Saturday, June 27, 2015

CSA week 3: 8 vegetables, easier prep, mostly tasty meals

This is what came in
my CSA basket Wednesday.
This is what it looked like.

This is what I did - or am going to do - with it.

  • The green leaf lettuce went into two hamburger buns, two side salads, and two dinner salads.
  • The radishes went in a baggie, with salt, to my neighborhood playground. My daughter ate them as we watched her children play.
  • The broccoli is in my refrigerator's vegetable drawer. There's a good chance we'll eat it tonight, with salmon.
  • The beets, wrapped in aluminum foil, went into the oven at 400 degrees for an hour. After spending a day in the refrigerator, they joined the green leaf lettuce, a couple of oranges, some goat cheese, and a few slices of red onion in a dinner salad.
  • The beet greens are likely to show up under tonight's salmon, after I've chopped them and wilted them in olive oil.
  • The kale stared at me defiantly until I repeated the process I described last week. We always have potlucks to go to. And actually, the kale bread is so good that I'm making a little extra so we'll have some at home too.
  • The romaine is in the vegetable drawer waiting for an avocado to ripen. It will soon join a black bean / cheese / bell pepper / chopped tomato / sliced avocado salad.
  • The arugula threatened to get even more bitter if I didn't use it immediately. I found a salad recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, a book you should own if you frequent farmers' markets or subscribe to a CSA, and made the salad the day the kale arrived. If you're desperate to use up some arugula, you don't have to wait to buy the book: the recipe is here.
  • The zucchini is with the romaine and the broccoli in the vegetable crisper. I'm planning to dice it, sauté it lightly, and toss it in pasta, probably rotini, with diced roma tomatoes and last week's garlic scape pesto.
Whew. I think it will all be used up by next Wednesday, when the next CSA portion arrives.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Kale-cheese bread; or, taming the green-leafed monster

This is me, cowering behind this week's allotment of kale.
I do not like kale, cooked or raw.
I do not like to have to gnaw
On greens so tough you need a saw
To cut them, or they break your jaw.
I would not like them here or there,
I would not like them anywhere.

But I don't like to throw things out, either. It occurred to me that bread can improve almost anything, and cheese can improve it still more. So I tried this experiment.

  • Make a filling of cooked chopped kale, cheese, egg, onion, and garlic.
  • Make dough for French bread.
  • Spread the filling on the dough, roll lengthwise, and bake.
  • Cool before slicing.


1. Fix the kale. I washed mine, removed the hard stems, chopped the leaves into smaller pieces, and simmered it, uncovered, in water. When most of the cooking liquid had cooked down and the kale was soft enough to eat, I drained the remaining liquid, stirred in maybe half a cup of my awesome leftover garlic scape pesto for flavor, and spun the greens in the food processor until they were finely chopped, though not yet a paste.

(There are lots of ways to prepare kale. You could also sauté it in olive oil with onion and garlic, adding liquid and simmering it for awhile if the sauté alone doesn't get it soft enough. Different kinds of kale respond to different treatment. Just cook your kale one way or another until it's edible, if not tasty.)

2. Make the filling. Grate about 6 oz of cheese: Cheddar, Gruyère, Emmenthaler, Comté, Manchego ... take your pick. Stir it, plus one beaten egg, into the kale slurry (or give the mixture a short whirl in your food processor). Set aside.

3. Make bread dough. Easiest way in the world: Put 1 lb white bread flour, 2 tsp salt, and 1 1/2 tsp rapid-rise yeast in the food processor. Spin for 5 seconds. While it's still spinning, pour 1 1/3 C warm water into the tube with a little hole in it, so it is added in a small steady stream. Spin for 30 more seconds. Pour a little olive oil into a medium-sized mixing bowl and use your hands to slosh it up the sides. Put the bread dough in it, turning it several times so it's covered with oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a dish towel and put it in a warm place for 2 hours or more to rise. (Tasty variation: instead of using 1 lb flour, use 14 oz flour and 2 oz corn meal or polenta.)

4. Shape the dough into a rectangle. Sprinkle a little flour on your countertop and work the dough into approximately this shape. (The dough in the picture is approximately 12" by 15".) If the dough is too elastic to shape, wait another 15 minutes and try again.

5. Spread the filling on the dough. Leave a 1" border all around.

6. Roll the dough and filling lengthwise. Seal the ends and bottom by pinching the dough together. Now you have a nice loaf, ready to bake. Put it on a cookie sheet or in a French bread pan. Let it rise for an hour.

7. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Squirt water into the oven. Put the bread in. Squirt more water. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.

Uh oh. Why did the filling leak out the sides? Why does the bread feel fragile? Is this going to be a grand disaster? Will it fall apart when I slice it? Will the bread get soggy? Will I have to throw it out and sneak in to the potluck and pretend I brought something? 

