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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:

another fall treat has arrived

another fall treat has arrived

In this week’s share:

  • butternut squash
  • watermelon
  • fall potatoes
  • arugula and baby chard
  • head of green lettuce
  • kale and collard greens
  • red, orange and green peppers
  • jalapeño peppers
  • garlic
  • parsley

The Fall Harvest

When September and October roll around, I often get asked a funny question that reveals how little most of us understand about how food is grown: “Fall is harvest time for farmers, right? You must be really busy!” Huh. In their minds, apparently, food crops are planted in the spring, grown all summer long and then harvested in the fall. That’s why we have all of those fall harvest festivals, right? I can see how that might make sense… if you’ve never stepped foot in a garden.

I think one of the biggest benefits of participating in a CSA is realizing that the harvest season is surprisingly long and incredibly diverse, even in our temperate corner of the globe. When people ask me that fall harvest question, I explain that we actually harvest from mid-May to early October, starting with the leafy greens of early spring, moving on to crisp heads of broccoli and cabbage, and then into the bounty of summer bringing squash and beans and peppers and tomatoes and corn! And lastly, as the nights grow crisp and the days grow shorter, we ease into the comforting flavors of fall: winter squash, sweet potatoes, cauliflower and brussels sprouts.

The real reason for all of those fall harvest festivals is not only to celebrate the fall, but to look back with gratitude and wonder for the bounty of the entire harvest season. Since the freshest flavors of the fall are winter squashes and apples, we celebrate by chowing down on pumpkin pie and apple cider. Our bellies full, we remember all of the great meals we’ve enjoyed over the past 6 months of seasonal feasting. Can you still remember what that first spring salad tasted like? Or that first bite of sweet corn? That first juicy slice of tomato on your sandwich?

This week marks the official start of fall and we have much to celebrate. We have been blessed with another great season and I hope to go out with a bang over the next couple of weeks.

The Versatile Butternut Squash

Butternut is by far my favorite winter squash variety, which explains why I grow it almost exclusively. To me, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. You can cube it and roast it as a side dish. You can roast it whole and blend up the flesh for a soul-warming soup. You can sauté it in sage brown butter and toss with pasta, pine nuts and parmesan. You can even turn it into dessert. A couple of years ago, Melissa Clark of The New York Times tested 9 different squash varieties to determine which one made the best “pumpkin” pie. The verdict? Butternut squash.

yes, late September is an odd time for watermelon

yes, late September is an odd time for watermelon

The Watermelon that Almost Wasn’t

Melons and me have a rocky history. I’ve been growing watermelon for five seasons now and can count my success stories on one finger. Last year my plants were overrun early by weeds and never quite recovered. This year I vowed to beat them at their own game by laying down a sheet of plastic mulch and transplanting the watermelon seedlings directly into it. This seemed to work, for a month or so, and then the vine-like shoots of the watermelon plant extended far beyond the safe zone of the plastic mulch and deep into the tall grasses beyond. I tried to keep the grass under control, but somewhere in the chaos of July I let it get too weedy and I think I missed an important window.

I got down on my knees and crawled down the 150-foot row, carefully pulling the grass and weeds from around the delicate arms of the melon plants. On closer inspection, there were lots of flowers, but almost no emerging fruit. I concluded that pollinators must not like fighting thistle to get to the watermelon flowers. I was ready to chalk up another watermelon failure.

But hope arrived in early August. My weeding appeared to have an effect as I saw the first small striped melons swelling up nicely. My only fear was that the days were already getting shorter and cooler, and I knew that watermelon thrived in the heat of high summer. Would the melons, many of which seemed close to full size, ripen and sweeten in the chill of early fall?

The answer, unfortunately, is “not really.” When you cut into your watermelon, lower your expectations. Instead of bright red flesh, it will probably be pink. And the flavor won’t be the super sweet stuff of summer, but something more… subtle (that’s a nice word for dull). The good news is that I think we discovered a way to salvage this less-then-perfect watermelon crop. The answer is lime juice and mint.

Watermelon with Lime and Mint

Cut the melon into single-bite cubes and refrigerate it for an hour until nicely chilled. Squeeze a generous amount of lime over the melon and throw in a handful of chopped fresh mint. Toss it all together and enjoy out in the backyard on a sunny  late-September afternoon.

For more adventurous palates, try this Arugula, Watermelon and Feta Salad.

