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Roasting tomatoes brings out a richer, meatier flavor

Roasting tomatoes brings out a richer, meatier flavor

In the share this week:

  • heirloom slicing tomatoes – brandywine, cherokee purple, striped German
  • Sungold cherry tomatoes
  • paste tomatoes
  • red and yellow globe tomatoes
  • grape tomatoes
  • green beans
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • red and green bell peppers, including Cubanelles
  • ancho/poblano, jalapeño and Hungarian hot wax peppers
  • watermelon
  • onion
  • garlic
  • basil
  • parsley

The Raw and the Cooked

Every August, when we get the first few ripe heirloom tomatoes, I try to enjoy them as simply as possible. Sliced thickly and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Layered in a beautiful BLT. Maybe drizzled with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar and gobbled down raw with fresh mozzarella.

But then the tomato deluge begins. By the third week of August, the paste tomatoes are ripening in earnest, and the grape and globe tomatoes turn red and deep yellow. Add those to the pounds and pounds of big, juicy heirlooms and cherry tomatoes that are ripening every day, and we’ve got a serious tomato situation on our hands. Luckily, it’s also a delicious one!

When life gives you tomatoes, cook them! Roast them, stuff them, bake them in a pie. Layer them, can them, blend them into soup. Honestly, there’s no wrong way to prepare a vine-ripened, peak-of-season tomato. Just lots of excitingly right ways.

Roasting Your Way to Happiness

The weather has been amazing recently — sunny and relatively cool without a trace of humidity — which means it’s safe to use the oven again. One of the easiest ways to create a rich and flavorful tomato-based dish is to roast the tomatoes first.

Our favorite roasted tomato recipe by far is Stuffed Roasted Tomatoes with Pasta. To create the sauce, you cut a bunch of tomatoes in half and scoop out their guts into a bowl. Into that same bowl, you add minced garlic, basil, parsley and bread crumbs. Mash the mixture into a thick paste and spoon it back into the tomato “shells.” Drizzle the stuffed tomatoes generously with olive oil and bake at 400F until nice and soft, at least 30 mins. The softened stuffed tomatoes can be stirred right into freshly cooked pasta for an instant sauce.

We tried a twist on this recipe the other day. Inspired by a recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook — graciously gifted this summer by my sister-in-law Holly — we decided to use the stuffed roasted tomatoes as the topping for toasts, not pasta. Here’s what the roasted tomatoes look like before being mashed into a thick sauce…

IMG_0199

And here’s what the finished dish looks like — thick slices of toasted bread topped with white beans, roasted tomatoes, and some roasted peppers, onions and zucchini. (plus lots of parmesan cheese and fresh basil)

IMG_0203

World’s Best Tomato Soup

Strong words, I know. But while you’re in the mood for roasting tomatoes, you just have to make roasted tomato soup. Serve alongside grilled cheese sandwiches to achieve “dinner hero” status.

Cream of (Roasted) Tomato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 lbs of tomatoes, quartered if really big
  • half a yellow onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic with the skin still on
  • olive oil
  • 2 to 4 cups of stock or broth, depending on how tomato-y you want it (beef is best, but veggie and chicken work, too)
  • 1 tsp of sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, yogurt or sour cream

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F
  2. Generously oil the bottom of a large glass baking dish, then toss in the tomatoes, onion and garlic to coat with oil
  3. Roast the tomatoes, onion and garlic in the oven until tomatoes are nicely blackened and very soft, about 30 minutes
  4. Meanwhile, bring the stock to a simmer
  5. Let the tomatoes cool slightly, then lift away the charred skin (tongs are helpful here) and remove skin from roasted garlic
  6. Add tomatoes (with all their juices) and onion and garlic to the simmering broth. Let the flavors blend for 5 mins.
  7. Blend the soup with a hand blender or regular blender. Add sugar to taste, then stir in cream or yogurt.

Stuffed Peppers, Sweet and Spicy

Stuffed peppers are a staple dish in many cultures. A hollowed-out pepper makes the perfect container for ground meat, rice, veggies, cheese, or even more peppers! In the CSA share this week you’ll be getting several types of peppers, some sweet and some spicy, but all eminently stuff-able.

First, a pepper primer. You all know what a jalapeño looks like. That’s the only really spicy pepper we hand out. But here are two milder “hot” peppers you’ll be getting this week that are great for stuffing (apologies to the Internet for the stolen stock images):

This smaller, yellow pepper is a Hungarian hot wax pepper

This yellow pepper is a Hungarian hot wax pepper, also known as a “banana” pepper

The most popular way to stuff banana peppers is with a flavorful combo of spicy Italian sausage, cheese and bread crumbs.

This is a poblano or ancho chili pepper

This is a poblano or ancho chili pepper

The classic Mexican preparation of poblano peppers is Chiles Rellenos (stuffed peppers), filled with cheese before being battered and fried to a crispy golden brown. An easier, healthier version simply stuffs the poblanos with a mixture of black beans, corn and cheese. Ground beef taco filling is another excellent addition.

You’ll also be getting a few sweet peppers this week, a combination of red and green bell peppers and pale-green Cubanelles.

Despite their exotic look — and name — Cubanelles are NOT spicy.

Despite their exotic look — and name — Cubanelles are NOT spicy.

There are lots of great ways to stuff a sweet pepper, but here are some ideas to get you started:

And Now, for Your Recipes…

Simple, light and bursting with flavor — the perfect summer dish

Simple, light and bursting with flavor — the perfect summer dish

A big “thank you!” to CSA member Amanda for sharing this recipe for a fruity tomato-nectarine salad she found at The Splendid Table!

