulder of lamb, cut into bite-size cubes
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 very ripe Jersey tomatoes, grated
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup fresh pecorino cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Season lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or dutch oven. Add the lamb and let it brown all over. With a wooden spoon, scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan (you may need to add a splash of water to the pan to do that).
Add the onion and carrot and continue cooking until the vegetables begin to sweat. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and stir until paste dissolves. Add 1-1/2 quarts of water and bring to a boil (if you are not using a Dutch oven, transfer the contents into a large ovenproof casserole). Add the potatoes, cover and put into a 350 degree oven for 1-1/2 hours or until the meat is tender and slightly thickened. Remove from the oven and season with parsley, salt and pepper. Serve over polenta and top with grated pecorino cheese.
Oak Grove Plantation
266 Oak Grove Road
Pittstown, NJ 08867-4008