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Archive for the ‘CSA’ Category

We’ve been on a pesto kick this week, thanks in part to one stubborn little plant.

About six weeks ago, I brought a couple of basil bunches to the office, thinking that somebody would take it off my hands. Nope. So there it sat, lingering in a vase of water (which I was changing, mind you, every couple of days), developing roots and growing 10 inches while providing the occasional handful of fresh basil leaves for lunchtime salads.

I finally asked myself, how long can I really keep growing basil in a vase of water?

Turns out I should have transplanted it into soil about four weeks ago, and I’ve been risking root rot this whole time.

Since Dennison’s Farm brings me an absurd amount of basil in my CSA box every couple of weeks, I wasn’t planning to plant my own this year. So I took this brave plant home and whirled it into oblivion last night with the other requisite ingredients. It made a divine accompaniment to wine-and-cheese night at Chez Haggerty.

And you know what? I STILL didn’t manage to use all of the leaves. This little plant might end up transplanted into the ground yet due to its sheer will to live.

I halved a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, since I only wanted enough for two people, and it made probably a little under 1/2 cup.

Pesto
(Recipe courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated)

  • 1/8 cup pine nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 cup basil leaves, packed
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 ounce (1/8 cup) grated Parmesan cheese (see note at end of recipe)

Toast pine nuts and unpeeled garlic cloves in a small dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the pine nuts are just golden and fragrant and the garlic cloves have darkened slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the garlic to cool before peeling and roughly chopping.

Place nuts, garlic, basil, oil and salt in small work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Process until smooth, stopping as necessary to scrap down sides of bowl, about 30 seconds.

Note: I’ve been grating and shredding my own cheese lately instead of purchasing grated/shredded cheeses, which contain ingredients like cellulose to prevent clumping. I had read that the added ingredients can keep pre-shredded cheese from melting as well as freshly shredded cheese, and it’s true. The texture and the flavor of freshly shredded cheese is simply superior to that of the pre-shredded varieties. And Parmesan, stored correctly, will keep for WEEKS. Totally worth it.

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One of my least favorite parts of the CSA box is the kale. I like my greens raw, coated in olive oil and vinegar, so when the kale gets too leathery to simply toss into the salad spinner, I have to face cooking it in some manner. And I have NEVER liked cooked greens, no matter how much bacon, salt and cornbread were added into the mix.

A few fellow foodies suggested that I make kale chips, advice that I took to heart after sampling the dried okra at Earth Fare. Crunchy veggies instead of mushy greens? I’m in.

I followed a friend’s simple set of instructions:

Separate stems from leaves. Toss with olive oil to lightly coat and sprinkle on a bit of salt and pepper. Bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes and let the chips cool on the tray for extra crispness.

The chips were pretty tasty when I tried them straight out of the oven, but when I sat down with them 20 minutes later in an ill-fated attempt to use them as a popcorn substitute while watching Butter (good movie, by the way), about half of them had wilted. Too much olive oil, maybe? Do you have to eat these within five minutes of their exit from the oven?

Anyway, no crunch = no popcorny goodness. So we’re back to Square One, where I make elaborate plans to steam the kale and stir it into quinoa and then pretty much don’t.

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My second 2013 Dennison’s Family Farm CSA box yielded the following:

  • Three onions: red, white and yellow. These went into a couple of really tasty stir-fries and a pan of delicious chicken fajitas.
  • Bell pepper: Sacrificed to the stir-fry.
  • Sweet banana peppers: Seeded and sliced to add crunch to summer salads.
  • Jalapeno and Serrano peppers: Currently waiting to be added to salsa.
  • Squash (Slick Pik, Zephyr, patty pan and zucchini): The base for the fabulous Baked Penne with Squash, Tomatoes and Basil that I wrote about earlier this week. Except for the zucchini, which was reserved for the best brownies in the world, which I will tell you about next week.
  • Cauliflower: I admit to having rarely encountered cauliflower except at salad bars. I tried this Cook’s Illustrated roasted cauliflower recipe I found at Food Lush, adding in the optional chili powder for a little pizzaz. It was edible but uninspiring, and the leftovers were absolutely off-putting (I’m pretty sure leftover roasted cauliflower is the scent they add to natural gas so customers know when they have a leak). I’ll probably just wash, chop and save it for salad next time.
  • Broccoli: I think this was the first head of broccoli I’ve ever eaten that didn’t come from the grocery store. The fresh flavor was amazing. I ate some straight off the stem while I was prepping my photo, and the rest was truly the guest star in our stir-fries, outshining the protein and all other veggies.
  • Leeks: I am again perplexed by leeks, since I never really encountered them before. I used them as a substitute for shallots in the Baked Penne with Squash, Tomatoes and Basil, and they definitely added a bit of bold flavor.
  • Cucumber: I forgot I had a cucumber in the crisper. I should probably slice it up for salad.
  • Green tomatoes: I have never understood the appeal of green tomatoes. Even when I’ve had really good fried green tomatoes, I found myself thinking, man, if only these had stayed on the vine a little while longer, I could be having an awesome sandwich. I put these aside in dismay and then wrapped them in a newspaper a couple of days ago in hopes of turning them into real tomatoes. I should probably go check the cool dark closet to see if they’ve transformed.
  • Chard: I have neglected my greens, yet again.
  • Basil: I used a lot of the basil in the Baked Penne with Squash, Tomatoes and Basil, and chopped up the rest for salads.

