This week we got: red butter lettuce, spinach, spring onions, fully grown bok choi (which looks a lot more like some kind of giant cabbage/chard hybrid than the pretty tulip-like bok choi we’re used to), escarole, radishes, parsley, winter savory.
First things first, though: my neighbor and I each had a ton of greens leftover from the previous week or two, when we’d both busy and out of our houses. Some of the old greens weren’t looking so hot–they’d lost water and were a bit wibbly as we call it–so we chopped up all of last week’s chard, some remaining mustard greens, and even some spinach and threw it into a pan of tomato sauce (from a jar; tomatoes aren’t in season!) with some leftover cuts of corned beef my neighbor had on hand. We added some parsley and savory and the ubiquitous spring onions, and then layered it into a baking dish with plentiful leftover party cheese.
It was extremely delicious, actually. We ate it by itself with a side salad, but when I got home from cooking and Mad Men on Wednesday, I boiled some pasta and divided up my share of greens gratin into two lunches.
I will probably do something like this again next time we get chard, which is my least favorite of the bitter greens. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with chard, I just don’t like it as much as kale and mustard greens, so I tend to stick it in a quiche or a creamy pasta.
Usually I don’t talk about all the salads I eat–we get a lot of lettuce, and I usually make my salads the same old-but-gold way and eat them as filler or as a bed for something else. But Thursday, I was pretty psyched to make salad from the this week’s CSA offerings. Butter lettuce is my favorite lettuce; it’s flavorful and inexplicably rich-tasting for a leaf. Escarole was a nice change–it’s crispy and can be a little dry, but its frizzy branches make a great vehicle for a creamy dressing. And the farm radishes just reminded me how sad the last grocery-store radishes I bought made me feel. Those were dry and bitter; these are fresh, sweet, with a sneaky slow burn. Those three things with an avocado plopped on top made a satisfying dinner more than once during the week. I still have a little escarole left, actually–it was a big bunch–but it keeps well enough, or it can go into the stock bag.
On Saturday I had a fair amount of unstructured time, and some help. After a morning of writing in a coffee shop, I had a friend over for lunch: salad, and coucous with canned tomatoes and CSA spinach. I also started prepping a slow cooker stew for the enormous adult bok choi. I tried a variation of this cabbage soup from Food & Wine–but, you know, bok choi instead of cabbage; pork instead of beef; scallions instead of red onions; carrots added; no mung beans; and much less sugar. (I said variation!) I also think the Food & Wine version is unnecessarily fussy; I did brown my pork loin before slicing it and throwing it in the pot, but otherwise I just mixed everything together and brought it to a boil on the stove before dumping it into the slow cooker.
It wasn’t hard, but it was about the same amount of labor as simply making a stew on the stove: the main difference is that I could leave it to stew for several hours without supervision until the pork slices fell apart, tender as barbecue. I’d be very interested to know if anyone else has any favorite preparations for slow cooker meals. Now that I live in an apartment with sufficient counterspace to leave some applicances out all the time, I have promised myself to make more meals in the slow cooker–which heretofore has only been used for mulled wine, and once a year for hoppin’ john. However, I struggle to find recipes that involve a slow cooker but do not involve processed foods like canned soup or packaged seasonings–which is understandable, given that the hypothetical point of an appliance is to reduce work. I’m not above tomato sauce out of a jar, which makes an easy and simple chicken parmesan, but obviously my main goal during CSA season is to cook my excellent vegetables in delicious ways.
Final note on the stew: Instead of beef stock, I used a stock I made from lamb and goat bones leftover from a friend’s cookout last summer. I had those bones in my freezer for months before I finally turned them into stock, but the stock has made several stews since then. If you are not yet in the habit of making your own stock, consider it: I haven’t bought stock for years, because I nearly always have some vegetable or chicken stock in the freezer, and when I don’t I usually just fake it with some combination of fat, onions, wine, and seasonings. All you need to make stock is to set aside food scraps as you cook, some space in your freezer, and an evening when you can simmer the scraps in water while doing something else. Right now I have several gallon-size bags of vegetable odds and ends, one special bag for carrot peels and scallion butts and herb stems, and a small bag of fish bones (fish stock makes wonderful chowder).
That’s it! Leftovers and salads for all other meals.
This week the farmers’ market for my neighborhood will open. I can’t wait. Since the market and my CSA pickup are on the same day, I usually just get fruit and sometimes other groceries like honey, bread, and eggs; however, sometimes there are vegetables that look too good to pass up, like asparagus while it’s in season, or radishes on weeks when we’re not getting any in the share. The extra produce mean there is a bit more work to do in terms of getting food cooked and put away, but the payoff is a little more variety and the excitement of buying foods right when they are at their peak. Strawberries! Right now I can’t get enough of them.