Monday, June 18, 2012

The First CSA Harvest of 2012

It's finally here.

This early heat has been something of a tease, bringing added pest pressures and making members (and farmers) feel like harvest season has been forever in coming.

And yet, things are actually right on schedule. We are, as usual, scrambling to get our most delicate crops transplanted out even as we start the first harvest. Between 80 degree days we had a night that dipped into the 30's (though thankfully no frost was seen at our place) just four days ago. Our last frost this spring was June 1st.

Scott and Seda planting summer squash in newly plowed garden soil.
Sometimes we're cute when we scramble. 
We take our frost free dates (June 15th to September 15th) very seriously, even when the days are steamy. With the tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber and squash plants each numbering in the hundreds, we don't have the option of throwing a blanket over things to pull them through the last couple frosts.

We do have the luxury of hoophouses though, which house the earliest of early tomatoes this year (a couple fruits are starting to blush red already) and are also the source of much of the produce in the first few shares.

Greens, herbs, and more (plus weeds) in the wonky hoophouse.
Much of this has been growing since mid-march.
The old hoophouse may be wonky, but it gets the job done.
The first share includes: Beets (with tremendous greens - make sure to eat them up), Braising Mix, Dill or Baby Fennel, Sorrel, Mizuna, Parsley, Garlic Scapes, and Tom Thumb Head Lettuce.

Hopefully these items are old favorites for our returning members. Some of our new members may find a few things unfamiliar.

Braising mix might be new to some of you. It's a versatile mix of greens intended for cooking (generally braising, as the name indicates). This week our mix includes baby kale, chard, beet greens, and various mustard greens such as senposi. At our house braising mix is often added to things, like soup, stir fry, or spaghetti sauce, just before the end of cooking time. I also like to chop and handful or two and add it to salad. Many people like to use it as the base for green smoothies. If you want to go for a very traditional southern style braised green, I suggest this recipe.

Dill and fennel may not be new to you, but I'm going to throw out a few suggestions anyway. Both are great with fish or eggs. The addition of chopped fresh dill turns egg salad exquisite. Fennel makes a lovely quiche with onion and sweet Italian sausage (which is flavored with fennel seed) but it will lose its flavor if cooked for a long time. Try chopping the whole thing (bulb, fronds, and all) and adding it to the quiche raw instead of cooking it with the onion. They both make excellent salad herbs as well, chopped finely and sprinkle on top.

Sorrel is a rhubarb relative, with a similar, but more subdued, flavor. It also has an affinity for eggs and fish and makes an excellent salad green. Cooked, it does not lose any flavor, but it does (if cooked with a little liquid) melt down a bit into something like a thick sauce. I like to use this "sauce" as an omelet filling, or cook a handful of sorrel and some onions in the pan when I saute chicken.

If you aren't sure which is the sorrel, taste
until you find a sour green. That's it.
Mizuna is a mild Asian mustard green. It can be used cooked or raw, though, because of it's slightly stringy stems, I tend to prefer it cooked. It is most commonly stir fried. Don't let the fact that it's an Asian green that is generally stir fried make you feel like you have to break out the wok (though you certainly can!). Stir frying can be done any time you have a hot pan. Last night, I threw some roughly chopped mizuna and olive oil in the pan just after I'd finished frying sausages. I stirred it around for a few minutes, just until it was lightly wilted, and viola - stir fried mizuna.

A peak under the row cover at the mizuna.
Garlic scapes are another item that those non-gardeners among you may be unfamiliar with. These are the flower stalks that grow on hard neck garlic plants. Growers pull them to encourage the plants to put their energies toward bulbing rather than flowering, and because they are delicious. Sometimes called green garlic, scapes are like a happy mix of scallions and garlic and can be used any place a sweet fresh garlic flavor is called for. If you are braising or stir frying some of the greens from your share, definitely throw in a finely chopped scape or two. You can also use them in place of the garlic cloves in the beet cream sauce recipe included below.

Serpentine garlic scapes are a little tricky to photograph.
Hopefully this is enough to identify them by.

The hoophouse beets are lovely this year. The greens are tremendous, and the roots, which we have been babying for several weeks now, have put on quite a bit of size. Our field beets, which are fighting dry weather this year, will have some big shoes to fill when they come ready for harvest later in the season. With the beauteous beets we have right now, I couldn't resist a recipe highlighting their virtues.

Beet Cream Sauce

This creamy sauce is meant to showcase the sweet, earthy flavors of beets. It's a little subtle and honestly not so popular among non-beet fans as it compliments beets rather than obscuring them at all. I happen to be a beet fanatic, and find this an ultimate comfort over egg noodles. I am sure it would work over pasta too.
  • 4 - 5 ounces of beets (about 4 golf ball sized, 2 medium, or one very large beet) reserve the greens
  • 1 pound wide egg noodles (I like the Amish style) or other noodle of your choosing
  • 2 cups light cream or half and half
  • Finely grated zest of one lemon
  • 2 teaspoons whole coriander seed, crushed, or 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  •  Salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  1. Wash, but do not peel, the beets and slice them into quarter inch slices. Arrange the beet slices into a single layer in a shallow baking dish. Bake, uncovered, until the beets are just beginning to turn tender, about 20 minutes. 
  2. In the meantime, prepare your noodles according to the package directions.
  3. In a small saucepan over low/medium heat combine the cream, lemon zest, coriander seed, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until small bubbles appear at the edges of the pan, where the cream meets the saucepan. Remove it from the heat before the cream begins to simmer.
  4. Combine the cooked beets and cream mixture in a blender or a food processor and blend until the sauce is bright magenta with small flecks of beet root remaining. 
  5. Return to the pan and reheat as needed, add salt to taste (in my experience about a quarter teaspoon fine sea salt does the trick).
  6. Remove the stems from some, or all, of the reserved greens. Slice the greens into ribbons, about the same width as your noodles. Stir the greens into the sauce and heat until they are just barely wilted.
  7. Combine the sauce with the drained noodles, stirring well to coat the noodles with sauce.

It's best to slurp the noodles as much as possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment