CSA challenges (aka when life gives you watermelons)

watermelon feta salad

Palatable watermelon salad

We’re typically not picky eaters, but there are a few fruits and vegetables that we do not seek out voluntarily.  No surprise that those particular items seem to find their way into our CSA half share more often than not.

We got through the first challenge, the beet phase earlier this summer by oven roasting them and eating them with (a lot of) blue cheese.  They weren’t too bad that way, though I’ll still take a golden beet over one of the deep red ones any day.  And far prefer kale to either.

While many aren’t fans of fennel, I actually like it roasted, and even made some pesto with the generous fronds that we’ll use on some fish or lobster ravioli down the line.  The fennel was hardly a challenge, though the tofu ricotta that became part of the faux-talian pasta dish was an experiment, albeit one that turned out far better than expected.

Our latest challenge is watermelon (I blame my issues with this fruit on one too many watermelon eating contests as a kid).  Even though it was the only fruit we received this week, and even though I diligently sliced it up for easier eating, the two large zip-lock bags were essentially untouched by week’s end.  Since we had nothing else left, I realized it was time to go to the Internet for some inspiration, in order to find a way to use it such that it didn’t taste, well, like watermelon.  Who knew that it went so well with feta cheese? Turns out it also pairs beautifully with arugula, but if you, like me, don’t have ready access to that elitist green, spinach works well too.  Make sure to remove the seeds from the watermelon, add some sliced red onion, crumbled feta, balsamic vinaigrette, and if you’re feeling extra sassy, a handful of toasted pistachio nuts, et voila – dinner is served.

The best part? It didn’t taste watermelon-y at all.  Just summery.

So bring it on CSA.  It’s clear I can handle anything you throw my way.

What summer tastes like

Blue cheese, tomato & pesto pizza

Because I was tired, and actually thought ahead  and had pizza crust on hand, I made CSA pizza tonight topped with pesto I made from an earlier batch of basil, cherry tomatoes (which admittedly were not part of this week’s box, but it’s AUGUST already, and these were the first tomatoes I’ve had) and blue cheese.  Coupled with the last of the tri-color beans tossed in vinaigrette, it tasted like summer, but yet felt slightly bittersweet.  After all, school starts soon, Labor Day is around the corner and yet here, the snow only just melted out at the highest elevations.

I love winter, so I’m already looking forward to the possibilities, but for many locals who are less winter-philes than I am, there’s probably a lot more significance to every summer tomato they eat.

But for me, it just meant that I’ve got a lot of tomato eating to do before the snow starts falling.

The CSA Project: Year 2

CSA bounty

The South Lake Tahoe CSA  started 3 weeks ago.  Color me excited.  Why, you ask?

  • I like supporting a local farm
  • It forces me to try vegetables I wouldn’t otherwise
  • I don’t have to think about produce shopping for 20 weeks.

That last reason has become more of a benefit than I realized.   It’s nice to not schedule shopping into my week, instead relying on what is in the box.  Call it MacGyver cooking (not to be confused with MacGruber cooking).

Stephanie, the lovely owner at Sacred Paths Farm, has provided us with some recipe suggestions, but I’m definitely a ‘see what the search engines pull up’ type of improviser, especially for radishes.  This is not a vegetable that I am naturally attracted to.  But I am gradually learning to appreciate its mustardy flavor, and how it holds its shape when thinly sliced into a salad.  I learned that it’s not bad sautéed in butter and linguine.  I have yet to eat it with butter and salt, but that might be the next iteration with this week’s bounty.

Orzo with kale, zucchini & peasNow that summer is finally here, I’m less interested in turning on the stove.  So last week I opted for a kitchen sink pasta dish, otherwise known as the “it’s way too hot to turn on more than one burner” dish.  I tossed thinly sliced kale, fresh peas that were simply too sweet to cook, julienned zucchini (a non CSA item admittedly), and orzo in a lemon-shallot vinaigrette.  We topped it with parmesan, because I had no feta in the house.

Simple? Yes, but with such great produce it seems a shame to overcook.  Plus, fewer dishes to clean up is never a bad thing.

This week’s CSA challenge is beets.  Again, not a favorite, but I have a secret recipe to try. One developed for the non-beet lovers of the world.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

Sautéed Zucchini with Almonds, Parmesan and Bulgur

Zucchini Bulgur Saute

With this year’s CSA Project starting in a few days, I figured this year it was worth preparing a bit more than I did last summer.  Zucchini tends to be prolific by August, and I have something like two standard recipes that I go to (whoopie pies being one of them).   I wanted to have a few more in my arsenal so that I wouldn’t become overwhelmed later this summer by a crisper full of summer squash.

