It’s often said that being committed to a fully organic and local ingredient-based menu takes dedication. To do it for 23 consecutive years is another thing entirely.
One of the first fully organic restaurants in Washington, D.C., Coppi’s Organic has remained steadfast in its commitment to organic local sourcing, despite a number of ups and downs since it first opened its doors in 1993.
While D.C. has never been particularly known for Italian food, the restaurant has always been popular in large part due to it’s sourcing program. But as many chefs will tell you, local sourcing can have some practical downsides. Running a menu based solely off of seasonal ingredients can take a lot of extra procurement time and can make planning difficult, which could put you at a disadvantage in a crowded, diverse and ever changing restaurant scene like DC’s — especially in off-peak dining seasons when seasonal produce is even less plentiful. When you add to that a change in ownership, a move from your original, high-foot traffic location and then, in the case of Coppi’s, the tragic death of a co-founder, many owners might understandably throw in the towel.
But executive chef, and current owner, Carlos Amaya has kept going through it all. He clearly believes in his mission and knows that getting the freshest ingredients is worth it for him and his customers — even if it can make running the business a bit more unpredictable. But that’s where one of Coppi’s secrets to success comes in — a long-running partnership with central Pennsylvania-based Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative.
Tuscarora is one of the biggest food hubs in the country and it’s one of the longest-running examples of a model that’s gaining increased popularity (The National Good Food Network maintains a directory of over three hundred local and regional food hubs).
Founded in 1988, Tuscarora, which currently lists 52 members farms and 10 partners, is a fantastic example of how farm-to-table can work for both growers and consumers. By providing an efficient storage, ordering and distribution system that gives growers top dollar, they let farmers focus on what they do best: growing healthy organic produce.
And it’s an almost even better arrangement for restaurateurs like Amaya.
Where relying on farmer’s market or a relationship with one or two farms might leave his kitchen staff shorthanded from time to time if a crop fails, the cooperative’s 52 member farms help keep Amaya’s orders filled year round. And by sourcing from such a large number of farms with different specialties, Tuscarora also offers an exciting diversity of produce for chefs as creative as Carlos Amaya.
Because of this mutually beneficial arrangement, Amaya’s dishes serve as a canvas for expressing the best seasonal produce from the Mid-Atlantic while also showcasing the cuisine of the Northern Italian region of the Ligurian Riviera.
The first things you notice when you enter Coppi’s are the large bar, the wood-fired pizza oven visible through a window to the kitchen and the walls covered in Italian cycling memorabilia. The original owner was apparently a big cycling fan (and of Italy’s legendary mid-century, two-time Tour de France winner Fausto Coppi, in particular). Evidence of his fandom in the form of signed jerseys, posters and photos adorns near every square inch of the restaurant’s walls.
I started my meal under a large framed photo of Coppi’s smiling mug with two antipasti: Bietole al Forno — a glorious mess of oven-seared dark green baby chard leaves, garlic, pine nuts and raisins served over a creamy and fresh housemade ricotta — and Calamari al Forno, a salad of extremely tender seared Rhode Island squid elevated with a subtle blend of garlic, parsley, balsamic and bright lemon flavors, all served on a bed of spinach. Overall, the Bietole was good but may have actually suffered a little too much wilting in the restaurant’s powerful Neapolitan-style pizza oven. On the other hand, I had no complaints about the Calamari. It was perfect: succulent, not over seasoned and not even close to overcooked.
Next up, I choose one of the restaurant’s daily specials that sounded too good to be true: a plate of house made ravioli served in a white wine and red pepper cream sauce and filled with a pesto puree of ricotta and pecorino cheeses, Swiss chard and a trio of wild oyster, crimini and shiitake mushrooms from one of Tuscarora’s Pennsylvania farmers. This was hands down the best dish of the night. The large pieces of ravioli swam in a lightly piquant and buttery cream that exalted and paired perfectly with the large chunks of fresh mushrooms inside.
After that, it was time to pull out all the stops with Coppi’s Stracotto di Manzo, a hearty dish of oven-braised, fall-off-the-bone pot-roasted beef short ribs christened with a savory reduction of red wine jus, garlic and a kiss of rosemary. Served with tasty parsnip and potato mash and even more seared chard, the plate could have been a fine dinner unto itself that would happily warm up the coldest of late-fall days.
