Sunday, July 4, 2010

From Farm to Table

When we joined the Stillman's Farm CSA this season, I had lovely illusions of the glorious, farm-fresh vegetables that I was going to incorporate -- to great success, of course -- in all of my cooking.

But we weren't at all prepared for the reality of getting weekly a mystery box of unlabeled greens, dirt-encrusted beets, and seemingly inexhaustible supply of summer squash.  In fact, when my husband first picked up the box, he declared its contents "nasty" and shoved all of it into the fridge.  Then again, he eats Hot Pockets for breakfast, so he's really not the arbiter of what constitutes gorgeous, fresh produce.

So for the last few weeks, I've been scouring my brain and the internet for ways to use the mystery box veggies to make tasty dishes that even Hot Pocket Man will want to eat.  Here are three preparations I'm currently digging (get it?  digging?  hah!).

CRISPY KALE: At first I was flummoxed by the huge bunches of kale we've been getting in each week's farm share.  But then I discovered the unbelievable deliciousness that is crispy kale, and now I can't get enough of kale.

It's easy to make the kale awesome: Wash the kale and dry it thoroughly (very important -- otherwise it'll steam).  In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 or 400.  (The higher the temperature, the closer you'll have to keep an eye on the kale to ensure it doesn't burn.)  Tear off the kale leaves into medium-sized chunks, taking care to remove the tough stem.  Put the leaves on a baking sheet and toss them lightly by hand with good quality olive oil.  You want to have good coverage, but you don't want to make the leaves soggy with too much oil.  Place the baking sheet in the oven for 5-8 minutes, until the leaves start to be crispy.  Then season the leaves with salt, paprika, pepper, garlic powder, etc. (use your imagination!) to taste and put the leaves back into the oven for a few more minutes, keeping an eye on them to make sure they get crispy without getting burned.  Take leaves out of the oven, try to keep your hands off them while they cool (it's going to be hard because they're so delicious), then put into a bowl and snack to your heart's delight.

ROASTED BEETS: We've been getting stunning golden, red, and chirroga beets.  Scrubbing the dirt off them takes a bit of work, but beyond that all that one needs to do to make them delicious is to chop off the greens, wrap the beets in foil, and roast them in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour.  Once they cool, the skin strips off easily.  All that's left to do is to slice them up, drizzle them with olive oil and a touch of champagne or muscat vinegar, and then top with feta cheese.  Sweet, pretty, and easy!

As for the beet greens, I've been sauteeing them with some Maggi, sesame oil, and shallots.  I'm not sure I love this preparation.  If you have any recommendations for inventive ways to use beet greens, please please please let me know.  I don't like to waste produce, and I hate wasting calories, however few of them, on bad food.

SQUASH: Summer squash is yummy, but the sheer number of zucchinis, yellow squashes, and patty pans we've been getting is turning them into the bane of my existence.  I've been putting them on the grill, chopping them up into salads, and slicing them with my mandoline into thin, noodle-like strips and sauteeing them with a bit of butter or olive oil. 

And still there are more of them in our fridge.

But then I came up with a way to use up a lot of them at the same time: squash soup.  I took five assorted squash, cubed them, and roasted them, along with one head of garlic, until they got a bit of color.  In the meantime, I sauteed in butter one red onion and a handful of aromatics from the garden (dill, tarragon, sage).  Once the onion became translucent, I added the roasted squash and garlic, sauteed all the goodness for a few minutes, then added vegetable broth.

I allowed the medley to simmer for 10-15 minutes and then processed the soup in batches in our blender. I like the soup with a bit of graininess, so that you can still feel the texture of the vegetables.  But if you prefer a smoother mouthfeel, you can put the processed soup through a strainer.  I then added a bit of curry powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper to taste.

I served it with grilled green onions and a spoonful of Greek yogurt.  It was filling, yet refreshing and fresh-tasting.  Hot Pocket Man, who had rejected my previous night's squash noodle creation, loved the soup and practically licked the bowl.

Of course, there are still five more squash in the produce bin, so if you have any additional delicious suggestions for how to use them, please let me know!

Are you part of a CSA?  How have you been using your mystery box ingredients?


Cathleya July 5, 2010 at 12:08 AM  

I so desperately want to join a csa but we're traveling too much at the moment to really take advantage. A co op recently opened in our neighborhood where you work at the store and then get access to local produce at a good price and I'm considering joining that. I love all the creative yummy solutions you came up with for your veggies!

Busylizzy July 5, 2010 at 1:34 AM  

This is the only way I would eat Zucchini as a kid (now I like it a lot)

bailie marie July 5, 2010 at 7:15 AM  

Not exactly healthy but last summer we had tons of Zucchini and my mom fried it and made ranch and man o man was it GOOD!!

Mrs. Hot Cocoa July 5, 2010 at 10:37 AM  

@ Cathleya: A co-op might even be better, b/c then you get to choose what you want. For the CSA, you got to really be up for a challenge. Or really like surprises.

@ Busylizzy: Ooh, off to check it out on your blog.

@ bailie marie: I love fried zucchini! I haven't ever fried anything in the house, but maybe I can borrow a friend's fryer . . . .

lavenderpug July 6, 2010 at 7:12 AM  

we've thought about joining a csa the past few years but are a little intimidated by the number of vegetables that we'd have to find ways to cook. these are some great ideas so we'll have to revisit joining a csa! the kale sounds delicious.

Anonymous,  July 6, 2010 at 11:28 AM  

Smitten Kitchen just posted a great recipe for zucchini galette. Not healthy but completely delicious! btw, love your blog but have never commented before.


Mrs. Hot Cocoa July 6, 2010 at 2:55 PM  

@ lavenderpug: I have to say that there's a lot of washing of vegetables and googling of recipes and head scratching and handwringing that I didn't expect. But the farm-fresh veggies do taste significantly better than my Trader Joe's ones, so maybe it's worthwhile. I'll report back at the end of the season. ;-)

@ Mags: Thanks for commenting! Did you try the Smitten Kitchen galette? I just looked at it, and it's beautiful.

Coasting Anon July 6, 2010 at 4:37 PM  

Ah yes...there seems to be an overabundance of zucchini this year.

I have some super yummy recipes for zucchini and summer squash. And I was TOTALLY going to write them all out here when I realized that it would be MUCH better for me to blog them.

Which means I need to find time to blog them.

In the meantims...a quick, easy one is to saute some onion in butter and olive oil and then add in sliced summer squash and zucchini and cook on med until tender (about 10 minutes) and then serve it up with fish or go a step further and toss it in a gratin dish and sprinkle on some parmesan and bread crumbs and roast it at 400 for 15 minutes.

PS - I must have done SOMETHING wrong because I tried to make kale chips the other day and they were nasty, nasty, nasty. They disintegrated into bitter powder in your mouth. Not very chip like nor very tasty. What did I do wront??!!

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