Three Seasonal Recipes.

Okay, I’ll ‘fess up.  I kind of slacked off on the CSA-writing around here, and for that I’m sorry.  In an act of contrition and apology, I offer you these three much-loved autumnal recipes, at least one of which I hope will rewarm your heart to me.

Are we friends again?

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash + Shallots, from Cooking Light
Makes four portions

3 cups peeled butternut squash, diced into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
8 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
4 ounces uncooked pappardelle (I prefer something like campanelle, as it’s similar in size to the cubed squash)
¼ cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 475°.  Combine the squash, sugar, 2 ½ teaspoons oil, salt, pepper, and shallots in a jelly roll pan; toss well. Bake at 475° for twenty minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in sage.
  2. While the squash mixture bakes, cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. Place cooked pasta in a bowl. Add two teaspoons oil; toss well. Serve the squash mixture over pasta. Sprinkle with cheese.

Sausage + Lentils with Fennel, from Gourmet*
Makes four portions

1 cup dried lentils
4 ½ cups cold water
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 medium (¾-pound) fennel bulb, stalks discarded, reserving fronds
3 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, cut into ¼-inch dice
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 ¼ pounds sweet Italian sausage links
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar, or to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

  1. Bring lentils, water, and ½ teaspoon salt to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender but not falling apart, 12 to 25 minutes.
  2. While lentils simmer, cut fennel bulb into ¼-inch dice and chop enough fennel fronds to measure 2 tablespoons. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then stir in onion, carrot, fennel bulb, fennel seeds, and remaining teaspoon salt. Cover pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, lightly prick sausages in a couple of places with tip of a sharp knife, then cook sausages in remaining ½ tablespoon oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board.
  4. Drain cooked lentils in a sieve set over a bowl and reserve cooking water. Stir lentils into vegetables with enough cooking water to moisten (¼ to ½ cup) and cook over moderate heat until heated through. Stir in parsley, pepper, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon fennel fronds. Season with vinegar and salt.
  5. Cut sausages diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Serve lentils topped with sausage and sprinkled with remaining tablespoon fennel fronds. Drizzle all over with extra-virgin olive oil.

Cream-Braised Green Cabbage, from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
Makes four to six portions

1 small green cabbage (about 1 ½ pounds)
3 tablespoons (1 ½ ounces) unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  1. First, prepare the cabbage. Pull away any bruised leaves, and trim its root end to remove any dirt. Cut the cabbage into quarters, and then cut each quarter in half lengthwise, taking care to keep a little bit of the core in each wedge. (The core will help to hold the wedge intact, so that it doesn’t fall apart in the pan.) You should wind up with 8 wedges of equal size.
  2. In a large (12-inch) skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the cabbage wedges, arranging them in a single crowded layer with one of the cut sides down. Allow them to cook, undisturbed, until the downward facing side is nicely browned and caramelized, 5 to 8 minutes. Then, using a pair of tongs, gently turn the wedges onto their other cut side. When the second side has browned, sprinkle the salt over the wedges, and add the cream. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid, and reduce the heat so that the liquid stays at a slow, gentle simmer.  Cook for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and gently, using tongs, flip the wedges, Cook for another 20 minutes, or until the cabbage is very tender and yields easily when pierced with a thin, sharp knife. Add the lemon juice, and shake the pan to distribute it evenly.
  3. Simmer, uncovered, for a few minutes more to thicken the cream to a glaze that loosely coats the cabbage. Serve immediately, with additional salt at the table.
* RIP.

CSA 2009, Week Eleven: Guest Writer!

Since Keith and I are in Europe and therefore unable to use two weeks of our CSA share, we asked some friends to take over the cooking, eating and writing that comes with our box.  This week, Melissa discusses fennel.  Enjoy!
— Nayiri

I was so excited to be the lucky recipient of one of Keith and Nayiri’s CSA boxes.  I spent the days leading up to the pick-up dreaming about the delicious vegetable goodies it would contain.  I knew tomatoes would be unlikely, but wondered what would be there instead, and would any mini food challenges come in the box, too?

