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savoy cabbage in all of its curly splendor

savoy cabbage in all of its curly splendor

In the share this week:

  • head of curly leaf savoy cabbage
  • head of fancy cone-shaped cabbage
  • bunch of sweet spring onions
  • bag of mixed greens: kale and chard
  • bunch of purple mustard greens
  • leeks!

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Last summer, when we were experiencing a similar stretch of monsoon weather, I drove past a rural church whose sign outside read, “If you’re praying for rain, stop!” This might be a good time to reiterate the plea. Lord, please send some of your wonderful rain to California — we’ve got plenty!

The danger of too much rain is water-logged soil, which leads quickly to rot. Beth has spent most of this week cutting open plastic mulch to dry out stagnant water, which threatens her onions and leeks and garlic. He cauliflower, which we had hoped to give out this week, has officially succumbed to rot.

More bad news on the broccoli front. My second planting of broccoli, which yielded fat blue-green heads last year, has been mercilessly attacked by cabbage worms. As I wrote in my email last week, I applied my usual treatment of Bt, a natural bacteria that kills the worms, but the rain washes it off so quickly that it’s ineffective. Here’s what the broccoli plants looked like yesterday…

At least the cabbage worms got to enjoy the broccoli. Stupid cabbage worms.

At least the cabbage worms got to enjoy the broccoli. Stupid cabbage worms.

There’s an outside chance that the heads will still emerge, but I’m not betting on it. Boo-hoo.

Cabbage Party

In much better news, we’re handing out two beautiful heads of cabbage this week that rival each other in vegetative beauty. The curly-leafed savoy cabbage was new last year and has become one of the favorite things we grow. The leaves, when chopped finely in a slaw, are so delicate and sweet that you almost forget you’re eating a cabbage. Then there’s a brand-new cabbage variety called caraflex that takes on a stunning, conical shape. I haven’t tasted it yet, but it gets points for its looks alone.

check out the shape of these caraflex cabbages

check out the shape of these caraflex cabbages

Both of these cabbages — along with Beth’s first sweet onions, leeks and fine-chopped greens —would go great in this pasta and cabbage recipe we posted last year. We made it again last night to rave reviews (and an embarrassing amount of animal grunting noises).

“Polish” Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 leeks, dark green parts removed, the rest chopped thinly
  • 3 garlic scapes, sliced thinly (or 2 cloves of garlic, minced)
  • 1 head of savoy cabbage, core removed, sliced very thinly
  • 1 lb ground beef (optional)
  • generous pile of kale, stem removed and chopped into small pieces
  • thyme and oregano (fresh or dried), and salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 box of pasta
  • parmesan cheese for the table

Directions:

  1. Boil water and cook the pasta al dente according to package directions
  2. Put a large, heavy pan over medium heat, heat up the oil and then add the onions, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes until nicely softened and caramelized
  3. Toss in the chopped garlic scapes or garlic and stir for additional minute
  4. In batches, stir in the cabbage. Crank in some salt to help the cabbage release its  moisture, then cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is very soft.
  5. If you’re using the ground beef, add it now, breaking it up into small pieces as it browns and cooks fully
  6. Toss in the kale and stir until it’s nice and tender, another 3 minutes
  7. Add in the herbs, salt and pepper until the mixture is well seasoned and flavorful
  8. Fold the vegetable mixture into the just-cooked pasta and serve with shredded parmesan
the subtle oniony flavor of leeks is a favorite in French cuisine

the subtle oniony flavor of leeks is a favorite in French cuisine

How to Cut a Leek

Leeks are members of the allium family, like onions and garlic, and they put on more and more layers as they grow. Sometimes soil gets trapped between those layers. So the way to prepare a leek is to remove the dark green tops, trim the dangly beard of roots, and slice the leek top to bottom down the middle. Holding the leek halves under running water, fan out each layer and rinse out any remaining soil. Now you’re good to go.