To round out what had turned into an immensely satisfying meal, I then tried a small soppressata, ricotta, mozzarella, parsley, crimini mushroom, red onion and mint pizza baked in the aforementioned wood-fired oven (that, according to some reports, is also at least occasionally fueled with firewood sourced from one of Tuscarora’s organic farms). Since I am an unrepentant lover of all pizzas and because the Marra Forni oven (adorably tiled with the Italian national colors and the restaurant’s name) had been staring at me all night, I couldn’t pass up the chance to try one of its creations. Unfortunately, the salami’s strong pungent flavor masked most of the other ingredients, making the pie more one-dimensional than I’d hoped.
A couple of medium bodied selections from Coppi’s well-curated Italian red wine list helped smooth the transitions from course to course — not that that was particularly needed. Following the meal, one of the very friendly bartenders came over to tempt me with a tasting selection of after-dinner amaros (Italy’s potent herb-infused and somewhat bitter digestif liqueurs, originally concocted in the middle ages for medicinal purposes but that are now finding their way into many a modern craft cocktail).
Besides the tremendous dedication to organic and local sourcing for everything from the flours that make the pasta and pizza to the seasonal herbs and vegetables that accompany them, what really stood out to me about Coppi’s is it’s extremely humble and friendly atmosphere. And while it serves fantastically hearty late-season fare, it’s undoubtedly the perfect place to enjoy expertly prepared organic food any time of the year.
[Coppi’s Organic Restaurant, 3321 Connecticut Avenue NW (near Cleveland Park Metro), 202.966.0770, Dinner: Mon-Thurs 5:00PM-11:00PM, Fri & Sat 5:00PM-12:00AM, Sun 5:00PM-10:00PM. In the past, Coppi’s has also served an eclectic brunch but times are not currently listed on their website.]
(Matt Bierce 1/10/17)
[Editor’s Note: We were advised by Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative, after publication of Matt Bierce’s review, that Coppi’s has not been its customer for over a year. The PA food hub did note other restaurants in Washington, DC that it works “regularly with…even during the winter months” including Tail Up Goat, Timber Pizza, Mintwood Place, Estadio, Bar Pilar, Hank’s Oyster Bar, Garrison, Bucks Fishing and Camping, The Bird, and The Pig. Kudos to these restaurateurs! (FWB 1/13/17)]
With 2017 starting to tick away and uncertain political changes brewing in our nation’s capital (which put at risk America’s clean air, clean water and clean food), we would like to renew our commitment to knowing where our food comes from and to express gratitude to the farmers and growers who produce food with concern for the environment and humanity’s healthy future.
With that in mind, we urge our readers to make a commitment to build their local communities by buying local food that is produced by farmers and growers they know and trust. And we encourage membership and participation in Community Supported Farms (CSAs) and hope that our directories of CSAs will provide helpful guidance on locating a farm to join close to home.
We would also like to share the list of 10 Reasons to Buy Local Food articulated by the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (with our very minor tweaking) to hearten our readers with the knowledge that daily life can be greatly improved by choosing to eat local foods.
- Eat fresher, better tasting, healthier foods. When produce is shipped hundreds or thousands of miles, it loses crispness, flavor, and nutrients on the way. Foods grown to be shipped may be picked before they ripen and treated with more chemicals. Local foods haven’t traveled so far and are fresher. If you’re buying at a farmers market, the produce has often been picked that morning.
- Enjoy seasonal produce and regional varieties. As the seasons change, so do crops. If you eat locally, you’ll be trying new things throughout the year. You’re also likely to be eating what naturally grows in your area. While industrial, corporate farms grow varieties that ripen quickly and store well, family farmers often cultivate heirloom varieties that are unique to your home and a part of its heritage.
- Support your farming neighbors. Fewer and fewer farms are able to stay in business. Faced with increasing costs and competition from corporate farms, it’s getting harder for farmers to make a profit. Use your food dollars to support a family you know, not a big business based elsewhere.
