CSA Week 4: Many hands make light work

This week we got: lettuce, spinach, spring onions, cilantro, green garlic, kale, and beets.

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Beets. I should love them more. You can eat pretty much every part of the beet: its stems and leaves have an earthy flavor that make a nice addition to meals with mixed greens or chopped vegetables. We get a lot of beets throughout the course of our share, though, so by fall I’ve pretty much had it. Into the pickle jar they go, or I’ll roast them with balsamic vinegar until they carmelize into dark little bits of beet candy. I put beet parts out at parties to trick other people into eating them. I think I’m only just now ready to eat beets again.

Green garlic is one of those things that all the foodies seem to be talking about at once, like ramps last spring, or scapes the spring before that: the younger, sexier branches (ha!) of the onion family tree. Green garlic is delicate, without the grassy-oniony taste of ramp or the sharp, sharp bite of raw scapes.

Wednesday, the day we pick up our box, is also the day our neighborhood gets a farmer’s market in a small triangular park surrounding a fountain. This past week was the first market of the season, so I went a bit wild buying strawberries and asparagus (as well as another bunch of radishes, since I enjoyed the ones I got last week). So on the first night, my neighbor and I would have been happy just eating bowls of strawberries and grilling asparagus and lamb for a lovely light spring dinner–which we did. But we try to cook for the future as well as for the moment, so we sauteed the spinach with some remaining escarole from the previous week (there was a lot of it!) and some spring onion and green garlic, and mixed it into kasha (whole-grain buckwheat) with a little parmesan to thicken it. It’s the kind of thing I would take for work lunch with an avocado on hotter days, but it got unseasonably cold toward the end of this week (and I had other lunch plans), so I mixed egg and yogurt in and scrambled it for a heartier meal at home.

On Saturday, my neighbor and I roasted a chicken–a nearly holy ritual we do infrequently but with great enjoyment. We thought it might be a good opportunity to use up some of the dill, so we slid some branches under the skin and stuffed some in the cavity along with lemon wedges and shallots. The dill flavor didn’t really stand out among the various delicious roast chicken flavors; perhaps we ought to have used more, or maybe it was just right.
Since we had the oven on anyway, we sliced the beets and set aside the stems and leaves for another day. We could have roasted the beets in the bottom of the pan, along with the shallot and potato chunks that got fried to a salty crisp in chicken drippings, but I had a taste for a sweeter preparation, so we roasted them separately with balsamic.
The nice thing about roasting is that it leaves your hands relatively free. This particular chicken took an hour and a half to cook: among other things, I took time to wash and store the vegetables and herbs I had carelessly tossed into the fridge on Wednesday. Most weren’t really damaged for my negligence, but in particular I needed to sort out which herbs were going to dry and which could be cut up and put into ice cube trays and frozen. I love parsley and cilantro, but they don’t last long outside of a spinner.

Monday I had a few people over on Memorial Day for a low key gathering, so I decided not to buy a lot of groceries and just use up what I had–and what friends in the neighborhood had. Have you ever heard the story of stone soup? There are several versions of the tale but the one I know is this: an old man begs a miser for a bed of straw or rags and a bite to eat. The miser says he doesn’t have anything in the house, so the old man offers to make him soup from a stone. He places the stone at the bottom of a pot of boiling water, stirring and repeating that it was almost ready, but it would benefit from just a handful of carrot or a pinch of salt to season it. The miser, as it happens, has handfuls and pinches of everything the old man asks for, and willingly parts with such small amounts because he is focused on the magical soup being prepared for him. Of course, the sum of all this bits and pieces is a wonderful, complex soup.

My peer group used to always serve “stone soup” at clothing swaps and writing workshops, for which guests could bring anything they want to use up, and we’d either roast it or throw it in a stew. For Memorial Day, we went more of a “stone fajitas” route, chopping everything up and letting people serve themselves. From this week’s haul and some leftovers from previous weeks, I had chopped lettuces, sliced radishes, grilled asparagus, chopped and sautéed beet stems and greens, and grated and  lightly sautéed sweet potato. There’s something I really love about sweet potatoes and black beans together, and I had a slow cooker full of black beans simmered with spring onions, carrots, and smoky spices. The only things I bought for the occasion were avocadoes (because I really wanted guacamole), potatoes (because I really wanted to make potato salad with the dill), and the black beans. Other folks brought meat for the George Foreman grill, cheese, tortillas, and more avocadoes. We made some guacamole with the CSA cilantro, and sliced up more avocadoes just to eat. We also made and ate two entire bowls of CSA popcorn (so good!) and most of an almond streusel thing I made with overripe strawberries from the market.

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The beet stems and greens might be a surprising fajita component, but they definitely all got eaten. My neighbor seasoned them with a little chipotle powder while she cooked them and they went nicely with the smoky beans and sweet potatoes. I enjoyed my fair share, despite my determination to trick other people into eating them.

Best part about stone cooking: after that smorgasbord, we had tons of leftovers.

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7 responses to “CSA Week 4: Many hands make light work

    • They are pretty tasty. I keep meaning to make something where it’s more of the star than supporting cast–perhaps on the weekend when I have more time to shave it on top of a risotto or something. What do you do with yours?

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