Between sailing around the globe on cruise ships for a decade and owning a fine dining restaurant for 15 years, Tony and I have shared a variety of fantastic food adventures together. While choosing a favorite is nearly impossible, it would be hard to top our five years as the chefs for the Banquet in a Field, a farm to table dinner event hosted by CommonGround North Dakota.

Hosted each year in the beginning of August, the mission of the banquet was to introduce everyday consumers to the farmers and ranchers who produce our food, and to provide an opportunity for conversations about sustainable farming and ranching practices.

Tony and I embraced this mission and for five years we spent the non-summer months thinking of new and unique ways to showcase a dozen or so of North Dakota’s top crops and livestock. This list included soybeans, corn, sunflowers, wheat, honey, edible dry beans, barley, flax, sugar beets, canola, potatoes, beef, pork and lamb.

Through our participation in the planning and execution of the banquet, we were introduced to an incredible group of people – North Dakota farmers and ranchers – who were eager to share their enthusiasm for all things related to North Dakota agriculture with us. Even though the final dinner was hosted in 2018, the friendships we forged from that time remain near and dear to us, and I now have a list of experts on speed dial to call whenever I have an ag-related question.

The memories from that time are precious to me, and the friendships even more so. When we started this project, I had been on a farm only once in my life and the only crops I could identify were wheat and corn (and I am a lifelong North Dakotan). Now, I see the fields around me in a whole new light, aware of the deep commitment the farmers around us have to the sustainability of their land and the safety of the food we produce. I will be forever grateful for this experience.

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This week, I am missing those friends and I hope you will indulge my feelings of nostalgia as I share three of our most popular dishes from our amazing time with Banquet in a Field: Savory Sweet Corn Fritters, Sarah’s Sunflower Brittle (also called sunflower crack, it is so addictive), and Tony’s Edamame Salad with Asian Soy Vinaigrette.

To my friends in the ag world, thank you for all you to do make our food sustainably safe and affordable. And to all my friends and readers outside the world of agriculture, take some time to visit with the producers at your local farmers market and learn more about what they do, how they do it, and especially why they do it. Their answers may surprise you, and I guarantee you will learn something new in the process.

Savory Sweet Corn Fritters

Makes: 24-30 fritters

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon yellow corn meal

3 tablespoons sugar

¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1½ tablespoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

3 eggs

2 cups fresh sweet yellow corn (approx. 3 ears)

Canola oil for frying

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine the flour, corn meal, sugar, cayenne pepper, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and milk, then add to the flour mixture and stir or whisk until well combined. Add the corn and gently fold to incorporate. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.

Heat 4 inches of oil in a heavy pot or deep fryer to 350 degrees (use a deep-fry thermometer for accuracy). Use an ice cream scoop or spoon to drop the batter into the oil, and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Season with salt as desired. Serve hot with your favorite dipping sauce and enjoy.

Sunflower-seed brittle is an easy-to-make treat that’s perfect for a summer snack. Nick Wagner / The Forum
Sunflower-seed brittle is an easy-to-make treat that’s perfect for a summer snack. Nick Wagner / The Forum

Sarah’s North Dakota Sun Brittle

Makes: 2 to 2 ½ pounds of brittle

Ingredients:

3 cups sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup water

2 to 2 ½ cups roasted and salted sunflower seeds

2 ½ teaspoons baking soda

Directions:

Grease a large cookie sheet with butter or cooking spray; set aside. In a heavy saucepan, stir together the sugar, corn syrup and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil.

Continue cooking without stirring until the temperature reaches 280 degrees on a candy thermometer (or until a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into threads that are hard but not brittle - soft crack stage).

Gradually stir in the sunflower seeds, so that the mixture continues to boil. Cook, stirring often and watching closely, until the temperature reaches 300 degrees (or until a small amount of mixture dropped into cold water separates into thread which are head and brittle - hard crack stage).

Remove the pan from the burner. Add the baking soda, stirring in gently but quickly.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cookie sheet and carefully tilt the tray to evenly distribute the brittle without spreading with a tool. Do not use a tool to spread the brittle as it will give the surface a rough texture. Place the sheet on a wire rack to cool completely.

Once cool, use your hands to break the brittle into pieces. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks or freeze for several months.

NOTE: For a peanut brittle version, substitute 3 cups of salted peanuts instead of sunflower seeds.

Edamame Salad. Dave Wallis / The Forum
Edamame Salad. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Tony’s Edamame Salad

Salad Ingredients:

2 lbs. edamame beans, shelled

1 ½ cups fresh corn kernels

1 cup red bell pepper, small diced

½ cup red onion, small diced

½ cup green onions, sliced on the bias (diagonally)

¼ cup black and white sesame seeds, optional

¼ to ½ cup cashews, toasted and rough-chopped

Asian Soy Dressing (see recipe below)

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients together and toss with dressing until coated. Serve and enjoy.

Asian Soy Dressing Ingredients:

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon pepper

Directions:

Whisk all ingredients together in a mixing bowl; taste and adjust with salt and pepper as desired. Use entire amount for Tony’s Edamame Salad. Store in refrigerator for up to one week.

Tony’s Tips:

  • The edamame must be thawed before removing from shell. To accelerate this process, you can blanche the pods in a pot of gently simmering water for about 3 minutes.
  • For an attractive presentation, cut the red pepper and red onion into small dices, about the size of a pinky nail. Keep them smaller than the edamame beans, which are the star of the recipe.
  • For added elegance, cut the green onions on a bias, or diagonally.
  • Be creative and add different vegetables like carrots, broccoli and yellow or orange bell peppers.

Recipe Time Capsule:

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.