- Sustain rural heritage and lifestyles. Farming has long been a way of life, and family farmers are a central part of our communities.
- Protect natural beauty and open spaces by preserving farmland. As land prices and property taxes increase, more and more farms are sold for development. helping to make local farms profitable saves the rural landscape.
- Encourage sustainable farming practices, benefiting human, animal, and environmental health. Family farmers value their water and land because they must maintain these resources to continue farming. Family farms often use less fossil fuel and fewer chemicals than industrial farms. Family farmers are also more accountable. Unlike a company in another country or state, their customers can observe their practices.
- Strengthen local economies and keep your food dollars close to home. The uncertainty of the global economy makes clear the need for local economies. Use our purchasing power to create local jobs and pay taxes that benefit your own community. Sustainably-raised foods sometimes cost more at the cash register, but their long term costs to the environment and society are far less.
- Maintain and build local food systems so we can feed ourselves in the future. We must make best use of our good farmland, as well as developing the ability to process and distribute food within our region.
- Keep farming skills alive, and farmland available. We must ensure that farmers’ essential knowledge is passed on, and make staying on the farm a good option for young people.
- Get to know who grew our food and where, so you reconnect with it, and your community. You can put a face and a farm with local food. You’ll learn about the seasons and weather through their effect on crops. If you shop at a farmers market or subscribe to a CSA, you’ll meet your neighbors and participate in a community event. When you visit restaurants and grocers that use local ingredients, you support business that share your commitments.
Artist Laura Shore who specializes in artwork described as “painted produce from local farms” developed a friendly relationship with farmer Everett Rau of Pleasant View Farm in Altamont (Albany County) in upstate New York from her patronage of a farmers market near her home. Last year, after weekly visits with Everett Rau and his wife Peg, she published a memoir, Stand Tall, “with Ev about forgiveness, farming, timber framing, and how he triumphed over a difficult childhood.”
This year, after talking with Peg Rau “about her life and her interest in health books and cooking,” this farmer’s wife “shared a quartet of handwritten cookbooks from her mother and grandmothers, along with her own box of recipe cards, collected since the 1940s when she married Ev and moved to Pleasant View Farm.”
Just published is “a cookbook written by Ev’s grandmother and a curated collection of Peg’s favorite recipes” which are “Family-tested” called Heirloom Recipes from Pleasant View Farm 1891-2000 by Margaret Vedder Rau with Laura Shore (Farm Share Studio Press, Altamont, NY 2016). The recipe for gingerbread boys comes from Peg Rau’s mother-in-law, Margaret Rau and caught my eye. How neat to bake up a dozen gingerbread boys for the Christmas holiday.
Margaret Rau’s recipe inspired some tinkering around the edges and the use of all organic ingredients, as well as both freshly grated ginger and nutmeg, as well as ground ginger and cinnamon, more typically used in baked goods. The cookbook’s recipe said it would make for 9 to 12 Gingerbread Boys, but even though I used the low end of 4 cups of flour (from the recipe’s recommended 4 to 5 cups), I ended up with 12 gingerbread boys plus a gingerbread mom and gingerbread dad and even an additional round gingerbread cookie, for a quick snack shortly out of the oven.
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp grated fresh nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp baking soda
1/2 cup of softened butter plus 1 tbsp (in lieu of 1/2 cup shortening)
4 to 5 cups of flour
Raisins and white chocolate chunks to decorate
In a large bowl, combine 1 cup molasses and 1/2 cup water. And continue adding ingredients in the order noted above. Mix thoroughly. I did so by hand, and after using four cups of flour, the dough seemed ready for rolling out.
As noted above, I substituted butter for the 1/2 cup of shortening shown in the Pleasant View Farm heirloom recipe. Vegetable shortening contains no water, but butter does, so it takes slightly more butter if butter is used instead of shortening. MyRecipes.com, which features a large collection of professionally-tested recipes, recommends using 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of butter for 1 cup of shortening.