Part of what I’ve really liked about participating in a farm share in the past is the element of surprise and of trying to figure out how to use things I might not normally buy. I have a farm share to thank, for example, for developing my appreciation of hearty greens. I didn’t used to regularly purchase collards or kale or even eat my beet greens prior to getting them in a farm share.  Now, however, I get excited by the possibilities whenever I have them, instead of feeling like “how am I going to use this?!?!”  I could hardly wait to find out what surprises would come this time.

When I finally got to unpack the CSA box, I found it filled with the following:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Cilantro
  • Cucumber
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Japanese eggplant
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Peppers — 1 green, 1 purple, and 1 small red (hot?)
  • Scallions

Melissa's CSAEverything seemed pretty straightforward, except one thing: the bulb of fennel.  Of course, I’ve had fennel seeds (and liked them) in sausages, and over the last few years I’ve even developed a taste for black licorice and anise-flavored things (like pastis or absinthe — which I just found out gets its flavor from both anise and fennel), but my experience with the vegetable-like bulb itself was limited and my memories not terribly fond.  But there it was, in the box.

Never having owned a fennel bulb before, I had no idea what do with it, and maybe even doubted why I would want to. Turning to the cookbook shelf (Who am I kidding? It’s a whole bookcase!), I selected a few I thought might provide some encouragement and curled up on the couch, determined to make use of that bulb.

Most of the things I came across left me uninspired, but when I saw the recipe for this salad, I knew I’d found my answer.  I was going to a friend’s house for small, poolside movie-night and knew (hoped?) this salad would be just the thing I wanted to bring. I mean, it did have two of the most crucial elements for the group: cheese and nuts.  How could it be bad?  Surely Annie Somerville (chef of Greens Restaurant in San Francisco) wouldn’t lead me astray, right?

Fortunately, she didn’t.  The salad was delicious, even with the fennel (maybe because of the fennel?!). Earthy and nutty, buttery and tangy, and just overall fresh tasting, it was enjoyed by everyone at the party — including me.  Score another one for the persuasive powers of the CSA box!
— Melissa

Green Salad with Beets, Fennel, Walnuts + Ricotta Salata, from Everyday Greens by Annie Somerville
Makes four to six portions

Sherry-Walnut Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
2 medium beets, about ½ pound, roasted, peeled, and cut into wedges
Salt and pepper
2 heads of butter lettuce, about 10 cups inner leaves and trimmed outer leaves
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, small sprigs and leaves
½ fennel bulb, core and stalks removed and sliced thin crosswise
1/3 cup walnut pieces, toasted and coarsely chopped
1½  to 2 ounces ricotta salata cheese, 2 to 3 tablespoons

  1. Make the vinaigrette.
  2. Place the cut beets in a small bowl, toss with 1 ½ tablespoons of the vinaigrette, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  3. Wash and dry the lettuce and parsley. Combine the greens, fennel, walnuts, and half the cheese in a large bowl; gently toss with the vinaigrette.
  4. Separate the salad onto individual plates, tucking the beets between the leaves, and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and the remaining cheese.

Sherry-Walnut Vinaigrette
Makes about ½ cup

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 ½ tablespoons sherry vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons walnut oil

Whisk everything but the oils together in a small bowl. Slowly pour in the oils, whisking until emulsified.

CSA 2009, Week Eleven.

Another CSA box, another damn eggplant to use up.*

Eggplant PizzaEven though I love moussaka, even I couldn’t seriously consider making the dish again, less than two weeks apart.  What I did do, though, was my take cue from Guillaume’s recipe, and broiled thin slices of eggplant; rather than layer them with spiced lamb, I overlapped them onto a pizza.  I had a red pepper in the fridge and decided to roast it in order to intensify its flavor.  After topping it all off with some cheese, dinner was all set — and I think it’s safe to say that I have thus conquered the eggplant.

A few things of note about this dish:

  • My mistrust of yeast remains firmly intact.  I have yet to make my own dough, or anything that involves yeast.  Maybe this will change in the future, maybe this won’t.  We shall see.
  • Making your own pizza sauce is easy.  This seems like a good recipe, though one I have not tried.  Please keep me posted if you do.
  • I was crazy to make pizza on such a hot day, and my oven warmed the entire apartment even more.  Please be smarter than me and try it on the grill!

