With the start of 2014 we’re ending our 14th season at Primo! It has been a whirlwind year for us, beginning with Chef Kelly’s James Beard award win in the spring and ending with our always memorable New Year’s brunch. Our winter vacation has begun and it’s nice to have a moment to reflect on this season’s happenings. We are extremely grateful for such loyal support from our customers! We wish you all a very happy new year and look forward to being back in May for season 15!
Fall in Maine can be really glorious… the foliage is bursting with color and the air is finally crisp and cool. We’ve certainly been enjoying the streak of gorgeous weather that has lasted for most of October and the start of November. This season has been quite remarkable, with such warm and consistently sunny days, crops that are normally beginning to die are continuing to thrive. The garden crew has been taking advantage of the great weather and in preparation for the cold ahead, they have replanted the green houses with spinach, turnips, arugula, lettuce, kale, tat soi and radish. We have also prepared garlic beds for next seasons garlic crop. With our limited farm space, utilizing every bit of ground is essential and makes the rotation of our crops and animals over different areas of the farm very important. The area that has just been prepped for garlic was once our pea patch, followed by cover crop, and then home to our broiler chickens.
The fabulous weather has also given us a great harvest with tons of leeks, squash, turnips, radish, and a favorite fall friend, sunchokes. Sunchokes are often considered a nuisance because of their propensity to consume entire lawns… we, however, embrace their wild side and encourage the patch to expand because they’re delicious and wonderfully versatile (Enjoy Chef Kelly’s Cream of Sunchoke Soup recipe below!). Due to our shallow soils, the sunchokes seem to be relegated to one small area of our farm, so it’s a great occasion when we get a large harvest to spice up the menu.
With these new additions and others such as pumpkins and apples, the menu is truly starting to feel like fall. Our counter menu features pumpkin risotto served in a whole roasted pumpkin with pecorino sardo cheese, roasted squash and autumn herbs. It’s paired with swiss chard, greens and toasted pumpkin seeds. It’s fabulous comfort food for the cold nights ahead! We know it’s truly deep fall here when our pork joins the menu. The first pork chops from this seasons pigs are now being served and our ”Nose to Tail” menu it about to make its debut. Each dish in the seven course menu features pork from the pigs that were raised with love on the Primo farm this season. The ”Nose to Tail” offerings begin next week and will be available for about a month. It’s true farm to table fare that should not be missed!
Primo Pork Chop
For us, the harvest season has been a time for celebration. We began by getting into the Halloween spirit with our annual staff pumpkin carving extravaganza. There’s really no better way to add a little magic to our harvest decor and showcase the Primo teams’ amazing knife wielding skills than with a line of freshly carved pumpkins illuminating the walkway. Also, the fun that can be had carving pumpkins is undeniable… the joy that comes from scooping out the gooey guts and figuring out how to create a complex scene that won’t cave in is hard to outgrow. We enjoyed Halloween in style with most of the staff dressing for the occasion as well as some of our fun loving dinner guests… and the best costume prize definitely went to the adorable little peanut who came trick or treating in her very fancy chef attire.
Chef Kelly and wee Chef Dodge
The celebration was capped this week with our annual Pig Day. It’s a day that the extended Primo family comes together to celebrate the pigs that are raised here each season with a bounty of great food, wine, work, and company! With a great amount of team work we whipped up a plethora of Primo charcuterie including, Culatello, Prosciutto, Zampone, and Lardo as well fresh cider and other fall treats. Some of the charcuterie such as sausage, pork confit, and liverwurst will join the menu right away, while other items including Prosciutto and Culatello are real labors of love that will cure for at least 18 more months. The Primo prosciutto that is currently served is from our 2011 Pig Day… it’s a tasty time investment that is definitely worth the wait.
Enjoy Chef Kelly’s sunchoke soup recipe… just in time for cold weather!