With a handy rolling pin, I rolled the dough to roughly 1/4 to 1/2 inch in thickness on a lightly floured breadboard. And then using gingerbread cookie cutters in three shapes, which I purchased at Different Drummer’s Kitchen, a terrific cooking store and cooking school, I cut out 12 gingerbread boys, a dad and a mom, as well as hand-forming a round cookie to enjoy soon after the treats were pulled out of the oven.
On greased cookie trays, bake at 375 degrees in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes.
The appeal of using ginger in a holiday treat inspired my heating up the kitchen (and warming up the house on a wintry morning) by baking the gingerbread boys. According to my well-thumbed copy of Edible, An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2008), “Ginger is one of the few spices to have virtually all of its medicinal claims verified.” The list of ailments that may improve are remarkable:
“It has been found to successfully treat motion sickness, postoperative nausea, bacterial dysentery, malaria, coughs, and migraines. Ginger extracts have been found to improve blood cholesterol levels, elevate low blood pressure, and prevent cancer in animals. Gingerols, the chemicals responsible for ginger’s heat, are helpful in treating pain and fever, and its volatile oils may have a positive effect on cold and flu viruses.”
Then again baking up a batch of gingerbread boys was prompted by a memory of my mother, long gone, who was a handy baker of these gingerbread treats. And hard not to smile at seeing the dozen delicious cookies come out of the oven with their cartoon-like shapes.
No less important as an ingredient, molasses, especially the kind known as blackstrap molasses, adds a distinctive flavor to gingerbread. The “All About Sweeteners” brochure of the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA)], lists molasses as a natural sweetener, “lightly refined” so it retains “valuable nutrients:”
“Molasses is a by-product of the manufacture of sugar from sugar cane. There are three kinds. Light molasses is the residue from the first extraction of sugar and is the sweetest. Medium molasses is from the second extraction and is darker and less sweet. Blackstrap molasses is the final residue and is very dark and only slightly sweet with a distinctive flavor. Blackstrap molasses is a very good source of calcium and iron. ‘Unsulphured molasses’ indicates that no sulphur was used in the extraction process.”
My 100% organic ingredients were all obtained from the Bulk Food department of the Honest Weight Food Co-op in my hometown of Albany, New York. Why organic? Check out one of the first book reviews posted on this website of Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto. Why bulk food? The Bulk Is Green Council is helping to spread the message about the many environmental and economic benefits of bulk foods.
The organic blackstrap molasses was on sale at $2.29/lb. Distributed by Regional Access out of Ithaca, New York. According to its website, this food distributor, founded by Gary Redmond in 1989, “strives to be a champion for upstate New York food producers and to represent the best products the world has to offer.”
In addition to the molasses, the ginger rhizome, ground ginger, whole nutmeg, cinnamon, baking soda, and flour (Farmer Ground whole wheat pastry flour, a fresh, stone ground flour from New York State organic grain) were purchased from the co-op’s remarkable Bulk Food Department, with its nearly 1000 bins of bulk foods. The co-op’s cheese and dairy department sells a local farmstead butter made by Kriemhild Dairy of Hamilton (Madison County) in upstate New York from milk of grass fed, pasture-raised cows, which added to the buttery richness of the gingerbread boys. By mistake, I purchased salted butter instead of the sweet butter from the dairy also available at the co-op, so I did not add the 1/4-1/2 tsp of salt shown in the recipe’s list of ingredients above.
I decorated the boys with organic flame raisins and white chocolate chunks also purchased in the co-op’s bulk foods department. And the extra round ginger cookie was decorated with Tierra Farm dark chocolate tart cherries. So delicious, if I made the recipe again, they would also be used to decorate the gingerbread boys!
(Frank W. Barrie, 12/21/16)
Upstate New York has struggled against economic decline as its rust belt cities have lost manufacturing jobs. But a bright spot of economic news in upstate is the thriving small city of Saratoga Springs, which has brought back to life its historic downtown and now has acted to preserve its last remaining farmland.
Developers have been eyeing the 168-acre Pitney Farm in operation for 154 years in Saratoga Spring’s southwest corner. William Pitney, whose family has owned the farm since its founding in 1862, as reported by Wendy Liberatore in the Albany Times Union, noted that “he and his sisters promised their parents they would never sell to developers.”
