June 18, 2014

At Shelburne Farms in Vermont, Steel Cut Oat Risotto

Can they look more content? Shelburne's Brown Swiss Cows.

This time of year makes me think of Shelburne Farms, the dynamic, progressive farm disguised as an idyllic retreat on the shores of Lake Champlain. It's a picture-perfect getaway as well as a working farm and a not-for-profit dedicated to educating for a sustainable future.

The 1,400 acre Vermont spread is what's left of a sprawling model farm and country retreat of the granddaughter of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt and her family. Now overseen by a board composed of educators, environmentalists, farmers and philanthropists, the not-for-profit helped launched the Farm-Based Education Network and is a leader in Vermont’s Farm to School program. It also offers onsite educational programs for young people and professional development sessions on sustainability, food and agriculture.

Peonies in the garden.

While there to attend the farm's annual weekend-long cheese making workshop, Pasture to Palate, I stayed in the Inn at Shelburne Farms, which has been restored to its 19th-century glory with many original furnishings, and is fronted by a formal garden that has likewise been shaped according to Lila Vanderbilt Webb's original design.


The steel cut oat risotto, dressed up with a garden flower. 

What stands out in memory, besides the many delicious Vermont cheeses I tasted, learning the cheddar-making process, and the beauty of the farm and its lovable animals (which children and adults are reminded will eventually feed us), is executive chef David Hugo's beautiful and satisfying steel cut oat risotto.  Hugo, a Vermont native who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has cooked in kitchens from Paris to San Francisco, was named Chef of the Year in April by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

To make this dish, Hugo explains that he cooks two parts oats to one part whole milk risotto style, slowly adding the milk and stirring for about 20 to 25 minutes. He then adds a sauté of onions and bacon, a little more milk, and grated Shelburne Farms clothbound cheddar. The risotto is plated in a bed of sautéed farm-grown spinach, and finished with two poached eggs, also from the farm. You can't get more local, or delicious, than this mashup of Italian technique and farm-grown ingredients.