WEEK ONE CSA CHALLENGE – EXPANDING THE PALATE

I have been dreaming of this day.

 

Today, I picked up my first ever Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) produce delivery compliments of the fine folks at Edible Earth Farm. Edible Earth is a small, certified organic produce farm north of Tionesta, Pennsylvania. http://edibleearthfarm.com

 

For those unfamiliar with the concept of a CSA, it is an agricultural investment model that allows people to become shareholders in a farmer or farmers’ upcoming crop by buying in before the season begins. Investors share the risks and rewards of food production with the grower/s and hopefully reap substantial profits of produce and/or other consumables throughout the growing season. Pre-paid subscription fees allow growers to invest in equipment and supplies and offer a base return for the incredible work the farmers undertake. A CSA is an awesome way to put your money where your mouth is to live your food ethics and eat well.

 

I picked Edible Earth because it is a certified organic farm that offers weekly deliveries in my area from June to October (about 20 weeks depending on weather). I was impressed with Edible Earth’s website, stories, communication practices and ethic, so I decided to invest…oh yeah, and to get oodles of yummy, nutrient-rich produce for nearly half a year. My personal mission for this – my first – participation in any CSA anywhere is to waste nothing, try everything, cook well, eat happy and share the journey.

 

I found my crate in the stacks and removed a large plastic bag of early spring produce. Happily, the CSA’s kind inclusion of this bag removed my shame of having overlooked bringing my own. I opened the top and took it all in…green, purple, red and fragrant. I searched the bag with my hand and found the enclosed list of produce included and set about trying to match names with vegetables. Being a farm girl, most were easy, but some did prove challenging. Is that mustard greens or broccoli rabe? 

 

So that is what I will be doing. Each week of this growing season, I will share what produce arrives, how I prepare it, how each recipe turns out, third party reviews from some adventurous special guests, links to or the full recipes used, and new discoveries made along the way. Oh, and each week, I will have a unique food challenge to guide my cooking! Enough exposition…let’s get to it!

 

A few of us gathered early at the pick-up site (Allegheny Outfitters), excitedly awaiting the Edible Earth delivery truck. Most subscribers had reusable shopping bags…I apparently missed that advice in the email announcement regarding the arrival of good eats. We chatted expectantly and shopped a bit.

 

Then the folks from Edible Earth arrived and unloaded about 20 lovely wooden crates, each labeled with the last name of the its shareholder and the Edible Earth logo. In the bag was: Siberian Kale, New Red Fire Lettuce, Broccoli Rabe, Bibb Lettuce, Green Onions, Mustard Greens, Oregano, Chive Blossoms, and Spinach.

 

I chatted with the very cool April of Edible Earth and ate raw radishes from scrubbed root to feathery green tip with my friend Piper (Allegheny Outfitters store-owner, fellow shareholder and mega-awesome chick). Then I headed home to prepare for my first week’s challenge with an Internet recipe search session.

 

Week One Challenge: Find and make a brand new recipe for each item of produce and make certain that the recipe included at least one ingredient that I do not like or had been previously reluctant to eat.

 

My theory was that having good food paired with tested recipes would expand my palate and perhaps remove items from my No-Eat List.

 

I will share the recipes and results, but before I do, I will first share what I learned this week.

 

Food for thought

-There are 16 ounces in a pound

-Be adventurous in your eating and your life.

-I am going to grow and eat (the once detested – but now prized) herb, oregano.

-I must bow homage to any culture that made the inclusion of flowers in cooking an art form. However, Mario’s Batali, please consider explaining how to drain ricotta in your Chive Flower Gnocchi recipe. It took me two recipe failures and loads of research to learn that it involves cheesecloth and 24 hours.