Cream of Sunchoke (Jerusalem Artichoke) Soup
with seared diver scallops, black trumpet mushrooms & sunchoke chips (Serves 8-10)
- 3lb Sunchokes(reserve 1 tuber for garnish)
- 8T butter (preferably unsalted)
- 3 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3qt (12c) chicken stock (can substitute vegetable stock or water)
- 2c heavy cream
- tt salt & white pepper
- 1lb U-10 jumbo diver scallops
- 2oz black trumpet mushrooms (can use dried or substitute dried porcini. If you are using dried, rehydrate in hot water… just enough to cover and reserve until ready to use)
- 2c peanut or canola oil for frying chips
Take 1 sunchoke and slice it paper thin. While you are doing that, heat peanut or canola oil to about 350 degrees (can check with candy thermometer). Add the sliced chokes a little at a time and fry until lightly browned and crispy. Drain on paper towels and salt them as soon as they come out of the oil.
Wash sunchokes thoroughly, scrubbing the skin clean, then cut them into chunks. Melt the butter over a medium flame and add onions. Cook for 3-5 minutes until the onions become translucent (do not brown). Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add sunchokes and cook for 5 minutes, then add stock and turn heat up to high. Bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer… simmer until all is tender, add cream and bring back to a boil and then take off heat. Puree whole mixture in a blender, then strain through a sieve. Season with salt and white pepper. Keep warm until ready to use.
When ready to serve… heat 1T canola oil in a sauté pan until smoking. Season scallops with salt & pepper, place in the pan carefully, do not crowd the pan. Cook for 1.5 minutes on each side, do not turn until the first side has caramelized. Place 1 scallop in each bowl, ladle soup in and sprinkle with mushrooms and choke chips.
October is off to a beautiful start! The weather has been so amazing that it doesn’t really seem like fall. Last week, Chef Kelly and many of the Primo crew had the pleasure of visiting the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and enjoying the perfect fall weather. For those who have not had the opportunity to visit the gardens, it’s truly an extraordinary place. It’s well loved by the Primo family and we welcome opportunities to support the community oriented work that is done there. Chef Kelly and a number of the chefs here at Primo, volunteered to cook for the fundraising event hosted at the Botanical Garden’s Kitchen Garden Cafe. Of course, no one can visit the gardens and only see the kitchen, so it was a full day event spent walking about it awe…
A favorite attraction of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses. The garden is accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities, and includes elements that can be enjoyed with all the senses. Mollie Moore, a charter member of the gardens, was a major contributor and inspiration in the development of the Lerner Garden. She is also a friend and patron of Primo, who has been joining us since we opened in 2000. It’s quite rewarding to be part of the larger mid-coast community and support those striving to make this area wonderful.
Back at Primo, life on the farm has settled into a new pace… Over the last few weeks, the farm crew has been moving the chickens and pigs to newly cover cropped areas, harvesting delicious honey from our beehives, and sifting and bagging compost. Composting may not seem like a thrilling endeavor but we get pretty excited about it around here. One of our main goals (beyond feeding people yummy food) is to create a full circle kitchen that doesn’t create an exorbitant amount of waste. Almost all of the food waste that is created at the restaurant is composted or fed to the pigs. In time, our “black gold” is created from this process and we’re left with rich fabulous soil to be used in our gardens, which makes our veggies smile.
The farm crew has also been harvesting new fall goodies including turnips, celeriac, and leeks. With new cool weather crops arriving, we’re beginning to say goodbye to our warm weather crops that aren’t continuing to be grown our greenhouses. Among those to go for the season are our grape leaves. Although they may not be considered one of our staple garden goods, they’re certainly a delicious specialty. The leaves are harvested throughout the warm months of the season and preserved in jars with olive oil, so that they can be enjoyed all winter. They’re used in a variety of ways, but among our favorites is simply stuffing them with fresh goat cheese. The cheese gets tucked inside these herbed wonders, which is then grilled and can be served crackers, bread, or any creative pairing that you might enjoy. Awesome goat cheese is key in the making of this dish… The goat cheese served here comes from York Hill Farm in new Sharon, Maine. York Hill Farm is a small dairy with about 40 goats and you can taste the love in their cheese, which is why we’re thrilled to serve it! To make this dish at home, enjoy Chef Kelly’s recipe below! York Hill Farm cheese can be purchased at the farmer’s market in Brunswick, Maine and at selected stores in Maine, Massachusetts, and New York City or you can go adventuring at your own local farmer’s market and meet new goat cheese wielding folks.
