Monday, October 17, 2011

2011 CSA Week 21

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:

Lacinato Kale
Bok Choi
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.

Monday, October 10, 2011

2011 CSA Week 20

The conditions this past weekend were a sort of autumn ideal in which warm, summer-like days were transplanted perfectly between cool October nights. The days bore no humidity and the nights no threat of frost, and all hours continued their concessions to the softening light of the season.

Before the weekend, though, there were cold nights, and for the first time this season we were subject to the unique discomforts of harvesting in near-frost conditions. It stings our fingers and stiffens our hands to pick crops that are sheathed in icy condensation, and on such mornings the time we spend working before the sun rises enough above the trees that our fields are fully lit and slightly warmed can be arduous. Last Thursday, to divert my attention from the stinging pain in my fingers, I wrote a short song and then sang it repeatedly, sort of out loud. It's basically a recap of all the Spanish I have learned in the last six months:

Lechuga, batata
remolacha, albahaca
vegetables en Espanol!

Not only did the song not distract me from the fact that my hands might as well have been submerged in ice-water, it was accompanied by the sad realization that although I have been working alongside a native Spanish speaker for half a year, and our work has consisted entirely of growing vegetables, I have learned to say the names of only four vegetables in Spanish, and one of them is really more of an herb.

Which reminds me-- The weeks pass quickly, and things left until the end are often left undone, which means that the antepenultimate week of our season is as good a time as any to thank Gustavo, our native Spanish speaker and tireless helper, whose fault it certainly is not that my capacity for language acquisition has scarcely improved since the beginning of our acquaintance, in terms as sincere as can be expressed on a blog, for his hard work, his positive attitude, and his friendship. We are indebted, and we are grateful.

The share this week:

Winter Brassica Greens
Beets or Mixed Roots (Kohlrabi, Parsnip, Rutabaga)
Broccoli or Cabbage
Sweet Peppers
Hot Peppers

Notes about the food:

* Mizuna is a feathery green in the mustard family. Its peppery flavor and subtle spiciness are reminiscent of arugula, but it is generally milder than that crop. Consider it a good compliment to lettuce and other salad greens, and don't overlook the decorative aspect of its shape when adding it to any dish. We are harvesting these leaves when they are still young and tender, so their tendency to wilt may be noticeable, especially if the day of harvest is warm. As always, cut the stems slightly when you get home and place the greens upright in a bowl of cold water, and they will revive.

Two recipes from The New York Times:

Mizuna with Potatoes and Shallot Vinaigrette

1/2 pound potatoes, cut in irregular bite-size chunks
Sea salt
6 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Champagne or white wine vinegar
1 large shallot, slivered
4 ounces mizuna
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
1 teaspoon freshly crushed black peppercorns

Place potatoes in a saucepan with cold water to cover. Season water liberally with salt. Bring to a simmer and cook just until potatoes are tender, 6 to 8 minutes, then drain. When potatoes stop steaming, transfer them to a wide bowl.

Combine oil, vinegar, and salt to taste, and drizzle about one-third of this dressing over potatoes. Add shallot. Fold together with a rubber spatula. Dressing will pick up creaminess from potatoes. Set aside.

Place mizuna in a second wide bowl suitable for serving. Toss with half of the remaining dressing. Add potato mixture and fold in gently. Halve eggs lengthwise, and cut in crosswise slices 1/8-inch thick. Scatter over salad, add remaining dressing, and fold once or twice very gently. Dust with crushed pepper, and serve.

Turkey and Mizuna Salad

For the salad:
2 cups mizuna
3 cups shredded or diced cooked turkey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 serrano chili, seeded and chopped
1 bunch scallions, white part and green, thinly sliced
1 small cucumber, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 small red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped walnuts
2 broccoli crowns, cut or broken into small florets, steamed 4 to 5 minutes, refreshed with cold water and drained on paper towels

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk or plain nonfat yogurt
1 tablespoon turkey stock or water, for thinning if using yogurt

Line a platter or bowl with mizuna.

Season the turkey with salt and pepper, and combine in a large bowl with the chili, scallions, cucumber, cilantro, red pepper, and walnuts.

Combine the ingredients for the dressing, and mix well. Toss with the turkey mixture. Arrange on top of the mizuna and serve.

Monday, October 3, 2011

2011 CSA Week 19

This season can have an insulating effect. Twice in the past week I have arrived at the farm to find it shrouded in morning fog and myself unable to see one side of the fields from the other. Once already we have revised our harvest-day start time to accommodate a later dawn, and before long we will have to do so again, each concession to the encroaching darkness kept to a minimum so that we are assured of beginning our workday in light that is still dim. The limitations imposed by day length and atmosphere are part of a progression toward the time of year when our fields will be frozen and still, but for now they hold us gently for only a part of most days, and their hold is brief: Mist dissipates as the day warms, and the midday sun, when not obscured by clouds, is surprisingly warm and bright.

