Week 7: June 12, 2013

In this week’s box:

1/2 dozen eggs

2 pints sugar snap peas

2 quarts strawberries

1 bulb fennel

2 bunches Swiss chard

2 bunches of spring onions

1 bunch of dill

1 bunch of basil

3 pounds of string beans

1.5 pounds of red potatoes

1.5 pounds of white potatoes

1/2 pint of raspberries

1 head of Chinese cabbage

Emily’s notes:

Have you ever cooked fish in parchment, or en papillote, as the French say? This week’s box contains a lot of ingredients that would be well-suited to this easy and healthful cooking method.

Here is an easy step-by-step tutorial with pictures from Cooking Light on how to prep and fold the parchment packets, and below is a rough recipe for how to make the most of this week’s box in such a dish.

Fish and vegetables en papillote

4 salmon fillets (or other fish of choice)

Any combination of the following, depending on your preference:

3/4 pounds green beans, rinsed and trimmed

1/2 pound small red potatoes, sliced about 1/8 inch thick

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

10 fresh basil leaves and/or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

one lemon, sliced

4 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained

salt and pepper to taste

4 teaspoons olive oil

drizzle of white wine (optional)

To ensure your vegetables cook all the way, you might want to blanch them first (fennel and potatoes 2 minutes, green beans one minute) in boiling water, then shock them in ice water to stop the cooking. While they’re in their ice bath, arrange each fish fillet on one of your prepared parchment “heart” halves and sprinkle with salt and pepper. (If using potatoes, you might want to put the potatoes down first as a bed.)

Next, layer fennel, green beans, then capers, herbs and a lemon slice or two for each packet. Drizzle each package with olive oil and white wine, if using, before sealing.

Place packets on a sheet pan and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Serve immediately. Maybe saute some Swiss chard with a chopped spring onion to eat as a side dish.

When I see potatoes and dill, I immediately think of this potato salad recipe from the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. I’ve made it too many times to count, it’s always a winner. Even though I think red onions add a great heat to this salad, you could definitely use the spring onions in this week’s box instead.

Speaking of Ina, she also wrote this recipe for Potato-Fennel gratin that would also be good with this week’s box. I am confident you could get away with using just one fennel bulb here, and the spring onions you’re getting this week instead of a yellow onion, as the recipe calls for (I usually use my spring onions in the same manner I would use mature onions, so it’s one less thing I have to buy during CSA season.).

If you’re looking for a new way to use Swiss chard, give this recipe for Swiss Chard Spanakopita a go. I did something similar with beet greens last year. It worked well as a freeze-ahead meal, also.

With Chinese cabbage, a recipe that has always been a hit in our house is this one for a salad that includes ramen noodles and a cider vinegar dressing. This is excellent for pot lucks.

It’s a real treat to have strawberries and raspberries in the same box. Celebrate by buying some premium vanilla ice cream and spooning on the fruit!

Week 6: June 5, 2013

In this week’s box:

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Total retail value of this box: $58.50

Total value of goods received so far this season: $332.50

Emily’s notes:

Summer is really starting to show up in this week’s box. Summer squash and cucumbers meet up with early spring favorites like snow peas, radishes and strawberries.

This week brings a wealth of snow peas, edible-pod peas that are especially common in stir-fries. No matter how you cook them, though, whether steaming, boiling or stir-frying, you only need to cook them for about 3 minutes, until bright green. Here is a recipe shared a few years back by New York Times food writer Mark Bittman for a very simple snow pea preparation. It is credited to Peter Chang, who recently opened a restaurant in Fredericksburg’s Central Park.

Here are a few other ideas for snow peas:

– I like this recipe for a sesame-dressed snow pea salad. However, I think you could get away without the green onions (I don’t usually like to buy vegetables outside my CSA share if I can help it.). I also think you could make this without blanching the snow peas. For something different, try cutting them lengthwise into thin strips instead of on the diagonal.

This recipe for Zucchini and Snow-Pea Salad will use two items from this week’s box.

– Last year, I made a pesto pasta dish with snow peas and zucchini that I really enjoyed. I didn’t write down a formal recipe, but here are my notes on how it came together:

I sauteed some pancetta (or bacon), then added sliced zucchini to that pan with all the delicious fat that had rendered. As my pasta neared the end of its hot bath (in a separate pot of water), I dunked the snow peas in for a little more than a minute. I used a metal-mesh sieve to do this so that I could easily retrieve them. I dumped them straight into the bacon-and-zucchini saute, then added the drained pasta a minute or so later. While the mixture was hot, I stirred in some feta and parmesan cheese, plus the kohlrabi pesto I’d tucked away the week before (I would use between a half cup and a cup of pesto, depending on how much pasta and vegetables you are cooking. It can be any kind of pesto, store-bought or homemade.)

