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The first heads of crinkly green lettuce are ready to become your next salad

In this week’s share:

  • Head of red lettuce
  • Head of green lettuce
  • Head of Boston (bibb) lettuce
  • Bag of lettuce mix
  • Bag of Asian greens and spinach mix
  • Bunch of kale
  • Radishes
  • Green onions
  • Green garlic

Farming partners

Beth and I have been working together for years, ever since she was kind enough to loan some greenhouse space to a very “green” grower trying his hands at a CSA. Beth and I sold side-by-side at the Washington farmer’s market for a couple of seasons and frequently mused about joining forces. Now that we’re officially growing partners, I get to look forward to our weekly Tuesday morning conversation. That’s when I first learn about the goodies Beth plans to harvest for the week’s upcoming share.

This week Beth and I are both contributing lots of beautiful lettuce. My first red and green varieties have sized up in the garden and Beth is still producing heads of Boston lettuce and mixed greens hydroponically in the greenhouse. We’re both harvesting our first radishes and we should have enough Asian greens to produce a nice mix again. Even more exciting is that Beth also told me this morning that she’s going to give out something I’ve never tried before: green garlic.

What is green garlic?

Young garlic plants pushing through the straw in early spring.

Young garlic plants pushing through the straw in early spring.

Garlic is the only crop that northern growers plant in the late fall — right around Halloween. We plant a single clove of garlic for each plant and cover the rows thickly with straw mulch to protect the young seedlings when they emerge in April. Garlic doesn’t develop its trademark bulbs until July, but if you’re lucky you’ll get your hands on a late spring treat: green garlic. When garlic is planted, sometimes we accidentally plant the cloves too close together. Spring is the time to thin the rows down to roughly three plants per foot. When you pull garlic at this early stage, it doesn’t have a bulb yet, but you can enjoy its tender white and green stem raw or cooked — that’s green garlic!

Prepare green garlic like you would leeks. Remove the tougher dark green top leaves. Then treat them like green onions — you can slice them thinly and add raw to a salad or at the tail end of cooking a stir fry. You can replace regular garlic in your favorite recipes for a subtler, fresher garlic flavor. Try some of these recipes to get you started or experiment on your own:

Quick-pickled radishes

I share this recipe every year because it’s my favorite way to eat radishes and small turnips. I’m not a big fan of the “bite” of a raw radish, but I love the flavor that they take on when sliced and lightly pickled in a simple brine. Pickle them overnight and they become this sour little flavor bombs that you can add to salads, layer in a sandwich or chop onto a fish taco.

It’s a wrap

Yes, you are getting a lot of lettuce this week. Short of eating salad for breakfast, consider building a meal around lettuce wraps. They’re fun — especially for kids — and well-suited to the large crinkly leaves of red and green lettuce you’re getting this week. Some ideas to play with:

Dunk, rinse & spin

My lettuce isn’t grown hydroponically, which means that it will probably arrive in a less-than-pristine state. There may be bits of soil, blades of grass and the occasional slug attached to your heads of lettuce. Never fear — here’s a simple three-part solution to cleaning and storing your lettuce or any other leafy green:

  1. Fill a large bowl with cool water and dunk a head of lettuce, loosening any stray bits that will float to the surface
  2. Run some cold water and rinse off each leaf of lettuce, making sure to rub off any soil from the bottom edge. Place rinsed leaves in a salad spinner*
  3. Spin the lettuce dry and store in plastic bags with a square of paper towel on the bottom. Don’t tie the bags closed, but keep in the crisper drawer

*If you don’t have a salad spinner, drip dry in the drying rack (or buy a salad spinner)

CSA member recipe — submit your own!

A big thank you to CSA member Colleen for sending along a favorite recipe for creamy sausage, potato and kale soup. I’m excited to try it out. Please leave your recipe suggestions in the “leave a reply” box below or email me directly and I’ll pass it along in the next week’s post.

Rows and rows of hydroponic lettuce are ready for harvest in the greenhouse.

Rows and rows of hydroponic lettuce are ready for harvest in the greenhouse.

In this week’s share:

  • Selection of butter lettuce, green leaf lettuce, frisee lettuce and more!
  • Great big mix of green and red Asian greens, spinach, sorrel, beet micro-greens and more!
  • Kale
  • Green onions
  • Asparagus or Rhubarb (you’ll get one this week, and the other the next)

Salad, Anyone?