In perusing Saveur for some inspiration, I came across a quick sauté with almonds and pecorino that apparently was the signature dish of one Red Cat Café.  I had no clue what this New York restaurant was about, but the recipe sounded interesting.  Quick, relatively easy, and tasty = win.

The first time I tried it, I made it in the small batch suggested, and it was good, but I’m a bit lazy (I never actually bothered julienning as the recipe suggested.  That’s why I own a food processor), and wanted to turn this into more of a one-pot dish.

So, I quadrupled the zucchini and almonds (I think – the tablespoon to ounce conversion has always stumped me), used parmesan instead of pecorino (as if that’s something readily available in South Lake Tahoe!) and added 2 cups of cooked bulgur wheat.

Not bad, though next time I’ll make a lemon vinaigrette, which I think will finish it off nicely.

Sautéed Zucchini with Almonds, Parmesan and Bulgur
(Adapted from the Red Cat Café Cookbook)
Serves 2-4

1 cup bulgur
1-2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup blanched, sliced almonds
1 pound young zucchini or summer squash, either shredded, run through a food processor with a grater fitting or julienned
Salt & pepper
½ -3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated using the largest hole in a box grater
Zest of one lemon

Place bulgur in a heatproof bowl.  Add 2 ½ cups of boiling water, cover and let sit for 30 minutes.  Drain excess water and fluff.

Heat oil in large pan, when hot add almonds and toast until just barely golden, around a minute.  Add half the zucchini, cook for 30 seconds, season and cook for another 30 seconds (until just barely cooked).  Remove almond zucchini mixture and add remaining zucchini. Cook for thirty seconds, season and cook for another thirty seconds.

Toss zucchini and almonds with bulgur, top with Parmesan and lemon zest.

The end of the CSA season

It was 20 weeks of community supported agriculture. One hundred and forty days of menu planning challenges based upon whatever was in the box.  Nearly five months of getting to know the people that grow the vegetables and fruit that we ate.  That’s a level of intimacy with food that I’ve never before experienced.

I have to admit, I miss it already. Even if the last week proved a bit more challenging than most, what with a single turnip, a single smallish squash and a bunch of kale being what remained after we gorged on the beautiful heirloom tomatoes (in October!).  It feels odd realizing that I have to actually buy my produce at the store now; almost formal in comparison to the box that would be handed to me to unload into my assortment of bags while I chatted with my newfound friends at Sacred Path Farms.

So, while I can now easily buy whatever produce I want (asparagus in December!), I doubt I will.  And I know I’ll be buying much more organic from the nearby health food store.  Seasonal eating felt good, even if that meant waiting for tomatoes after a cold spring.  In this era of instant gratification thanks to the global economy, respecting the seasonal aspect of produce is almost a quaint notion.  Quaint or not, waiting meant I appreciated them all the more.

The CSA also forced me to become much more resourceful, trying to come up with creative ways to use everything each week.  I’ve socked away pesto in the freezer and dried summer tomatoes, knowing that those bright flavors will cheer up the spaghetti squash and other winter vegetables in the coming months.  I’ve also learned that I like radish greens much more than the actual radish, and that pretty much anything goes well sautéed with a bit of garlic and tossed with pasta.

And that I’ll be signing up for the CSA next year too.

Lessons learned

One would think that, given my penchant and enthusiasm for cooking, I’d have more skill handling sharp knives than I do.  Unfortunately, it seems I also have an inadvertent penchant for self-mutilation while in the kitchen.

At least half my fingers boast some sort of scar resulting from cutting something, the most recent being when I nearly took off the top of my index finger using the mandolin slicer my grandmother gave me last Christmas.  To be fair, it was my fault, as I refused to use the protective plastic thingy you’re supposed to put between the hapless veggie and your hand.  It felt too unwieldy, at least until I was hopping around the kitchen trying to hold my hand above my head and keep the blood out of the onions.

Time passed, my finger eventually healed, and I recently decided to bring out the mandolin again.  With the protective hand thingy, and with a slower pace.  It’s a great little device, capable of far finer slices than anything my clumsy, now-scarred fingers can produce.  Which makes for much nicer salads, as far as I’m concerned.

So, Grams, I know you were a bit worried when you heard about the finger incident earlier this year.  It’s all good, and me & the mandolin are good buddies.  At least for now.