– And here is a simple lemon-scented saute I made to serve with steak last year:

I dunked them in boiling water for about two minutes, drained them, and then, while they were still steaming, I dumped them all into a bowl with a pat of butter, a clove of minced garlic and some lemon zest. I tossed, then topped the whole thing off with salt and a squeeze more of lemon juice. Even my toddler ate these.

With this quantity of peas, I’ll bring up the possibility of freezing them. I will say from experience that freezing vegetables can be a bit of a trial-and-error process. I followed directions for freezing green beans very closely last year, only to end up with waterlogged beans. The general process for a vegetable like snow peas is as follows:

– Plunge peas into boiling water for 2 minutes (or steam them for the same amount of time).

– Remove from hot water into ice water for 2 minutes to stop the cooking.

– Drain and dry on paper towels. Dry them quickly, because you want to freeze them as soon after cooking as possible.

– Place directly into freezer bags, or lay the peas on a cookie sheet to freeze individually, and then place the frozen peas into bags (This method will ensure your peas don’t stick together quite as much.)

I would recommend doing this with a small amount of the peas and using them soon to see if it works for you. This discussion on the Gardenweb forum highlights how the process of blanching and freezing can take some fine-tuning.

Summer squash are extremely versatile vegetables, and zucchini and yellow squash can usually be used interchangeably in any recipes that call for them. Last year, one of my favorite uses of squash was this recipe for summer squash and portobello lasagna. Something about browning the squash before layering it in the casserole really made this flavorful.

With farm-fresh eggs, you also can’t beat a good Southern squash casserole. Here’s a recipe I used last year, though everyone likes theirs a little different:

Southern Squash Casserole

adapted from AllRecipes.com

serves 8

Ingredients:

4 cups sliced yellow squash (or zucchini)

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

one sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 eggs, beaten

3/4 cups milk

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon mustard powder

Method:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Saute squash and onion in a hot skillet with some olive oil. You want to get it hot enough to brown them a little bit to bring out flavor. After a few minutes, add about 3/4 cups water and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, until squash is tender. Drain and place mixture in a large bowl to cool.

In another bowl, mix the cracker crumbs and shredded cheese. Stir half of this mixture into the cooled squash mixture. In a small bowl, mix the eggs, milk, white pepper, cayenne and mustard powder. Add the egg mixture to the squash. Stir in the melted butter and salt.

Spread mixture in a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining cracker crumbs.

Bake about 25 minutes, until set.

A lot of people make jokes about turnips, but they can be quite tasty. You can often use them in the same way you would use potatoes, with the added bonus that turnips have fewer calories. Here are a few ideas I’m eyeing for this week:

If you’re looking for new takes on familiar vegetables, remember that sometimes you can reinvent things just by chopping them differently. With this week’s box, I would consider chopping sugar snap peas, cucumbers and radishes all into similar-sized small pieces and mixing them together in a bowl. Dress with salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice and maybe some feta cheese, and you’ve got a cold salad that would also be good mixed with a cold cooked grain or small pasta.

Enjoy this beautiful box and all its variety! I’ll try to check back in later on this week with some more ideas.

Week 5: May 29, 2013

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Emily’s notes:

Last week, CSA members received garlic scapes, the flower stalk portion of the garlic plant. Today, you’re receiving the rest of the plant–two of them. Think of this as the garlic version of the green onions you’ve received earlier this CSA season. Every piece of this plant is edible, from the green tops to the young garlic bulbs. Green garlic is generally milder than mature garlic, and you can use it in any recipe where you’d normally use regular garlic. For a very detailed overview of how to store, cut and cook with this vegetable, see this helpful post on the website Food52.

Sugar snap peas are in full force this week. I like to substitute raw snap peas for chips in my lunches and snacks when I have so many of them in my house, but they also cook up into a variety of tasty side dishes. One basic technique is to blanch the trimmed snap peas by plunging them into boiling water for about  a minute, then throwing them directly into a big bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. You can actually do this a day ahead of time and store the prepped peas in the fridge. When you’re ready to make dinner, saute the peas in some butter over medium heat just until warmed through, and add some salt, pepper and lemon zest as they cook. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice before serving.

When you get your beets home, be sure to separate the greens from the roots before storing them. Beets will keep for much longer this way. The greens can be used in any recipe that calls for Swiss chard, kale or other hearty greens. It’s like getting two vegetables in one. The roots can be used raw, grated into salads. I plan to roast mine using the technique below. Once roasted, beets will keep for a week in the fridge. Once you’ve roasted your beets, they are a lot easier to toss into salads throughout the week. Toss them with salt and pepper, vinaigrette and goat cheese for a chic salad that’s shown up on a lot of restaurant menus lately. They would also be great tossed with feta cheese, lemon juice, olive oil and quinoa or any other grain of your choice. To take advantage of the intense color of beets, try this recipe for summer borscht, a cold soup that will dazzle your table with its hot-pink color. I’m working on a slightly unorthodox use of beets that should appeal to the vegetable-phobic in your house. Check back laster this week to see how it turns out.

