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.

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