The McCarren Park Greenmarket, as you may know, is not exactly a destination farmers market. It’s got a handful of regular vendors and it runs all year, but by the middle of winter, things are small enough that if one vendor misses a week, suddenly there are no onions to be had. It was one of *those* days yesterday, which meant that I had a little extra time and money to play around with. I’ve been noticing the Cayuga Organics stand for several months now, but with the “eat down the pantry” challenge and the siren call of fresh produce, never looked too closely. I’m glad that I didn’t look before, because then I never would have eaten down my pantry, but am also glad that I checked now.
They’ve got the biggest variety of grains and beans that I’ve seen on the east coast, including some I’d never heard of (freekeh? eh?), and though they’re a bit more expensive for their flours than I’d like to be paying ($10 for a 5-lb bag of all-purpose, as compared to $7.50 at Wades Mill, my DC supplier and $5 for King Arthur at my local supermarket), their grain prices seem more reasonable, especially for polenta. I bought barley and “live” (sproutable) oat groats. The lovely woman who sold me the oats told me that she likes them ground up and made into a porridge, and since I’m already a steel-cut oats fan, I figured that would be a good starting place.
Indeed, I was correct! I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to go back to McCanns. I’m not sure if it was the quality of the oats themselves, or the fact that when I pulsed the oats in my mini-cuisinart, it created some oat powder, but these were the creamiest, smoothest oats I’ve ever had– while retaining enough chew, even after slow-cooking. Also, delicious: I made 5 servings and had to squirrel away the other 4 (two in the fridge, two in the freezer) in order to make sure they made it to breakfast this week. It took 5 minutes of hands-on time, but about 45 minutes of simmer time; good thing you can make it ahead (though the first day *is* slightly better.) I topped it with a pear-walnut compote to make good use of the pears I had sitting around from last weeks’ farmers market run and to add a little protein.
4 c water
1 c nonfat milk (can substitute water)
1.25 c steel cut oats or coarsely ground oat groats
5 t honey or 10 t brown sugar (you may like more or less)
1 T butter
1/2 c coarsely chopped walnuts (substitute freely)
2-3 fully ripe diced pears (apples work well too)
1/4 t cardamom or other baking spice– you can add more, but taste as you go
Bring water and milk to a boil, then stir in the oats. Keep stirring until they start to thicken, then turn the heat down until it’s merely simmering. Cook ~45 minutes, until it forms a very thick porridge but still has a little bite, then take off the heat and mix in the honey/ sugar and salt.
Divide the oats into your serving / storing containers, then wipe out the pot.
In the same pot, melt the butter on medium-low heat. Toast the walnuts in the butter for 1-2 minutes until you can smell the goodness. Add in pears and spices and cook until the pears have softened and begun to form a syrup. Remove from heat.
If serving immediately, put the compote on a bowl and let diners help themselves. If not, divide the compote evenly among your containers and store them as appropriate; it tastes best if eaten within 2 days from the fridge. If you need to hold it longer, feel free to freeze it.