Roasted beets

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Trim beets of greens and scrub well. Wrap each beet loosely in aluminum foil.

Place beets on a rimmed baking sheet or dish to catch the red juices. Roast for 45 to 60 minutes. Beets are done when a fork goes in without resistance.

Allow beets to cool until you can handle them, then rub the outer skin off with your fingers or with a paper towel. If it doesn’t come off easily, the beets aren’t cooked enough. Store cooked and peeled beets in the refrigerator.

Week 2: May 8, 2013

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Emily’s notes:

When I tell folks I’ve brought five pounds of asparagus into my house each Wednesday for the past two weeks, they raise their eyebrows. It sounds like a lot, but those tender green stalks go fast in our house.

We eat most of them grilled. I sprinkle the juice of half a lemon, a good shake of olive oil, salt, pepper and maybe some garlic and crushed red pepper on about a pound of asparagus (washed, and with the ends trimmed). I mix everything together with tongs (or more likely, my hands), then put the seasoned stalks on a grill over medium-high heat (Use tongs here, not your fingers. Trust me on this.) You’ll want to watch them closely. The skinny stalks will cook faster than the fat ones, and I always remove those first, and they usually get eaten before anything hits the table. Turn them over as best you can without losing any through the grill grates, and take them off the grill after five to 10 minutes, or when they reach your preferred level of tenderness or char. To me, it’s hard to beat this preparation, and this is one of my favorite spring treats. (If it’s raining, you could do a similar preparation by just placing the seasoned stalks on a baking sheet and putting them in a 375-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Every time I oven-roast asparagus, I am reminded of how much more I like it on the grill. Add a sprinkle of parmesan before roasting to enhance the flavor.)

But if you want to go beyond grilling and roasting the whole stalks, try this recipe for creamy asparagus soup, from Simply Recipes, a site that I have always had good results with.

For another option, here is a recipe for a hearty grain and asparagus salad that would work great as a make-ahead to pack for work lunches, or for dinners on busy nights. This is a really flexible recipe that will work with many other vegetables, and leaves a lot of room for customization, depending on what’s in your kitchen.

Asparagus and bulgur salad

Asparagus bulgur salad from a previous season. I must have added carrots and red peppers to this one. It's flexible!

Asparagus bulgur salad from a previous season. I must have added carrots and red peppers to this one. It’s flexible!

Ingredients:

1 cup dry bulgur

1 cup boiling water

1 pound of asparagus, washed, ends trimmed and cut into one-inch lengths

2 spring onions (white and green parts), washed, cut in half lengthwise, and then cut cross-wise into one-inch lengths (If you don’t have spring onions, use one medium red onion, cut into wedges and then in half cross-wise.)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

black pepper, to taste

juice of one lemon (and a bit of zest, if you like)

1/2 cup feta cheese (or more if you’re like me and live in constant fear of not having enough cheese)

handful chopped walnuts, toasted

Method:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees while you’re chopping your veggies. Heat the water and pour it over the bulgur, along with a pinch of salt, and some lemon zest, if you like. Let this sit.

Arrange asparagus and onion pieces on a sheet pan. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast 10-12 minutes, until cooked and just starting to brown.

Check on the bulgur. Once it absorbs the water, toss it with the lemon juice. When the veggies are done, and still hot, toss them with the bulgur, along with the oil they cooked in. While the whole thing’s still hot, crumble in the feta. Enjoy hot, or pack up for office or school lunches.

Possible additional add-ins: Toasted walnuts, chickpeas, pesto sauce, cooked meat or fish, hard-boiled eggs, chopped fresh parsley or basil…you name it!

Asparagus season is also strawberry season, and this week’s box brings the first of these ruby jewels! I can’t imagine anyone needs help working their way through a quantity of ripe strawberries. Bake up your favorite pound cake or biscuit recipe, buy some good vanilla ice cream and whipped cream and you’ve got strawberry shortcake. Don’t forget that strawberries can also be great sliced over dinner salads (especially with goat cheese and walnuts).

Here’s a quick idea that would make a great accompaniment to a Mother’s Day brunch tray: Puree ripe strawberries and spoon the mixture into Champagne flutes. Top off with your favorite sparklink wine, and you’ve got fresh strawberry Bellinis. Cheers!

Cucumbers will bring an early dose of summer to our salads this week. We’ll get into more involved cucumber recipes later in the season, but if you’re looking for ideas, try grating cucumber into plain yogurt, along with some lemon juice and cumin for a quick sauce that resembles the Greek Tzatziki sauce. Some chopped chives or cilantro would also be good in here. For a simple sandwich, slice cucumbers thin and layer on toasted bread with cream cheese, salt and pepper. A little lemon zest would also perk this up.

Happy eating. This blog will publish occasional recipes during the week as I work my way through the box at home. See you at the farm!