Eggplant + Roasted Red Pepper Pizza
Makes six to eight portions

1 pre-made pizza crust
½ cup pizza sauce
1 red pepper
1 eggplant, thinly sliced
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup Parmesan, grated
½ cup loosely packed basil leaves
Olive oil

  1. Roast pepper.  If you’re using a gas stove, turn the flame up to high and place the pepper directly over fire, otherwise use oven’s broiler.  Using tongs, rotating the pepper occasionally, until the pepper’s skin blisters and blackens all over.  Transfer the roasted pepper to a paper bag; crimp the bag shut and allow the pepper to steam inside, then cool down.
  2. While the pepper cools, broil eggplant slices.  Turn broiler on high.  Lightly oil a baking sheet; garlic-infused oil is particularly nice, but not necessary.  Arrange as many eggplant slices as can fit over the surface of the baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Broil for five minutes six to eight inches from heat.  Remove from baking sheet to a plate, and repeat as needed until all the eggplant slices are done.
  3. Preheat oven to 450°; when the temperature is reached, prebake the pizza crust.  If you’re using pizza dough, roll it out on the baking sheet you used for the eggplant, otherwise plop down the pizza crust onto the sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it begins to turn golden and crisp up just a bit.  Move the baking sheet to the top of the stove or onto a trivet to cool.
  4. Remove the roasted pepper from the bag and use a knife to scrape its skin off.  Cut off the stem, slice the pepper open lengthwise and use your knife to scrape out seeds.  Julienne the pepper and set aside.
  5. Spread pizza sauce over the crust with a spoon.  Top with eggplant slices, mozzarella, red pepper and Parmesan. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until the crust is a uniform golden brown. Sprinkle with basil before serving.
* The rest of our box contained cilantro, cucumber, collards, fennel, garlic, parsley, potatoes, salad mix, sweet onion and tendersweet cabbage.

CSA 2009, Week Ten.

Here’s a little secret about me, from my lips to your ears: I hate eggplant.  I know I’m supposed to like it — the same way I’m supposed to like asparagus — but non, je le déteste.

That said, it comes as a surprise to me — and, maybe, now to you too — that I love moussaka.  It’s creamy and rich and at once savory and sweet…  So imagine my delight when, earlier this summer, Keith and I were invited to Alyssa and Guillaume’s house for moussaka dinner.

“We’re in the mood to cook,” Alyssa wrote to me in an email, “and we’re thinking moussaka.  We have lots of beer and prosecco,” she further enticed, not knowing I was already all-in.

It was this meal I had in mind when I opened my CSA box this week and encountered a massive, teardrop-shaped eggplant, alongside the following:

  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Dill
  • Garlic
  • Green tomatoes
  • Jalepeño
  • Purple pepper
  • Salad mix
  • Sweet onion
  • Yellow beans

With a little wheedling, I was able to get Guillaume’s recipe, which I am sharing with you all here.  Traditionally, moussaka is layers of sautéed sliced eggplant and ground lamb flavored with herbs, garlic, onion and tomato snuggling together underneath a nice blanket of béchamel.  (When I was in Spain several years ago, someone described moussaka as “Greek lasagna,” which I found both funny and oddly apt.)  Guillaume shortcuts the béchamel with a cream-cheese-and-milk sauce that works surprisingly well.

Guillaume’s Moussaka
Makes four portions

6 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lamb
½ cup red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 ½ cups canned crushed tomatoes in thick purée (15 ounce can)
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh-ground black pepper
1 eggplant (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into ¼ inch slices
4 ounces cream cheese
¼ cup milk
¼ cup grated Parmesan