Here are some leek and onion recipes to get you rolling:

Dinner Pics of the Week

Thanks to CSA member Emily for sending us these pics of some recent family meals featuring farm veggies. Send us your own glamour shots and we’ll put them on next week’s post!

cabbage noodlesscape hummussugar snap sausage

not all of the broccoli is this pretty, but it's all tasty

not all of the broccoli is this pretty, but it’s all tasty

In the CSA share this week:

  • broccoli
  • green cabbage
  • purple and green kohlrabi
  • sugar snap peas (another huge bag!)
  • red and green lettuce
  • mustard greens
  • kale
  • baby greens mix: kale and chard
  • garlic scapes (maybe)
  • radishes and turnips (another maybe)
Chickens are welcome in the garden. Cows, not so much.

Chickens are welcome in the garden. Cows, not so much.

A Dose of Reality (and Humility)

I’m a marketing copywriter by day, which means that I focus much of my creative energy trying to make things sound appealing. I admit that a fair amount of that marketing impulse bleeds over into my blog posts for the farm. While my intention with this blog isn’t necessarily to draw in more customers — frankly, expansion is not an option — I’m certainly trying to make my CSA customers excited about opening up their shares and digging into the goodies. (See, perfect example. I could have just said “vegetables,” but “goodies” implies fun and deliciousness!)

I worry, though, that in my effort to communicate the many blessings of the farm experience, I’m guilty of presenting an overly polished image of what it’s like to run a small CSA. While we certainly have had a lot of good luck so far this season, and have plenty to be thankful for, we have not been immune to setbacks and all-out failures. My spinach, for example, which we painstakingly transplanted back in early spring, got completely fried by a week of prematurely hot and dry days. The beets, which should have been big and fat, were also stunted by that early heat wave. Ditto for the carrots.

Over the weekend we had another kick in the shins. The dairy cows, with whom we share the farm property, have a strong wandering streak, and one or more of them moseyed into our corn patch and chomped the tops off half of our young plants. Again, these were hundreds of transplants that required 8 adults to plant a few weeks ago. The good news is that the corn plants, which are really a variety of tall grass, will likely grow back, just much later than desired. And the better news is that Beth planted a round of corn two weeks before me and it is gratefully cow-free.

Why am I telling you all of this? I’m not sure. I just thought I would repress my marketing instincts for a moment and give a more honest rendering of what a messy business it is to grow food. As a part-time farmer, I have tremendous respect for people who devote all of their energy to growing healthy, humanely raised food. Not only is it financially risky, but it can be physically and emotionally exhausting. That’s why we’re staying small and keeping our day jobs!

Wednesday helpers planting green beans

Wednesday helpers planting green beans. And that’s Jared adding a shovel of compost to each broccoli plant.

Mustard Greens

This is the first year that I’ve grown mustard greens and I’m excited to make them a regular addition to the garden. We’re harvesting two varieties this week, a curly-leafed green and a red mustard. As the name implies, mustard greens have a slightly spicy edge, but nothing you can’t handle. They are another classic southern ingredient, like turnip greens, and go great with savory flavors like bacon, chicken and onions. Martha Stewart may be a convicted felon, but man did she come up with 9 great mustard greens recipes. Here’s one that our family enjoyed recently:

Dumplings with Mushrooms, Bacon and Mustard Greens

You can find dumpling wrappers — aka wonton wrappers — in most grocery stores. Giant Eagle hides them next to the produce in the tofu section. The kids have a good time wrapping up the dumplings, and the cooking process is very forgiving, so even the ugliest specimens turn out tasty. To balance out the savory heft of the dumplings, serve with a side of raw sugar snap peas!

Ingredients

  • 4 pieces good bacon, we like Giant Eagle’s Smokehouse Bacon
  • 15 baby bella mushrooms or 3 large portabella mushrooms, diced into small pieces
  • large bunch of mustard greens (or turnip greens, or kale), washed, stems removed, and finely chopped
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, minced or shredded
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced (or 1 garlic scape, finely chopped)
  • 1 egg
  • package of wonton wrappers
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chicken stock/bouillon
  • soy sauce and sriracha to serve