After a fundraising campaign that lasted five years and authorization by the unanimous vote by the Saratoga Springs City Council last month to expend nearly $1.2 million in open-space funds to support a “conservation easement,” the non-profit Pitney Meadows Community Farm, Inc. will purchase the 168-acre farm from the Pitney family for $1.78 million, “a fraction of its $3.1 million worth” as noted by Times Union reporter Wendy Liberatore. The city’s contribution comes from “a 2002 $5 million bond for the Open Space Advisory Committee, which was intended to purchase land for conservation or use as a network of parks and trails.”
The community-supported farm has a goal of raising sufficient monies to also fund first-phase improvements to the property and a required stewardship fund in the amount of $600,000. A special Founding Patron program seeks donations of $2500 per founding share and may be done “in honor or in memory of someone special.” The tax deductible gift will be acknowledged by having the donor’s or honoree’s name “mounted on the silo at the farm.”
The vision for the future of Pitney Meadows Community Farm is spirit-raising and includes community gardens with “access to communal equipment and coaching from experts,” a farming school to “train the next generation of stewards of the earth,” community education focused on teaching “all ages of youth about food and sustainable agriculture,” and the creation of a year-round farm hub “that shares the bounty of the upstate agricultural community.”
The community farm’s Board of Directors includes Sandy Arnold, who has been active in managing a network of “sustainable farmers,” and her husband, Paul Arnold, who is the founder and president of the Federation of Farmers’ Markets of New York State. Together they run Pleasant Valley Farm, a diversified fruit and vegetable family farm in Argyle (Washington County, NY) which markets its bounty at year-round farmers markets in Glens Falls (Warren County, NY) and Saratoga Springs. Also part of the team planning for the future is Dr. John Sconzo, who is the co-founder/treasurer of Slow Food Saratoga Region and Michael Kilpatrick, a farmer who gained experience working on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms in Virginia and who has managed a large certified organic farm for over a decade.
It’s wonderful synergy that American Farmland Trust (AFT), which has protected more than 100,000 acres of farmland in New York State (a state that has “lost almost half a million acres of farmland to subdivisions, strip malls and scattered development in the past 25 years” according to information on AFT’s website) maintains its New York office in Saratoga Springs. And also spirit-raising is the success of the Agricultural Stewardship Association (ASA) in protecting farms in neighboring Washington and Rensselaer counties in upstate New York (due east of Saratoga County). ASA recently received state grants of $2.4 million from the New York State Farmland Protection Program to preserve 1,543 acres at three farms in Rensselaer County and one farm in Washington County
For the last 15 years, a significant source of funding for the ASA’s mission to protect farmland has also come from its Landscapes for Landsake Art Sale and Exhibition, a celebration of the land by the community of local artists. Over the years, $625,000 in artwork has been sold at the Landscapes Art Show, with the artists generously donating $312,500, 50% of the proceeds, to farmland conservation. This year’s 15th anniversary exhibition was ASA’s most successful, selling nearly $95,000 of artwork, a creative complement to state grants, municipal dollars, and donors’ contributions. Artist applications for the 16th annual Art Sale and Exhibition (to be held October 7-9, 2017) will be available March 2017.
(Frank W. Barrie, 12/15/16)
It’s a place that winter-welcomes you with a sign reading Seasoned Greetings but it’s a literal welcome because the Culinary Institute of America wants you to share the fare that its students are learning to cook – which, last Tuesday, meant a Tuscan extravaganza of hearty peasant dishes served in its Ristorante Catarina de Medici.
This restaurant is within the school’s 15-year-old Colavita Center for Italian Food and Wine, located in the midst of the school’s Hyde Park (Dutchess County, NY) campus, a structure built to resemble a Tuscan villa and offering an emphasis on Mediterranean cooking that veers from the culinary epicenter of France (although it’s worth remembering that the restaurant’s Florence-born namesake spent 12 years as Queen of France).
Chef Giovanni Scappin, a Hudson Valley restaurateur who is also a professor at the school, helmed a luncheon on Nov. 29 that focused on peasant fare – the cucina povera that defines the Tuscan way of making a meal out of what’s living outside your window. And even as the weather gets colder, there are dining options, as this luncheon demonstrated.
“I plan a menu with the students, and they help pull it all together,” says Scappin. He was born in Marostica, in northern Italy’s Veneto region, and was schooled close by at the Recoaro Terme Culinary Institute. “This time of year, of course, it’s more difficult to find the variety of local ingredients we need, but today’s menu includes local potatoes, kale, and cabbage. I try to preach to my students that you should eat what you have – but we have students coming here from places like Florida and Texas, so they’re used to having many things the entire year.”
The dining areas in the restaurant are large and elegantly appointed. A large pass-through window at one end of one of the rooms looks into the kitchen and also serves as a counter for afternoon pizza service. White-linen tables cluster around an artificial olive tree; wall sconces take up the olive-branch motif. Terra cotta floor tiles round out the décor.
Student servers wear a classic outfit of casual black and white, with white aprons tied at the waist. We were promptly visited by one such server bearing a bottle of Prosecco to give our meal an appropriate launch. We were handed a menu with recipes when we were seated, and the first course, a trio of crostini, featured a chicken-liver preparation I favor. Which merits a digression.
I learned to make French-style pâté while working for an Italian chef in a continental restaurant. The recipe featured what was practically a one-to-one butter-to-liver ratio, which makes for a delicious, if caloric, treat; the Italian version I later learned and now prefer has a ratio of about one to four, but the livers are simmered in Marsala, which gives them a more lively flavor. And this was the recipe we encountered.
Rounding out the plate were crostini with crabmeat over gochugaru (Korean hot red pepper)-enhanced yogurt, and with a sage-seasoned chickpea purée.
You and I are accustomed to the likes of elbow macaroni as the pasta in pasta e fagioli, but Scappin’s recipe uses maltagliata (Italian for badly cut), which are the scraps left over after trimming other pasta preparations. The garlicky tomato base was satisfying on its own; the added beans were a bonus.
In a typical Tuscan meal, you’d head from pasta to meat, but we had the delightful coastal intrusion of cod for course number three, lightly sautéed and topped with a tomato concasse (from the French concasser, to crush or grind) flavored with olives, capers, and mint. All of it presented on a bed of soft polenta, which nicely complemented the easygoing texture of the fish.
The pork roast that followed began its kitchen journey with an overnight stay in brine before its trip into the oven; the juice it yielded was reduced to a tangy sauce. Sautéed kale and roasted rosemary-scented baby potatoes rounded out the dish, which brought us well past the point of sufficiency.
Then a lemon pine nut tart appeared, borne by the efficient server fleet, and the combination of tart, sweet pastry cream and delicate crust was irresistible.
The one area in which this restaurant, like so many others, falls down is in tea service. My wife places her order with muted expectations; even so, we hardly expected the Culinary Institute of America to put down a cup of hot water and a bag of Lipton’s – especially when teapots are available in their very own gift shop and the G.H. Ford Tea Company is right nearby.
But the lemon tart had mellowed us. And, anyway, I was sipping coffee. Even with the slanting rain outside we could imagine ourselves back on a sunny Tuscan hillside, ready to inspect the groves of olives and grapes.
“It’s part of the culture of Italy,” says Scappin, “finding comfort in food.” With the onset of winter, he explained, the restaurant offers the community a series of banquets highlighting different aspects of Italian cooking. The Tuscan luncheon was the kickoff; to follow are a Black & White Truffle Dinner at 6 PM Thursday, Dec. 15, featuring a five-course meal paired with appropriate wines, and Cucina Regionale Piedmont, with a menu including bagna cauda, potato gnocci, zuppa di cipolla al vino rosso, and mattonella al gianduia, also paired with regional wines, at 6 PM Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.
(B. A. Nilsson, 12/5/16)
[Editor’s Note (FWB)- Teas, in lieu of the Lipton tea bag, might also include organic and fair-traded fine teas, available from small, local businesses included in our directory of organic and fair-traded teas such as Verdigris Tea & Chocolate in Hudson (Columbia County, NY) and/or ImmuneSchein Tea Haus in Rosendale (Ulster County, NY).]