Nectarine, Tomato, and Basil Salad with Torn Mozzarella

  • 3 nectarines
  • 10 oz tomatoes of mixed sizes 
and colors
  • 8 oz buffalo mozzarella, drained 
of whey
  • leaves from 1 large bunch of basil
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Halve and pit the nectarines and cut each half into four equal wedges. Halve smaller plum tomatoes or quarter larger ones, and slice the large tomato. Tear the mozzarella coarsely into pieces.
Get a wide, shallow bowl and layer the salad components, seasoning and sprinkling with white balsamic and extra virgin oil as you work. Serve immediately.
tomato pie is a MUST this time of year

tomato pie is a MUST this time of year

CSA member Jared not only made the Galia melon agua fresca again (!), but accompanied it with a creamy and crunchy tomato pie. Here’s a solid tomato pie recipe from the Food Network.

another savory summertime "pie"

another savory summertime “pie”

You might want to hold on to this recipe for Tomato and Corn Pie from CSA member Emily for another couple of weeks when we have more fresh sweet corn.

Keep your dinner pics and recipes coming!

The heirloom tomatoes are coming on fast and furious

The heirloom tomatoes are coming on fast and furious

In the share this week:

  • heirloom slicing tomatoes
  • Sungold cherry tomatoes
  • red and yellow grape tomatoes
  • melons – yellow watermelon, red-fleshed watermelon, cantaloupe or Galia
  • mixed greens – rainbow chard and beet greens
  • bell peppers – green, some red/yellow, and light-green “cubanelle” peppers (not spicy)
  • jalapeño and Hungarian hot wax peppers
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • sweet onion
  • garlic
  • basil

Feeling Lucky

When people ask Mandy and I why we do this farming thing, our standard answer is that we love to cook, we love to eat, and we love having a personal connection with our food. Couldn’t we accomplish the same thing by having a backyard garden? Absolutely. Then why go through the trouble of starting a CSA? Growing vegetables is not a highly profitable enterprise, after all, so why not stick with our day jobs full time, make more money, and grow a couple of tomato plants and pumpkins next to the trampoline out back.

This is why (watch the video)…

Mandy and I are in the farming business for all the wrong reasons. We’re not in it to make loads of money or save the environment or convince people to go “local and organic.” We’re in it because of moments like the one above — standing out in the field on an August evening, admiring rows of homegrown vegetables, picking a few perfect cherry tomatoes, and soaking up the pride of a job well done (at least for now), all while the kids play contently in the dirt.

It’s a selfish enterprise. It simply feels good to be out there. The setting — the 19th century farmhouse and outbuildings of historic Manchester Farm — is unbeatable. Yes, we could grow a big garden in the backyard, but then we couldn’t let the kids run off and fish in the pond, or pull eggs from the chicken coop. It’s not always fun or glamorous to fight weeds and pests and pestilence, but the successes are well worth the effort. And they taste good, too!

Thank you for tagging along with us on this selfish adventure. We hope that some of the pride and joy we experience in growing and harvesting the food extends into your homes and kitchens. We hope that you get a kick out of opening the CSA share each week and conjuring up creative and delicious ways to feed yourselves and your families. And we hope that you like tomatoes, because we’re just getting started…

Rainbow Greens

I don’t usually get to take home a bag of Beth’s greens, but we had an extra last week. Wow, what a selection! The rainbow chard is especially beautiful and delicious. I realize that I’ve been neglecting the chard and greens recipes, so here are a few fresh ideas:

Galia melon "agua fresca"

Galia melon “agua fresca”

Congratulations to CSA members Jared and Emily for both being adventurous enough to try Beth’s recipe for melon “agua fresca.” Apparently a splash of gin doesn’t hurt! The recipe works equally well with cantaloupe or watermelon (seeds removed, of course).

Peppers and Onions

If you’re grilling this week, top your sausage, hot dog, hamburger or steak with a nicely caramelized blend of peppers and onions. Heat up some olive oil in a heavy bottomed skillet (cast iron works great here) over medium. Toss in thinly sliced onion, Hungarian hot wax peppers, cubanelle peppers, and a sweet bell pepper. Stir frequently for 8 to 10 minutes, until onion is nicely browned and peppers are soft. Season with freshly ground salt, pepper, and a pinch of oregano.

More Tomato Ideas

If you’re getting bored with BLTs, try some of these high-summer tomato recipes:

Rustic Italian Bread Salad

I can’t help reposting one of our favorite mid-summer dishes. Here’s our version of the classic panzanella:

  • 1 day-old loaf of crusty sourdough or other rustic white bread, sliced thickly
  • olive oil for painting the bread
  • 1 clove of garlic, cut in half
  • 1 summer squash, sliced thinly lengthwise (optional)
  • 1 eggplant, sliced thinly lengthwise (optional)
  • 15 cherry and plum tomatoes, halved or quartered; or any tomatoes chopped into chunks
  • handful of basil leaves, chopped
  • balsamic dressing, homemade or bottled
  • grated parmesan cheese to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F
  2. Paint both sides of the bread slices with olive oil and place on a large baking sheet. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, flipping the slices over once. You want them to be nicely browned, but not burnt.
  3. Remove tray, and while bread is still warm, rub both sides with the cut end of the garlic. Let the bread cool.
  4. Grill or saute the sliced squash and eggplant until nicely browned and soft. Season with some coarse-ground salt and chop roughly
  5. When bread is cool, cut it into 1-inch cubes
  6. Toss everything together in a big bowl: bread, veggies, tomatoes, basil and parmesan
  7. 30 minutes before serving, dress lightly with balsamic dressing and toss well