-Green onions (also known as spring onions) are just regular onions that are harvested early in the season. Owing to this knowledge, next year, I will not follow suggested onion seed spacing guidelines in my home garden. Instead, I will overplant and enjoy pulling and eating my green onions while leaving the rest of the crop to bulk up in the space absented by their bulb brothers and sisters. And now…THE RECIPES AND REVIEWS

 

The recipe: Fish Fillets with Olives and Oregano

The link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Fish-Fillets-with-Olives-and-Oregano-234651

The despised: Brine-cured olives and oregano

The review: FAVORITE ENTRÉE OF THE WEEK! When I finished this dish, the first thing I thought was that I wanted to eat it again the next day. It was amazing how the individual tastes came together to form something wonderful and complementary to the fish…and yet left flavor space for such a (let’s face it) usually bland white fish. This entrée was so good that I have committed to purchasing more fresh oregano and olives to pre-mix, portion and freeze for encores of this elixir. The recipe itself was quite simple and it made me start fantasizing about what else would taste good with oregano or olives or both. Unfortunately, after smelling it, I was too excited to remember to take a photo, so you’ll have to settle for the one featured on Epicurious…which looks almost as good as mine. ; )

 

The recipe: Spring Onion and Pea Soup

The link: http://www.marthastewart.com/341221/spring-onion-and-pea-soup-with-ramp-cros

The despised: Mint

The review: In a week of superlative nosh and despite my Initial dread of the mint garnish on this soup, it was my best discovery of the week. You can bet that more spring onions and peas will be located quickly and batches of soup will be squirreled away in the freezer for winter eating….believe it or not with loads of mint.

 

The recipe: Linguine with Broccoli Rabe and Walnut Pesto

The link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/27/linguine-with-broccoli-ra_n_1058527.html

The despised: Broccoli Rabe

The review: I will admit, broccoli rabe is actually what gave me pause about this recipe. Owing to their weed-like appearance, broccoli rabe was on my not-in-this-lifetime list. However, this unique pesto was super yummy! So much food, so little time. So I tasted and packaged, labeled and froze for a quick meal during a week when I do no have such an embarrassment of food riches.

 

The recipe: Quinoa and Kale Salad with Apricots

The link: http://www.runnersworld.com/recipes/quinoa-kale-salad-with-fresh-apricots

The despised: Apricots and Kefir

For the record, I object to this kefir ,not this Kiefer 

The review: Though I have never been able to get kefer past my lips and apricots have never seen the inside of my shopping cart, this recipe’s considerable healthful punch intrigued me into trying it. This salad was easy to make, delicious and it fueled me through an awesome run later that afternoon. If I added a bit more quinoa and threw in a little Chia, this salad would also satisfy me as a meal. The apricots balanced wonderfully against the slightly bitter bite of the kale and the lemon tang of the kefer. This one will stay in the front of the recipe file! BTW, I file recipes by my desire to eat them again. Thanks to this recipe, kefer saved my pancakes! I was just about to stop eating pancakes. The thrill was gone. I had run out of milk and there it was…the half full kefer bottle. So I used it and a little water instead. It added an incredible taste (and some higher class vitamins, minerals and micro-organisms to my griddle cakes) and gave it an exciting texture contrast. Still crispy and golden on the outside, but airier and more batter-like – though fully cooked – on the inside.

 

The recipe: Butter Lettuce Soup

The link: http://www.weareneverfull.com/lettuce-convince-you-butter-lettuce-soup-is-good/#sthash.c7hfwSQ6.dpbs

The despised: Buttermilk, Sherry and Lettuce Soup just sounds creepy

The review: Another great soup! I think my eating issues have come from trying things singularly. I might not like drinking buttermilk and the smell of sherry in the bottle might put me off my kibble, but blended together in the proper proportions and mixed with other complimentary tastes, I might come to like any foodstuff. And with so many incredible cooks and chefs out there creating such fantastic recipes, there is no reason not to enjoy. Even if I personally have a tin palate for combining much past peanut butter and jelly.

