Despite its reputation, New York has a soft spot in its heart for green things. We all know about the tree that grew in Brooklyn, but few city-watchers are aware that a burgeoning industry of fresh herb growers has sprouted and is well on its way to full bloom in the Bronx. I'm speaking of Stadium Farms and its tillers of the soil, Tony and Betty Borgia.
To kitchen practitioners who have never tossed a sprig of fresh thyme in a stew or made basil pesto from scratch, the Borgias and their line of 20 fresh herbs, grown locally 12 months a year, may not seem like a big deal, but I assure you it is. And New York's gastronomic landscape would be decidedly less verdant and flavorsome without this small company's green thumb or rapid transit delivery.
The business took hold when Tony Borgia, who was marketing analyst for a hospital and an amateur chef, became aware of herbs as a commodity. Doing what he knew best, he made a market study and discovered there was a need for fresh flavorings year-round but little or no product availability.
A Decision to Do It Himself
Interviewing professional chefs, he found out who wanted what and when. After telephoning cross-country to uncover suppliers, he decided it was easier to do it himself. Stadium Farms (named for the street in the Bronx where the Borgias live) opened its doors in December, 1982.
Starting operation in a borrowed greenhouse (where Tony's Italian-born father grew figs) and an apartment kitchen refrigerator, they have blossomed into a cold-storage warehouse with eight employees and several delivery trucks. A registered nurse by profession, Betty was the firm's first delivery person, rushing herbs all over the boroughs in off-hours via the back seat of her car.
Today they supply hundreds of pounds of fresh herbs to restaurants, hotels, specialty stores and mail-order buyers weekly.
The following recipe is a souvenir from a stay near Nice, France, where not only celery but also anchovies, olive oil and basil are in aromatic profusion year-round.
BRAISED CELERY IN BASIL LEAVES
1 large, thick bunch celery
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or dash dried thyme
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chicken stock
Trim celery of tough outer stalks and trim top of leaves, leaving bunch about 8 inches long. Peel bottom of celery with vegetable peeler but do not cut off. Slice bunch into 4 quarters lengthwise. Set aside.
Heat butter with olive oil in large, shallow saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion. Cook 1 minute. Add garlic. Cook 2 minutes longer. Do not brown.
Stir in anchovy paste and thyme. Add celery sections and turn several times to coat with butter mixture. Add basil, wine and chicken stock. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat. Cook, covered, over very low heat until just tender, about 25 minutes.
Remove celery to shallow serving dish and keep warm. Increase heat under saucepan and oil juices until thick and syrupy. Pour pan juices over celery and sprinkle with parsley. Season to taste with pepper. Makes 4 servings.
The only prerequisite for the following formula is a flavorful new potato and a dash of fresh tarragon. Dried tarragon will work in a pinch.
NEW POTATOES IN TARRAGON CREAM
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon, or 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 pound new potatoes sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 cup whipping cream or half and half
Melt butter in large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add shallot and cook 2 minutes. Add tarragon and potatoes. Toss to coat potatoes with butter.
Pour cream over potatoes. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 4 servings.