Fresh Goat Cheese in Grape Leaves
(makes 4 servings)
1 lb. fresh goat cheese
1 tsp. each fresh chopped:
summer savory (if available),
fresh or dried lavender
fresh cracked black pepper
1 jar grape leaves in brine (rinsed)
Extra virgin olive oil
Lay 2 grape leaves on cutting board, joined together at the bottoms (vein side up).
Place ¼ of the goat cheese on top. Sprinkle with herbs and pepper.
Wrap sides up over top to seal. Repeat with the rest of the cheese. Place in oil and marinate overnight. Drain well (can reuse oil).
Place on grill for one and a half minutes each side.
Serve with flatbreads, crackers or grilled country bread and olives. Excellent as a starter or for an after dinner cheese course.
September is here and we’ve had an eventful few weeks! With Labor Day behind us, we’re beginning to really feel the transition from summer to fall. This time of year is a favorite here… the days are bit cooler, the farm is producing a mix of both summer and fall crops, and the summer chaos begins to wane. We’re currently winding down from an epic tomato harvest and are enjoying sixteen cherry and heirloom tomato varieties. Crops such as celery root and rutabaga are just starting to arrive, which are happily anticipated additions for our menu. We’ve also begun preparing for the cold weather ahead. The sides of our greenhouses have been fitted with cold frames, where we’ve begun planting basil. This season, the cold frames will be used to plant radish, spicy cress, mustard, wild arugula, kale and tatsoi.
It’s apparent that the wildlife can also feel the seasonal change. A very determined goshawk has been hanging about, waiting for an opportunity to nab any of the smaller chickens that may be an easy catch. A few days ago, the goshawk became caught in the wire fencing in the house where our wee chicks live. The taloned predator was very carefully set free by our kind-hearted farm staff and now can be spotted skulking about the tree line at the edge of the farm, waiting. It’s quite a beautiful and impressive bird. Every week seems to bring some new and unexpected wildlife curiosity.
Our fat and happy pigs have been moved back to their original home so that their more recent stomping grounds can be cover cropped with winter rye. They seem quite comfortable lazying about their old home and tearing up fresh ground. It’s pretty remarkable how quickly they turn a fresh patch of greenery into a mud pit… each time they’re moved they begin to pick up their normally slow pace and start the usual munching and digging with intense new fervor. Cover cropping of many areas of the farm will be happening over the next week, as mid-September has proven to be the cut off for successful growth.
Inside, we’re coming up with fun happenings for fall. Next Thursday, September 19th, we will be starting Throwback Thursday in our bar and counter rooms. This will consist of popular food and drink specials to highlight passed decades, beginning with the twenties. Thankfully, we aren’t prohibition supporters and your cocktails won’t have to be bootlegged. Every week will have a new throwback theme with chef Kelly’s spin on classic dishes (stay posted on our Facebook page for weekly themes!). Join us for the fun!
This week we celebrated the 95th birthday of Primo Magnani, Chef Kelly’s grandfather and the namesake of the restaurant! Primo was a real foodie who shared his passion with his granddaughter. While attending the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Kelly would take the train from upstate New York to Long Island where she and Primo would spend weekends cooking together. The farm to table experience is described by Chef Kelly as “the dream way to cook,” which has led the evolution of the Primo farm over the last 13 years. What started with one greenhouse, a few acres of gardens, and 2 pigs has grown to encompass most of the 4.5 acre property and include 9 pigs, chickens, guinea hens, and ducks.
The animals on the Primo farm always bring a new surprise and some sort of excitement or challenge. This week was no exception, with the surprise of 6 ducklings magically appearing in the new pond! We’re raising 10 Khaki Campbells this season with 2 males and 8 females (now 16 with the new additions). This is a domesticated breed of duck from England that produce a large bounty of deliciously rich eggs. All of the eggs are collected by our farm crew and make additions to many items on the menu. Apparently, one of the lady ducks (fun trivia…. male ducks are referred to as drakes, while the females are just ducks or lady ducks if they’re the classy sort) was quite determined to be a mother and hid her eggs very well. There was no indication of her having nested somewhere, so the 6 adorable little ducklings that appeared were entirely unexpected. We’re still marveling at her ability to keep the eggs so well guarded and the fact that they all appeared at once, especially since information about this breed suggests that they have less interest in hatching offspring. Nature is always full of wonderful surprises (in this case, a birthday surprise)! Perhaps we will soon find a wee brood of awkward guinea hens tottering about…
a duckling taking a dip….
