In Praise of Cayuga Pure Organics

Cooked Cayuga polenta

I first noticed Cayuga Pure Organics, a seller of locally grown, non-genetically modified grains and beans, selling their products at the Union Square farmer’s market a couple of years ago, and I was immediately smitten. I had recently moved back to Brooklyn after living in San Francisco, where it’s easy to buy local and seasonal food because nearly everything grows in California. New York was proving to be a challenge for some items, but finally, here was a certified organic and local source of some of my favorite ingredients, like black beans, navy beans, and barley. 

Black bean dip made with Cayuga black beans, garnished with pickled radishes

I’m an especially big fan of Cayuga’s black beans. In soups, dips, and salads, they are creamy and rich, and take only half as long to cook as beans from the supermarket, which can in some cases be as much as several years old. Because Cayuga has a relatively small production run, their beans are always fresh. I like to use them to make black bean dip served on crostini, with quick-pickled radishes for a tangy, crunchy topping. Apparently, the folks at Cayuga make a black bean brownie that’s to die for, but you have to visit their farm up in Ithaca, New York, to taste it. (Let me look at my calendar!)

I recently noticed that Cayuga sells polenta—the old-fashioned, whole grain kind, not the instant stuff. It’s made from an organic heirloom flint corn that’s ground to a medium texture, and the yellow grains are speckled with bits of brown and white because the bran is left in. I bought a 5-lb bag before realizing that it takes a full hour of constant stirring to fully cook through. Whew. Back at home, I followed those instructions, albeit a bit grudgingly, and the result was creamy, full-flavored polenta with none of the dusty, bland character of the boxed variety. And, contrary to polenta cooking lore, the labor was less than I’d expected: I was able to leave it bubbling on the stove for five minutes at a time without it burning. Baking the polenta for an additional twenty-five minutes produced a solid texture that I cut into squares when cool.

Polenta Squares with Asparagus Tips and Pesto

I’m working up the courage to try one of Cayuga’s more esoteric products, called freekeh, pronounced freak-ah. These are described as roasted green spelt berries. They sound intriguing, but I want to bask in my polenta victory for a little while longer before taking on my next Cayuga challenge.

Polenta Squares with Asparagus Tips and Pesto

Makes 1 9×13” sheet pan of polenta

9 cups water

1 ½ tablespoons salt

3 cups whole grain polenta

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for greasing the baking sheet

1 tablespoon dried thyme (optional)

1 bunch asparagus

1 clove garlic, minced

8 ounces prepared pesto sauce

Preheat the oven to 450°F, and grease a 9×13” baking sheet.

Pour water and salt into a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Add the polenta, olive oil, and thyme and return to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue stirring every few minutes for one hour. Remove from the heat. Taste and season with salt.

Pour the polenta into the greased baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for 5 more minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Slice into bite-sized squares.

Snap off the fibrous ends of the asparagus and discard. Measure approximately 1 ½ inch below the tips and slice off the remaining stalks, saving them for another use. In a steamer set over boiling water, steam asparagus, covered, for 1 minute. Transfer to a colander and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Drain. Heat a sauté pan and add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, followed by the asparagus. Sautee for 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring often. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

To serve, dab the polenta squares with a teaspoon of the pesto and top with an asparagus tip. Heat in a moderate oven until warm. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Cooked polenta will keep for five days in the refrigerator.

5 thoughts on “In Praise of Cayuga Pure Organics

  1. Interesting note on the age of the black beans, … I buy my beans organic at a local coop (Buffalo) but never thought about the age of them. Ofcourse they don't last long once there in my house, … the polenta looks good, … I have to experiment a little more with that when I can, … haven't made it in years and that would have been the store bought variety, …

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