 

don't call it a salad! It might be the best pizza on earth

don’t call it a salad! It might be the best pizza on earth

In this week’s share:

  • arugula
  • potatoes
  • head of green lettuce
  • Napa cabbage
  • red and orange bell peppers
  • eggplant
  • sungold cherry tomatoes
  • jalapeño peppers
  • basil
  • parsley

Secret Recipe for Perfect Pizza

I don’t do a lot of things well, but if there’s one thing I freely brag about, it’s my pizza. My mom always made her own pizza dough, and as a result “pizza night” for me was never a phone call to Domino’s, but a special occasion full of its own rituals and mysteries: the bubbling mug of yeasty water, the smooth surface of the just-formed mounds of dough, the bulge of the dish towel as the dough ballooned to twice its original size, and the tantalizing smell of the pizza crust as it baked to crispy perfection. Inevitably, I would burn my tongue in a rush to sample the first pie out of the oven, but it was worth it. As a teenager, my mom’s pizza recipe was one of the first dishes I learned to make on my own, and I started perfecting my technique as soon as I had my first college kitchen. I like to think my pizza dough played no small role in convincing Mandy of my suitability as a mate.

The most incredible thing about my mom’s pizza recipe is that it’s almost comically easy. Part of what makes it so easy is that we use a food processor. But you can certainly make it by hand in a large bowl; it just takes longer to get the right consistency. And consistency is the key here. You want to mix the dough until it holds together as a cohesive ball, but is still sticky and elastic. The less excess flour you use, the more pliable the dough and the thinner and lighter your crust. It takes some practice, but it’s well worth the effort. Without further ado, here’s the Roos family not-so-secret pizza dough recipe:

Homemade Pizza Dough (makes 2 pizzas)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup warm water (if it’s too hot, it will kill the yeast)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 3 1/4 cups unbleached white flour (pizza is one of the few recipes in which we insist on using white flour, not whole wheat)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • scant 1 cup water

Directions:

  1. gently stir the sugar and yeast into the warm water and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes
  2. meanwhile, put the flour and salt in a food processor
  3. add the yeast mixture and pulse a couple of times to blend
  4. slowly add the water, pulsing repeatedly until the dough forms into a ball. It’s OK if it still sticks a little to the sides as the ball rolls around inside the processor. A little sticky is better than overly dry. Run the food processor for another minute to knead the dough further.
  5. Sprinkle some flour on the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Dust your hands with flour and transfer the dough into the mixing bowl. Form it into a smooth ball and cover with a generous dusting of flour. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and leave it in a warm place for at least 1 hour, more if you have time.
  6. In your oven, position one rack on the lowest level and another in the middle. Pre-heat to 500F or as high as your oven goes
  7. Punch down the dough, but don’t knead it. Divide it in two. I don’t toss the dough in the air or anything. Dust your hands with more flour. Holding the dough in front of you, gently stretch it into a rough circle shape without ripping holes in it. Lay it in the center of an oiled pan and, working from the middle, gently push and dough toward the edges of the pan. I prefer a nice thin crust with thicker edges.
  8. Add your preferred toppings and bake for roughly 10 minutes. Place one pizza on each rack and switch places half way through to ensure a nice crispy bottom

Why It’s Pizza Season

You’re getting the first fall arugula this week and the last of those sugary-sweet Sungold cherry tomatoes. These two ingredients form the foundation of what Mandy and I believe to be the best pizza on the planet. The rest of the year, we make the standard sauce-and-cheese pizzas topped with all manner of deliciousness — braised kale and crisp bacon, potatoes and pesto, a thick layer of sauteed baby bella mushrooms — but when it’s arugula season, we make our favorite. We fell in love with this unusual flavor combination at an authentic brick-oven pizzeria in none other than Guadalajara, Mexico. It’s an arugula, cherry tomato and shaved parmesan pizza, but the only thing that’s actually “cooked” is the crust. The combination of warm crispy crust, popping tomato flavor, and spicy greens is unbeatable. Here’s how you make it:

  1. Once you’ve stretched the raw dough onto the pan, drizzle it with olive oil and spread the oil all over the surface of the dough with your hand. Sprinkle with sea salt and liberal amounts of shaved or shredded parmesan cheese. Pop it in the oven and cook as above, watching carefully so it doesn’t burn (might take less than 10 minutes)
  2. While the pizza is cooking, wash 15 to 20 cherry tomatoes and slice them in half
  3. Wash and spin two generous handfuls of arugula
  4. The second the nearly naked pizza emerges from the oven, cover it with a layer of cherry tomatoes and top with a pile of arugula and some more parmesan cheese. Slice and serve immediately!

Other Great Arugula Ideas

  • replace the lettuce on your BLT or next sandwich with arugula
  • toss it into your salad for a bite of extra flavor
  • sauté it into your scrambled eggs
Fall potatoes provide a hearty base for veggie-heavy stews, soups and curries

Fall potatoes provide a hearty base for veggie-heavy stews, soups and curries

Fall Potatoes

The first potatoes of summer — rightfully called “new” potatoes — are waxy and dense, making them ideal for slow-roasting. If you leave those same potatoes in the ground, the tubers grow bigger and the flesh gets lighter and starchier. Harvested in the fall, these bigger potatoes make great baking varieties and transform into delectably creamy and smooth whipped potatoes (generous amounts of butter and cream help, too). They also provide some heft to late-summer stews, soups and curries.

attack of fennel boy!

attack of fennel boy!

