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Annual event opens eyes to N.D. role in global agriculture

This plot of land features field peas, which were used to create the Split Pea Pesto served at Banquet in a Field. Photo courtesy Betsy Armour / Special to The Forum1 / 5
One dish served at Banquet in a Field included grilled North Dakota beef tri sirloin cap steak and locally grown yellow squash. Photo courtesy Betsy Armour / Special to The Forum2 / 5
Emma Saewert from the Central Cass FFA Chapter helps serve pulled lamb sliders to event attendees. Photo courtesy Betsy Armour / Special to The Forum3 / 5
Banquet in a Field is an event sponsored by CommonGround North Dakota that brings together community members, farmers and ranchers in an effort to build awareness about North Dakota's role in global agriculture. Photo courtesy Betsy Armour / Special to The Forum4 / 5
The fourth annual Banquet in a Field featured recipes made with locally grown products and created by Tony and Sarah Nasello of The Lost Italian. Photo courtesy Betsy Armour / Special to The Forum5 / 5

Earlier this month, Tony and I participated in the Fourth Annual Banquet in a Field, hosted by Carl and Julie Peterson at Peterson Farms Seed in rural Cass County. We have been the guest chefs for this event since it began, and back then we could count on one hand the number of farmers we knew personally. The only crops we could confidently identify were corn, sunflowers and wheat and neither of us had ever visited a working farm.

While we were certainly aware that agriculture was important in North Dakota, we had no idea of North Dakota's significance to the world of agriculture. We were exactly the kind of people this event was designed for: food consumers with little to no relationship to, or knowledge of, agriculture.

Banquet in a Field is sponsored by CommonGround North Dakota, a volunteer group of farmers and ranchers who share a desire to build stronger connections to people outside the world of agriculture. The banquet provides an ideal setting for these two groups to sit down and have a conversation.

The banquet takes place smack dab in the middle of a field, surrounded on one side by a seemingly endless field of soybeans, and on the other by a dozen or so small plots that were planted specifically for the event.

These small plots represent some of North Dakota's top crops, and this year included durum and red hard spring wheat, barley, flax, corn, soybeans, sugar beets, sunflowers, canola, field peas, black beans and potatoes.

This week's featured recipe is Split Pea Pesto, which we served spread over whole wheat crostini, and other recipes from the banquet are available on our blog at www.thelostitalian.areavoices.com.

In addition to the plant crops, honey, dairy, beef, lamb and pork are also prominently featured at the banquet. Throughout the evening, our guests have the opportunity to walk among the plots, visit with a farmer or rancher, and enjoy dishes we've made to represent each crop.

Each year we partner with dozens of CommonGround volunteers and helpers to create an unforgettable farm to table experience for our guests. The beef, pork and lamb were provided and prepared by the talented team of grill masters from NDSU's Animal Sciences department, and this event could not exist without their participation.

Our good friend and chef, Ben Walker, worked with us throughout the evening to ensure that the food is not only delicious, but beautiful. Our servers for the evening were volunteers from the Kindred and Casselton chapters of Future Farmers of America (FFA). These young people are the next generation of farmers and ranchers, and every year we are inspired by their strong work ethic, professionalism and enthusiasm for this event.

Agriculture is the bedrock of our state, and Banquet in a Field has become a highlight of our summers. I am grateful for the bounty that North Dakota agriculture has brought to my family, not just in the foods we eat, but in the friendships we've forged.

Banquet in a Field Split Pea Pesto

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients:

½ cup split peas, green or yellow

2 cups water

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted (may be omitted for nut-free version)

2 cups fresh basil

1 cup fresh parsley

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

½ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup canola oil

Directions:

in a small saucepan, boil split peas over high heat. Reduce to low and cover the pan; simmer until peas are tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Drain and rinse the cooked peas, then transfer to the bowl of a large food processor.

Add all of the remaining ingredients, except the canola oil, and pulse 10 to 12 times until combined. With the processor running, slowly add the oil through the feeder tube, maintaining a steady stream until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to pulse until mixture reaches a smooth consistency.

Serve as a sauce for pasta or as a topping for crostini, bread and crackers. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for at least two months.

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