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.

Another Unseasonal Dish, or What To Do With Leftovers.

Okay, here’s a confession.  I try to be as good as possible with leftovers, but reinventing a dish — or using the components in a different way — is an area where I’m not so skilled.  It bothers me, this failing of mine, but at least I’m aware of it, right?  And at least I’ve got friends to help me out.

Melissa was helping me tidy up after Saturday night’s dinner when I asked her, “Is this basil worth saving?”  I had a small bundle of basil ribbons left, but not so small a bunch that I could chuck them without thinking.

“Yes,” she said emphatically.  “There’s so many things you can do.  Toss it with some greens tomorrow, or some pasta.  Or,” she said slowly, an idea clearly forming in her head, “you could make a corn salad.  Use some dressing, some tomatoes, cheese…”

As Melissa spoke more about corn and basil, I began thinking of corn’s sweet crunch and how each bright bite automatically brings to mind the glorious, lazy days of summer — days of humidity as thick as honey, days of sun flowing through densely-leafed trees like lemonade from a pitcher.  Then I turned to the window and looked out into the dark, the glow cast from my well-lit kitchen reflected back at me, and through that I saw the falling powdery snow.

made-up-corn-saladI’m not much for summer or winter — I’m more of a spring/fall girl myself — but right then and there I wanted something to remind me that the cold isn’t around forever.  Since we had just eaten I knew I’d have to wait, so last night I eagerly unloaded my fridge.  Out came a crumbly piece of goat cheese, out came the teeny fistful of shredded basil, out came the leftover vinaigrette Melissa emulsified, out came a lonely unseasonal tomato, out came a slug of butter.  From the freezer I unearthed a small bag of sweet corn, which went into a sauté pan after the melted butter.  Soon corn was all I could smell.  A few short minutes later, I was folding myself into a blanket (which I secured in place with a binder clip, how chic!) and wrapping my cold hands around the corn’s still-toasty bowl.  If I closed my eyes, I could have fooled myself into thinking it was the sun keeping me warm.

Made-Up Corn Salad
Makes two portions

2 cups cooked corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 medium tomato, cored, seeded and chopped
fresh basil chiffonade
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ tablespoon honey
2 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. If you’re using frozen kernels, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat; add corn and hear until warmed through.  Set aside to cool.
  2. In a small bowl, combine vinegar, honey, and salt and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in olive oil until mixture is completely emulsified.
  3. In a larger bowl, combine corn, tomato, basil and goat cheese; drizzle the reserved vinaigrette over the salad, toss and serve.