Directions

  1. heat a heavy pan over medium. when hot, add the bacon and cook to desired crispiness, then let it drain on paper towels
  2. pour out all but 1 TB of the bacon drippings into a mug (save for later) and add the diced mushrooms, cooking until wilted and soft, about 3 to 5 mins. remove cooked mushrooms to a medium mixing bowl
  3. add 1 TB of the bacon drippings back into the pan and scrape in the ginger and garlic, stirring for 30 seconds so it doesn’t burn
  4. add the chopped greens and a few cranks of salt. stir constantly until the greens are fully wilted and soft, about 3 minutes. slide the greens mix into the same mixing bowl as the mushrooms
  5. let the mix cool for a couple of minutes, then add the egg, stirring to incorporate
  6. chop the cooked bacon into small pieces and add to the mixture in the bowl
  7. assemble the dumplings according to wonton package instructions, using about 1 TB of mixture for each dumpling
  8. to speed up the cooking process, heat two pans over medium-high with about 2 TB of oil to fully coat the bottom surface
  9. when the oil is hot, carefully add the dumplings in a single layer, careful not to crowd them too much. let them cook undisturbed for 2 mins
  10. add a splash of chicken stock to each pan (roughly 1/4 cup) and immediately place a lid over each pan. let the dumplings steam/braise in the liquid for another 2 mins or until their skins become translucent
  11. remove the dumplings with kitchen tongs — the bottoms should be crispy and brown — and serve with a bowl of soy sauce for dipping and sriracha hot sauce for an extra kick.
children, this is where babies come from, cabbage babies, that is.

children, this is where babies come from, cabbage babies, that is.

Slaw Season

The cabbages are coming on fast, which means the next few CSA shares will be loaded with cabbages of all sorts of shapes and sizes: curly leafed savoy, conical beauties and the standard green variety you’re getting this week. When the weather is hot and muggy, a cool and refreshing cabbage slaw is mighty satisfying. Add thinly chopped kohlrabi to the mix, even the shredded stems of the broccoli. Finely chopped garlic scapes are also a welcome addition.

Here are some slaw recipe ideas to get you started:

sugar snap peas — a healthy delicious snack

sugar snap peas — a healthy and deliciously sweet snack

In this week’s share:

  • red lettuce
  • green lettuce
  • kale
  • bag of mixed greens – baby kale and chard
  • garlic scapes
  • hakurei turnips
  • sugar snap peas
  • beets and beet greens
  • greenhouse cucumber

Sugar Babies

Everybody loves sugar snap peas. It’s one of those vegetables that even the pickiest kid will munch (dipped in ranch dressing, of course). Beth has grown a whopper of a patch of sugar snaps this year and we’re thrilled to hand out 2lbs of these sweet little suckers in this week’s CSA share.

The best way to eat sugar snap peas is straight out of the bag. Grab the small stem and snap downward, removing the thin string that runs across the pea’s spine. Then crunch away — shell and all!

If you insist on using the peas in an actual recipe, sugar snaps are a delightful addition to any salad or slaw, either sliced thinly or tossed in whole. We also love sugar snaps in a stir-fry. They only need to be sauteed for a couple of minutes so they retain their sweet green crunch. Here are some recipe ideas to get you started:

Garlic Aioli

Try this as a gourmet Ranch dressing replacement for dipping those delightful snap peas:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs (if you are sketched out about raw eggs, look for pasteurized eggs at the store)
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1.5 cups olive oil

Directions:

  1. Blend the garlic and salt in a blender until it forms a thick paste
  2. Add the raw eggs, lemon juice and mustard and blend until combined
  3. With the blender running, slowly pour in the olive oil until it looks like mayonnaise. Homemade aioli will keep in the refrigerator for a week.
Smooth, tender hakurei turnips

Smooth, tender hakurei turnips

Turnip Love

If everyone loves sugar snap peas, then you could say the opposite about the lowly turnip. The traditional purple turnip is big and bulbous and best when it’s slow roasted or boiled, neither of which is particularly appealing in the muggy heat of summer.

That’s why I love the Hakurei turnip, a Japanese variety also known as a salad turnip. These creamy white turnips are much closer to a radish than a standard purple turnip. First, there’s the size — ping-pong ball or smaller. Then there’s the flavor, which is super subtle and almost sweet, with none of the spicy sting of a radish.

The white bulbs of the Hakurei turnip are best enjoyed sliced thinly in a salad or arranged on a raw veggies hors d’oeuvres plate alongside those snap peas. There are recipes for roasted them or braising them in butter, but I think raw is the way to go.