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After four summers of putting up with the squash in my CSA box, I have, at last, found a reason to love the stuff.

My habit of perusing stacks of used books finally paid off during a spring visit to Nashville’s BookManBookWoman, which yielded a copy of Cover & Bake by the Cook’s Illustrated team. I’ve found the Cook’s Illustrated collections to be virtually foolproof — they do, after all, painstakingly test each recipe numerous times before releasing it into the wild.

I grew up with very little respect for the squash. I remember eating it mostly fried, although surely that wasn’t the only way my mother and grandmother prepared it. The only thing I really figured out to do with it myself was to chop it up and sauté it with a little garlic and olive oil. Passable, but by no means a method to use up copious amounts of squash.

This recipe, however, uses 2 entire POUNDS of squash, meaning I haven’t spent the last two weeks feeling bad about unwanted veggies languishing in the crisper. They’re all gone.

The original recipe specifically calls for zucchini and summer squash. I was saving my zucchini for brownies (I’ll share that recipe soon — seriously the best brownies ever), and I had at least three other varieties of squash in the box, including Slick Pik, Zephyr and patty pan.

Squash is squash, I say. I also substituted chopped leeks for the shallots, since I had leftover leeks and the Internet vaguely signaled that they would be OK. No complaints.

I also never bother keeping parsley in the house, so I used an entire cup of chopped basil instead of buying a whole bunch of parsley just for 1/4 cup.

This recipe is a lot of work, to be sure, but totally worth it. The creamy sauce delivers a consistent hint of fresh basil, and every forkful delivers a healthy array of veggies.

Baked Penne with Squash, Tomatoes and Basil
(Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
Serves 6 to 8

Topping
4 slices white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Filling
2 pounds zucchini and/or other squash varieties, halved lengthwise, sliced 1/2-inch thick
Kosher salt
3/4 lb. penne
4 tbsp. olive oil
6 medium shallots, minced (about 1 cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Ground black pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered

For the topping:
Process the bread and butter in a food processor fitted with the steel blade until coarsely ground, about six 1-second pulses; set aside.

For the filling:
1. Toss the squash with 1 tbsp. kosher salt and place in a large colander set inside a large bowl to drain, about 30 minutes.
2. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in 2 tbsp. kosher salt and the pasta; cook, stirring occasionally  until al dente. Drain the pasta, return to the pot, and toss with 1 tbsp. of olive oil; set aside. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat to 400 degrees.
3.  Spread the salted squash evenly over a double layer of paper towels and pat dry with additional paper towels, wiping off any residual salt. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking. Add half of the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and slightly charred, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet. Add 1 tbsp. olive oil to the pan and return to high heat until smoking; brown the remaining squash and transfer to the baking sheet.
4. Wipe the skillet clean with a wad of paper towels. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan, basil and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Add the sauce, tomatoes and sautéed squash to the pasta; stir gently to combine. Pour the pasta into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish  and sprinkle with the breadcrumb topping. Bake until the casserole is bubbling and the crumbs are lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

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Late update, since tomorrow will bring us the Week 2’s CSA  box.

My first 2013 Dennison’s Family Farm CSA box yielded the following:

  • Three onions: red, white and yellow. These have gone in everything from quinoa to chicken fajitas.
  • One leek. Still in the crisper, it’ll probably end up in quinoa.
  • Broccoli rabe. I washed and chopped the greens and buds, and the husband mixed them into ricotta along with spicy Italian sausage to add a little zest to his fabulous homemade calzones. In truth, the sausage overwhelmed the flavor of the rabe, but we tried.
  • Pac Choi: This sits abandoned in my crisper, because I am shamefully bad at using leaf vegetables that have to be cooked.
  • One green squash. I immediately chopped this up and stir-fried it in olive oil with a bit of garlic. Easiest side dish ever.
  • Two quarts of strawberries. Alas, the last two quarts of strawberries I’ll get out of Tennessee this year. I made ice cream with them using my favorite recipe from Ben & Jerry’s (this is the only ice cream recipe book you need to own, BTW). I tossed in a cup of white chocolate chips toward the end for Something Completely Different, but I can’t really taste them. Turns out super sweet strawberries are enough all by themselves.
  • Pistou basil. This is a dwarf basil plant that I need to transplant outside. Last year’s wasn’t very prolific, I have to admit, but I’ll be swimming in fresh basil for the rest of the summer when Dennison’s herbs, along with my emergency back-up plant, start producing.

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Don’t let the name of her blog fool you: Kristen over at Crafty Kristen has a heck of a green thumb in addition to mad knitting skills.

She gifted me with a couple of bags filled with goodies from her garden recently as she was preparing to go spend a few days at the beach with her husband. I brought home yellow pear tomatoes (sweet and delicious), cherry tomatoes and eggplants.

Totally exotic eggplants.

The only eggplant I’m familiar with is the big purple one. I remember seeing them when I was a kid, although I don’t recall whether my grandparents grew them, and I don’t remember ever eating them until I tried the ever popular eggplant Parmesan in college. I certainly never cooked an eggplant myself.

So when a CSA box arrived a couple of years ago with an eggplant inside, I faced a quandary. I made a baked version of eggplant Parmesan first — it was delicious, but not quite delicious enough to make up for the time it required and the mess it made.

I finally found an easier eggplant pasta sauce recipe with a complex, garlicky flavor. It took care of the huge purple eggplants in the CSA box, and made enough that I had leftovers for at least a couple of days.

Pre-eggplant season, Kristen had recommended a recipe for Pasta alla Norma, which I tucked away on Pinterest in anticipation of this year’s first CSA box.

When she handed me a small plastic bag filled with the fanciest eggplants I had ever seen, I knew I couldn’t simply smash them into the gray (yet tasty) pulp resulting from my go-to eggplant pasta sauce recipe.

So I broke out the pasta alla Norma recipe, only to discover three problems:

  • It called for ricotta salata cheese, which I wasn’t entirely sure I could find at Publix.
  • It called for deep-frying the eggplant, while I’m really more of a “lightly sauté” kind of girl.
  • It called for sautéed onions WITHOUT sautéed garlic. Say what now?

I made a few simple changes to the recipe and was psyched about the results. The sauce is very light, but the eggplant makes it filling. I found it made enough for two servings (I only cooked 2.5 ounces of penne rigate), with enough left over for lunch (no pasta, just the chunky sauce).

You have to judge how much basil, eggplant and Parmesan cheese to use. If you want a heartier sauce, use more eggplant. Need more basil flavor? Tear up a few more basil leaves. It’s a forgiving recipe.

Pasta alla Norma

Makes about 3 servings

(Adapted from David Rocco’s recipe)

  • 2.5 oz. penne rigate pasta
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 14 oz. diced tomatoes
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 medium-sized eggplant (or a few small eggplants), cubed
  • fresh basil leaves, torn
  • Parmesan cheese

Cook the penne in a pot of boiling salted water, stirring to prevent it from sticking together. While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce.

In a saucepan, heat up a tablespoons of olive oil. Gently sauté onions until tender, then add undrained tomatoes. With the back of a wooden spoon, break up the tomatoes into small chunks.

Add salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes until the sauce has thickened.

In another pan, sauté the eggplant in olive oil until golden. Add the sautéed eggplant and basil leaves to the sauce, and stir in a few sprinkles of Parmesan.

Plate the servings of pasta and spoon sauce on top. Sprinkle with more Parmesan, if desired, and serve immediately.

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Cucumbers, squash, lemon cucumbers, green tomatoes, more squash (sigh) and red noodle beans.

This week’s CSA box was heavy with a little bit of everything.

I faced two unfamiliar items: lemon cucumbers and red noodle beans. The lemon cucumbers are round and a little sweeter than other varieties, and the red noodle beans were tasty but weird.

I riffed on this recipe for Red Noodle Beans with Cracked Black Pepper, only I didn’t have any soy sauce, and I forgot that I just received a couple of bell peppers, so I pretty much just sautéed them in olive oil with diced onion and garlic for about 10 minutes. They tasted like string beans, more or less, except they were squeaky, like cheese curds.

Like I said, tasty but weird.

The box also contained one lone cherry tomato, only I thought I saw two cherry tomatoes, so I ate it expecting to dig the other one out for the husband in a few minutes. Alas, no. I scarfed down the only one. Lucky for me, he’s the forgiving type, and he doesn’t have the same extreme craving for homegrown tomatoes that I do.

Sweet onion, bell peppers, basil, the biggest eggplant I’ve ever had and various hot peppers.

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