Monday, September 19, 2011

2011 CSA Week 17

At some point in recent weeks, while I was preoccupied with the overabundance of rainfall and the fact that the viability of several of our crops was threatened by the inability of our fields to dry, September began, and the season turned to fall. The rain and its attendant stress distracted my awareness from what are usually milestones of relief, and when it cleared last week I was surprised and happy to be reacquainted with cool mornings and the softening light of a Massachusetts autumn. Our days unencumbered by precipitation, we have been able to take stock of our fields and prepare ourselves for the season's homestretch. It is true that the lifespan of some of our crops was shortened--you will receive the last of our beleaguered tomatoes this week--but not tragically so. The rest of what we will harvest this year is in the ground, and those crops are enjoying the same gentle conditions as those of us who tend them. As they ease toward maturity and we ease toward October and the last weeks of the CSA season, we are careful to appreciate the dual reprieve from summer's heat and its persistent inclemencies.

The share this week:

Sweet Peppers
Hot Peppers
Dandelion Greens
White Onions

Notes About the Food:

* There are many days when I feel like I am underwater and the people around me are on dry land and I am talking to them and they are talking to me but we are not communicating, and on those days I think that one of the greatest tragedies of our lives is the fact that all of our joys are private. On those days I think perhaps we are all submerged and isolated and that it is impossible to express the truth of any of the things we feel. In this way our sadnesses, our anxieties, our periods of contentment are all private, and alongside them our genuine fondness for the things we love wells within us until we overflow, at which point it enters the world diluted by language and inflection, a watery and imperfect representation that keeps us separate from those with whom we would share our happiness.

Of course I am thinking of dandelion greens. Back in the share after a summer's absence, they are still bitter, they are still nutritious, and I love them. Alone, mostly. And if I despair of effectively sharing my affinity for the things, that's okay, it's among the least important of all that will remain permanently incommunicable between us.

You might prefer them with eggs and bacon. From Earth to Table:

Dandelion Salad with Poached Eggs and Bacon

For the croutons
2 cups stale bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced herbs, such as thyme or rosemary
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the salad
8 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
canola oil, as needed
1 tablespoon minced shallots
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
4 cups dandelion leaves

For the eggs
4 large eggs
6 cups water
1/4 cup white vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350. Toss the bread with the oil, herbs, and salt, and spread on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, start the bacon cooking in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook until the fat renders and the bacon is chewy and starting to crisp, about 7-10 minutes. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels, then add a little canola oil (if necessary) to make about 1/3 cup of fat, depending how much fat the bacon rendered. Add the shallots, vinegar, and mustard, and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits in the pan. Stir quickly to bring together into a dressing and keep warm.

While the bacon is cooking, bring the water and vinegar for the eggs to a simmer, then crack the eggs into a small dish or ladle. Slip them carefully into the water and simmer until the whites are just set and yoke is still runny, about 3-4 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the dandelion greens with the bacon, croutons, and dressing. Toss to combine, then plate and top with the poached egg. Serve immediately while the egg and the dressing are still warm.

The following recipe was published in a 2007 New York magazine, with a note about the New York chef and restaurant from which it was taken. It pleases me because of my interest in Greece and for its use of the word "midribs" to describe a part of the leaf I had always thought of as "veins." I like midribs better:

Warm Dandelion Greens with Fingerling Potatoes and Cherry Peppers

"Pesky weed to some, seasonal delicacy to others, the jagged, bitter dandelion green is on of those Mediterranean peasant foods newly embraced for their health-giving properties--in this case a preponderance of iron, calcium, and vitamin A. Delicate young greens are terrific in raw salads, but in the Greek kitchen the mature leaf is often used in the generic "horta" preparation, (over)boiled and simply dressed with olive oil and lemon, the way Anthos chef Michael Psilakis's mother made it. Psilakis prefers to preserve the plant's bitter bite by blanching it quickly just to tenderize, then sauteing it with garlic and hot peppers, as in this warm spring salad."

2 bunches mature dandelion greens, washed, thick stems removed
12 pickled cherry peppers
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed and coarsely chopped
18 fingerling potatoes, roasted
1 1/2 cups pitted Thassos olives (Kalamata may be substituted)
Juice of 3 lemons
1 1/2 cups crumbled Greek feta
salt and pepper

Add dandelion greens to a large pot of boiling salted water, and cook just until the midribs (the part of the stem that extends into the leaf) are malleable. Immediately remove and shock in an ice bath. Lay greens on a dish towel to dry thoroughly. Stem and quarter the cherry peppers, discarding the seeds if a milder degree of heat is desired.

Add 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil to a large pan over medium heat. In rapid succession, cook garlic and peppers until garlic begins to brown, add potatoes and stir to coat with oil, add dandelion greens and olives to warm, and deglaze with lemon juice, giving the pan's contents a quick toss. Take care not to overcook the greens and potatoes.

Transfer to a large serving bowl and add crumbled feta. Dress with olive oil and season to taste.

* As the weather cools you'll notice several crops that we grew in the spring--dandelion greens among them--return to the rotation. We schedule two plantings of much of our cool-weather produce, the first timed for early-season harvest, the second for autumn harvest. Kohlrabi is another example of a crop that does not tolerate the full heat of summer but with which we choose to begin and end our growing season. When we last saw kohlrabi it was pale green; this fall we are growing a purple variety. The color extends from the skin of the bulb through the stems and midribs, but you will recognize the crisp white interior as the same refreshment we saw in the spring variety. Here's a recipe from the BBC (why not?), which also calls for leeks:

Smothered Leeks and Kohlrabi

"Smothering is a way of cooking vegetables with a little fat and the least possible amount of water in a covered pan until very, very tender. Kohlrabi holds together well, adding its own natural sweetness."

3 leeks, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch lengths
2 kohlrabi, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
3 large carrots, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
6 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
water, to cover
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 ounces butter

Place the leeks, kohlrabi, carrots, and garlic into a wide shallow pan that will take them in a single layer. Tuck the herbs among them.

Pour in enough water to come 1/2-inch up the sides of the pan. Season with salt and pepper, and dot with butter.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to the absolute minimum. Cover the pan with a lid and leave to cook very gently for about an hour, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn't catch. If necessary, add an extra splash of water, or if it ends up to watery uncover and boil the water off. Either way, your aim is to end with meltingly tender vegetables, perhaps slightly patched with brown toward the end of the cooking, with little more than a few tablespoons of syrupy liquid left in the pan. Serve warm.

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