I grew up in Illinois, the very center of the Midwest US, where we used to say that every recipe had a can of soup in it. Yes, despite being the agricultural mecca of the country, the Midwest was known as a land of casseroles more so than one of fresh, fabulous food, but all of that might have changed in the last few years. I received a review copy of the new book Heartland the Cookbook and learned of several new things about the food scene there. The number of artisan food purveyors has drastically increased. There's now La Quercia in Iowa which makes prosciutto from heritage Berkshire pigs, foraged foods are showing up on high-end restaurant menus, microbreweries and microdistilleries are making small batch products, and Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, Illinois and other small dairies are making chevre. Years ago, I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and I don't recall any local cheese purveyors in town back then. I was thrilled to read about this change and the growing focus on local foods. I also learned that the Midwest now has thirty-three Slow Food chapters making it second only to the California Oregon Washington region. In addition to delivering all of that great news, the book is also full of beautiful photos of rural landscapes and, of course, food.
The recipes include breakfast dishes, breads, nibbles and drinks, salads and soups, main courses, and desserts. Several of the dishes recommend locally made items like that chevre from Champaign, Illinois or Chicago-made Vosges chocolate that's used in a hot fudge sundae with salted caramel sauce. I haven't made it back to the Midwest for a visit lately, so instead of using specific products from there, I cooked with the spirit of the book by using what I could get locally in Austin. There's a recipe for four seasons flatbread which showcases seasonal items in different toppings. The flatbreads themselves are made from no-knead recipes also in the book. I chose the no-knead sour caraway rye dough topped with a fresh herb cheese, sliced radishes, and chives. I used a feta, spinach, and herb spread made by Full Quiver Farm, and I found pretty, Easter egg radishes, and some green garlic which I added to the toppings, at the farmers' market last weekend. The no-knead dough was as simple as dough gets. Bread flour, rye flour, instant yeast, salt, cocoa powder for color, caraway seeds, molasses, yogurt, and water were mixed in a large bowl. Since there's no kneading, you do need to mix thoroughly with a spoon, but then the dough just sits to rise for a couple of hours and that's it. The dough was patted into an oval on a baking sheet, and it baked until browned and crisp on the surface. Once cool, the cheese was spread on top, and it was covered with sliced radishes and green garlic and chopped chives.
Fresh, early spring flavors of radish and green garlic and a thin layer of rich cheese were complemented nicely by the rye flatbread with caraway, cocoa, and molasses. As soon as local heirloom tomatoes appear, I'll use them for the flatbread version made with clover honey dough. The other recipes I'm looking forward to trying are prairie panzanella made with cornbread, an heirloom bean ragout in an acorn squash, and the next time we use the grill, I'm making the smoked goat cheese. Mostly, I'm looking forward to my next visit to the Midwest where I'll be seeking out some of the food artisans I learned about in the book.
I’m submitting this to Yeastspotting where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread.