Having worked with lots of Hudson Valley farmers over the years, I’ve noticed certain personality types that show up time and time again. There’s the maverick who doesn’t like to be told what to do. And the loner who is simply more at home in the natural quiet of a garden than in a noisy city. There’s the exuberant plantsman who loves all kinds of buds and flower and fruit and creates lush landscapes of amazing diversity. And there are even artists, sustained and inspired by the beauty of the natural world. Chris Regan of Sky Farm in Millerton is one of the latter; a painter whose chosen palette is endless shades of green and whose eleven-acre-wide masterpiece changes subtly from spring to summer to fall.
Chris is a self-described salad farmer, which is sort of like Monet calling himself a picture painter – not entirely untrue, but vastly wide of the mark. For in fact, the lettuce from Sky Farm, grown at the foot of the Berkshire Mountains, have helped Gigi Trattoria and many other Hudson Valley restaurants develop very devoted customers. I’ve tasted more lettuce than I can remember, and his are without peer. I’ve often wondered why Chris’s salad tastes so good. True, it’s a careful mix of different leaves and herbs that go well together, but that isn’t all. Compared with a standard organic mesclun bagged mix from the supermarket, you realize that Sky Farm’s mix is a collection of sturdy, turgid leaves, still alive and ready to release their full energy and flavor to you. By contrast, the bagged mix is like a faded snapshot of lettuce. It’s a hazy remembrance of what it once was.
At Gigi, we’ve long used both Chris’ mesclun mix and tender baby arugula – you’ll never be satisfied with chewy “rocket” again. In the past few years Chris has added mizuna and baby kale to his palate of edible greens. Chris, who before starting Sky Farm was a fine artist and metalworker, is a strong proponent of organic, sustainable methods and believes that farming can be a viable occupation, even today. So for eight months each year, he harvests about eight hundred pounds of salad greens a week, all hand cut, and sells it exclusively 30 to 40 Hudson Valley restaurants. Chris says, “making a great salad is all in the mix”, and clearly crafting a great mesclun mix is a challenge he enjoys. A typical box of Sky Farm mesclun can include up to sixteen varieties of lettuce; eight different types of Asian greens such as bok choy and tatsoi; two kinds of chicories; edible flowers; and up to ten different herbs, including sorrel, parsley, chervil, fennel, salad burnett, and others. When you open a box, you have a pristine assortment of tender lettuces that call for only the very lightest, simplest dressings. These salads, reflective of Chris’s polished tastes and his careful and attentive growing style, always carry themselves and require no propping up by heavy, intensely seasoned vinaigrettes.
The flavors and tender baby leaves are always terribly missed when the harvest ends in November. But the joy of finding them back on the plate every May is one of the gustatory delights of eating locally and seasonally.
Have a look at my recipe for Fattoush Salad using ingredients from Sky Farm:
This simple salad is so delish with a fresh lemon-olive oil vinaigrette softening and flavoring the Sky
Farm kale. Other additions can include toasted nuts, roasted chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, or a lean protein
like grilled shrimp, chicken, or salmon to top. At Gigi our summer menu includes a lemon-herb
marinated grilled filet of swordfish.
– 1 pound or about Organic Sky Farm greens
– 1 cup halved grape or cherry heirloom tomatoes (a gold and yellow mix is nice)
– 1 small cucumber, halved, peeled, seeded, and cut into half moons
– 6 ounces crumbled feta
– 1 – 1 ½ cups Zaatar spiced pita “croutons”*
*To make croutons, drizzle or spray 1 large traditional or whole wheat pita with olive oil. Season with
zaatar and a bit of salt, and cut into bit size pieces. Dry in a 300F oven until crispy and not over browned, about 10 minutes. Alternately, purchase your favorite pita chip.
Toss the lettuce with the tomatoes and cucumbers
Makes 1/3 cup – 4 to 6 servings
– 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
– 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
– 1/4 teaspoon
– 3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
– Freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, mustard, and, whisking until the
sugar and salt are dissolved. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil in a slow stream, whisking constantly until the dressing is well blended. Season with the black pepper and more salt, if desired. If desired, whisk in the remaining oil in a slow stream, whisking constantly. The vinaigrette can be prepared ahead and refrigerated, covered, up to 3 days.