Duck eggs, duck eggs, duck eggs…. the uses for these rich and delicious little gems seem endless. However, we do have a few favorites! Our salt cod brandade stuffed Piquillo peppers with a fried duck egg and herb salad is a staple on the counter menu. It can be described as real comfort food with a balance of salty, sweet and rich flavors, served in a cast iron skillet. This dish begins with fresh local cod, that we preserve by filleting, salting, and then drying. It’s then poached and mixed with potatoes, garlic, and other goodness to make Brandade before being stuffed into a fresh Piquillo pepper. Paired with a our fried duck egg and greens from the garden, this dish is a fresh from the farm classic.
Salt Cod brandade Stuffed Piquillo Peppers with a fried duck egg & herb salad
In this bloggy tribute to our lovely ducks and their eggs, it seems appropriate that we end with a divine duck egg dessert! Toasted Almond Crème Caramel is dessert option that is seasonally on our menu and made with our duck egg yolks. The plating of this dish adds to its magic, with swirls of caramel sprinkled with almond croccante and port cherries surrounding the center of caramel goodness. It is all topped with spun sugar, a sweet tuile, and a fresh sprig of mint from the garden. Watching the creation of this dessert is almost as good as eating it (almost… not really). Removing the caramel from its ramekin without any cracking seems to require the perfect timing of gentle heat without allowing it to become too hot and the spinning of sugar may be a fun adventure for any aspiring at home bakers ready to make a mess. No matter how it looks, the resulting dessert is delicious, so enjoy the recipe below!
Toasted Almond Crème Caramel
Toasted Almond Crème Caramel Recipe
- 2/3c Sugar
- 1/3c Water
Caramelize until mahogany brown then pour into desired ramekins. Set aside to cool (must harden)
- 1c Milk
- 1c Cream
- 1t Vanilla Extract
- 1/4t Salt
- 1/4c Mandorla Tostada (toasted almond paste, can substitute with 1c almonds well toasted then ground)
Combine and heat then temper into:
- 1/2c Sugar
- 4 Duck egg yolks (can be substituted with 4 chicken egg yolks)
Strain through chinois & pour onto caramel in ramekins. Bake in a water bath for 40 minutes at 350 degrees or until set. Remove from water bath and chill overnight. When ready to serve, dip ramekins in hot water for 10 to 15 seconds. Flip caramel out of ramekin, top with any other desired goodies & enjoy!
If it’s your first trip to Primo or you’re a regular, a part of what makes each experience special is the detail put into each dish. Even a seemingly simple dish is made complex with Chef Kelly’s eye for artful and delicious layers. This all starts in our gardens, where decorative as well as edible flowers are currently at their peak for the season. The lovely weather over the last few weeks has encouraged all of our midsummer flower varieties to bloom. A few of these treasured flowers include Nasturtiums, calendula, bachelor buttons, borage, and safflower. Nasturtiums are so often used by the kitchen that they are started early each spring in pots in our greenhouse and then transplanted to the gardens. They continue to be grown in pots as the weather cools off in the fall, so that there is a supply of them for most of the Primo season. Other specialties such as squash and cucumber blossoms are also incorporated into the ever changing menu while they’re available.
Walking through the gardens, one might overlook what our head gardener describes as the ”micro farm” that is being grown to supply the Primo Kitchen. In addition to edible flowers that are grown for garnish, a majority of the greens that are grown here are also grown in tender mini sizes to adorn and accentuate dishes. A few of these micros include endive, kale, beet greens, tatsoi, basil, arugula, onion, peas, and sunsprouts. In order to keep Chef Kelly’s well loved drawer of greenery well stocked, 26 flats of micros are seeded every 3 days.