  1. Heat the broiler.  In a large stainless-steel frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over moderate heat.  Add the onion and garlic; cook until starting to soften, about 3 minutes.  Add the lamb and cook until the meat loses its pink color, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the wine, tomato paste, tomatoes, bay leaf, cinnamon, allspice, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat.  Simmer, covered for 10 minutes.
  2. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with the remaining 5 tablespoons oil and season with 1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper.  Put the eggplant slices on a large baking sheet and broil, 6 inches from the heat, until browned about 5 minutes.  Turn and broil until browned on the other side, about 5 minutes longer.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine cream cheese, milk, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper.  Warm over low heat until just melted.
  4. Oil an 8-by-8-inch baking dish.  Layer half the eggplant in the dish, then half the meat sauce.  Sprinkle with half the Parmesan.  Repeat with the remaining eggplant, meat sauce, and Parmesan.  Spoon half the cream cheese sauce on top; broil until just starting to brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

CSA 2009, Week Nine.

This may come as a surprise to you, but sometimes I hate my CSA box.  Each week, Keith brings it home and  I scamper over to see the contents within, and while I am mostly excited, sometimes me heart sinks at the sight of such things as the overwhelmingly intimidating kohlrabi and yet another bundle of irritatingly cheerful carrots.  I lean towards the gloom and doom, friends, and there are moments when a bright orange carrot can be downright scowl-worthy, what with its incessant merry disposition and sweet sweet sunny crunch.

Bah to you, Carrot.  BAH!

CSA basilWhen I’m in a mood like this, basil is more to my liking; I need its zesty and licorice-y bite, and I positively relish the fact that such an ordinary-looking bouquet of green leaves can posses such a knockout punch of spice.

So when Keith hefted our pounds of produce on the counter this week, I was zanily* happy to see a sneaky bunch of basil sitting atop a cluster of carrots, very much looking like a conquering hero in my crazy little mind.

The rest of the box overflowed with the following:

  • Garlic
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi (grr)
  • Lettuce
  • Scallions
  • Summer squash
  • Tomato (a single, happy tomato, which did not turn me into more of a grouch, since we all know I love them)
  • Wax beans

'Thai Style' BeefTomatoes-and-basil are one of those holy pairings like milk-and-cookies, mac-and-cheese, fries-and-mayo… and I knew my grumpiness would be assuaged by the familiarity of the two, but not if I threw them together into something boringly predictable like a bruschetta or a Caprese salad.  That would only sour me further, like milk left out in the sun.  So instead I turned to the below recipe, which added asparagus, beef and lime to the mix.

A quick word on asparagus: I may get some grief for this, but I’ll freely admit I’m not its biggest fan.  I mostly eat it exclusively in soup form, with tons of cream, though I always am tempted to try it again.  Maybe this will be when I like it, I say to myself.  Maybe I’ve only had bad asparagus, I reason.  Each time though, I’m disappointed.  What is it about this stalky plant that causes people — most notably the French — to go mad with desire?  What am I not getting?

This, it turns out, is what I’m not getting.  This, all of you out there, is this dish for asparaphobes.

The tomato and basil aren’t that bad either.

Thai Basil Beef with Rice Noodles, from Cooking Light
Makes four  portions

8 cups water
1 pound flank steak, trimmed of fat
¼ teaspoon salt
1 pound fresh asparagus, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
4 ounces wide bánh pho rice stick noodles
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
½ teaspoon Thai red curry paste
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (or a good-sized seeded tomato or two)
½ cup thinly sliced fresh basil

  1. Heat a large grill pan over medium-high heat.  While pan heats, bring water to a boil in a large saucepan.
  2. Add steak to grill pan; grill 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Sprinkle steak with salt. Cut steak across grain into thin slices.
  3. While steak cooks, add asparagus to boiling water; cook 2 minutes. Remove asparagus with a slotted spoon. Add noodles to boiling water; cook 3 minutes or until done. Drain; rinse well. Cut noodles into smaller pieces; place in a medium bowl.
  4. While noodles cook, combine sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and curry paste in a large bowl. Add one-half of lime mixture to medium bowl with noodles; toss to coat. Add steak, asparagus, tomatoes, and basil to remaining lime mixture in large bowl; toss to combine. Serve steak mixture over noodles.
* Is this is a word?  No?  It should be.

CSA 2009, Week Eight.

