IN THE KITCHEN: Swapping with Sisters

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How a community farm and a winery help people cook.

CUTCHOGUE —Let’s call them vegetable adventurers, these people gathered around a basket of fresh organic produce set on a table in a vineyard. They sample, sip a little chilled wine and let the creative juices flow.

“This is really the essence of what we want to accomplish,” says Ann Marie Borghese as she pours Castello di Borghese’s 2007 sauvignon blanc alongside Sang Lee Farm’s sugar snap peas tossed in a toasted sesame dressing, “to learn what inspires each other, and to teach each other.”

Jenny Lee Morris inspects a nice, fat bunch of asparagus spears, the last of the season, and sniffs a fragrant twist of thyme. She’s the general manager at the hottest new restaurant on the North Fork, Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck. “I’m out scouting ingredients,” she says. “And ideas. I think I found a few.”

In an imaginative offshoot of the community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscription program at Sang Lee Farm in Peconic, some of the CSA’s 120 members are getting together now and then to talk about the vegetables in their weekly basket and share ideas about how to prepare them.

“Finding easy, family-pleasing recipes can be a challenge,” admits Karen Lee, who guides the group and whips up simple dishes on the spot. She owns Sang Lee with her husband, Fred, and early in their marriage mastered the basic Cantonese stir-fry and went on to invent “a thousand different uses for bok choy.”

But what a challenge! The raw materials are these incredible vegetables, at the peak of perfection. Like the baby red mustard greens, subtle yet spicy in first leaf, with just a delicate bite. Now’s the time to eat them before the flavor gets downright racy under the hot midsummer sun.

Such things of beauty, these red mustard leaves. Why, the tracery of veins is so intricate……OK, so it was easy to get carried away on this June day, when the basket was brimming with lettuces, peas, scallions and much more. Apparently it’s not an uncommon part of the whole CSA experience.

“I just love getting my basket on Wednesday,” CSA member Paula Daniel enthuses. “I’m so excited to see what’s in it. It makes you want to whip up something special to celebrate summer, and life, and these amazing veggies, but sometimes you just don’t know what to make. So this is great.”

Lee and Borghese keep it pretty down to earth, but, as invariably happens around food and wine, the conversation takes flight. One minute everyone’s delighting in the Fleurette 2005, a lovely dry summer rosé, paired so well with velvety red romaine lettuce and Sang Lee’s sweet ginger dressing. The next, someone’s banging on about gluten intolerance—did you know that soy sauce can cause terrible bloat?

Great gastronomic moments like these are as ephemeral as asparagus in spring. And speaking of asparagus, people had plenty of suggestions beyond the basic (but delicious) boiled and buttered, and it’s the vegetable that Borghese credits with planting the idea for these gatherings.

“I’m so not the cook in our family,” she says. “The kitchen is my husband Marco’s domain and he of course does everything in an Italian way, with olive oil, rosemary, oregano and sea salt. When the asparagus first came in, I kind of asked people what else one can do with it and was just amazed. Everyone has a different recipe.”

Like grilled with garlic, Hawaiian style à la Paula, and, yes, stirfried. Lee recommends tossing asparagus into an oiled wok with chunky chopped onions, matchsticks of yellow carrots “milder and sweeter than the orange ones,” and any good stir-fry sauce. When asparagus season ends, just use red scallions. They’re thick as a thumb and can easily be the star of a dish, not just a sidekick.

“See, they really help you out with the recipes, and these are such interesting people with enlightened views so it’s inspiring,” says CSA member and lifestyle coach Russ L’HommeDieu. “I’ve even started taking cooking classes.”

And now the gatherings have inspired the Thursday Lunch Club, a new series of cooking demos and family-style meals held under the trees at Sang Lee Farm. It’s open to everyone, not just CSA members. The menu is based on that week’s CSA basket as well as what’s available at the farm stand, and paired with Castello di Borghese wines. A post-prandial ramble is, of course, a must, and a walk in the Borghese vineyards led by Ann Marie follows.

For information, contact the winery at 631.734.5111 or e-mail through the Web site at castellodiborghese.com .

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Gwendolen Groocock is the editor of the Greenport Guide, and writes about food, wine, travel and mommyhood from her home on the North Fork.