8. Relax. Let the bread cool. Wrap it in aluminum foil and refrigerate it overnight.

9. Slice and serve.

Now then, that wasn't so bad, was it?
In fact, I took this bread to the church potluck, and even avowed kale-haters said they loved it. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Chard: The gateway green

If you've been following my CSA posts, you know that this week's delivery flummoxed me. But things are turning out okay. Thursday night I made a salad that included
  • the romaine lettuce; 
  • the turnips and the kohlrabies (which I sliced thin and roasted); 
  • garbanzos marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic scape pesto; 
  • thin sliced tiny yellow bell peppers; 
  • and a diced roma tomato. 
It wasn't bad.

Last night I fixed the chard. Chard is not one of your giant gnarly greens. It's a little crisper than spinach and has a slightly sweeter flavor. It's worth trying even if you aren't a fan of the more serious greens such as kale, collards, or mustard greens.

I washed the leaves, removed the largest stems, and tore the chard into smaller pieces. You can eat the stems if you like a bit of body in your greens, though it's a good idea to cook them for at least five minutes before adding the leaves.

I cooked the chard uncovered in about a cup of vegetable broth, stirring frequently. In about 20 minutes, it was soft enough to eat. Toward the end, I added a spoonful of garlic scape pesto for flavor (that is seriously good stuff!). The whole pile of leaves cooked down to two large servings!

I served the chard with Trader Joe's Pizza Greco-Roman, one of the tastiest frozen pizzas you can buy.

And now all I have to face are the enormous lacinato kale leaves and the second installment of garlic scapes. I'm going to make more garlic scape pesto in just a minute, and I'm working on the kale. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Redeeming mustard greens

[Today's CSA portion. It will be a very green week.]
I recognized the lettuces, the kale, the turnips, the kohlrabies, the chard, and even the garlic scapes. But what was that pile of disparate weeds in the middle? Some looked like oak leaves. Some were fairly large and looked like chard. Some were small and ragged. Most were green but some were almost black. The CSA list identified them as "assorted mustard greens." I had my doubts. And then I tasted one, and doubt turned to despair.

Well, I paid for those weeds, and I figured I had to do something with them. Amazingly, it worked.

Here's what I did. It's hardly a recipe for you to follow, because you don't have my leftovers. But perhaps it will save you from despair some evening when you have more nasty greens than you can manage (they don't have to be mustard greens). Your own leftovers will be fine.

1. Wash the greens and tear them into smaller pieces. Put them in a large pot. Cover with liquid: I used a combination of water and vegetable stock.

2. Bring the greens and liquid to a boil. Do not cover the pot. Let them boil, uncovered, until the greens are soft enough to eat. Mine were ready in about 15 minutes (some tougher greens could take up to an hour).

3. Let the greens cool for 30 to 60 minutes.

[Scary green slurry]
4. Drain the greens, reserving the liquid. Put the greens in a blender. Add enough liquid to cover. (You will probably have to do this in more than one batch.) Whiz the mixture until it's smooth. If it's thicker than you like your soup, add more liquid and whiz again. Hint: save the leftover liquid to use the next time you have to transform weeds into something edible.

Intermission: At this point I looked in my refrigerator and found a leftover serving of chard with pancetta (diced bacon). I dumped it in the blender with the soup and whizzed it all again. I then looked in the refrigerator again and found garlic scape pesto left over from last week. I added a spoonful and whizzed yet again. The pesto made a big difference to the flavor. 

Recommendation: Look in your refrigerator or pantry or spice rack or herb garden and think about what might improve the flavor of your watery green slurry (garlic usually helps). Give it a try.

5. Taste. I put a few spoonsful into a small bowl and microwaved it for a few seconds. I then stirred in a small spoonful of sour cream - the real stuff, not the imitation low-fat stuff that should really call itself something else.

WOW! It's a miracle! The hideous, bitter, menacing mustard greens had turned into a really delicious soup!

OK, I guess if mustard greens can be redeemed, so can lacinato (dinosaur) kale, and possibly even turnips. I'll get back to you.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Kickin' collard greens (to the curb)

I confess: I panic when I encounter large, leathery leaves that look like they could have been plucked from prehistoric bats.
This is a collard leaf on a sheet of 8.5" x 11" paper.
And yet I know people who truly love kale and collard greens and other such aberrations. Some of these people are even related to me. Besides, collard greens are reputed to be exceptionally nutritious. And anyway, my CSA portion included a hefty handful of them, so--naturally--I asked Google what to do.

I liked the name of this recipe--Kickin' Collard Greens--and it didn't look too challenging, as long as I wasn't planning to go anywhere for a couple of hours.  I modified it to fit what I had in my kitchen, so that I actually used about 2 tsp olive oil; 2 oz pancetta; half of a very large onion; 3 small cloves garlic; 1/2 tsp salt (possibly more than was needed, as it turned out); 1/2 tsp pepper; 2 cups vegetable broth; 1 pinch red pepper flakes; and maybe 11 oz collard greens, much of the stem removed, cut into small pieces.

This is 11 oz of collard greens cut into smallish pieces.
First I washed, trimmed, and cut the greens. I used scissors, since the greens were a bit tough for a knife. Then I followed the recipe's directions for what to add when.

I browned the pancetta...
and added onions and garlic.
I wilted the collard greens...
and cooked the livin' daylights out of them.
I seasoned them and simmered them in vegetable broth, covered, for close to an hour before they seemed tender enough to eat. There was still plenty of liquid in the pan, so I raised the heat and reduced it a bit. Finally the collard greens were ready to serve.