Appreciation for edible flowers and micro greens is reflected daily in our menu. Each evening before dinner service begins, flower garnish is hand picked, cleaned, and made ready for use. A particularly lovely dish this week, is Chef Kelly’s sautéed local Halibut. It is paired with quinoa salad with garden zucchini, mint, pistachio and sunsprouts. The garnish on this dish is a mixture of calendula and bachelor buttons, as well as sunsprouts. The first Primo honey comb of the season has also been incorporated into the menu in our salad of tender red lettuces, fresh from the garden. The salad is topped with tiger fig, marcona almond, champagne grapes, Mahon cheese and drizzled with a 50 year aged Sherry vinegar. We continue to look forward to the changing variety of ingredients coming from the farm as the season progresses!
Evening garnish flower prep…
Another beautiful week has passed and we’re already into August! The weather has been warm and sunny with cool Maine nights. This is not ideal for our “hot crops” such as eggplant and peppers that flourish with more constant warmth. We’re beginning to harvest these as well as cucumbers and cherry tomatoes and are hoping for warmer nights so that we can enjoy a large harvest. Among other tasks, the garden crew has had to make time to defend the escarole patch from the ducks. The sneaky thieves can’t get enough of this chicory and the normal shooing has not deterred them. An attempt at duck-proof fencing is currently underway. Our escarole salad (with toasted walnuts, shaved radicchio, red onion and pecorino creamy anchovy dressing! Delicious.) has been a popular item on our menu over the last week, so the battle for the escarole is on.
Eggplant… a happy greenhouse dweller
We have also begun harvesting Padrón peppers! Chef Kelly brought the seeds for the Primo Padróns from Spain a few years ago and they have become a seasonal favorite. The peppers are fried and served as an appetizer, which Chef Kelly described as a “game of roulette.” A majority of the peppers are mild but hot ones are found at random, with no visual clues. This makes for a fun and delicious start to a meal.
When asked what fun things were cooking in the kitchen this week, Chef Kelly paused from filleting fresh black sea bass to enthusiastically describe the entree that it would be part of. They key ingredient to what makes Primo such a special dining experience is the excitement and time that is put into each dish. The black sea bass entree was paired with butter poached lobster and served with radish, fava beans, and nasturtium from the Primo gardens. It was sided with a piccolo fino basil and endive~quinoa salad. The basil and endive are also from our gardens (luckily the ducks haven’t nabbed it all).
Chef Kelly also went on to say that we use at least 90 pounds of Maine soft-shell lobster per week. It’s soft-shell lobster season here in Maine and as we truly value fresh local ingredients, lobster is almost always on the menu. To celebrate these delicious clawed beasts from the depths of the Maine coastline, the town of Rockland is currently hosting the annual Maine Lobster Festival. Last year over 20,000 pounds of lobster was served at the festival… That is a lot of lobster! If you’re a local trying to dodge the festival crowd downtown or a festival goer looking for a different take on Maine lobster, our bar and counter is the perfect place to pop in for a bite and enjoy the Primo experience!
It has been another week of beautiful weather and the gardens are bursting! New crops are nearly ready for harvest, including dill, cucumbers, eggplant, baby carrots, and black raspberries. The farm crew has been busy readying the barn to hang the freshly harvested garlic and making cold frames for planting late season herbs. Scallions and leeks were also transplanted this week. Seeding of leeks and scallions happens every other week because they are harvested young for the kitchen.
The big dig is finally finished! The pond construction is over and now it’s just in need of some final touches such as grass seeding. Our ducks and guinea hens are happily using it and the timing has worked out well as it continues to be hot, hot, hot here in Rockland. The ducks, guinea hens, and chickens can be truly entertaining additions to the farm. If you’re walking around the gardens it’s likely that a few will be stealthily lurking about the greenery, just waiting for an opportunity to startle you. The main ring leader for this sort of mischief is a large guinea fowl who is still with us for a second season. Last season, our guinea hens were getting too comfortable making the trek to visit our neighbors, so they were taken to stay at a local farm in Lincolnville. When it was time for the guineas to be added to the Primo menu, our little bandit made an escape and wasn’t caught until much later. He was returned to the Primo farm and Chef Kelly decided that such a determined fellow should probably become a permanent member of the farm family. He wintered with the chickens and came to think that he was in fact a chicken. When this season’s guineas arrived and were large enough to wander freely, the old bird made it clear that he wasn’t impressed by their attempts to visit him and the other chickens. The new guineas befriended the ducks and everyone was merry until recently, when the lone guinea realized that there were some familiar birds across the parking lot. He left his home with the chickens and has decided to join the guineas. He brings his rebel charm and love for mischief to the comparatively docile bunch (they all enjoy a nice jaunt into residential areas). Hopefully, the new swimming scene will help keep him and the others occupied for a while.
The big guinea leading his sidekick
The height of summer is a great time for fresh new additions to our menu! We’re currently featuring many dishes with zucchini and summer squash from our gardens. The always delicious and ever changing, stuffed squash blossom appetizer has been served nightly. Stuffed with ingredients such as fresh mozzarella or ricotta and placed on a slice of fresh heirloom tomato and other goodies from the garden, this appetizer is a perfect start to any meal. Garden ratatouille with grilled baby eggplant and garlic scapes also joined our menu paired with Mediterranean sea Bass.
stuffed squash blossom appetizer
Finally, we were very happy to have been featured on Chronicle Food on the Boston Channel last week! Check out the video segment here for an interview with Chef Kelly about the Primo experience!
It has been a lovely week with much more enjoyable weather than the last! Our raspberries are ripe and can’t be harvested fast enough. The animals seem quite happy for the break in the miserably hot weather… they’ve come out from burrowing in the mud and hiding in the shade. We’ve been spending some time thwarting thievery from the much more lively chickens and guinea hens who keep wandering into the inviting patch of raspberry goodness for a snack.
Caught in the act
There have been a lot of new happenings here this week! We’re currently constructing a pond for the ducks and guinea hens to replace their stylish yet small inflatable pool. They seem pretty content with their giant new swimming hole and are already enjoying it although it’s not yet finished. We’ve also welcomed seventy-five more freedom ranger chicks to the farm. These wee ones will soon join the 300 free range broilers that are already roaming about.
Freedom Ranger Chicks
Our fresh raspberries have made their way into a variety of dishes on our menu, including the Hudson Valley Foie Gras appetizer. The Foie Gras is served two ways; seared on a toasted almond shortcake with Primo raspberries and au Torchon with a ginger duck crackling cookie. In our bakery, Mel has crafted another beautiful seasonal cake! This time, it’s a lemon cake with white chocolate and mascarpone cream, layered with blueberry compote soaked in elderberry syrup…. so delicious! We’re also happy to be featuring new local cheeses from Lakin’s Gorges Cheese and Hahn’s End, which are two great Maine companies.
Hudson Valley Foie Gras… 2 ways
Lemon Blueberry Cake
Things are settling down a bit after a very warm and busy 4th of July weekend! The past week was so hot and humid that life on the farm was a bit hectic. Our mission to raise animals ethically means that a lot of care and attention is paid to their needs. With the intense heat and sun that we experienced over the last week, our travelling chicken coops needed to be moved further into shaded areas and our chickens got to enjoy some time relaxing under the sprinklers. If the weather remains this hot, they might be in need of some home-made popsicles. The pigs are also about to move from their cozy piglet accommodations to a mansion further in the shade. This week, the large area that they will be moving too was cover cropped and is almost ready for their big move.
The new pig house!
With such a busy start to the farm season, there has been a mad dash to finish getting all of our crops planted. Peppers were finally able to be planted this week, which was a bit later than we had planned for. Unexpected setbacks are the reality of farming and we’re thankful that a majority of our crops are doing so well this season!
We will soon be able to harvest some fresh new goodies including raspberries and squash blossoms. The return of squash blossoms means that they will become a delectable appetizer on our menu, stuffed with herb ricotta or fresh mozzarella on our garden salad. We hope that they will be available for next week’s menu!
This week, grilled Florida Mahi Mahi was featured on our menu with stewed heirloom tomatoes, chick peas, eggplant with rapini, basil and cherry tomatoes. This Mahi Mahi is a delicious seafood option that is considered “ocean-friendly”, since it’s caught in a way that has minimal adverse effects on its environment and is quickly repopulating.
We hope you had a safe and happy holiday weekend!