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.

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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.

CSA 2009, Weeks Five + Six.

If this past month was any indication of what the summer has in store for me, I’m doomed.  No, I don’t mean Boston’s wonky June weather; I mean my inability to get around to using my CSA vegetables as soon as possible because I’ve been too damn busy. First a chunk of my family arrives in town, insisting on taking us out for multiple meals and monopolizing my time; then Marcella comes to visit for a week of shopping, rainstorms and restaurant explorations.  When’s a girl supposed to find time to put her produce to use during all of that?

CSA 5So, as with weeks two and three of my CSA, I’m combining weeks five and six into one post.  I did manage to take a photograph of week five’s haul, as I normally do, but I’ve decided the time has come yet again for me to instead snap shots of items on their own.  The boxes’ contents haven’t yet gotten so huge that they can’t all squish together into the frame, but I’ve gotten so eager to get everything out and washed and sorted that I honestly forget most of the time, and then have to toss the vegetables back together at the last minute for their line-up, which leaves me feeling stressed for neglecting to remember in the first place.

Here’s the list of five and six’s harvest:

  • Baby beets
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots (both weeks)
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Garlic scapes
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Napa cabbage
  • New potatoes
  • Red giant mustard greens
  • Salad mix with arugula
  • Scallions
  • Summer squash

CSA 6These lovely little potatoes were part of week six’s booty; it’s never a challenge to figure out what to do with a potato, isn’t it?  You can jazz up a mash by turning it into colcannon, bake thin slices of potato onto a cheesy pizza, comfort yourself with a bowl of soup.  Then, of course, here’s countless frittatas to make and frites to fry, and there’s nothing easier than sticking a foil-wrapped one into the oven to bake. The potato is really an incredibly versatile ingredient.

Warm Potato Salad with(out) Crème FraîcheLast night, I decided to boil the potatoes and make a warm salad to go alongside the lamb chops I was planning to broil for our dinner.  These little guys were so tender and delicate that some of their skins had rubbed off when I washed them clean of dirt and grit, so I knew that I could just toss them as is into a pot of water to boil.

Like I said, the potato — charming and lovable as it is — is easy.  Almost no thought at all is required when it comes to preparing a few.  The rest of my vegetables were another story.

Frozen vegetable stockI found myself wondering, Would it be chickening out a bit to turn most of what I received into stock, rather than figuring out what to do with my highly-intimidating kohlrabi? After debating with my self for a good while, I convinced myself that there was nothing wrong with throwing some of my more complicated produce into my stockpot with several cups of water, some seasoning and some herbs.  (For a more detailed and specific recipe, look at this.)  You always need vegetable stock, I reasoned, not to mention store-bought is basically salted vegetable-esque water…  which is why I now have something like eighteen cups of stock in Ziploc bags stacked in my fridge.

Maybe it was cheating, making stock.  Then again, it’ll be a while before my flavorful frozen supply runs out, so I’m happy.

Warm Potato Salad with(out) Crème Fraîche, from Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice  Waters
Makes six portions

1 ½ pounds new potatoes (Alice says to use Bintje)
2 shallots
¾ cup cream (I used milk; it was what I had on hand)
salt and pepper
½ cup crème fraîche (which I omitted, since I didn’t have any on hand, and replaced with Greek yogurt, which is far healthier anyway)
sherry vinegar

  1. Boil the potatoes in their skins until tender; drain.  When they are cool enough to handle, cut them into ¼-inch slices.
  2. Peel and dice the shallots fine, and put them in a small pan with the cream.  Season with salt and pepper and warm gently; the trick here is to slowly soften the shallots without reducing the cream.  When the shallots have softened, then take them off the heat and stir in the crème fraîche.
  3. When you are ready to serve the salad, put the potatoes in the cream mixture, add a splash or two of sherry vinegar to taste, and warm again gently.  Correct the seasoning and serve garnished with freshly ground black pepper.

CSA 2009, Week Four.

CSA 4Normally I’m not much for clichés but you know what they say: it’s a cliché because it’s true.  Well, you know that one about time flying?  I’ve seen it in action, friends, most recently with my CSA box.

It’s only week four of CSA season, and already I’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of produce Keith has been bringing home from our pick-up spot.  This week we had mostly leafy greens that I’ll be tossing into assorted salads, but soon we’ll be eating peppers, melons, cucumbers, potatoes, onions and eggplants.  I can’t wait, though our haul this week happily was made up of the following:

  • Arugula
  • Carrots
  • Garlic scapes
  • Lettuce
  • Rainbow chard
  • Salad mix with red lettuce, green leaf lettuce and tat soi
  • Summer squash

cous cous w. feta + chick peasThose green tendrils curling like pigs’ tails in the upper right corner of the box are garlic scapes, something I love.  How could I not, considering that I generally tend to double a recipe’s suggested amount of garlic?  Scapes are much milder than their grown-up siblings (Do you consider garlic to be masculine or feminine?  Or am I the only one out there that anthromorphizes her vegetables?  Excluding speakers, of course, certain languages that have gender-specific nouns. But back to the matter at hand…) so I had no qualms about chopping them fine and then dumping them into my couscous.

The following recipe is perhaps one of the easiest I’ve ever made, and the end results are fantastic, scapes or no.  It’s a perfect dinner for when the warm weather finally hits Boston — if it ever does — as the only hot ingredient you need is water.

Couscous with Chick Peas + Feta Cheese, adapted from The American Heart Association’s Low-Calorie Cookbook
Makes six portions *

2/3 cup uncooked couscous, preferably whole wheat
1 1/3 cups boiling water
juice of 1 medium-sized lemon (though I love lemon, so none of mine are medium-sized)
1 15-ounce can of chick peas, drained
1 large bell pepper (I used red, but any color is fine)
½ cup finely-chopped fresh basil leaves
½ cup finely-chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced (I used my six beautiful scapes, chopped)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled

  1. Pour the couscous into a large heatproof bowl, then pour the water and lemon juice over the couscous.  Let the mixture sit for about fifteen minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  2. Add the chick peas; stir.  Add bell peppers, basil, parsley and garlic.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with feta; stir.  Salt and pepper to taste.  May be served at room temperature, or chilled.
* 298 calories per 1 ½ cup serving, in case you were wondering.