Turnip Greens

The turnip love-fest doesn’t end with the bulbs — the greens are also amazing! And you don’t have to do the traditional southern preparation which boils all flavor and nutrients out of the greens and requires the purchase of a ham hock. We’ve been making our favorite beans and greens recipe for years now and it couldn’t be faster, easier, or tastier (if we do say so ourselves):

a swan-like garlic scape emerging from the young garlic plant

a swan-like garlic scape emerging from the young garlic plant

In the share this week:

  • Red lettuce
  • Green lettuce
  • Mixed baby greens: crinkly kale, chard and more
  • Beets and beet greens
  • Kale
  • Green onions
  • Radishes and baby turnips
  • Sweet peas
  • Garlic scapes

IMG_20150603_114024

last week’s haul of sweet peas — 100 lbs!

Another Busy June!

Early June is by far our busiest time in the garden all season. First, we have tons of transplanting to do — hundreds of pepper, tomato, corn, cucumber and zucchini plants — all in the span of a week. Then there’s all of the harvesting to keep up with, including last Wednesday’s pea-picking marathon. And finally, there are the weeds. The warm spring weather and occasional rainstorm make those weeds simply explode and it’s a full-time job to stay ahead of them. Which is tricky for a couple of part-time farmers…

But we’re not complaining. We know that every hour we spend digging holes in the garden will result in another bushel of sweet corn or basket of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. Thank you so much to those folks who came out last Saturday night to lend a hand with the corn transplanting. We put more than 750 skinny seedlings in the ground and have the aching backs to prove it. Incredibly, those plants will be towering over our heads in just two short months and we’ll be husking our way to happiness.

There will be more opportunities to help transplant over the upcoming weekend. While we certainly benefit from your help, I also firmly believe that working on the farm benefits you as CSA member families. Food simply tastes better when you’ve had a hand in growing it. It doesn’t hurt that historic Manchester Farms, where our garden is located, is a gorgeous and serene location to spend an evening outdoors. Join us next time and see for yourselves what it’s all about.

What the heck is a garlic scape?

Get ready for a June delicacy. Every year around this time, garlic plants produce a long, curly stem that will eventually flower and go to seed. Garlic growers snip off this snake-like stem — called a scape — to redirect the plant’s growing energy to the bulb, which will spend the next month fattening up. As an added bonus, garlic scapes are delicious!

A raw garlic scape is tender and green with a mild garlicky kick, even milder than the green garlic we got a couple of weeks ago. Sliced into thin discs, it’s an excellent addition to a salad or to scrambled eggs. But the classic preparation is garlic scape pesto. Here are some variations on the pesto recipe for you to sample:

sweet red beets in a sea of spinach

sweet red beets in a sea of spinach

Can’t beat a beet

Actually, you can. Sounds pretty tasty, too. Truth is, you can’t go wrong with a slow-roasted beet. The sweet flavor and shocking red color of these things is unmatched in the natural world. If you’ve never roasted a beet before, here’s how easy it is:

  • Preheat oven to 400F
  • Trim the beets of their greens and their “beard,” the dangly roots below (save the greens!)
  • Lay the beets on a baking pan and drizzle generously with olive oil and coarse salt
  • Cover the beets and baking sheet tightly with aluminum foil
  • Roast for 40-50 minutes until a fork pokes easily into the softened beets
  • Unwrap the foil and let the beets cool for 15 minutes
  • (Using gloves if you don’t like pink palms) Rub off the skin, which should fall off easily, revealing the shiny crimson-red beet

The simplest preparation is to slice up the roasted beets, drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar and enjoy with goat cheese and toasted walnuts. Or you could try some of these tempting recipes:

Bonus: Beet Greens!

Beet greens are sweet and delicate, just like a ruby red chard. Sauteed quickly in olive oil, they go great with eggs and are the perfect pairing with balsamic vinegar. Try our famous recipe for EZ Beets and Greens with Balsamic and Goat Cheese.

Pea Recipe of the Week

We made a few different dishes featuring sweet peas last week, but the runaway favorite was Bacon and Pea Pasta in a light and creamy sauce. We bulked it up by chopping up a bunch of kale and cooking it down with the peas in the bacon drippings. I love the trick of adding chicken bouillon to the pasta cooking water. It made for a clean plate night all around.

the sweet green pop of freshly picked peas

the sweet green pop of freshly picked peas

In the share this week:

  • head of red lettuce
  • head of green lettuce
  • big bag of mixed baby greens (spinach, baby chard, arugula and more)
  • kale
  • green onions
  • radishes/baby turnips
  • sweet peas
  • dill
  • kohlrabi

Flavor is a fascinating thing. Humans evolved our highly developed sense of taste in order to determine which foods in nature were good for us and which alluring delicacies might kill us. Millennia before the industrialization of eating brought us artificial flavor and highly processed foods, we used our taste to judge the nutritional value of what we ate.

We sought out ripe fruit for its brain-building sugars. We hunted game for its rich proteins. Our bodies evolved in tandem with our edible environment, training our brains to derive pleasure from satisfying our body’s vitamin and mineral needs. Interestingly, some natural foods even contain low levels of certain toxins that remind us to stop when we’ve eaten enough.

Thousands of years later, we still inhabit those same brains and bodies, but our edible environment has changed drastically. Our taste buds are assaulted by processed foods with hyperactive flavor profiles. Our brains, which were programmed to derive pleasure from rare and essential nutrients like salt, sugars and fat, light up like Times Square at the taste of fast food and salty snacks. The food industry capitalizes on those hard-wired cravings to the detriment of our collective health.

I’m as guilty as anybody for binging on salty snack foods and rich desserts. But as I eat more and more from the garden, I am slowly retraining my brain to recognize the connection between natural flavors and nutritional value. Our taste buds have vital information to share with us, if we can hear the whispers of the garden over the clamor of the drive-thru.

For more info on the flavor wars, check out the most recent radio episode of America’s Test Kitchen in which they interview Mark Schatzker, author of The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor.

Peas, Please

A great place to start the flavor retraining process is with the humble sweet pea. When I was a kid, you couldn’t pay me enough to eat a pea. One of my favorite dishes at Chinese restaurants was roast pork fried rice and I would dutifully pick out each and every offensive pea and slide them off my plate. To me, peas were bland and mushy and almost gratingly “green,” like chewing on the front lawn.

Only since I’ve started growing my own peas have I realized what I’ve been missing all along. The flavor of a freshly picked sweet pea is like candy. These things are packed with natural sugars, especially when they’re fresh off the vine. In fact, the sugars in sweet peas begin to turn to starch the minute they’re plucked from the plant. That’s why we’re waiting until Wednesday morning to harvest all of the peas for the CSA. I encourage each of you to crack open one of these bad boys and eat a row of raw peas before the just-picked sweetness is gone. Your taste buds will love you for it.

To Shell or Not to Shell?

Technically, the peas we’re handing out this week are English shelling peas, which are traditionally eaten without their pods. Simply use your thumbs to crack open the pea pod along its seam and pop out the individual peas. That said, you’re perfectly welcome to eat the whole pea, pods and all. Since we’re early in the season, the pea pods are still quite tender and have a sweet flavor of their own. And since you need a half pound of pods to produce a single cup of peas, leaving the shells on will make your peas go further.

Peas & Dill: the Flavor of Spring

Complimentary flavors like sweet peas and dill, or tomato and basil, are as much a product of growing as cooking. It’s no coincidence that sweet peas and dill are two of the first spring crops to be ready in the garden. Or that tomatoes and basil plants both reach maturity in the peak of summer. We traditionally eat these flavors together because they are grown together.

Simplest Pea Recipe

  1. Bring a small pot of water to a boi
  2. Add 2 cups of peas, some chopped dill, and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes
  3. Drain the peas, stir in a pat of butter, and add salt and pepper to taste
  4. Enjoy!

Here are some other ideas for pairing peas and dill in this week’s meals:

What in the World is Kohlrabi?

alien invaders, aka kohlrabi

alien invaders, aka kohlrabi

Kohlrabi is a funky looking member of the cabbage or cole family that looks like it recently arrived from the planet Zebulon. Don’t let kohlrabi’s odd looks fool you, it’s a remarkably versatile treat. Most folks enjoy it raw — thinly chopped or shaved into a salad or slaw. Its mild flavor carries hints of radish, cabbage and broccoli. Remove the leaves (which you can cook like collard greens) and slice up the pale green bulb.

IMG_4652

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:

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