Variety in School

A foundation that tests new ways to serve school lunches experiments with our Test Gardeners’ Tried-and-True Favorites.

By Tia McDonald


Trying New Varieties

Chef Tia McDonald assembles an Heirloom Tomato and Zucchini GaletteWhen I approach a new vegetable or fruit variety, the first thing I do is taste it raw so I know my starting point. Much as with animal proteins, I will then try different cooking techniques: Can I fry/bake/roast/grill/braise it? What does each application do to the vegetable? I then like to research the region where the vegetable is indigenous and understand its history, to find its “roots” and how it was used classically. Then I go to work.

Heirloom Tomato and Zucchini Galette with Fontina Cheese (pictured right)

I am a fan of heirloom tomatoes. I typically can’t find them outside of summer months, and if I could it would be a crime. They’re not only terrifically beautiful, but so flavorful! All I need is some sea salt, fresh basil from the garden, and a beautiful olive oil. Anything beyond that just complicates things.

Recently I have come to admire the ‘Shishito’ pepper. ‘Shishito’ has a spicy flavor that is not overwhelming—it doesn’t cancel other flavors out, doesn’t numb your tongue, but also stands its ground and has a sustaining heat that marries well with other ingredients, no matter the application. Whether it’s grilled, roasted, or sautéed, it maintains wonderful flavor.

The Best Moments

Chef Tia McDonald prepares carrots in the school's kitchenThe younger kids—the ones most people would think might be extremely picky—get so enthused about the program. When I have a 6-year-old asking me when we’re having basil risotto again, or telling me she taught her older brother how to set the dinner table, it just takes my breath away!

Kid favorite: Roasted Carrots with Mint and Honey!

Photography by Andrea Monzo
Originally published in Organic Gardening magazine, February/March 2014