Autumn “Caprese” with California Grown Persimmon and Pomegranate [recipe]

So.

How are those scallions and celery that you put in a mason jar of water on your kitchen counter back in April doing?

Right.

If there is one thing I’ve learned during these last ten months of the global pandemic, and hopefully others have, too, it is that I am willing to pay someone one million dollars a week to wash my dishes. I’ve also learned that growing and producing food is difficult and often, like most of the effing time actually, we take for granted the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, and the most important product for survival obviously, wine.

Can you even imagine trying to grow and produce the variety of foods you eat every day?! I grew six snap pea plants in the spring, harvested three snap peas, was absolutely thrilled, then realized it was, LITERALLY THREE SNAP PEAS. That’s not even a bite, let alone a single meal.

Thankfully, we don’t actually have to try to survive only on what we ourselves can grow. The Golden State of California does about 147% of the work for us.

GROWING GROWING, BACK BACK, TO CALI CALI

California alone grows one-third of the vegetables and two-thirds of the fruit and nuts that we get here in the United States, making it the leading agricultural state in the country. California is also the sole producing state of almonds, walnuts, olives, artichokes, dates, raisin grapes, kiwifruit (who knew?!), clingstone peaches, pomegranates, and sweet rice.

A couple of weeks ago, I went on an agri-tour of California that included leafy greens farms in the Imperial Valley in southern California; sweet potatoes, some of those specialty produce like persimmons and pomegranates, olive oil and dairies in the San Joaquin Valley; and California Wine Country. Our agri-tour group met farmers and producers, and learned so much about a variety of California grown produce as well as the mission-critical importance of sustainability in farming practices.

IT’S SO EASY BEING GREEN

Because of alternating climates in Northern and Southern California, leafy greens grow year round in the entire state, contributing approximately 90% of all leafy greens grown in the United States. Executive Director of the California Grown organization, Cher Watte Angulo, spoke to us from a red leaf lettuce field with Mexico visible over her shoulder; that’s how far south the Imperial Valley of California is.

ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO, SWEET POTATOES MORE

sweet potato farmer jason tucker, cubed sweet potatoes on baking sheet
photo credit: L, James Collier for CA Grown; R, Alycia Moreno for CA Grown

Jason Tucker is a second generation sweet potato farmer, and his sister Amberley Mininger and her husband Brad Ralls, are sweet potato farmers as well as processors. Mininger Foods produces pre-peeled and cut sweet potatoes for grocery stores, making the work of getting from farm to table even easier for us.

Sweet potatoes are a considered a superfood, and shockingly, a purple sweet potato has more of the antioxidant anthocyanin, ounce for ounce, than a blueberry. Sweet potatoes are fat- and cholesterol-free and a solid source of dietary fiber.

The warm, dry climate of the San Joaquin Valley makes California sweet potatoes even better. The sweet potatoes can stay on their vines and “cure” (akin to “ripen”) directly in the soil without chemicals, rather than after harvest in storage sheds.

Recipe for Triple Whipped Sweet Potatoes using their sweet potatoes coming soon.

KC and the SUNSHINE BRANDS

photo credit: James Collier for CA Grown

KC Cornwell’s Loquaci Home Ranch in Madera, California in the San Joaquin Valley produces citrus, grapes, as well as specialty produce like persimmons and pomegranates (which are featured in the recipe below). From KC, we learned that California produces a considerable percentage of the country’s specialty crops, including:

  • 80% of all the fresh citrus marketed in the United States, and above and beyond that, over 92% of the lemons,
  • 97% of the nation’s prunes, and 44% of the prunes in the world,
  • over 99% of fresh grapes in the United States,
  • 100% of the nation’s pomegranates

Pomegranates are one of my all-time favorite fruits, in case you couldn’t tell from my near-daily social media posts about them and my addiction to Pomegranate Salsa. Am I obsessed because pomegranates are a superfood? Is it that they are unfortunately close in name to one of my puppers (pomeranian)? We’ll never know. However, what we do know is that pomegranate arils contain both the pomegranate seed and the juice of the fruit, wrapped in a thin membrane, and that the firm seed inside contains punicic acid, which is a bioactive compound related to alpha-lionleic acid, one of the “healthy” fatty acids.

Pomegranates (and persimmons) are part of the Autumn Caprese recipe below.

ALL IN THE DAIRY FAMILY

photo credit: Alycia Moreno for CA Grown

If you thought re-growing your celery and scallions was tough, try raising a dairy cow in your backyard so you can make cheese.

Ok, so don’t try that.

California dairies lead the rest of the nation in sustainable dairy production and is number one in milk, ice cream, and butter; they are the second largest producer of cheese and yogurt.