Dinner is served:
collard greens with roasted sea scallops
in a tomato/onion/basil coulis.
OK, dinner was better than I expected (I hadn't expected to enjoy the scallops). But I really didn't want to face the leftover half of the collard greens another night. So I put it in the blender, added water, spun it madly, heated it, added cream, divided it between two bowls, sprinkled it with chopped chives and pepper, and ended up with this:

Cream of collard greens soup
"This is the best possible way to fix collard greens," said my husband after his first mouthful. He may have been damning with faint praise.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Great Scape: or, what to do with yet another weird CSA vegetable

This is a garlic scape.
It is the stem of the garlic flower. Farmers often cut it off so that the garlic bulb, the papery-covered thing we buy in little red-net packages at Trader Joe's, will grow bigger. I don't know what most farmers do with the scapes. I had never met a scape until last Wednesday.

My CSA portion included a fistful of scapes. Naturally I turned to Google, since I had no idea what to do with them, and I found "The Crisper Whisperer: 7 Things To Do with Garlic Scapes." Bookmark that link: you will need it, should you ever encounter a garlic scape.

I decided to make garlic scape pesto. I immediately encountered a problem, though: how much of each scape should I use? See that slight pale protrusion about a third of the way in, with its long tapering tip? Is that the flower? Is it the part to use? Should I use only the part that looks like a green onion? Or should I use both?

Only way to find out: eat some. OK, the long pointy ends of my scapes were not very chewable. The green tubes, were, however. And yowie! Did they ever assert themselves!

These are the ends I cut off and discarded.
So I cut off the flower ends, and then I took the long green tubes and chopped them into short pieces. I put the chopped-up scapes into my food processor along with the other ingredients the pesto recipe calls for (do check the link) and chopped everything further before adding the olive oil in a slow stream.

This is the finished garlic-scape pesto.
Cyberspace does video and audio really well, but this pesto must be tasted to be believed. One sample taste and I was a true believer. I stirred about 1/3 of the pesto into 4 ounces of cooked spaghetti and served it for dinner, along with leftover Brussels sprouts mixed with leftover marinated garbanzos (see yesterday's post) and tiny sliced bell peppers for color.

This was dinner.
If it looks good to you, I'm sorry: I have no idea where you'll find garlic scapes. But do start looking immediately. They must be harvested young, in late spring.

Oh, and one small caveat: Remember that this is garlic. If you eat it, probably everyone else in your household should too. Not that it will be hard to persuade them.

Friday, June 12, 2015

But what will you do with the kohlrabi?

That's what several of my friends wondered when I posted this picture on Facebook. It shows the contents of this season's first delivery from One Straw Farm's CSA (community-supported agriculture) program.

This is the second time I've signed up with a CSA. You pay a local farmer an agreed-upon fee up front, and then you get weekly assortments of incredibly fresh food throughout the entire growing season. One big plus is that you get to try foods you probably wouldn't have bought (or even seen) at the grocery store. One big minus is that you may not like some of the foods you get.

I had no idea what a kohlrabi (kohlrabus?) tastes like. (It's the bulbous thing on the right. There are two of them.)

More knowledgeable friends suggested roasting them and serving them with a sauce, or shredding or slicing them and using them in a salad. I like salads. Not only because they taste good, but also because I can put just about anything in them. Here's what I put in last night's salad.

1. Several hours before dinner, I made a salad dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, chopped chives, minced garlic, and a little salt. I then opened a can of garbanzos, rinsed and drained them, and set them to marinate in the salad dressing.

2. I prepared the red-leaf lettuce that I got from my CSA. I washed it, spun it, tore it into bite-sized pieces, and drained it further on paper towels. Eventually I put some of it in this bowl.

3. Next, having no idea what I was doing, I attacked the kohlrabies (yes, that is the plural: I looked it up). I removed the leaves (I hear they are edible, but I didn't want to get carried away). I sliced each bulb as fine as I could with my large chef's knife. I took a smaller knife and removed the outer rind from each slice. I noticed that some slices were woody, and I either removed the woody core or discarded those slices. I cut the slices into little triangles. I ate a few triangles to see what I was getting into. They tasted sweet and spicy with a slightly bitter undertone; they felt like crisp apples or jicama.

4. Since some small bell peppers in my refrigerator had no plans for the evening, I sliced half a dozen of them and popped them under the broiler until a few of them started to blacken.

I then dumped the garbanzos and dressing, kohlrabi slices, and slightly blackened peppers onto the lettuce and used my hands to toss them.

Finally, I divided the salad between two pasta bowls ...

5. ... and topped each salad with about half an ounce of shaved Parmesan cheese.

6. Et voilà - dinner for two!

The kohlrabi slices were delicious. Their flavor was mild, but they added a little zing. Their crunchy texture worked well with the softer lettuce, garbanzos, and peppers. If I get more kohlrabies next time, I'll try to slice them thinner. The food processor slicing blade might work, or a mandoline slicer.