Fresh Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed, but not chopped
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 4 cups roughly chopped tomatoes, all varieties
  • handful of chopped fresh basil

Directions:

  1. heat oil in a heavy bottom skillet over medium heat until shimmering
  2. add the garlic and red pepper flakes (optional), stirring so the garlic doesn’t burn
  3. add the chopped tomatoes and adjust the heat so that the tomatoes actively simmer
  4. over the next 10 minutes, stir occasionally, using a spatula or wooden spoon to crush the cooking tomatoes into a chunky sauce
  5. remove the garlic cloves, add the basil and serve over pasta with other veggies from this week (kale, squash, peppers, eggplant, etc.)

Easy Blender Salsa

  • 3-4 medium or 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • half a white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded (or not, if you dare) and roughly chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • lots of cilantro, don’t bother chopping, stems and all
  • juice of one lime (or 1 TB of cider vinegar)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cumin

Directions:

  1. Put everything in the blender or food processor and pulse until it reaches your desired consistency (we prefer it on the chunky side) and pop it in a tupperware in the fridge. Lasts for days.
we heart tomato season

we heart tomato season

In the share this week:

  • heirloom slicing tomatoes
  • Sungold cherry tomatoes
  • celery
  • cantaloupe or Galia melon
  • mixed greens with lettuce
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • eggplant
  • bell peppers
  • jalapeño and Hungarian hot wax peppers
  • sweet onion
  • garlic
  • basil
B frickin' L frickin' T

B frickin’ L frickin’ T

We have a tradition in our house, and like all good traditions, it’s an edible one. When the first fat heirloom tomatoes ripen in the garden each August, we sit down to a giddy meal of BLTs. My family is still in Idaho, but I couldn’t let their absence stand in the way of a time-honored and absurdly delicious tradition. So the sandwich you see above — lovingly topped with Beth’s frilly hydroponic lettuce — is now in my happy stomach. Sorry, Mandy, but you snooze, you lose.

While we’re on the topic of über sandwiches, let me introduce you to this little puppy that I whipped up last week for breakfast.

I call it the ETC

I call it the ETC

This is an open-faced egg, tomato and cream cheese sandwich. Scrambled into the eggs is some finely chopped kale and a handful of basil leaves. Did I mention that one of my proudest parenting moments is hearing my 4-year-old request his PBJ sandwiches “open-faced”? Food snobs don’t fall far from the (local, organic) tree.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m very excited to hand out the first field-grown slicing tomatoes this week. We call them heirlooms because they are seed varieties that have existed more or less in their current genetic form for 50 years or more. And unlike hybrid plants — which are crosses of two or more varieties — the seeds of an heirloom plant will reliably produce the same exact plant. Which means that heirloom seeds can be saved, one of the reasons they have been passed down and prized for so long.

But what I prize most about heirlooms is their big, bold flavor. The heart-shaped monster I’m holding above is a Brandywine, famous for its juicy flesh and fruity flavor. You’ll also be getting Cherokee Purple, the dark-skinned variety that Jared was holding in last week’s post. Soon we’ll have Striped German, a big yellow variety with a blushing red bottom. And also smaller heirlooms, like Moskvich, a cold-tolerant globe tomato supposedly bred in Siberia.

ugly beauties

ugly beauties

If you haven’t eaten or even seen heirloom tomatoes before, you might think they’re some kind of mutant. It’s not uncommon for extra large varieties to have odd swollen lumps and gnarly shapes. But trust me, looks aren’t everything. Every so often, a small part of the tomato might be damaged or overripe. Don’t throw it away! Simply cut away the offending spot and gobble down the rest.

In the past, we’ve struggled with transporting very ripe fruit. Even with lots of care, some beautiful tomatoes have ended up a mushy mess. At Beth’s wise suggestion, I’m trying to avoid that problem this year and pick the biggest heirlooms at the first blush of ripeness. This allows the tomatoes to safely ripen to maturity off the vine and on your kitchen counter. So if you get some greenish specimens, give them a few days at room temperature — not in the fridge! — and they’ll transform into red beauties.

Sungold cherry tomatoes are ripe when they're deep orange

Sungold cherry tomatoes are ripe when they’re deep orange

Hopefully everyone will get a few Sungolds this week. Chefs and cookbook writers agree that there is no cherry tomato with a brighter, sweeter flavor than Sungold. Kids will eat them like candy, if their parents don’t eat them first. Again, snoozers losers.

Faux-caccia á la Tomatoes

tomato and basil is a combination for the ages

tomato and basil is a combination for the ages

I improvised a focaccia recipe by coating my regular pizza dough with a generous amount of olive oil. Topped with slices of tomato, basil leaves and some grated parmesan, it’s definitely won a spot in the summer rotation. Recipe below:

Tomato-Basil Faux-caccia (makes 2 pies)

For the dough:

1/2 cup warm water

1 tsp sugar

3 tsp active dry yeast

3 cups bread flour

1 heaping tsp salt

scant 1 cup water

olive oil

sea salt

For toppings

3 heirloom tomatoes, sliced thickly

big handful of whole basil leaves, washed

salt and pepper

grated parmesan

Directions:

  1. 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. Run the food processor for another minute to knead the dough further.
  5. Place the dough in a large bowl. Coat it with a little olive oil, cover it with a dish towel and leave it in a warm place for at least 1 hour, more if you have time.
  6. Punch down the dough, but don’t knead it. Divide it in two equal balls and let them rise for another 30 minutes in separate bowls covered with dish towels.
  7. Pour 2 to 3 generous TBs of olive oil into the center of two pizza pans. Stretch each ball of dough with your hands into a rough circle and place onto the pizza pans. Working from the middle, and careful not to rip the dough, push it outward toward the edge of the pan. Flip the dough over to coat the opposite side with some olive oil and continue stretching the dough until it’s a nice even circle. Cover again with the towels and let rest for 10 minutes.
  8. While dough is resting, pre-heat the oven to 475F
  9. After dough has puffed up a little, dip your thumbs into some olive oil and press them into the surface of the dough to create little dimples. Sprinkle the surface with fresh-ground sea salt.
  10. Add the basil leaves first, then the slices of tomato, finishing with salt, pepper and parmesan cheese
  11. Bake for 20 minutes or until the bottom of the focaccia is nicely browned. It’s good when it’s hot, but even better after it’s cooled to room temperature.
more delicious melons this week

more delicious melons this week

I was blown away by the flavor of the cantaloupe and Galia melons that Beth grew this year. The Galia, in particular, is remarkably sweet and juicy without a hint of the “musky” flavor characterizing other muskmelons. Beth sent me these exotic tropical melon recipes for the adventurous ones out there. The “agua fresca” sounds particularly refreshing, and I know you still have some cucumbers hanging around ;).

Tropical Melon Soup with Coconut Milk
3 lbs. Galia melon or cantaloupe
1 15 oz. can coconut milk
grated zest and juice of 1 large lime
1 jalapeno, seded and diced
1 tsp. grated ginger
1 Tbsp. chopped basil
1 Tbsp chopped mint
1/4 tsp sea salt
small basil or mint leaves for garnish
  1. Halve melon, scoop out seeds and cut into 3 inch sections. Set 1 section aside. With the rest, remove rind and puree the flesh.
  2. Add the rest of ingredients to melon puree.
  3. Dice the reserved section of melon into small pieces and add to soup. Chill well.
  4. Garnish with little sprig of mint or basil.
Melon and Cucumber Agua Fresca
4 c. melon cut into chunks
1 medium cucumber, peeled and chopped
Simple Syrup (see below)
zest and juice of 1-2 limes
handful of mint leaves
2 cups spring or mineral water
Garnish with mint
Simple Syrup
2 & 1/2 c. water
2 c. sugar
  1. Puree melon and cucumber to break up without getting too foamy
  2. Pour puree into large pitcher. Add syrup to taste, lime zest and juice and herbs. Chill well.
  3. Stir in the spring water and serve over ice. Garnish with herbs

imagejpeg_2

Celery from the garden is a whole new beast. Forget the pale, flavorless stuff you buy at the store. These stalks may be thinner, but they pack a strong celery flavor that’s terrific in chicken salad, stir-fries, or slathered with cream cheese and munched as a snack. Try these ideas from the venerable Martha Stewart:

More Easy Summer Recipes

Stolen from the NY Times:

Beth has grown a beautiful selection of sweet melons

Beth has grown a beautiful variety of sweet melons

In the share this week:

  • cantaloupe, watermelon and/or Galia melons
  • sweet corn
  • hothouse tomatoes
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • basil
  • mixed greens
  • greenhouse lettuce
  • cucumbers
  • onion
  • garlic
  • extras: green beans and cherry tomatoes

Sweet Home Pennsylvania

After a quick vacation out West, I'm glad to be back.

After a quick vacation out West, I’m glad to be back.

My wife’s family lives in Idaho, Utah and Montana, and Mandy and the kids spend a couple of weeks every summer out West with their dozens of cousins. I usually join them for a few days until the garden calls me home. This year we spent part of a family reunion in Yellowstone National Park, a beautiful and patently bizarre landscape. Yellowstone is home to more geysers than all of the world’s geothermic sites combined. In addition to Old Faithful, there are countless bubbling mud pits, roaring steam vents and deep emerald hot springs. Yellowstone became the world’s very first national park in 1872 precisely to preserve these one-of-a-kind natural phenomena.

There is an undeniable majesty to the Western USA. The view out your car window is vast and open. There are always mountain ranges in the distance and acres of clear blue sky overhead. But it’s also basically a desert. Water is a scarce and dwindling resource in many parts of the West. Fights over water rights rage between fish farmers, dirt farmers and municipalities.

Driving from Salt Lake City up to Yellowstone, the natural landscape of scrub brush and sage was interrupted occasionally by mammoth fields of corn, wheat and potatoes. The contrast of arid wasteland and lush greenery is stark, and curiously off-putting. The verdant crops — irrigated by continuously rotating overhead sprayers — seemed out of place in this arid wasteland of lava rock and hot springs. For many people, including my lovely in-laws, this forbidding and hard-won landscape feels like home. As for me, I’ll take Western PA any day.

As much as I complained about the rainy June, we should be mighty grateful for the fertile and bountiful growing conditions here in Western PA. To grow food and raise animals in the high desert plains of central Idaho, my father-in-law relied on water pumped from an intricate system of canals — water that was heavily rationed in drought years.

Here at the farm, I’ve only had to turn on my drip irrigation a handful of times. Sure, the constant battle against weeds can be a pain, but every time we rip up or mow down a patch of invading weeds, we recycle organic matter back into the soil. The result is that I hardly have to apply any fertilizers to my garden. The microbes, worms and teeming soil life thrive in these wet and warm conditions, helping to transform waste matter into available nutrients for the next planting of spring greens, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Our mountains may not be much to brag about and blue skies are a rarity, but Western PA is a great place to grow a garden. And I’ll eat to that!

Fruit of Our Labors

Yup, peppers, zucchini and eggplant are all technically fruit.

Yup, peppers, zucchini and eggplant are all technically fruit.

I grow vegetables, so you can imagine my surprise when a visiting botanist informed me a few years ago that there is no such thing as a vegetable. The word “vegetable” is not an official scientific or botanical term. It’s simply a food thing. For various cultural reasons, we call the leaves, roots, stems and fruit — yes, fruit — of certain plants “vegetables” because we usually eat them in savory rather than sweet dishes.

But if we look at the garden like a botanist, then we’d realize that just about everything we grow during the summer is not a vegetable at all, but a fruit. Plants produce fruit to carry and disperse seeds. As plants evolved alongside humans and other animals, they began to offer increasingly attractive and delicious fruit to draw our attention. Over the centuries, growers have bred some of those wild fruits into a startling array of colors, shapes and flavors, some that we prize for their sweetness and tartness, and others for their crispness and vitamin-packed nutrition.

The tomato is the most obvious fruit in the garden. But by the botanical definition, the list of garden fruits includes summer and winter squash, green beans, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, corn and wheat.

Beth is treating us this week to a mid-summer garden fruit that none of us would confuse with a vegetable. Depending on the bag you receive, you’ll either get a yellow-fleshed watermelon, a musky-sweet cantaloupe or a green-fleshed Galia melon, a Middle Eastern relative of the honeydew. These melons are ripe, juicy and ready to eat. Keep them refrigerated if you’re not going to eat them right away. My advice — eat them right away! They’re terrific.

If you’re looking for a new and exciting way to use those melons, try one of these 19 creative melon recipes from Bon Appetit.

Spruce Up Squash

Zucchini and summer squash doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own, but its firm flesh plays nicely with lots of rich and satisfying recipes, both savory and sweet. Here are some recipe ideas to get you started:

  • Zucchini Souffle – We’ve been making this one for years. “Souffle” is an intimidating word, but it’s nothing more than a cheesy casserole with whipped egg whites.
  • Summer Squash Casserole – Speaking of cheesy casseroles, this is a dinnertime winner.
  • Pasta with thin-sliced Squash – This recipe can be adapted for all kinds of sauces and ingredients, but the idea is to thinly slice the squash into ribbons using a food processor or mandolin until you can’t tell the difference between the strips of pasta and the squash.
  • 23 Best Zucchini Recipes – A drool-inducing collection from Food + Wine
  • Chocolate Zucchini Cake – Amazing when topped with rich buttermint icing (scroll way down for recipe)

World’s Greatest Zucchini Bread

Strong statement, I know. But I stand behind this recipe developed by the finicky geniuses at America’s Test Kitchen (registration required). The trick is wringing out all of the liquid from the shredded zucchini using a dish towel. It means you can incorporate more squash without making the batter overly wet. The result is a super moist and *nearly* healthy dessert. Here’s Mandy’s slightly adapted which reduces the sugar, increases the whole wheat flour and leaves out the walnuts (she’s allergic):

Zucchini Bread (1 loaf)

  • 4 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 TB cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 TB granulated sugar for topping
  1. Preheat oven to 325F and grease a loaf pan
  2. Wrap the shredded zucchini in a thin dish towel and wring out as much liquid as possible, discarding the liquid
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk brown sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla, then fold in zucchini
  4. In a large bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients except for the granulated sugar
  5. Fold wet mixture into the dry mixture until fully incorporated. Pour batter into the loaf pan and sprinkle with the granulated sugar
  6. Bake for 65 to 75 minutes until a toothpick comes out with only a few moist crumbs stuck to it. Let it cool for 30 minutes on a wire rack before slicing, if you can wait that long…

Recent Pics

I'm happy with the first corn harvest, cow nibbles and all

I’m happy with the first corn harvest, cow nibbles and all

Sweet onions drying in the greenhouse. Just a couple...

Sweet onions drying in the greenhouse. Just a couple…

Vampire-proof packing environment

Vampire-proof packing environment

Big tomatoes are coming! So is a large fleshy mass resembling my thumb.

Big tomatoes are coming! So is a large fleshy mass resembling my thumb.

Jared holds a sample of what's to come — a massive heirloom beauty

Jared holds a sample of what’s to come — a massive heirloom beauty

IMG_0103

sweet corn = summer!

In the CSA share this week:

  • sweet corn
  • green peppers
  • cucumbers
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • hothouse tomato
  • eggplant
  • garlic
  • basil
  • green beans (for those who didn’t get it last week)

Happiness in a Husk

One of the main reasons we first became interested in growing our own food was the (hopefully positive) effect it would have on our children’s eating habits. I was a very picky eater as a kid and wouldn’t touch anything resembling a vegetable. I don’t blame my parents for not forcing me to eat broccoli and spinach — I’m sure I would have thrown a fit. And in my experience, forcing a kid to eat “healthy” foods — the “taking your medicine” approach — doesn’t achieve the greater goal, which is to create young eaters who actually crave foods that are nutritious.

Some kids are born picky, myself a prime example. Mandy and I were lucky to get naturally adventurous eaters, but I do think there are substantial benefits to exposing kids to where their food comes from, and even giving them a hand in its growth and harvest. I don’t think my kids would gobble down peas with such fury if they hadn’t picked them themselves. And I don’t know if they’d even try something as exotic as Brussels sprouts if they hadn’t planted the seeds in the greenhouse, helped transplant the seedlings, and watched over months as the miniature cabbage heads slowly emerged along its stem.

Sweet corn is an entirely different story. Show me a child that doesn’t love a hot-buttered ear of summertime corn. The advantage of growing your own corn is that you can stand in the field and eat the freshly picked ears raw. That’s how sweet and tender just-picked corn can be.

toddler Zev (circa 2012) about to dig into a raw ear of sweet corn

toddler Zev (circa 2012) about to dig into a raw ear of sweet corn

Over the next couple of weeks, you’ll be getting lots of wonderful corn in your CSA shares. This wasn’t always a given. The torrential June rains set back Beth’s first planting of corn, yellowing leaves with an overabundance of water-soluble nitrogen. And just when the first ears started to ripen last week, an opportunistic raccoon squeezed under her electrified fence to steal away some prime specimens. On my end, the cows nibbled down half of my crop in June, but most of it has made a full comeback. I expect to harvest ears from the un-chomped plants next week. This is some hard-won corn!

Cob Alternatives

It’s hard to beat the simple pleasure of quick-boiled corn on the cob with a dab of butter and salt. For these fresh-picked ears, I recommend no more than 5 minutes of active boiling, just enough to soften the kernels a bit, but not to sap all of the crisp flavor.

But if you’re looking for other ways to use the sweet corn, consider these recipes:

grilling whole eggplants produces soft, smoky flesh

grilling whole eggplants produces soft, smoky flesh

Whole Grilled Eggplant

We are big fans of Mediterranean food. My daughter brings a hummus and feta sandwich to school each day for lunch. (When she added pickled radishes to the mix in the spring, the smell was quite “interesting” to her tablemates.) My sister gifted us the Jerusalem cookbook a couple of years ago and we’ve been working our way through the incredible recipes. One of our favorites is a smoky eggplant dip (a version of baba ganouj) made from whole grilled eggplants.

Basically, you prick a few holes in two eggplants and set them on a hot gas or charcoal grill, rotating them so that each side gets completely blackened. This takes about 15 minutes total. After you let the charred eggplants cool, you slice them open to reveal creamy soft and smokey flesh that’s easily scooped out with a spoon. Then it’s into the food processor or blender to mix with tahini, garlic, lemon juice and herbs. Here’s a good recipe from the NY Times.

Last night's Mediterranean feast: turkey-zucchini patties stuffed into pita with delicious dips, including the smoky eggplant spread bottom-right

Last night’s Mediterranean feast: turkey-zucchini patties stuffed into pita with delicious dips, including the smoky eggplant spread bottom-right

Time to thin the peppers. We'll pick the biggest green ones and let the rest mature to red and orange!

Time to thin the peppers. We’ll pick the biggest green ones and let the rest mature to red and orange!

bright colors of summer squash

bright colors of summer squash

Your Dinner Pics

Keep sending me shots of your CSA creations. Feel free to text pics directly to 412-496-2805.

Jared actually made the caramelized onion tart. Kudos for adding bacon and chanterelles

Jared actually made the caramelized onion tart. Kudos for adding bacon and chanterelles

More caramelized onions, this time with potato and zucchini

More caramelized onions, this time with potato and zucchini

egg white omelette with zucchini, onions, goat cheese and turkey bacon

egg white omelette with zucchini, onions, goat cheese and turkey bacon

Dave's adventures in pickle land

Dave’s adventures in pickle land

In the share this week:

  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Zucchini and summer squash
  • Mixed greens
  • Sweet onions
  • Leeks
  • Tomato
  • Garlic
  • Basil

One Man’s Pickle Dream

It’s good to have farmer friends. Conover Organic Farm is just 20 minutes away in Burgettstown, and the proprietors, Jeff and Diana, are farming newbies like me who are growing beautiful organic berries and veggies on a few well-kept hillside acres. Jeff is also processing and bottling truly fantastic homemade jams, hot sauces, chili peppers and pickles. Last Winter I sat in the Conovers’ kitchen while they presented with me sample after sample of their deliciously spicy sauces that I was considering for Christmas gifts. But it was the pickles that changed everything.

Jeff’s dill pickles are a revelation. Crispy, sour, mildly garlicky and just perfect. I have tried and failed with my own pickles in the past. Loyally following the recipes in the canning books, I ended up with soggy, over-spiced pickles that I wouldn’t feed to the cats. I had to know Jeff’s secret.

First, he told me, you have to start with fresh-picked pickling cucumbers, not the slicing varieties I had always used. Second, only process them for 15  minutes, not the 40 or more recommended in most recipes. Third, use only water, vinegar, pickling salt, garlic and fresh dill, none of those packaged pickling spices.

With a fresh memory of that incredible pickle still lingering in my mind, I added pickling cucumbers to my annual seed order in January. And just last week, we harvested the first of these perfectly rounded, warty cukes. On Sunday night, I came home with a few dozen cucumbers, fresh garlic, fresh dill — all ready to be washed, sliced and stuffed into canning jars.

packed, stacked and ready to be steamed — but not too long!

packed, stacked and ready to be steamed — but not too long!

As the jars came out of the steam canner, I was actually giddy. Good pickles will do that to you. Just five minutes ago, I cracked open the seal on the first jar with a satisfying pop. Mandy and I each fished out a slice and toasted our good fortune. The verdict? Crunchy, well-balanced, and well worth the wait.

Pickles and Other Cuke Ideas

You should be getting a bunch of cucumbers this week — mostly the slicing variety, but also a few pickling cukes in the mix. I realize that most folks don’t have the same pickle obsession as me, so you may not have canning equipment on hand. But that doesn’t mean you should miss out on some wonderfully flavorful cucumber concoctions. Here are some quick and easy ideas for putting those cukes to work:

Quick-Marinated Asian Cukes

Mix the following ingredients together with 2-3 very thinly sliced cucumbers and chill in the fridge for at least an hour, preferably 4 hours. Adjust white vinegar and sugar to taste. These also go great on top of Asian noodles with a peanut dipping sauce.

1/3 cup rice vinegar

1/3 cup white vinegar

2 TB sesame oil

1-2 cloves minced garlic

2 TB sugar

1 tsp sesame seeds

1 tsp chile pepper flakes (optional)

1 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced (optional)

Refrigerator Pickles

This is a great solution for a small batch of pickles and you don’t have to invest in a steam canner or wrestle with a hot water bath. All you need to do is make the brine, pour over the cucumbers and let them soak up the flavor in the fridge for a few days. Even better, they stay extra crispy. This recipe is a good one, although I suggest leaving out the peppercorns unless you like your pickles extra spicy.

Mexican-Style Cucumbers with Lime, Salt and Chili Powder

In Mexico, just about every imaginable snack is livened up with the Holy Trinity of flavor: lime juice, salt and chili powder. For a fresh and flavorful appetizer, peel and thinly slice 2 or 3 cucumbers into discs. Squeeze the juice of one lime over the cukes, then add a few cranks of salt and as much (or as little) chili powder as you like. Perfect for a summer night.

awesome farm helpers weighing and sorting last week's potatoes

awesome farm helpers weighing and sorting last week’s potatoes

Potatoes and Pesto

You’re getting some more potatoes, basil and garlic this week, which reminds me of one of our favorite flavor combinations — potatoes with pesto. We don’t have enough basil to give everyone 3 cups worth, but start with Lidia’s classic pesto recipe and cut it in half. Some of you will be getting green beans this week — major crop loss, don’t ask — in which case I strongly encourage you to make the fabulous potato and green bean Pasta alla Genovese featured in Lidia’s recipe. Otherwise, just mix the pesto with some freshly boiled potatoes for an excellent side dish.

Potato and Leeks

I know it’s hot — yes, finally! — but you can still cook up a batch of creamy potato-leek soup. Cool it off in the fridge and you have a French summertime favorite: Vichyssoise.

Caramelized Onions

Beth’s sweet onions are sweet indeed, and one of the best ways to capitalize on all of those natural sugars is to caramelize your onions. Caramelizing onions is just a fancy way of saying “cooking them low and slow.”

How to do it:

  • Put a few tablespoons of olive oil into a heavy-bottomed pan or pot and set the heat to medium-low.
  • Thinly slice 3 to 5 onions (great way to use extras from last week) and saute them, stirring every couple of minutes, for at least 20 minutes.
  • The onions will turn from translucent to tan to dark brown, and the consistency will be very soft and gooey. Adding some cranks of salt early in the cooking will help them sweat out excess liquid and caramelize faster.

What to do with caramelized onions? Saveur magazine has 27 recipe ideas, but we have a family favorite: caramelized onion tart.

This is the same crust as the onion tart, but filled with sliced grilled summer squash - another good idea!

This is the same crust as the onion tart, but filled with sliced grilled summer squash – another good idea!

Caramelized Onion Tart

For tart crust:

2/3 cup water

1/3 cup olive oil

1.5 to 2 cups bread flour

dash of salt

For filling:

caramelized onions (see instructions above)

1 egg, beaten

Instructions:

  • Clear off some clean counter space and  make a ring of flour, using about 1 cup to start. Mix in the dash of salt.
  • Whisk the oil and water together as much as possible and pour about 1/4 cup into the center of the flour ring. Using your fingertips or the tip of a rubber spatula, gently work the flour into the liquid, forming a sticky paste. Continue to add more liquid, incorporating more of the flour. Add more flour to the ring as necessary until you use all of the liquid and have an oily, malleable dough that isn’t sticky or wet.
  • Put the dough aside and preheat the oven to 400 F
  • Mix the caramelized onions with the beaten egg in a medium bowl
  • Roll the dough into a large irregular circle. Roll up the flattened dough around the rolling pin and drape it over a greased pizza pan. Don’t worry if it spills over the edges. That’s a good thing.
  • Spread the onion mixture thickly over dough and fold the edges toward the center.
  • Cook 20-25 minutes until the dough is nicely browned and crispy. Can be served hot or room temperature.

Your Dinner Pics

Thanks to everyone who has been sending me pics of their family meals and favorite recipes — keep them coming! I’m behind a few weeks, but here are some of the highlights:

roasted potatoes and leeks

roasted potatoes, onions and leeks

“Our July 4th meal included kale, kohlrabi, radishes, onions, dill, cabbage, and cucumbers from our share :)”

Asian pasta salad featuring kale, cabbage and scapes

Asian pasta salad featuring kale, cabbage and scapes

Grilled swordfish with kale/basil pesto

Grilled swordfish with kale/basil pesto

Stir-fried flank steak with leeks, snap peas and mushrooms

Stir-fried flank steak with leeks, snap peas and mushrooms

Bruschetta — recipe below!

Bruschetta — recipe below!

Emily’s Bruschetta Recipe

Thanks to CSA member Emily for sharing her simple and delicious recipe for using Beth’s early hothouse tomatoes, plus fresh garlic and basil.

  • Slice tomato thickly then cut into cubes, then place in a small mixing bowl
  • Add 1 1/2 cloves of garlic (or more), 3 or so basil leaves and 2 tablespoons or so balsamic vinegar and salt to taste.
  • Cover and set aside to marinate
  • Toast a thick slice of good bread, (Bread Works rustic Italian @Chicco Bacello or Giant Eagle Tuscan both work well).
  • Rub toast with a cut piece of garlic. Top with tomato mixture. Drizzle with olive oil and add pepper to taste.
Thin-skinned new potatoes are a July delicacy

Thin-skinned new potatoes are a July delicacy

In the share this week:

  • new red potatoes
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • hothouse tomato
  • head of green lettuce
  • mixed greens: kale and chard
  • spring onions
  • leeks
  • broccoli
  • garlic
  • cucumber
  • basil

Spud Love

I’m crazy about potatoes, and not just because my wife is from Idaho. New potatoes are my absolute favorite. These mid-sized spuds are the first to be dug in July. Their skin is paper-thin and their raw texture is crisp and juicy like a good apple. Boiled or roasted, the flesh becomes creamy and buttery smooth, perfect for mashing, smashing or simply mushing with the back of your fork.

Have you ever dug a potato? It’s literally like digging for buried treasure. The size of the above-ground greens give you some hint of the size of the harvest below, but there are always surprises. Every time you push the pitchfork into the soil and raise up the roots, it feels like a magic trick. From a pile of loose dirt, you pull a meal’s worth of perfectly formed red-skinned spuds. In 20 minutes, they could be washed, cut, boiled, buttered, salted and sitting in your appreciative belly. That’s soil-to-stomach eating at it’s finest.

I took this quick video with my phone to give you a better idea what digging potatoes looks like (no overly curious dogs were injured in the filming of this video):

This time of year, we use potatoes in everything. When I dug the very first handful of red-skinned potatoes a week ago, we cooked them up in a steamy Thai beef curry. This Thai curry recipe from Thai Kitchen is a reliable one.

Cut the potatoes into 1-inch chunks to speed up cooking. Add the spuds to the pot right after you pour in the coconut milk (a second can of coconut milk or a cup of stock may be necessary to have enough cooking liquid for the potatoes). The potatoes will be fork-tender about 10 minutes after the coconut milk comes to a boil, so time the addition of other vegetables or meats accordingly.

Before: prepping for Thai beef curry with potatoes

Before: prepping for Thai beef curry with potatoes

After: topped roasted peanuts and sriracha for extra flavor

After: topped with roasted peanuts and sriracha for extra flavor

Of course, mashed potatoes are a must. Last night, we boiled up a big pile of potatoes and mashed them with a splash of buttermilk and thin-sliced, pan-fried leeks.

Cut up the white and light green bottoms of two leeks. Heat 2 TB of olive oil over medium and add the leeks with a few cranks of salt. Stir frequently for about 5 mins, until leeks are soft and some are starting get brown and crispy. Add them to the cooked potatoes with some butter, a splash of buttermilk (or regular milk) and salt and pepper to taste. Mash roughly with a wooden spoon and serve to wild applause.

Thin-sliced leeks fried until soft and slightly crispy

Thin-sliced leeks fried until soft and slightly crispy

Hothouse Tomatoes: Christmas in July

Even though we think of tomatoes as the quintessential summer treat, the first vine-ripened beauties aren’t usually ready until early August. This is one of the many reasons we love having Beth around. My growing partner has been raising tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and greens in her modern greenhouse for years, and she has it down to a science.

Greenhouse tomato plants back in mid-May

Greenhouse tomato plants back in mid-May

Check out the picture above. Each tomato plant is started from seed and transplanted into these boxes filled with a hydroponic growing medium — basically loose rocks that hold moisture. The boxes are connected to plastic tubing that continuously pipes in water spiked with organic nutrients. Beth prunes each growing plant down to one “leader” or main stem. That stem is tied to a pulley that’s strung 7 feet up in the air. As the plant grows, the string is tightened to keep the heavy plant upright.

This week you’ll be enjoying fat slicing tomatoes that were first planted in the greenhouse back in late March. To savor vine-ripened tomatoes in early July requires a lot of hard work and hard-won knowledge, and I’m very thankful to have Beth on our team.

Tomato-Basil: a Match Made in Heaven (Technically, Italy)

You’re getting both basil and tomatoes this week. May we suggest a trip to Giant Eagle — or better yet, the Strip — for some fresh mozzarella? Layer a thick slice of fresh mozzarella with an equally thick slice of tomato, some basil leaves, and drizzle lightly with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepper. Oh boy…

Boo-hoo for Broccoli

As we expected, the cabbage worm attack severely set back our second round of broccoli. The heads looked like they might make a comeback, but on closer inspection, the combination of defoliation and excessive rain led to a lot of rotting. We were able to salvage a small head for each share, but it’s hardly the broccoli bounty I had planned and worked for all spring. Boo-hoo indeed.

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