More and more people I know are getting involved with Community Supported Agriculture farms (or better known as CSA farms). This basically means that you pay upfront to a local farmer for a season of produce. Typically you pick up your share weekly, and the quantity and variety of produce varies as the season progresses. Many CSAs are organic, though not all.
The farm itself is lots of fun. The kids will have the opportunity to learn more about where their food comes from in addition to getting some really tasty stuff...and I'll be challenged in the kitchen. I hear that by late summer the bounty is so high that we'll need to learn some long-term storage strategies, whether it's canning or other processing. We'll see. Mostly I just enjoyed my first visit, and was seriously salivating thinking about that to do with our CSA share. Our first week's CSA bounty included:
I'm also participating in a bread share arranged by the CSA farmer with an artisan bakery a couple towns away. This week we have a loaf of a lovely flax seed, bulghur and oatmeal bread. While I chose not to participate in the egg share for the summer, the farmer had some extra dozens available for purchase. My daughter loved seeing the different colors of eggs, so we ended up bringing a dozen home, too.
For the most part, I knew what to do with the haul, but mustard greens and garlic scapes were new to me. The first thing we did with our produce was to make omelets for lunch the next day. I chopped three of the garlic scapes and sauteed them briefly in butter. Then, using the eggs we bought at the farm, we made omelets with the sauteed scapes and various other veggies on hand (tomatoes, avocado, mushrooms). The omelets were a big hit, and I'm now certain my general tendency to experiment in the kitchen is really going to pay off. We're in for a summer of good eating.
When you join a CSA, you have to be flexible and willing to experiment on a weekly basis as you never quite know what you are going to get. It's early in the CSA season and there is an emphasis on leafy greens. There is more variety to come, but here's how we are going to use the ingredients this week.
This is the easiest of the produce. There are so many dishes that call for fresh spinach, and there's enough for at least two nights. First, I'll make a simple salad with it, with goat cheese, sliced strawberries, slivered almonds, a balsamic dressing, and slices of grilled beef on top. I'll also serve thick slices of our artisan bread on the side. Second, I'll add spinach to tomato sauce for pasta.
Swiss chard is a highly nutritious leafy green that is excellent in soups. As it's summer and I don't much feel like a warm and hearty soup, we'll saute the chard along with the mustard greens in a couple of days when we grill a few marinated chicken breasts. Maybe a dash (and not more) of soy sauce in the saute to compliment the Asian marinade I'll be using for the grilled chicken.
Mustard greens are a leafy green plant in the Brassica family. Fairly sharp in flavor, mustard greens are probably the item I'm most nervous about. I'm a big fan of leafy greens in general, but mustard greens are probably my least favorite of the group. Some people temper the sharper taste of mustard greens by sauteing them in bacon drippings. While that sounds (and is!) wonderful on some levels, it feels to me like it will defeat our health-conscious purpose of joining a CSA to begin with. We want to eat healthier in addition to supporting local agriculture -- and much as I love bacon, it doesn't quite qualify for "healthier eating."
The arugula is just enough for a salad, but I think we're going to make an arugula and garlic scape pesto for pasta. We'll use the last of the eggs from the farm to make fresh pasta, and the pesto will be a perfect accompaniment.
Similar to bok choi, pac choi is a smaller cabbage that is perfect for stir fries. We'll saute it along with some lean pork and other veggies, such as carrots and mushrooms, and serve it over brown rice.
Garlic scapes are the young shoots of garlic plants. By cutting them back, the garlic plant puts energy into growing the bulb of garlic underground instead of into flowering. The result for the rest of us is a delicious early summer treat. Garlic scapes are garlicky, of course, but not quite as sharp as a raw garlic clove. These summer novelties are delicious in omelets, but they can also be used as a garnish, much like chopped chives.
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