When you try to answer a question like “What is Minnesota food?” you can make yourself crazy, just trying to sort out where Minnesota cuisine begins and ends. Is it the food of the first wave of immigrants, or the tenth, or do you include the latest?
Well, leave it to a native Minnesota chef, artist, and poetic interpreter of all things, Betsy Nelson, to lasso this sprawling subject. Rather than try to hammer out a doctrine of regional purity, Nelson curated a selection of recipes from the current “tastemakers,” ranging from top restaurant, food truck and pastry chefs to cookbook authors to cocktail mixologists, all contributing to the vibrant, burgeoning cuisine that is happening in Minnesota.
The result is a collage of images and flavors that meld into a panoramic view of a food scene. A food scene that is rapidly rising to claim the respect it deserves.
This selection reflects the full span, with dishes that make the most of our bounty of freshwater fish, locally raised meats and dairy, outstanding produce, and of course, wild rice. Familiar names like Amy Thielen, Lenny Russo, Tammy Wong and Heather Janz share the same pages, representing the diverse cuisines that have become part of the fabric of Minnesota. Minnesota is not just about lefse and lutefisk, if it ever was.
Full disclosure: I’m honored to have been asked to contribute a couple of recipes to the book, and have them featured alongside the work of such an outstanding group of food creators. It also feels great to have had my recipe made and styled by Betsy Nelson and photographed by her talented husband, Tom Thulen. The book is truly a collaboration between the two, as Nelson selects the recipes and Thulen makes gorgeous photographs that create a sweeping snapshot of Minnesota food.
Roasted Ramps and Watercress with Pumpkin Seed Chèvre Medallions by Robin Asbell (Recipe below)
Tasting Minnesota is a big, glossy hardback with plenty of full page photos, worthy of a spot on your coffee table. It’s also got you covered for every meal, as well as drinks and dessert. If you haven’t had the chance to check out the hidden gem restaurants in Duluth, Two Harbors, Bemidji, Stillwater, Callaway, or for that matter, a Minneapolis neighborhood that you just haven’t gone to yet, the book gives you some teaser recipes to make your mouth water. After making it at home, you may find yourself wanting to make a breakfast trek to the Wild Hare Bistro in Bemidji for Wild Hare and Smoky Squash Chowder, or the Breaking Bread Cafe in North Minneapolis for Buttermilk Herb Biscuits and Chorizo -Poblano Gravy. Cornmeal Sunfish with Pickled Ramp Aioli from the Salt Cellar in St Paul, or Pepita Ancho Butter and Pumpkin Jam Sandwiches from the Lake Avenue Restaurant in Duluth might call your name. It would be worth a drive to Victory 44 in Minneapolis for the Buttered Popcorn Pot de Creme, or Alexandria, for Molten chocolate Cakes with Beer Ice Cream from La Ferme.
One such temptation is the recipe below for Pepita Granola from Hola Arepa. Hola Arepa is one of the hottest dining destinations in South Minneapolis, and I’ve been there a few times for dinner, but never brunch. Now that I know that there is Pepita Granola sprinkled over flan on Saturdays and Sundays, I may just have to get over there.
‘Til then, I can make the granola myself, and eat it by the handful.
If you already love Minnesota’s food, this is a perfect book for you. If you not familiar with our scene, Tasting Minnesota has put together a tasty introduction for you. This book is sure to be a keeper, and will soon be dog eared and stained with good memories.
Roasted Ramps and Watercress with Pumpkin Seed Chèvre Medallions
COOKBOOK AUTHOR, TEACHER, AND PRIVATE CHEF, MINNEAPOLIS
CHEF ROBIN ASBELL
This salad is a poem to spring, with the fresh and vibrant flavors of ramps and watercress accented by tangy chèvre. Roasting the ramps gives them a soulful, subtle flavor.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
4 ounces firm chèvre log
1/4 cup pumpkin seed oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 head red leaf lettuce
1 bunch watercress, tough stems removed
1/2 pint raspberries
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Trim and clean the ramps, leaving the green tops intact. In a medium bowl, toss the ramps with olive oil and then place in a roasting pan. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for 20 minutes, or less if the ramps are thin.
While the ramps are roasting, spread the pumpkin seeds on a small baking sheet and toast in the oven till lightly brown (watch closely so they don’t scorch), 5 to 10 minutes.
When the ramps are soft (poke with a paring knife), uncover and set aside to cool.
Chop the pumpkin seeds and spread on a plate. Slice the chilled chèvre log into medallions and roll in the chopped pumpkin seeds to coat.
In a small bowl, whisk the pumpkin seed oil with the lemon juice and salt and set aside
Wash and dry the lettuce, then tear into pieces. Arrange the lettuce on four plates and top with the watercress and raspberries. Arrange the coated chèvre and four ramps on each plate. Drizzle with the dressing and serve.
HOLA AREPA, MINNEAPOLIS
CHEF HEATHER KIM
This addictively snackable granola may become your new favorite. Hola Arepa serves this with their yogurt flan, but you can scatter it over a bowl of yogurt or just nibble it right out of the jar.
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3 cups frosted cornflakes cereal
1 cup coconut flakes
1 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup powdered milk
2 tablespoons corn flour
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil or other neutral oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Makes 8 cups
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, cornflakes, coconut flakes, pepitas, powdered milk, corn flour, and salt and toss to mix. Distribute the mix evenly onto the baking sheets.
In a medium saucepan, bring the honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, and oil to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the sugar mixture evenly over the dry ingredients on the sheet trays and mix with a spatula to distribute well. Bake for 20 minutes, mixing again with a spatula after 10 minutes to ensure even baking.
Remove the granola from the oven when it is a deep golden color. Spread the granola onto a clean sheet of parchment to cool completely. If you want larger chunks of granola, allow it to cool undisturbed on the baking sheet. Granola will become more crunchy after it has cooled. Store in airtight containers at room temperature for up to a week or in the freezer for a month.
Note: This recipe can be easily varied by substituting your favorite cereal for the frosted flakes or using peanuts, cashews, or other nuts in place of the pepitas.