I spent much of last week at a low point on the sine wave of my moodiness, a situation exacerbated by the imminent end of our growing season and the increasingly urgent sense that time is short. But it's okay, we have known since the CSA season began that the weeks would pass quickly, and the fact that time's passage has conformed to our expectations should be no cause for distress; this week I have been feeling better, and I have been enjoying the September 1984 issue of National Geographic.
"Dallas! Keeping the Dream Alive" is not relevant to our current experience, but there is an article set in Iceland and an article set in Oklahoma, the state in which Joshua and I sat in a coffee shop last January and composed the first of a few off-season emails to our returning CSA members. There are two articles related to farming: One that investigates issues of erosion and topsoil conservation, and another about patterns mowed into massive swaths of mono-crop agriculture, imperceptible from the ground but eye-catching if you are in an airplane above the Midwest. The first is of greater pertinence to our work at Dover Farm.
Each of those articles, though, is an ancillary pleasure to "Man and Manatee," which I must have missed when I was four years old, and is the reason the magazine captured my attention today. That strange lump next to the scuba diver is alive! It lives in the ocean, and is extremely gentle.
The share this week:
Sage or Dill or Oregano
Notes about the food:
* At this time of year we harvest those of our crops that have been longest in the ground. Many things we grow have a relatively short life-span in the field--lettuce, for example, and other salad greens, grow quickly enough that we can plant them, harvest them, and plant them again throughout the spring, summer, and fall--but some vegetables require the duration of the season to mature. Leeks were the first seeds we sowed this season, on the last day of February, when the greenhouse was surrounded by snow, and they now are one of the last things we'll harvest. Unlike crops we grow in succession, we have tended the leeks over the course of many months; to harvest and eat them is an event rarer than others on the farm, and it feels to us like the satisfying culmination of a season-long project.
Little Cakes of Leeks and Potatoes
5 medium potatoes
2 large leeks
4 tablespoons butter
scant 1/2 cup milk
vegetable or peanut oil for shallow-frying
Boil potatoes in deep, salted water. Trim and rinse the leeks, discarding the dark outer leaves, and slice them thinly. Melt the butter in a shallow pan and cook the leeks in it over low heat, stirring from time to time, until they are soft and melting; they should be ready in twenty minutes or so. If they color they will turn bitter, so cover them with a lid or a piece of wax paper.
Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan, then switch off the heat. When the potatoes are tender, drain them, put them back on the heat for a minute, covered with a lid or a kitchen towel, to dry out, then mash them with a potato masher, pouring in the warm milk as you go. You are after a thick mash, not a sloppy one, so stop adding milk when the consistency is thick enough to make into patties. Stir in the leeks and season generously.
When the mixture is cool enough to roll, shape it into rough patties. Don't be tempted to make them perfectly smooth.; they will be all the more interesting if they are a little rough.
Heat some oil in a shallow pan. When it is hot, slide in the patties, not too close together, and let them color lightly on both sides. They will cook quite quickly, about three or four minutes on each side. Lift the patties out with a spatula and drain briefly on paper towels.
Chicken with Leeks and Lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 chicken thighs
4 medium leeks
A glass of dry vermouth
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 cups chicken stock
1 small bunch parsley
In a large casserole, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chicken pieces, skin side down, and cook until pale gold in color. Wash the leeks thoroughly, shake them dry, then cut them into pieces the length of a wine cork. Lift the chicken out of the pan and add the leeks. Cover and let them cook gently until they are soft but relatively uncolored. Whatever happens, they should not brown. Once they start to soften, add the vermouth, the zest and juice of the lemon, and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, return the chicken and its juices to the pan, season with salt and pepper, then cover and simmer for about twenty minutes.
Chop the parsley, taste the sauce for seasoning, and stir the parsley in.
* I have been enjoying a book called Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater. The book itself is a satisfying shape and weight, it includes numerous recipes, it is illustrated with photographs of vegetables at their earthy best, and the whole package is somehow extremely British. It's from that book that I transcribed the leek recipes above, and Parsnips, another of our crops that has occupied the same piece of ground for most of the season (we sowed the seeds directly to the field in April), is another of the vegetables prominently featured. I appreciate the description that begins the parsnip chapter:
The soil-encrusted rood, gnarled like the bark of an old tree, hides a creamy flesh that is both earthy and sweet. Snapped it half, it smells of freshly dug ground. Roasted in butter, it smells of warm heather honey.
You'll remember that we offered parsnips in one share during the month of August. The roots were well-sized at that time, and they tasted good, but our reason for harvesting them was strictly to thin the planting and give the remaining parsnips room to grow. Compare the flavor of these to those harvested at the end of summer; the cooler days and cold nights since then will have begun to convert the vegetable's starch to sugar, and you can expect a sweeter result in the kitchen.
Roast Parsnips with Sesame and Honey
2 pounds parsnips
a little peanut oil
a little rosemary
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
For the dressing:
4 level tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons peanut oil
Generous splash sesame oil
Preheat the oven to 350. Bring a pan of water to a boil. Cut parsnips in half lengthwise, and then into fat chunks. When the water boils, lower them in and simmer for ten minutes, until they show early signs of tenderness. Remove from the heat and drain.
Pour a glug of oil into a roasting pan, add the drained parsnips, and toss them with sea salt, pepper, and some chopped needles of rosemary. A tablespoon or so will do. Roast for about forty minutes, turning them in the pan occasionally, so that they end up with a pale, golden crust on all sides. In a dry, shallow pan, lightly brown the sesame seeds. They will take barely a minute or so to color.
Put the honey into a small bowl and whisk in the vinegar, peanut oil, and sesame oil with a small grinding of salt and black pepper. Remove the parsnips from the oven and immediately toss them in the honey dressing, scattering over the toasted sesame seeds as you go.
Parsnips Baked with Cheese
1 large onion
5 tablespoons butter
2 large parsnips
Leaves from 3 or 4 sprigs of thyme
3 1/2 ounces cheese, Gruyere or Cornish Yarg
Scant 1/2 cup vegetable stock
Preheat the oven to 400. Peel the onion and cut it into paper-thin rings. Melt half the butter in a shallow ovenproof pan and gently fry the onion until soft and translucent. Stop before it colors.
Slice parsnips into fine disks. I like to make them so think you can almost read through them. Remove the onion from the pan, place a layer or two of parsnips in it, brush with more melted butter and scatter over salt, pepper, some of the thyme, and a little of the cheese. Do this twice more, ending with cheese. Pour over the stock.
Cover with lightly buttered wax paper or aluminum foil, then place on a high rack in the oven and bake for twenty-five to thirty minutes. Remove the paper and test the parsnips with a sharp knife; it should glide in effortlessly. Return to the oven, uncovered, for about ten minutes to brown. Serve straight from the pan.