Ninety-nine percent of California dairies are family owned, like Fiscalini Family Dairy based in Modesto, California, which also produces their own cheeses. Fiscalini makes mostly Cheddar cheeses, and what is now one of my favorite cheeses ‘San Joaquin Gold,’ a 12- to 16-month-aged Italian-style cheese that’s a little parmesan-y, a little cheddar-y, pictured left above. It is perfect for a cheeseboard.

There are California producers who make mozzarella style cheeses, which is an ingredient in the Autumn Caprese recipe below!

OLIVE YOU SO MUCH

photo credit: James Collier for CA Grown

Like every good food blogger, I am obsessed with olive oil for both cooking and for health/medicinal uses.

Rolland Rosenthal of Rosenthal Olive Ranch practices high-density hedge row farming for his California olives, which allows for maximum yields and mechanical harvesting, which increases food safety. While there are over 75 varieties of olives grown for olive oil in California, three varieties are grown in the hedge-row style that Rosenthal uses: Arbequina, Arbosana and Koroneiki.

I used Rosenthal Ranch organic extra virgin olive oil for the Autumn Caprese recipe below.

#CAGrown to Donate Fresh Produce and Food

One last, but very important, thing! Every year, California farmers donate over 160 million pounds of fresh produce and foods to food banks. This year, California Grown has pledged to donate an additional 1 pound of food for every post on social media hashtagged with #CAGrown. Make something with California Grown products, post a photo of it, and tag. If you need ideas, message me and we can brainstorm ideas, or make the Autumn Caprese below, or fork it, you are welcome to re-share my photo and recipe below (with proper photo credit please, of course)

CALIFORNIA AUTUMN CAPRESE with PERSIMMON and POMEGRANATE [recipe]

There is no absolute way to arrange the ingredients on the platter. I like to keep each of the ingredients generally together, and everything arranged in rainbow-ish order. However, tossing everything into a bowl probably works, too. It’s a salad, ffs.

serves 2 as a light main or 4 as a starter

INGREDIENTS

4-6 cups wild arugula (or other bitter green to balance the sweet and tart)
1 cup Pomegranate Salsa [recipe]
2 Fuyu persimmons, 1 peeled and cut into wedges, the other sliced laterally into thin rounds
1 large ball of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into ¼-inch wide rounds
2 tablespoons California extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
juice of half a lemon
flaky sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper to taste
optional: 2-4 ounces prosciutto, pomegranate molasses

DIRECTIONS

Place wild arugula or other bitter greens on serving platter or shallow bowl. Arrange alternating slices of persimmon and mozzarella over the arugula, adding a leaf of arugula or baby spinach in between. 

Arrange peeled persimmon wedges and prosciutto if using, around the persimmon/mozzarella. Spoon Pomegranate Salsa onto platter. Drizzle everything with olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt.

Pomegranate molasses is a thick syrup made from reduced pomegranate juice and lemon juice. It kind of works in this recipe the way a balsamic glaze would work on a tomato-based Caprese.

Serve additional Pomegranate Salsa alongside, since mozzarella is kind of bland, as many of you already know is my feeling about that.

RESOURCES and NOTES

  • Persimmons. There are two types of persimmons grown in California: Fuyu and Hachiya. Fuyu persimmons are the firm, round, tomato or mini pumpkin-shaped fruit pictured directly above; they are eaten firm and the skin is generally edible. Hachiya persimmons are larger, shaped like a gentle, inverted triangle; they are eaten when they are very very soft. In fact, Hachiya persimmons taste AWFUL when they are not near-rotting ripe. Use Fuyu persimmons for this recipe.
  • Pomegranate Salsa. You don’t have to make Pomegranate Salsa just for this Caprese. You can toss a cup of undressed pomegranate arils onto the platter, but know that you will miss the flavors of onion/shallot, and fresh parsley. Just take the extra five minutes to make the Pomegranate Salsa, you will end up putting it on everything, then making it every week until pomegranates go out of season.
  • Mozzarella. Use a ball of mozzarella that comes in a brine in a container. Burrata, or even stracciatella (other cheeses similar to mozzarella) also work as their flavor profile is similar, but have a different “cottage cheese that’s crying” texture, which I HATE, but it’s your dish, you do you.
  • Olive Oil. I used California-based Rosenthal Ranch organic extra virgin olive oil for both the Pomegranate Salsa and drizzling on the Caprese
  • Pomegranate molasses is a dark, sweet, thick syrup made from pomegranate juice that can be found bottled at Middle Eastern markets. This is the one I have in my refrigerator door: Cortas Pomegranate Molasses
  • I made my own pomegranate molasses, too! {homemade pomegranate molasses recipe here}
  • All produce is California-grown, from local Los Angeles farmers’ markets or organic at Whole Foods Market
  • Prosciutto is not California-grown, but dammit, it should be, who wants to start a prosciutto farm with me.
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