That's the weather report for this week, although apropos of nothing I would like to record that last Thursday the heavy sky under which we worked all day and which twice opened to a violent rainfall was briefly perforated by sunshine in such a way that all things gray were brightened and steam rose from our wet fields and a fat, low rainbow spanned the farm. It would be nice to have a picture of such a moment, but instead we have a picture of this chicken that Joshua carved in our picnic table.

The share this week:

Red Russian Kale
Rainbow Chard
Dandelion Greens
Sweet Peppers
Hot Peppers
Red Onion
Sweet Potatoes

Notes About the Food:

* What better way to welcome October than with sweet potatoes? We are sad to count them among the crops whose production was diminished by the cool and wet conditions of recent months, especially after the superlative harvest of last year, but after digging them from a bed that had recently been underwater (and is now underwater again), we feel lucky to have any of the things at all. Sweet potatoes are best grown in sandy, well-drained soils--basically the opposite of what we have in most of our fields--and conditions for them cannot be too hot. Last season was hot and dry, and our forbearance in conditions that were sometimes unfavorable for humans was rewarded by impressively-sized sweet potatoes. This year our sweet potato plants were cold and wet, and their yield was uninspiring. Some are large, none are huge, and most of what we dug is small and shaped like twisted magic markers. Please be aware that some of what you receive will look scrappy, but please also be aware that all of it is good food. The thin potatoes are easily chopped and roasted, or steamed and mashed. Most recipes will recommend that you peel sweet potatoes (regular potatoes too), but when I know that the tubers have been grown in clean soil, without chemicals, I never do this, and it's a step I have elided in the following recipes, all of which are from The New York Times:

Sweet Potato Fries

4 medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch thick fries
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the fries on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and paprika. Mix well with your fingers and bake for about 45 minutes or till the fries are soft on the inside and crunchy and golden brown on the outside.

Coconut Oil Roasted Sweet Potatoes

1 1/2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil
1 3/4 pounds sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 teaspoons light brown sugar, packed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan over low heat.

In a large bowl, toss together potatoes, coconut oil, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Spread potatoes in an even layer on a large baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about 1 hour.

This recipe is especially notable for the fact that nearly all of the ingredients are included in this week's CSA share. Unfortunately, we can't grow limes:

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Black Beans and Chili Dressing

4 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 large onion, preferably red, chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh hot chili, like jalapeno
1 clove garlic, peeled
Juice of 2 limes
2 cups cooked black beans, drained (canned are fine)
1 red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put sweet potatoes and onion on large baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, toss to coat and spread out in single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast, turning occasionally, until potatoes begin to brown on corners and are just tender inside, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven; keep on pan until ready to mix with dressing.

Put chilies in a blender or mini food processor along with the garlic, lime juice, remaining olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Process until blended.

Put warm vegetables in a large bowl with beans and bell pepper; toss with dressing and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature, or refrigerate for up to a day.

* We snuck broccoli into the share last Thursday, and this week we'll offer it to those of our members who pick up on Tuesday. Rarely do we split the week in such a way (it is always our goal to offer identical shares in a single week), but the broccoli was forming heads with timing that necessitated a mid-week harvest. It is full-on now, and without making promises I'll state that it is our hope to have enough broccoli for Tuesday and Thursday next week.

[Update: As much as we'd like to plan the entirety of our harvests in advance, it is really the plants that dictate when they should be picked and in what quantity. The broccoli is abundant; both pick-up days will receive broccoli this week, and we'll sneak it into an additional Tuesday share soon.]

Our optimism is based on the vigor of the broccoli plants in the field. You have probably seen them when you pick up your vegetables: They are the swath of green that is almost a muted teal where the strawberries were in the spring. The strawberries had been there for more than two years, and had received a generous application of compost during the off-season, which means the soil they occupied was untilled relative to other parts of the field, and very healthy. This likely is what accounts for the health of the broccoli. From a distance, most of the growth you're looking at is stems and leaves; the florets that we are accustomed to thinking of as broccoli are tucked amongst these other parts of the plant. It's the flowering part of the plant that we have been conditioned to eat--each tightly-balled floret will bloom yellow if left unharvested--but I hope you'll treat the entire plant as food. The stem can be chopped and cooked alongside the head, and the leaves can be prepared as you would any sturdy cooking green. We'll bunch the leaves and stems along with the florets, and in recipes--such as the following from The Washington Post--that call for only the florets, you should use the whole plant:

Broccoli, Ginger and Cashew Stir-Fry

3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-inch piece peeled ginger root, minced (1 tablespoon)
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
Florets from 1 head broccoli
1/4 raw or dry-roasted unsalted cashew pieces
1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce
Dash cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon Thai red or green curry paste (optional)

Heat a wok or skillet over medium heat. When it is quite hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the surface. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and red bell pepper; stir-fry for a few minutes, until the ingredients are fragrant yet still crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a bowl.

Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the broccoli and stir-fry for 8 to 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to low; return the vegetable mixture to the wok or skillet and add the cashew pieces, tamari soy sauce, cayenne pepper, and Thai curry paste, if using. Stir to incorporate, then cover and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Serve immediately.