Crafting a Kentucky Farm-to-Table Dinner Party

Photo by Gregory Lee.

Story and Photos by J.C. Phelps

The weather is warming up in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. As a foodie, that means one thing to me: fresh food from the farmer’s market!

I grew up on the family farm in Jamestown – a small Southern Kentucky town located in Russell County on Lake Cumberland. This heritage is an immense privilege and one that I am very proud of. Among my fondest memories of my rural childhood are breaking beans, cutting into that garden-fresh, perfect tomato and enjoying the fruits of local labor at dinnertime.

There’s something about farm-to-table dining that is uniquely southern and uniquely Kentucky. For many Kentuckians, their relationship with food is largely rooted in agricultural production: they consume what they produce. Sadly though, with the rise of urbanity and convenience, this has transitioned into a lost art.

It is my opinion, however, that we are slowly starting to reintegrate older methodologies in the food world. We – diners and chefs alike – are becoming more aware of where our food is sourced from and what goes into the production process. The desire to patronize and support the local movement is growing exponentially. This affects how we spend our money and that is a move in the right direction.

By bringing the farm directly to your plate, you are supporting a farming family. You are keeping an industry – one that has drastically changed in recent decades – alive and thriving. You become more aware of your food’s origins. You make better decisions for your body, your family and your local economy. Above all else, you are being a conscious consumer and gastronome.

Farming is not an easy job, nor is it one that is easy to do full-time, but it is immensely rewarding for those with the passion. Seeing this passion in my community and as an industry food writer is a beautiful trend. Our food scene here in the Commonwealth – particularly the Kentucky Proud products and goods produced from our rich soil – makes me proud to be a Kentuckian each day.

For my most recent dinner party, I wanted to introduce my friends to the diversity one can experience via farm-to-table dining. I chose to make a new-to-me appetizer, an entrée that I grew up on and a side dish that has been a recent favorite of mine.

These recipes will be a hit at your next party – that, my friends, I assure you. The best part? As the crops become more readily available, the recipes will only become more delicious.

Our meal started with whipped feta and honey, which was served with toasted bread made by a Kentuckian and honey from a local farm in Southern Kentucky. The sweetness of the honey alongside the saltiness of the feta was a beautiful pairing.

The main course was my take on a Cobb salad, which featured locally purchased greens, Kentucky eggs, Kentucky country ham and Kentucky bacon. Few things are more reminiscent of the Commonwealth, in my opinion, than tasty, salty country ham. I grew up on it and Loretta Lynn wrote about it. Need I say more?

My chosen side dish was my favorite tomato, mozzarella and orzo pasta salad, which features my homemade pesto. Made with local tomatoes, it’s also easy to incorporate basil that you pick up at the farmer’s market. This salad is light and fresh but still immensely filling. It is fantastic served on the side of a traditional salad, such as my Cobb, or alongside a meat dish.

From my kitchen to yours, I hope y’all enjoy these recipes! As always, happy eating, happy traveling, happy living. V


Whipped Feta and Honey

Ingredients:

8 oz. crumbled feta

3 oz. cream cheese (room temperature)

1/3 c. honey

1 ½ tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. black pepper

½ tsp. salt

Directions:

Mix crumbled feta, cream cheese and olive oil together in a mixing bowl (I use my KitchenAid Mixer).

Add honey to the mixture, combining until smooth.

Sprinkle garlic powder, black pepper and salt into the whipped feta and mix until well-combined.

Serve with toasted bread and top the dip with a swirl of honey.


Tomato + Mozzarella + Pesto Orzo Salad

Ingredients:

16 oz. orzo

2-3 c. grape tomatoes, halved

8 oz. fresh mozzarella pearls

1 ⅓ c. (approximately) of pesto

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Directions:

Cook orzo according to package and allow it to fully cool.

Make homemade pesto and add it to the orzo until evenly coated. If desired, you can use store-bought.

Top pasta salad with halved grape tomatoes and mozzarella pearls. Gently fold them into the orzo.

Add salt and pepper according to taste preferences.


Homemade Pesto

Ingredients:

1 ½ c. fresh basil

7 cloves of garlic (peeled and roughly diced)

¾ c. fresh parmesan (grated)

6 tbsp. pine nuts

⅔ c. olive oil

1 tsp. onion powder

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Directions:

Using a food processor, combine basil, garlic, parmesan and pine nuts. Mix well.

As the pesto is emulsifying, add olive oil slowly (until you’ve reached your desired consistency).

Add onion powder and gently pulse it into the mix.

Add desired amounts of salt and pepper, little by little, to taste.


Kentucky Cobb Salad

Ingredients:

2 heads of romaine lettuce, washed and chopped

½ lb. country ham, thinly sliced and chopped

2 avocados, diced

1 lb. bacon, cooked and chopped

8 boiled eggs, peeled and halved

5 green onions, chopped

4 heirloom tomatoes, chopped

12 oz. blue cheese

Dressing of choice (ranch being the most classic)

Directions:

Cover eggs in cold water and place over high heat. Bring the water to boil. Once boiling, remove from heat, cover the pot and allow the eggs to cook for roughly 15 minutes. Drain eggs and place them in an ice bath to cool. Once cooled, peel the shell and cut them in half.

Wash romaine thoroughly, pat dry and chop to size preference.

Cook bacon (I cook it in the oven), allow to cool and roughly chop.

Peel the avocados, remove the pits and dice.

Chop green onions and heirloom tomatoes according to preference.

Using the romaine as the base, top the salad with all of the remaining ingredients.

Serve with dressing on the side.