Eat Your View: Agriturismo Dinners at Gigi Market
“I was in love with this spot for so many years,” says restaurateur and cookbook author Laura Pensiero, referring to Greig Farm in Red Hook, and its bright red 19th-century barn. Since 2006, the barn has been home to Gigi Market – a gourmet shop and casual café that feels like the offspring of a union between a farm stand and Dean & Deluca – a rustic-chic complement to Pensiero’s popular Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck.
Thinking back, Pensiero recalls, “I was nervous opening up the farm. I felt like doing so was crazy, and I questioned my sanity from time to time.”
Her sanity was confirmed by the venture’s success; Gigi Market has won a loyal following with its mix of fresh-from-the-field produce; local and imported cheeses; meat and poultry from neighboring farms; prepared foods; artisanal food products; and imported private-label gourmet items, such as Gigi Olive Oil and Gigi Sicilian Salt. The café serves simple breakfast, lunch, and Sunday brunch. She herself is among the market’s patrons. “I love that I can walk here every day,” says Pensiero, who lives down the road. “My customers see me here. I shop here, they see with a basket of food, standing in line next to them, paying with my credit card.”
Now Pensiero has given Gigi Market a new twist: family-style prix-fixe Agriturismo dinners on Saturday and Sunday evenings, for a true farm-to-table experience.
The word agriturismo stems from a travel trend that arose in Italy in the 1950s, a blend of tourism and agriculture. Farmers would take in tourists who wanted to experience country living first-hand; the tourists could participate in light farm work or food preparation, then share in a family meal based on the day’s harvest. Pensiero’s take is slightly different: the ingredients are harvested that day from surrounding farms, but dinner guests won’t have to do the picking themselves.
That’s left to the farmers, most within five miles of Gigi Market, that Chef Mark Fredette relies upon to build his menu for each night’s dinner. Among the local farms that provide ingredients, in addition to Greig Farm, are Hearty Roots Farm, Migliorelli Farm, Paisley Farm, and Northwind Farms. Says Pensiero, in photo below with Fredette, “Chef is out there in the morning talking to the farmers, his menus are completely driven by what’s available. He shops in the early morning and the menus are posted that afternoon”
Pensiero hired Fredette as Gigi Market’s chef in spring, and she views him as a perfect fit. “He brings something new to the company,” she says. “His background in Italian food is exciting.” Trained at the CIA, Fredette – who also serves as Gigi Hudson Valley’s catering chef – manned the kitchen at some of Boston’s top Italian eateries, such as La Brace and Bricco.
Fredette’s hearty, Mediterranean-style Agriturismo dinners, served in a mix of brightly colored pottery, begin with antipasti of marinated and pickled local vegetables plus house-cured meats and Hudson Valley cheeses. For the main course there’s always a choice of a meat dish – such as cornish hen or roasted poussin – or a vegetarian option, such as English pea risotto or, recently, a dish based on eggplant from nearby Mead Orchards in Tivoli. The meal includes two vegetable side dishes; contorni on a recent evening included ratatouille and garlic confit poached carrots. Dessert is kept simple, typically a seasonal fruit cobbler or tart. The menu notes the provenance of all fresh ingredients. “No two nights are the same,” Pensiero explains. “But it’s always fresh from the farm and served with love.” Indeed, one can almost hear an Italian grandma urging, “Mangia, mangia.”
Serve-yourself iced tea and coffee are included with the meal ($32; $10 for children). The wine list is short and wallet-friendly, with a half-carafe of house wine, white or red, for $9 and a full carafe for $19. Beer is also available ($6-8). Service is chatty, pleasant, and Italian-style mellow. With no one rushing the check, a meal can stretch past the two-hour mark, though diners planning to take in a performance at Bard can easily finish in less time.
It’s a pleasure to linger, however, in the comfortable, charming environment Pensiero has created for the Agriturismo dinners. Soft-spoken though she may be, she has an unflinching eye for detail, as evinced by the fashionable marais chairs paired with wooden farm tables, each of which is graced by a bouquet of wildflowers.
With a little advance notice, Agriturismo dinners can be private and romantic; simply request a solo table set on the stone patio overlooking the bucolic green pastures. There you can enjoy not only a verdant view of the 500-acre Greig Farm and beyond, but also, perhaps, an encounter with the baby goats that roam the property. (Drop a quarter in the old-fashioned feed dispenser if you want to lure them closer.)
Pensiero says she had originally planned to offer Agriturismo dinners only through at the end of harvest season in October, but given the positive response she has decided to continue through December and see how it goes from there. “If the phone keeps ringing, we’ll go through the holidays.” And the phones are ringing; reservations are strongly recommended.
A native of Cold Spring, NY, and a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, Penisero briefly lived in Italy, and heads back there every year for inspiration. She feels the simplicity of her Agriturismo meals keeps the focus on the food. “More choices doesn’t mean better food,” she says. “You get what the farm has. It really converts people to different flavors, especially when you have it the day it was picked. That changes everything.” — Dale Stewart