 

The recipe: Indian Style Mustard Greens

The link: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/indian-style-mustard-greens

The despised: Jalapeños

The review: Mustard greens have never been my idea of a scrumptious leaf and jalapeños – though tasty – often deliver more pain than pleasure to my mouth and digestive system. That said, I was apprehensive about tasting this concoction when completed. I won’t say it was my personal favorite of the week, but it was yummy enough to make me search searching for naan recipes and endive upon which to enjoy it. And it all fairness to this recipe, family members who tasted the greens said things like, “Damn, that is tastes like more.” In fact, they went over so well, that they were gone before I remembered to take a photo. Included is the “Food & Wine” photo of this dish.

 

The recipe: Large Gnocchi with Chive Flowers

The link: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/large-gnocchi-with-chive-flowers-gnocchi-con-la-erba-cipollina-fiorisce-recipe.html

The despised: Chive Flowers (okay, not exactly despised…more like unknown and suspect)

The review: Although the chive flower is something I have put in arrangements, I have never considered putting them in my belly. It has always seemed more livestock fodder than cuisine. To make things more challenging, I didn’t see how the recipe could work. There just seemed to be too little binder to hold together the dumpling when it hit the boiling water.

 

My instincts proved prophetic as my first attempt quickly exploded in the pot…half disintegrating, half becoming a ring of boiled-on pan residue while sad, drown, wilted chive blossoms bobbing in grief of their passing. I salvaged the still unused gnocchi dough and blended it into an asiago-ricotta-chive flower purée that I would repurpose into stuffed shells.

 

 

I read the recipe over and over. I searched for tutorial videos to no avail. Then I thought it had to be the cheese. I live in a spectacularly beautiful rural setting. However, owing to our small population, specialty food shops have not chosen to locate here. Hence, no Montasio cheese to be had. Reading online that Mantasio was somewhat like an Asiago but more with the taste of a Swiss, I put on my Alton Brown substitution spectacles and used aged Asiago. Had I spoken with Alton before I trying this hunch, he would have given it the thumbs down. The Asiago I purchased was an aged, crumbly cheese. Montasio is a raw, softer cheese that actually serves as a binder in the recipe.

 

Determined to prevail, I journeyed 60 miles to a larger community where – unfortunately – they were fresh out of Montasio cheese. But the store’s cheesemonger advised me on substitutes. She suggested raw Asiago that has much more binding capability.

 

Again, I prepared the dough and tucked the fragrant scallions and a beautiful purple blossom into a gnocchi and hesitantly dropped it into the boiling pot. It took longer than the first trial, but again the gnocchi cocoon exploded.

 

I scoured the net, reading everything written on chive flower gnocchi. Nothing, nothing, nothing…wait, this recipe is different. Where Mario instructs users to simply drain the ricotta, this recipe tells you to drain the ricotta in cheesecloth over a 24-hour period. And to apply pressure to the cheese/cheesecloth bundle to eek out every possible molecule of moisture. Perhaps this is the answer. But should I repurpose this second batch and start again…and then drive again for new cheese supplies? 

 

Wait, this new recipe also says that if your gnocchi explodes, it is likely that the ricotta is too wet and to try adding an egg white to the mixture. Got it. Freshly boiling pot…whipped egg white blended…spoon to hold under the gnocchi to protect it from the fiercest buffeting of the boiling water. Drop…okay…no burst. Can I take away the spoon and allow the bubbles to collide with the pasta? Nope, a chunk broke away. Can I stand holding a spoon under each gnocchi as it cooks 8 to 12 minutes in boiling water? No way. Looks like another batch of stuffed shells. But I did finish this one gnocchi. I plated it and tasted it without the butter sage sauce to really examine the flavor. It was gorgeous to cut into the dough and see the surprise of the chive flower. And the taste was out of this world.

Determined to get it right, I started over with a very small batch. Ricotta drained correctly, it was basically a cinch. Though tasters were in love with the butter-sage sauce and indeed the taste of the gnocchi itself, they were a bit skeptical of the pasta’s white, gooey appearance. I think next time, I will try to brown the gnocchi in the butter sauce just a bit before serving.

 

NEXT WEEK’S CHALLENGE: THE DINNER PARTY

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