Just over a week ago, a bit of magic filled the air in a special place called Prosper, N.D., as nearly 200 people gathered in the middle of a field to celebrate the third annual Banquet in a Field, hosted by CommonGround North Dakota at Peterson Farms Seed.

Tony and I have had the privilege of participating in this event as guest chefs since its inception, and we never cease to be amazed by the wonderful things that can happen when we collaborate with the hard-working farmers, ranchers and agricultural educators who live and work right here in the Red River Valley.

Beneath a bright blue August sky, 120 city-dwelling guests mingled with dozens of volunteers from North Dakota's farming and ranching sectors to learn more about our state's greatest asset, its agriculture. They had the opportunity to walk among a dozen plots where various crops were growing as they feasted on specialties inspired by North Dakota's top crops, like sunflower brittle, corn fritters, minty pea pesto, edamame salad, candied bacon and honey ice cream.

For many of our guests, this was their first visit, ever, to a farm. They were delighted to be able to view the crops up close, touch them with their hands and visit with an expert to discover how each crop was used to create the foods we find in our pantries and refrigerators. Most were unaware of the depth of North Dakota's agricultural prowess, and were impressed to learn that our state leads the nation in the production of more than a dozen crops.

Today's recipe for a colorful Summer Slaw features a variety of fresh garden vegetables tossed in a light Italian dressing made with canola oil. North Dakota is the leading producer of canola in the country, and canola oil is considered to be one of the healthiest choices for cooking. It's a great source for monounsaturated fats, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, and is excellent for use in salads, baking and frying.

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The evening went off without a hitch, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the talented team from North Dakota State University's College of Animal Sciences, who not only provided the meat for the dinner, but expertly manned the grill with wide smiles, even in the 90-degree heat. We have been honored to work alongside them for the past three years, and were positively dazzled by the amazing pulled lamb and beef tri-tip roast they prepared. Don't be surprised if you find these recipes featured here soon.

Our servers were volunteers from the Future Farmers of America, who were joined for the first time this year by members of local 4-H chapters. Every year, Tony and I look forward to working with these young people, who display a professionalism and maturity beyond their years. They look you square in the eye as they introduce themselves with a firm handshake and a smile, and then ask how they can be of service. They work tirelessly throughout the evening, attending to our guests' needs, running food and dishes back and forth, and even washing dishes. They are the next generation of farmers and ranchers, and there is no way this event could happen without them.

Banquet in a Field was created to bridge the gap between people outside the world of agriculture and the folks who work within it, with the hope of building meaningful connections that will extend beyond the dinner.

Tony and I are grateful for the friends we've made in the world of agriculture, and if you would like to make a similar connection, please feel welcome to send me an email. I will do my best to connect you with a local farmer or rancher this harvest season, which is what it's all about.

Banquet in a Field Summer Slaw

Ingredients:

1 medium-size zucchini, cut into julienne strips

1 medium-size yellow squash, cut into julienne strips

2 red bell peppers, cut into julienne strips

Half a head of red cabbage, sliced

For Italian herb dressing:

¼ cup canola oil

1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon granulated garlic

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

To make the dressing, whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl, until emulsified (combined), about 1 minute. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Set aside and prepare the vegetables.To julienne the zucchini and squash, using a sharp knife, cut each end off and then cut each vegetable in half. Stand one half up on a cutting board and slice downwards into ¼-inch slices. Stack the slices and then cut lengthwise into julienne strips about ¼-inch thick. Cut the red pepper and cabbage to match the size and width of the julienned squash.In a large bowl, pour dressing over all veggies and use your hands or tongs to mix thoroughly. Taste and add more seasoning if desired.Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Tony's Tip

  • The key to this slaw is the uniformly cut julienne vegetables. For large batches, to save time you can use a julienne blade with your food processor or a mandolin to quickly slice the vegetables.

Banquet in a Field Summer Slaw with fresh zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper, red cabbage and Itaian herb vinaigrette.David Samson / The Forum
Banquet in a Field Summer Slaw with fresh zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper, red cabbage and Itaian herb vinaigrette.David Samson / The Forum

"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 11-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.