In this week’s share:

  • fennel
  • napa cabbage
  • green beans
  • sweet onions
  • red and orange bell peppers
  • jalapeño peppers
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • kale and collard greens
  • a few random tomatoes
  • garlic
  • parsley
  • basil

Changing Gears in the Garden

Despite the warm weather (where were you in July, pal?), the garden is shifting gears into the flavors of fall. Everybody loves fall, because the food is so warm and comforting, the nights are cool and crisp, and the colors are dazzling. Fall has a melancholy edge, though. The kids are back in school, there are soccer and softball practices to run to, and the long lazy days of summer are starting to fade into memory. I, for one, will not miss the tomatoes. There gets to be a point — I think it was two weeks ago — when it’s near impossible to keep up with the tsunami of ripe fruit. And the smell of rotting tomatoes… blech. It’s enough to cure me of tomato fever for at least another year. There are still a few hanging from the withering vines, but you’ll only get a couple tomorrow.

Fall Means Fennel

I’m a big fennel fan. I know that it’s a relative newcomer to many of our CSA members, but it’s worth some experimentation. First thing to know about fennel is which part to eat. In most recipes, the only part you eat is the layered white bulb at the base of the plant. The long celery-looking “arms” of the fennel plant are called stalks and a few recipes, especially soups or stews, call for those. The dill-looking stuff is called the frond and can be chopped finely and used as an herb.

What does fennel taste like? It’s crisp and sweet with a mild anise flavor. Some people wrongly say it tastes like licorice, but I don’t particularly like licorice and I love fennel. Shaved thinly, it makes a great raw salad that pairs well with an orange juice vinaigrette. Try this Fennel and Red Pepper Salad or thinly slice this week’s napa cabbage for a Fennel and Cabbage Slaw. We’re excited to try a recipe out of the Jerusalem cookbook for Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad which uses thin-sliced fennel as the base for a bright, herb-infused, orange-dressed salad.

Fennel’s deepest flavor comes out during a slow braise. Alongside onions, it caramelizes beautifully, getting soft and brown and super sweet. It’s a natural partner for sweet italian sausage, which is typically flavored with anise seeds, fennel’s cousin. For a soul-warming fall dish, try this Braised Fennel with Sausage recipe from Lidia Bastianich, or the Ziti with Sausage, Onions and Fennel. We have her book Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen, where I got this simple shrimp and fennel pasta recipe:

Shells with Fennel and Shrimp

Ingredients:

  • 1 fennel bulb, quartered, plus 3TB shopped fennel fronds (use the tender, fern-like shoots from the middle)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 pound raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 pound pasta shells
  • 2 TB unsalted butter
  • chopped kale or collard green (optional, but encouraged!) — you could also add finely chopped napa cabbage to this
  • salt and crushed red pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. set a large pot of salted water to boil
  2. drop the fennel in the boiling water and fish it out after 3 minutes. When cool, slice fennel into thin strips
  3. cook the pasta in the same water and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid
  4. in a heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium
  5. whack the garlic with the side of a chef’s knife and add to the coil, stirring constantly until lightly golden and fragrant
  6. add the shrimp and cook, tossing frequently, until just pink, about 2 min. Remove shrimp and garlic
  7. melt the butter in the pan and add the chopped greens, seasoning with salt and crushed red pepper
  8. add the sliced fennel along with the reserved pasta liquid and bring to a lively simmer
  9. when the fennel is soft and the sauce is slightly thickened — about 10 minutes — add the shrimp to the pan, season with more salt and/or red pepper and stir into the pasta, garnishing with the fennel fronds

More Fennel Ideas!

Napa Cabbage is Back

This is a returning fall favorite in the garden. Often it’s one of the last treats of the season, but it’s arrived early this year. Like the savoy cabbage we planted in the spring, napa cabbage is curly-leaved and delicate, perfect for slaws, but it also goes great in stir-frys and pasta dishes. I’ll probably try to make kimchi again, with the usual mix of fear and trepidation.  Otherwise, here are some ideas to get you started:

as usual, we have LOTS of red peppers

as usual, we have LOTS of red peppers

Red Peppers Out the Wazoo

The red and orange bell peppers are simply exploding right now, which is great, because have you checked the price of organic bell peppers recently? These things are like red gold. I know we’re giving you a crazy amount of peppers each week, but don’t let them go to waste! Bell peppers are literally the easiest thing to freeze. Cut out the stem and seed pod, slice into strips and throw into a freezer bag. Done. When you’re ready to use them in fajitas or a stir-fry, don’t bother defrosting them. Just toss them into a hot pan and they’ll defrost instantly while retaining some of their original crispiness. For best results: lay the pepper slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet and slide into the freezer. The next morning, transfer the individually frozen strips to a freezer bag.

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