Northbrook kids farm for Prairie Grass Cafe

Irv Leavitt
ileavitt@pioneerlocal.com | @IrvLeavitt
Aug. 7 9:40 a.m.
Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris’ District 28 Jalapeño, Sungold Tomato & Caramelized Onion Jam Ingredients: 2 cups thinly sliced onions (They use tropeo onions) 1/2 cup finely diced jalapeño peppers – seeds and ribs removed 1 cup sungold cherry tomatoes – quartered 2 Tbs. + 1 Tbs. olive oil (separated) Salt Method: In a large saute pan over medium-low heat, cook the onions with 2 Tbs. of the olive oil and a dash of salt for 20 to 25 minutes or until caramelized. In a separate pan, saute the jalapeño dice over medium heat in 1 Tbs. of olive oil until tender. Add the sungold tomatoes and cook an additional two to three minutes. Fold in the caramelized onions and stir until incorporated. For pizza: spread on flatbread, and add dollops of goat cheese or mozzarella with crumbled bacon

NORTHBROOK — You can spend a lifetime paying big money eating in restaurants, or designing restaurants, supplying them, promoting them.

And none of them are likely to name any food after you.

Employees and school children of central Northbrook, you are different. Special.

Right now, at Prairie Grass Cafe, 601 Skokie Boulevard, people can order District 28 Jalapeño and Sungold Tomato Flatbread Pizza.

Fortunately, it is good. You don’t want to have your name on a dish if it tastes funny.

Actually, some of you kids may think it tastes a little funny, because it has goat cheese on it.

That’s weird, isn’t it, kids? Little Caesar’s doesn’t use goat cheese.

So you can have it with mozzarella instead. It’s different from the mozzarella at Little Caesar’s.

But it’s OK.

And the pizza has a thick, jammy sauce made with yellow, not red, tomatoes, and hot peppers.

But not too hot. Even the kindergartners from Westmoor might like it. Really.

Or from Hickory Point, Willowbrook, Winkelman and Middlefork, for that matter.

But the kids in those schools in other Northbrook districts don’t have any pizzas named after them. They don’t have a little truck garden behind their middle school like the one behind District 28’s Northbrook Junior High, where the jalapeño peppers for the pizza come from.

Prairie Grass chefs/co-owners Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris specialize in locally-grown, fresh stuff. It takes about six minutes to get the junior high peppers over to the restaurant, and you can’t get much more fresh or local than that.

But it’s more than a symbolic supply. The restaurant has teamed with the district for more than a decade, trying to teach the kids about food. They frequently talk with the junior high kids about outside-the-cardboard-box nourishment, and hold healthy-cooking classes for the kids and their parents.

The chefs were the stars at a benefit dinner that raised $5,000 to start the garden last year.

“I think it’s really important for the kids to know where their food comes from,” Stegner said.

Stegner made the District 28 Jalapeño, Sungold Tomato & Carmelized Onion Jam that’s the heart of the pizza using the peppers and tiny sweet tomatoes that are nearly as fresh.

“These are the weeks to be a chef, when everything is coming in,” she said. “I’m like a kid in a candy store.”

Prairie Grass, a James Beard Foundation Award winner that concentrates on healthier and fresher food, attracts a certain kind of trade.

“Our number one customer is the gardener,” Stegner said.

At the Northbrook Junior High garden, the students planted the peppers – and a lot of other vegetables – in May, and summer school students tended the plots. Some of the produce goes home, but most to the Northfield Township Food Pantry.

Now, District 28 families are volunteering to work a week at a time in the garden.

Stephanie and Noel Johnston worked a recent “adopt-a-garden” week at the garden, with their kids Cassie, 10, and Kyle, 11.

“I tried at home, and just killed everything,” Stephanie Johnston said.

It’s a big difference in the District 28 garden run by part-time farmer Lauren Levinson, a DePaul sustainable urban development graduate student who grew up in Northbrook. About two dozen kinds of vegetables and fruits are growing up to look like the pictures on seed packets in her garden, with no pesticides or chemicals.

“We just look up a natural way to do it,” Levinson said.

She doesn’t tilt at windmills, however.

“We had some dinosaur kale that just got shredded by the bugs,” she said.

“So we don’t have it anymore.”

Noel Johnson picked some beans while walking the family dog. That was, he maintained, somewhat of an accomplishment.

“I can barely pick them at the grocery store.”

Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris’ District 28 Jalapeño, Sungold Tomato & Caramelized Onion Jam Ingredients: 2 cups thinly sliced onions (They use tropeo onions) 1/2 cup finely diced jalapeño peppers – seeds and ribs removed 1 cup sungold cherry tomatoes – quartered 2 Tbs. + 1 Tbs. olive oil (separated) Salt Method: In a large saute pan over medium-low heat, cook the onions with 2 Tbs. of the olive oil and a dash of salt for 20 to 25 minutes or until caramelized. In a separate pan, saute the jalapeño dice over medium heat in 1 Tbs. of olive oil until tender. Add the sungold tomatoes and cook an additional two to three minutes. Fold in the caramelized onions and stir until incorporated. For pizza: spread on flatbread, and add dollops of goat cheese or mozzarella with crumbled bacon

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