Spring is salad season. That’s when lettuce is at its best — delicate, vibrant green and flavorful. If you’re like us, then you’ve been waiting many (many) long months for that first bite of just-harvested lettuce. Well, get out your biggest salad bowl, because we’re loading you up with a variety pack of Beth’s famous hydroponic lettuce, plus a fancy assortment of dark and spicy greens to chop up and toss into the mix. Eating a big salad of fresh greens is like a spring cleaning for the soul — not to mention the digestive tract.

Hydroponic Primer

Hydroponic literally means “working water.” Hydroponic growing is a highly efficient method for raising vegetables inside a greenhouse without using any soil. Seedlings are first sprouted in an spongelike medium and then transferred into rows of plastic channels containing a constant flow of running water. The water is treated with a careful balance of organically derived minerals that are absorbed directly into the plant’s naked roots. The result is fast growth under ideal conditions of light, heat, water and nutrients.

Some Asian green seedlings lined up in their hydroponic channels.

Some Asian green seedlings lined up in their hydroponic channels.

Beth has been growing hydroponic lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables for years in her beautiful greenhouse at Oak Hill Farm, just a few miles down the road from us. This is the first year she’s raising hydroponic veggies organically and the results look terrific so far.

Beth displays a row of hydroponic butter lettuce that's ready for harvest.

Beth displays a row of hydroponic butter lettuce that’s ready for harvest.

What are Asian Greens?

Greens are any variety of leafy vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked — that includes spinach, kale, collard, mustard dandelion and a host of colorful varieties called Asian greens. Asian greens were traditionally used in Asian cooking and still retain some of their “exotic” charm. The flavor of Asia greens ranges from extremely mild to downright spicy. The Asian greens we grow are on the mild side with just a slight mustardy edge. Our varieties of Asian greens include mizuna, bekana, red and green pac choi, komatsuna and more. Asian green are the perfect match for a stir fry, but can be used anywhere you want lively “green” flavor.

This week you'll be sampling a variety called Rosie, a purple-red pac choi

This week you’ll be sampling a variety called Rosie, a purple-red pac choi

Salad for Dinner

A big, hearty salad topped with hard-boiled eggs, homemade crispy croutons, chunks of cheese or shredded chicken is a deeply satisfying meal, especially on a sticky-hot night when no one feels like cooking. Just about everything we’re giving you this week (minus the asparagus and rhubarb) can be chopped up raw and tossed in a salad. For creative salad ideas, try some of these:

Asparagus & Rhubarb

Asparagus and rhubarb are the two earliest producers in the garden. In fact, by the time the first lettuces and spinach are ready, asparagus and rhubarb are just about done. Since we don’t have enough to give everyone both asparagus and rhubarb, you will get one this week and the other next week.

There are lots of different ways to prepare asparagus, but my go-to favorite is grilled asparagus. Invest in one of those grill racks for veggies and fish, so the asparagus spears don’t fall through the cracks. Otherwise, this couldn’t be easier:

  1. In a large bowl, toss asparagus spears with olive oil and season with salt and pepper
  2. When grill is nice and hot, spread the spears in a single layer on the veggie rack and close the lid
  3. Check on the spears in a couple of minutes, allowing them to get nicely browned (even blackened in places) before rolling them onto their backs for another couple of minutes
  4. When done, toss them back into that same oiled bowl and add a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice. Ready to serve!

Here are two other tasty asparagus ideas:

  • Asparagus frittata – we’re big frittata fans in our house. A frittata is just a fancy name for an egg casserole. Asparagus is the perfect match for eggs — add in some bacon, mushrooms and goat cheese to really blow your mind
  • Asparagus green onion sauté – great use for our fresh green onions

Rhubarb is bizarre. The plant looks like a big weed with broad leaves and celery-like stalks. But take one bite of raw rhubarb and you’ll see why it’s so remarkable — rhubarb is one of nature’s most face-puckeringly sour creations. (The first time I met my father-in-law, he plucked a wild-growing rhubarb stalk from the lawn and encouraged me to try it. Good one, Mr. Hamilton.) The good news is that rhubarb’s bracing sourness mellows during cooking and makes the perfect accompaniment to sweet fruity flavors — most famously strawberry, its spring garden companion.

Buy some good vanilla bean ice cream and try out one of these rhubarb desserts this week:

A big thanks to everyone who came out to the farm for our first big transplanting of the 2015 season. If you couldn’t make it on Saturday, don’t worry — there are plenty of opportunities to get dirty as the season rolls on. For now, there are officially veggies in the ground, which means we’re only a month away from the first CSA share.

The Seeds are Here!

sweet potatoes are a southern specialty that grow surprisingly well up north

sweet potatoes are a southern specialty that grow surprisingly well up north

In this week’s share:

  • sweet potatoes
  • brussels sprouts
  • carrots
  • head of red lettuce
  • head of green lettuce
  • celery
  • red, orange and green bell peppers
  • spinach, chard, kale & collard

What a Season!

It’s happened again. An entire spring, summer and early fall — 20 long weeks — have passed in a whirlwind of planning and planting and picking. Along the way, we’ve feasted on a full season’s worth of successes, from our first truly bountiful crop of sweet peas in the early spring to our first big and beautiful heads of cauliflower this fall. I am deeply grateful once again to the Pagliarulo family who have let me plant my roots on their beautiful farm for 5 seasons now. And I’m so thankful for the support of my CSA members, without whom this crazy hobby would be even crazier. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of our 2014 CSA. It’ll be hard to beat, but we’ll certainly try.

Sweet Potatoes

The sweet potato patch did a lot better this year. I still lost a fair amount to enterprising voles, but I have a nice large harvest tub full of red-skinned spuds and there are still a few rows left to dig tomorrow morning. Something this orange just has to be good for you. Sweet potatoes are a “super food” renowned for super high levels of vitamin A and packed with beta-carotene. Lucky for us, they’re also super delicious and super versatile in the kitchen. Here are some of the ways that we’ve incorporated sweet potatoes into some of our favorite recipes:

  • We love Rick Bayless’ recipe for his World’s Greatest Chili. It tastes best when you start with the whole dried chili pods — available at most supermarkets in the Mexican section — or you can substitute chile powder. Skin a few sweet potatoes, cut them into small cubes and add them in to the last 20 minutes of simmering so they get soft, but not overly mushy. The mild sweetness of the potatoes rounds out the meaty spice of the dish.
  • Thai red curry is great with all types of vegetables, but we love to add cubed sweet potatoes to soak up the flavor of the coconut milk and curry paste
  • Roasted potatoes are even better when mixed with an equal amount of cubed sweet potatoes. Simply toss them in some olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake uncovered in a glass casserole for 30 minutes at 400F, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking
  • Sweet potato “fries” are a kid-friendly version of roasted sweet potatoes. Cut the peeled sweet potatoes into long, thin strips, toss with olive oil (don’t overdo it, or they’ll be too mushy), season with salt and pepper and bake for 30 minutes at 400F until soft on the inside and slightly crispy. Ketchup is a classic accompaniment.
  • The easiest way to prepare sweet potatoes is to bake them whole. Wash off the skin, poke a few holes with a fork and bake at 425F for 50 minutes. Slice in half and serve with a pat of butter and a light sprinkle of brown sugar

Brussels Sprouts

This is one of those vegetables that I thought to be kid-proof, but as the old adage goes, “If you put enough bacon on a shoe, the kids will fight for a second shoe.” Lucky for us, fresh-picked brussels sprouts taste a whole lot better than a shoe, with or without bacon. The trick is to roast them into oblivion, until they are nicely charred and silky soft and caramelized. At least that’s the way we like them. Of course, if you do all of that charring in bacon drippings, the sprouts are none the worse for it.

We had to travel over the weekend, so I haven’t been to the garden since last Wednesday (gasp). My hope is that I’ll be able to harvest the whole brussels sprout plants and give you them still attached to the stem. It’s really quite a sight, but it depends on the sprouts being big enough. If not, I’ll just cut off the biggest ones. If you get to cut them yourselves, remove any wilted outer leaves from each sprout.When cooking, halve or quarter the largest sprouts to speed things up. If boiling the sprouts, some recipes suggest scoring a small X into the base of the stem to cook the sprouts more evenly. Here are some more brussels sprout ideas:

 

savor the results of our first successful cauliflower harvest

savor the results of our first successful cauliflower harvest

 

In the share this week:

  • cauliflower
  • celery
  • 2 butternut squash
  • spinach
  • head of red lettuce
  • head of green lettuce
  • chard
  • arugula
  • kale and collard greens
  • red and green bell peppers
  • cilantro

White Gold

When doling out healthy eating advice to our kids — a regular and groan-inducing occurrence around here — we sometimes talk about choosing foods by their color. Healthy foods, for the most part, are colorful: green, red, orange and the occasional purple or blue. Processed foods, on the other hand, are almost always brown, tan or an unholy florescent pink. That’s why we had to make an exception to the color rule tonight when we made a cauliflower pasta bake (recipe to follow), easily the whitest meal that’s ever graced our dinner table, but also delicious and (more or less) healthy if you don’t count all of the cheese.

I wish I had a time machine to go back to our first growing season when I first tried my inexperienced hand at growing fall cauliflower. Reading that it was a cool-season crop, I was afraid to set out the fragile transplants in the heat of July. I waited until August and as a result, my plants hadn’t even started to flower by the time we reached the final week of the CSA. A week later, I peered inside the heart of the plants — cauliflower grow like broccoli with big brassica leaves covering the emerging head — and saw what appeared to be perfectly formed, perfectly tiny heads of cauliflower. The delicate white florets were all there, but the things couldn’t have been more than 4 inches across. Thinking that I had skimped on the compost, I decided to cut my losses and harvest the miniature cauliflowers.

Disappointed by my initial failure, I decided that cauliflower just wasn’t worth it. Why go through all of that trouble — raising transplants from seed, transplanting, composting, mulching, weeding, etc. — if all we’re going to get are the world’s smallest cauliflower? But season after season, CSA members listed cauliflower among the vegetables that they’d love to add to the CSA harvest. Never one to ignore my members (for too long), I decided to give  it another go this year. But before I did, I consulted my most trusted resource, Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening.

And wouldn’t you know, those perfect little heads of cauliflower were exactly what I wanted to see back in the fall of 2010. Unlike broccoli, whose immature heads are a pale green, the immature heads of cauliflower are snowy white, just like the finished product. If I would have waited another week or two, those miniature heads of cauliflower would most likely have swelled to twice their size. Which is exactly what happened this year! I’m proud to say that we’ve had our first successful cauliflower crop. So successful, in fact, that I might try planting it in the spring, too. Thanks for the suggestion, CSA members!

the cauliflower is in there somewhere, I promise

the cauliflower is in there somewhere, I promise

Cauliflower Pasta Bake with (Shhhhh….) Anchovies

No child (or picky husband) would ever guess there were anchovies in this thing. You can leave them out, of course, but the subtle saltiness adds another dimension to this dish. This version was inspired by the Rigatoni and Cauliflower al Forno recipe in last week’s NY Times, which uses capers instead of anchovies and omits the ricotta, a rookie mistake in my opinion.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of dried pasta; penne, ziti, rigatoni, farfalle, etc.
  • 1 cauliflower, thick stems removed and broken up into small florets
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • half an onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • generous handful of greens (spinach, chard, kale, collard) roughly chopped
  • 2-4 anchovy filets, mashed with a fork into a paste (optional, but highly recommended)
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • salt and pepper (optional red pepper flakes for extra flavor)
  • 15-oz package of ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or other hard Italian cheese, plus more for sprinkling on top
  • 1/2 tsp ground sage

Directions:

  1. preheat the oven to 375F
  2. boil the pasta according to package instructions for al dente, drain and set aside
  3. while pasta is cooking, heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottom skillet. add the cauliflower florets and cook, turning every 1-2 minutes, until nicely caramelized on all sides, but not burned
  4. lower the heat to medium low, add more olive oil if the pan has dried out, then add the onions and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently
  5. put the greens and garlic into the skillet, stirring for another minute. then add the garlic, anchovies and lemon zest.
  6. keep cooking until the greens are soft and the anchovies are completely dissolved, about 2 minutes more. remove the skillet from the heat and season generously with salt and pepper
  7. in a large bowl, stir the egg into the ricotta cheese along with the 1/2 cup of grated cheese. also season with some salt, pepper and the ground sage
  8. add the cauliflower mixture and the cooked pasta to the mixing bowl and incorporate everything fully
  9. grease a large glass casserole with olive oil spray and pour in the cheesy pasta mixture. sprinkle with additional grated parmesan cheese
  10. bake for 30 minutes covered with aluminum foil, then remove the foil and set under the broiler for a few minutes until nicely browned

Other Cauliflower Ideas

Celery with a Kick

I never tried home-grown celery until we grew it ourselves a couple of years ago. Celery you buy from the store is pale and mild and generally tasteless. Garden celery is a whole different beast. Since we don’t blanch our stalks — a process that involves wrapping the growing stems with cardboard to block out the sun — they remain dark green. The flavor is also greatly intensified. One trick before eating garden celery is to remove the strings that run along the spine of each stalk. The easiest way is to carefully snap off a small section of celery from the narrow tip of the stalk without severing the strings. You should then be able to pull downward and the strings will slip easily out of the remaining stalk.

Thin-sliced celery is an excellent addition to a green salad, chopped finely into tuna or egg salad, or diced with onion and carrot for the base of countless classic soups and stews. Here are some more celery ideas:

Más Squash

Each CSA member is getting two — count ’em! — TWO more butternut squash this week. The great thing about squash is that they store for weeks, even months, if kept in a coolish, dark place. But if you feel like cracking open one of those suckers this week, here are some more recipe ideas:

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