Cooking with what’s close to home

From blossoms comes

this brown paper bag of peaches

we bought from the boy

at the bend in the road where we turned toward

signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,

from sweet fellowship in the bins,

comes nectar at the roadside, succulent

peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,

comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,

to carry within us an orchard, to eat

not only the skin, but the shade,

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold

the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into

the round jubilance of peach.

“From Blossoms” (excerpt) by Li-Young Lee

“Ten Mile Dinner” is a locally coined expression that refers to a meal’s ingredients coming from a 10-mile radius. It is an expression of the farm- to-table concept that has resulted in many “100 Mile Dinners.” (An evening of 10-mile dinners will be part of the HARVEST Wine Auction and Celebration of Long Island’s East End planned for the weekend of Sept. 24 and 25 to benefit East End Hospice and Peconic Land Trust.)

I am proud to have contributed to the popularity of using local ingredients in our cooking. We can truly do a dinner of this sort on the North Fork much easier than in many locations. And now, with local wine, our bounty of ingredients has evolved into a cuisine. Locally grown ducks and chickens, fish and shellfish (both farmed and wild), a large array of specialty vegetables and fruits have all challenged the skills of local chefs. The poem above expresses one of the biggest pleasures found in cooking and eating local ingredients. Finding those just-harvested fruits and vegetables at the farm stand creates a different feeling from picking them off of a supermarket shelf. And there is no better time than September to savor all things local.

Here is a typical menu for the season:

Roasted North Fork Oysters with Pernod Butter

Scrub 4 dozen local oysters (farmed or wild) and refrigerate. Cut 2 sticks (1/2 pound) of unsalted butter into small pieces and place in a bowl. Add to the butter 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced shallots, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley and 1 tablespoon Pernod liqueur. Mash the butter until soft and all ingredients are incorporated. Scrape out the butter onto a piece of foil and roll it into a cylinder about 2 inches thick. Refrigerate until firm.

At service time light a charcoal (or gas) grill and wait until it gets very hot. Place the oysters on the grill and cover. Cook about 5 minutes until they just begin to open. As each oyster opens, remove it with a towel and pry off the top with a stiff oyster knife. Cut the chilled butter into disks and place one on each oyster. Serve with lemon wedges.

Serves 6-8.

Boneless Long Island Duck Legs

Purchase 12 duck legs, available locally. With a sharp boning knife, cut along the underside, tracing the leg and thigh bones. Remove the bones and save them for stock. Trim all excess fat from the meat and lay it skin side down on a cutting board. In the cavity created by the bones, place 1 sage leaf, a sprig of thyme, a small sprig of rosemary and 3 parsley stems. Add 1/2 teaspoon cold butter and a pinch each of coarse salt and pepper. Fold into a square and place skin side up on a sheet pan.

Repeat with all the duck legs. Brush them with honey and roast in a 400-degree oven for 1 hour. (Carefully pour off any accumulated fat about halfway through the cooking process). Remove and keep warm. At service time, slice each leg into 3 thick slices on the bias.

Serves 6.

Apple Butter

Cut into quarters 6 North Fork cooking apples such as Mutsu, Jonagold, or Greenings; do not peel or core. Place apple pieces in a saucepan and add 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1/2 cup riesling and 1/2 cup water. Cover, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Pour through a sieve or food mill and, with a pestle, force the pulp into a clean pan. Add to the pulp 1 cup sugar, 1 cinnamon stick, 3 cloves and 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice. Add the zest and juice of 1 lemon and a pinch of salt. Cook this mixture at medium heat, stirring, for 1 hour. It will have a concentrated tart flavor that will be a great accompaniment to the duck.

Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes and Long Island Cheese Pumpkin

Cut 1 small cheese pumpkin into wedges and remove the seeds and skin with a paring knife. Cut the flesh into 2-inch chunks to make 4 cups. Peel and cut 2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes into 2-inch chunks and set aside.

Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter and add 8 fresh sage leaves. Cook until frothy and turn off the heat.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add the pumpkin and potatoes. Cook until both are tender, about 25 minutes. Strain and mash with a potato masher. Remove the sage from the butter and add the flavored butter to the potato mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 6.

Brandied North Fork Peaches

Plunge 6 pounds of local peaches into boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and cool under cold water. Peel off the skins and cut each peach in half, removing the pits.

Add 2 pounds of sugar to a large saucepan along with 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and add the peeled peaches. Cook for 5 minutes and remove peaches with a slotted spoon. Boil the syrup for 15 minutes to reduce and thicken. Pour in 1 cup brandy and pour mixture over the peaches. Let cool and refrigerate. Serve with vanilla ice cream. (Right after cooking, the peaches and brandy sauce can be placed in canning jars and sealed using standard canning procedure).

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected].