CSA in hindsight

Peas.

Peas.

Reflecting on our first CSA (community-supported agriculture) season, I think I can call the venture a success. Even my husband, who was lukewarm to the idea, looks forward to the weekly boxes and has praised the quality of the produce.
I’ve also been impressed by the variety.

Heirloom tomato.

Heirloom tomato.

Fruit has included rhubarb, strawberries, elderberries (!), raspberries watermelon, cantaloupe and more varieties of tomatoes than I can name.
I’ve managed to tuck some away for cooler months—as elderberry syrup, stewed (and frozen) rhubarb, frozen strawberries, piquante sauce and yellow plum tomato basil preserve.

And we’ve had nearly every manner of vegetable:

  • mixed baby greens, head lettuce, swiss chard, parsley, purslane
  • green, yellow, white and red onions, garlic scapes and garlic bulbs
  • white, yellow, purple, red and sweet potatoes
  • green, purple and yellow beans, pod peas
  • radishes, daikon, carrots, beets, rutabaga, turnip
  • broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco kale and cabbage
  • sweet peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash
  • spaghetti squash, butternut squash, acorn squash, pumpkins

We ate as much as we could while it was fresh. The last of the sturdier crops are in the fridge (kale, daikon, beets, Jerusalem artichoke) or cupboard (potatoes, winter squash garlic). And the rest has been picked and jarred (beans, beets, daikon) or blanched and frozen (chard, kale, peas, beans).

Sweet mini-peppers.

Mini sweet peppers.

There were also a few surprises:
Corn on the cob: It’s a staple in southern Ontario, but I was surprised to see the first of several dozens in the CSA box. It’s been boiled and barbecued, eaten with plenty of salt and pepper, frozen for winter and made into corn relish.
Shell beans: Cooked and added to soup or packed into my lunches, on salads and leftover tomato-braised chicken.
Mini sweet peppers: I sliced these into pretty rings for a tossed salad.
Purslane: An edible weed with a slight peppery taste, it’s an interesting addition to a salad.
Purple-black heirloom tomato: Made into colourful Caprese salad along with early girl and a lovely orange tomato mistakenly identified as lemon boy (both from my garden).

Lemon cucumbers.

Lemon cucumbers.

Lemon cucumber: The mild-flavoured cukes were added to a Greek salad.
Watermelon radish: A pale green skin, white inner layer and bright red centre make these radishes as pleasing to look at as to eat. I served some in a Vietnamese meal of fresh spring rolls and lettuce wraps.
Pie pumpkin: I baked, pureed and baked it again into whole grain muffins.

Watermelon radish.

Watermelon radish.

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CSA solution: Frittata

Incorporating the Monday CSA pick-up into our routine has required a willingness to be more flexible with meal planning.

For years, I have planned Thursday and shopped Friday for the week. But, with the majority of our produce arriving Monday (and being able to only make an educated guess at what our box will contain), a rigid meal plan has gone out the window. Instead, I am keeping our pantry and refrigerator stocked with ingredients that I can combine with vegetables and herbs from the garden to create fresh and flavourful meals.
Since most weeks, I also buy a dozen of the most beautiful (inside and out) free-range eggs from the CSA, frittatas have become a regular weeknight dinner.

Here’s my method:
In a cast iron pan at medium-high heat, sauté sliced or diced onions in a little oil.
Add whatever vegetables are available (chopped new potatoes, sliced zucchinis, broccoli florets, asparagus spears, halved cherry tomatoes).
While vegetables are cooking, whisk together four large eggs.
Add salt, pepper and a flavour booster or two – chopped spinach, diced roasted red peppers, a couple spoonfuls of pesto or herbs such as parsley, chives or basil.
Turn heat down, arrange vegetables evenly in pan and add egg mixture.
When frittata starts to firm around edges, top with grated or crumbled cheese (old cheddar, feta, Parmesan, etc.).
Bake in 350 Fahrenheit oven until top is set.
Let cool slightly before slicing.
Serve with a side of CSA vegetables, such as salad greens, steamed green beans, sliced tomatoes or kale chips.

Last week, I started with young red onions and new red potatoes (which I par-cooked in the microwave) from the CSA, added roasted red peppers from a jar in the fridge and topped with crumbled feta.

 

Pork and beans

David works an afternoon shift half the time, which means I’m alone to make and eat dinner (and leave his in the fridge to be reheated, if necessary, or just eaten as is at about midnight). These meals are often vegetarian (or minimal meat) versions of the following: big salad, grain salad, grains and veggies, soup and pork and beans. Well, actually, pork and legumes … and turkey and legumes.

Chickpea stew.

Chickpea stew (pork and legumes)
This recipe stems from my love of chickpeas. Olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and cumin seemed obvious, as I always add them to my hummus. Onions or shallots, peppers (and sometimes chopped celery) and tomatoes add flavour, nutrients and body. And bacon keeps David (who is not quite as enthusiastic about chickpeas) happy.
The first time I made it, he told me the next day, “It looked like I wouldn’t like it, but I did.” High compliments indeed.

Ingredients
4 slices of bacon, chopped
1 medium onion or 2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 28-oz can tomatoes, chopped (or the equivalent of garden fresh or frozen Romas)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
10 mL (2 tsp) cumin
15 mL (1 tbsp) lemon juice (or more to taste)
250 mL (1 cup) whole-wheat couscous
olive oil
salt and pepper

Method
Boil 500 mL (2 cups) water in medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add a splash of olive oil, then couscous. Cover and let sit until couscous has absorbed water. Fluff with a fork before serving.
In a large pan over medium heat, fry bacon until cooked. (We like it slightly pliable, but if you like it crispy, go for it.) Drain bacon grease.
Put a little olive oil in the pan. Add onions/shallots and peppers, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Add cumin and garlic, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Add chickpeas and tomatoes and simmer until thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.
Add lemon juice. Stir. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice.
Ladle stew over couscous and serve.

Lentils and kielbasa.

Lentils and kielbasa (turkey and legumes)
This recipe is adapted from CookThink.com
I’ve upped the vegetables and Dijon and cut back on the kielbasa.
I find frying turkey kielbasa until browned dries it out, so I recommend a light sauté for a little colour and flavour.
Sometimes I add chopped fresh tomatoes to this dish before serving.

Ingredients
375 mL (1-1/2 cup) green lentils, picked through and rinsed
250 g turkey kielbasa, cut in half length-wise and thinly sliced
3 medium carrots, sliced
2 small onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
45 mL (3 tbsp) olive oil
15 mL (1 tbsp) red wine vinegar
15 mL (1 tbsp) Dijon mustard
10 mL (2 tsp) chopped fresh marjoram or 2 mL (1/2 tsp) dried or ground

Method
Combine lentils and 1 L (4 cups) of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When water boils, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until lentils are tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain.
In a large pan, heat 15 mL (1 tbsp) of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add kielbasa and sauté for a few minutes until warmed through and slightly brown. Remove.
In the same pan, heat 15 mL (1 tbsp) olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, season with salt and pepper; cook 5-6 minutes, stirring often. Add onions, garlic and marjoram; cook until vegetables are tender, stirring often.
Add lentils to pan with vegetables. Stir in kielbasa, vinegar, remaining olive oil and mustard.
Serve.

CSA report: Week 2

CSA, Week 2

What a difference one week can make on the farm.
In addition to asparagus, radishes, spring onions and mixed greens, which we received last week, this week’s CSA bounty included butterhead and romaine lettuces, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, grape tomatoes and strawberries.
I also bought another dozen eggs and a jar of honey.
Because the box is packed and waiting for pick-up, you don’t know what you’re getting until you get home and open it up. As I drove home last night, smiling and looking forward to the big reveal, I thought, “I’m never this excited/happy when I leave the grocery store.”

Here’s a breakdown of how we used last week’s box:
Asparagus: roasted with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper for dinner side
Beets: raw, sliced in slaw with fennel, apples, mint, canola oil, balsamic vinegar
Beet greens: chiffonade in soup with sausage, carrots, celery, red pepper, spring onion (whites and greens), marjoram, tomatoes, chicken stock
Eggs: lemon pound cake (five); Caesar dressing (one); corn cakes (three)
Jerusalem artichokes: not yet used; roasted?
Maple syrup: not yet used
Radishes: snacks
Rhubarb: stewed with strawberries, eaten mixed with plain yogurt; more in the freezer
Salad greens: five small salads (lunch and dinner)
Spring onions: greens in salad, bok choy and pork stirfry, corn cakes, soup; whites in soup and alfredo vegetable sauce

Just add chives

If there has ever been a vegetable or herb garden on the property where you live, chances are you have chives, popping up faithfully every spring in clumps of hollow grass-like shoots followed by purple buds and eventually fuzzy blooms.

One of several clumps of chives growing in my herb garden.

Don’t overlook these ubiquitous perennial herbs as a way to add some fresh onion-garlic flavour to just about any dish.
Need an example? Here’s three ways I used chives just last weekend.

Omelette
Sauté mushroom in a little butter in a non-stick pan. Beat eggs with sour cream, 5 mL (1 tsp) or so per egg, salt, pepper and lots of chopped chives. Add egg mixture to pan. Cook over medium-low heat until eggs are nearly set, stirring gently at the beginning to speed things up. Add shredded havarti. When cheese is melted and eggs are set, flip one half of omelette over the other and serve.

Barbecue baked potatoes
Poke baking potato several times with a knife. Microwave on high for about 8 minutes, until soft, flipping once. Wrap in foil. Toss in the coals while you’re grilling your meat. Serve with sour cream and chopped chives.

Asian-style chicken thighs
To your favourite barbecue sauce (store-bought or homemade), add fish sauce, sriracha (rooster) hot sauce and a little sesame oil. Taste for heat and seasonings and adjust as necessary. Marinate bone-in skinless chicken thighs in sauce at least four hours. Grill or bake. Serve sprinkled with chopped chives.

When you trim chives, they will produce a second growth (and maybe even a third depending on the weather and your consumption) during the same season. Which means you can be picking and eating them in May (in an asparagus tart – recipe to come), August (along with lots of fresh dill for a new potato salad) and October (as a garnish for your roasted squash soup).

Asparagus, Take 1

I had the best intentions of writing a series of posts on asparagus this spring — well in time to make the most of the season. But here we are several weeks (and many meals) into the local season without a mention of this favourite green vegetable.
Time to rectify that.

I planted my 19 (I ordered 18, but received one extra) crowns in deep trenches on April 25. I feared for a couple that I found overturned, roots exposed, by some sort of animal (neighbour’s dog, perhaps?) a few days later. But I tucked them back into the soil and today, they are all sporting one or two leggy spears. To encourage robust plants, asparagus should not be harvested the first year it is planted (and only sparingly the second year), so I cannot yet report on the taste. But I was thrilled to see the purple-green shoots poking through the soil at the east end of the garden.

Roasted asparagus.

Roasted Asparagus
Our favourite, simple yet delicious, way to eat fresh asparagus. This feeds two at our house — but it entirely depends on what else you are serving and how much you like asparagus.

Ingredients
1 bunch of asparagus
15 mL (1 tbsp) olive oil
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
juice of half a lemon
zest of half a lemon (optional)

Method
Preheat oven – 350 to 400 F works. (I adjust depending on what else I may have in the oven for dinner.)
Wash and trim asparagus. Snap off the woody ends and save for soup. (Recipe to come.)
Toss with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon zest if using.
Place in single layer on baking sheet.
Roast for 8 to 10 minutes until spears are bright green and still slightly firm.
Spritz with lemon juice. Serve.

Variations
1. Skip the lemon and salt. Add soy sauce to taste with the olive oil.
2. Skip the lemon and salt. Substitute melted butter for olive oil. Add soy sauce.
3. Add a couple cloves of finely minced garlic to the olive oil.
4. A couple minutes before the asparagus is done, sprinkle with finely grated Parmesan cheese. Return to oven for two minutes.

Roasted vegetable pasta

Red pepper, Indian eggplant, zucchini, onion and Italian sausage ready for roasting.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. I needed a simple dinner for a busy Saturday, but wanted something that was a step up from our standard Monday to Friday fare.
While this recipe is new, the components are not. I often roast eggplants, zucchini, peppers and onions to toss with couscous for an easy dinner. Canned (or fresh) tomatoes roasted with balsamic are a key ingredient in my tomato red pepper soup. And Italian sausage is my go-to protein for quick weekday pasta meals. Roasting all the ingredients deepens and mellows their flavours.

Roasted vegetable pasta
Original recipe. Serves four or two generously for dinner, with leftovers.
This recipe results in a dish that is more vegetables than pasta. Use whatever ratio of pasta and vegetables works for you.
When I make this again, I might up the tomatoes to two cans. David wanted a saltier punch than the feta provided and suggested olives might work.

Tomatoes, garlic, basil and balsamic ready for roasting.

Ingredients
6-8 Indian eggplants
2 medium zucchini
2 red peppers
3 small onions
3 Italian sausages
olive oil
3 cloves garlic
10 mL (2 tsp) dry basil
1 28-oz. can chopped tomatoes
22 mL (1-1/2 tbsp) balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
dried pasta, about 1L (4 cups) (I used brown rice rotini)

Method
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Cut eggplants, zucchini and red peppers into bite-sized pieces. Quarter onions.
Brush baking sheet with olive oil. Place vegetables on sheet, season with salt and pepper. Add sausages to sheet. Drizzle everything with a little more olive oil.
Roughly chop garlic.
In a large baking dish, combine tomatoes, garlic, balsamic and salt and pepper to taste.
Roast vegetables and tomatoes for 40 to 45 minutes until vegetables are soft.
Remove sausages and cut into 1/2-cm (1/4-inch) slices. Transfer vegetables, tomatoes and sliced sausage to a large pot over low heat.
Meanwhile, cook pasta. Before draining, add 125 to 250 mL (1/2 to 1 cup) of pasta water to vegetable/tomato mixture. Stir to combine.
Drain pasta. Add to sauce. Stir.
Serve topped with crumbled feta.