When I was younger, I had subscriptions to the sorts of magazines that had personality tests for everything — “What Kind of Girlfriend Are You?”, “Are You a Pushover?”, etc. — but my favorites by far were the ones whose purpose was to determine the best perfume for me.  I never ended up with the right scents (I loathe patchouli) but the results never bothered me because I’ve always known what my favorite fragrance is: tomatoes on the vine.

TomatoesThey smell so amazing, don’t they, tomatoes and their plants?  Spicy and peppery, they just typify summer to me, and their presence in my kitchen is something I look forward to all year.  Of course, the summer of 2009 is going to be one of fresh, local tomato shortages, a direct result of the late blight.

Completely aggressive and destructive, the blight has almost totally annihilated The Food Project‘s potato and tomato crop — though, apparently, the Colorado Potato Beetle had already taken out a lot of the plants out in Lincoln.  We’ve been promised green tomatoes in the near future, and while I am excited to receive some sort of tomato, and even though I keep on thinking about gift horses and mouths, I kind of just want a proper red tomato.  I don’t think stamping my foot is going to get me far, so I’ll just settle for what was in our box this week:

  • Asian eggplant
  • Collard greens
  • Dill
  • Green beans
  • Green garlic
  • New potatoes
  • Salad mix
  • Spicy salad mix with arugula and mizuna
  • Tomatoes

These three tomatoes, dewy with condensation from the humidity in the air, were like treasure to me — which is why I ate them over the sink, raw, their juices running down my chin and wrists.  If I could have, I would’ve figured out a way to savor them more, especially considering these will most likely be the final burst of tomato-y-ness I’ll experience for a while…  which is why I took a snapshot.  You know what they say: pictures last longer.

CSA 2009, Week Seven.

I’ve always had incredibly vivid dreams, so much so that when I wake up, it takes me a second to figure out what exactly is going on and where I am.  Sometimes I dream about the places I’ve been, sometimes I dream about things I’ve made up, and sometimes I dream about things that are just flat-out strange.*

Still, imagine my surprise when last night I dreamed about loading the dishwasher.  It was very Rachel Getting Married, minus the competition.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my dishwasher and I actually do enjoy loading it in the most efficient way possible — a little obsessive quirk of mine, I guess — but it literally made me sit up in bed and wonder just why I was dreaming about something so ridiculous, especially when I could be dreaming about something so luscious… like my CSA box.

This week, Keith brought home the following:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Tomatoes

Parsley PestoReally, shouldn’t I have had visions of carrots dancing through my head, rather than dirty dishes and soap foam?  If not my carrot bunch, then perhaps my bundle of parsley, that often overlooked but lovely herb.

Parsley is most commonly used as a garnish, or as something to chop and sprinkle over a dish at the last minute, but that wasn’t enough for me.  I really wanted to showcase these little green leaves and their crisp, fresh flavor, so I thought a pesto would be the way to go.

Traditionally pesto is made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan, but I didn’t want to merely substitute parsley for basil.  Basil is so strong an herb that it can easily run alongside all those additional flavors, but parsley is much milder.  I knew I wanted to keep the garlic in there (unfortunately negating parsley’s ability to give a diner nice breath), and clearly the olive oil needed to stay in the mix, but didn’t think cheese was necessary — something I never thought I’d say.  I decided to toss in a handful of slivered almonds for a little heft, as well as a squirt of lemon juice for additional brightness.  Because I knew I wasn’t going to eat my pesto straightaway, I spooned it all into a labeled freezer bag; later in the year, on a particularly gloomy day, I’ll mix it into a potato salad or spoon it over some tortellini to remind me of summer.

Parsley Pesto
Makes a bit less than one cup, which is plenty for a pound of pasta or potatoes

2 packed cups parsley leaves
1 small clove of garlic
¼ to ½ cup of olive oil, depending on the texture you desire
¼ cup slivered almonds
juice of half a lemon
salt

Blitz the parsley, garlic, almonds and pinch of salt in the bowl of a food processor or blender, dribbling the olive oil slowly through the feed tube.  You will need to stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula or spoon, but continue processing until you’ve used up all the oil.  Gradually add in the lemon juice and mix until completely combined.

* I can’t even get into it.  Trust me.