Vegetables A-Z

Sneaky collards + buttermilk skillet corn bread

Posted by Lisa on October 09, 2012
autumn, collards, Frog Bottom Farm recommends, greens, recipes, Vegetables A-Z / Comments Off on Sneaky collards + buttermilk skillet corn bread

Well, fall is most certainly here. Winter squash, collards, kale, braising mix, and arugula have made it into our CSA shares, and sweet potatoes, broccoli, and cabbage aren’t far behind. We’re wearing sweaters to market and feeling extra grateful for the local coffee roasters just a few tents down. All we want to cook is soups and braises and chicken and dumplings. We built our first fire of the season in the wood stove last night. Sometimes we can even convince our nearly 3-year old son to wear shoes.

There’s another thing we look forward to all year: sneaky collards. They’re so-called because they have a wonderful spicy smokiness, but it comes entirely from chiles, smoked paprika, garlic, and a bit of vinegar — there’s no pork at all in this dish. As the first frost draws nearer and nearer, and we dig through the closets to find our lined flannel work shirts and winter hats, it seems like a great time to dig back through the farm blog archives to share the recipe again. Enjoy!

DSC_7873

Any time (my dad) gets to eat greens — of any kind — two days in a row, he considers himself extremely lucky, and he is not alone. In 1984, at the annual Collard Festival in Ayden, N.C., a man named C. Mort Horst set a world record by eating seven and a half pounds of collard greens in 30 minutes. (However, it was reported that he kept them down just long enough to claim his prize.) A year later, a woman named Colleen Bunting contributed to an anthology devoted to collards called ”Leaves of Greens: The Collard Poems.” In one the poems, she addresses (a common) prejudice: “Some say collards don’t smell so nice,/ But eat them once, and you’ll eat them twice.”

— from Green Party by Julia Reed, New York Times

Some of you grew up with these broad-leaved beauties, but I’m sure there are others among you who have arrived home with your shares in recent weeks and thought, “Ummm … this is as big as my head.  What on earth is it?”

These are collard greens, and they’re delicious, and they’re good for far more than playing peek-a-boo with your baby — although I highly recommend that as well.

You’ve probably been told to eat your greens and they certainly are nutritional powerhouses.  Collards are probably the best vegetable source of calcium, on par with milk cup for cup.  They’re also very high in Vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, niacin, and protein.

So, short of gnawing on the raw leaves, how do you get all that good stuff in your body?

DSC_7896

Traditionally, collard greens are simmered for a looooong time with a ham hock or a hunk of slab bacon or salt pork until they’re silky soft.  They’re quite good like this, although the sour smell of this long cooking is unpleasant to some people.

They’re quite versatile though.  You can chiffonade them and sauté them with garlic in olive oil.  This takes less than five minutes and the greens taste bright and fresh. These short-cut collard greens resemble traditional collards, but you microwave the greens for about 5 minutes first, which cuts the cooking time significantly, and you add chopped bacon at the end instead of cooking the greens with the pork.  Of course, simmering collards in a pork-based stock gives them great flavor; mushroom stock is a great vegetarian option.  And if you’re open to trying them raw, how about collard wraps? This recipe is a great jumping-off point — you could fill collard wraps with all kinds of things!  If raw collards are too strong for you, you can blanch the greens for a minute or two first to mellow the flavor.  And of course, hoppin’ John and collard greens is a traditional Southern New Year’s Day meal for good luck!

DSC_7876

Our very favorite way to eat collards comes from the quite irresistible The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners, via our friend Eunice. Eunice is a tireless cook with an impeccable palate and I am doing all I can do bring her to the farm for a week next year as a chef-in-residence.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  A gal can dream.  But right now, what we’ve got are her delicious collards.

Sneaky collards.

They’re so called because they have a wonderful spicy smoky flavor, but they’re cooked without pork. They’ve got no animal products in them at all, actually, so this is a great vegan dish.  Don’t let that deter the meat-lovers among you, though.  This is a fine, fine meal.  In fact, we’re having it for dinner tonight, so I’d better give you the recipe right now so that I can get cookin’!

We love to spoon a heap of sneaky collards over a big wedge of custard corn bread in a soup bowl. It’s fall in a bowl. We’re ready.

Sneaky Collards
adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee

8 cups water
3 dried chiles or 1 Tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
3 3/4 pounds collard greens, ribbed, washed, and cut into 1-inch ribbons
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled, and quartered
1 large tomato, cored and quartered, or 1 large can whole tomatoes (1 can diced tomatoes works in a pinch!)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton) or Hungarian paprika
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

In a very large stockpot, bring water to a boil over high heat. Add the chiles and 1 Tbsp salt, and reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the stock has a nice salty spiciness, about 10 minutes.

Add a few handfuls of greens to the pot. They will float on the surface, so stir them frequently, submerging with the spoon, until they have turned a bright kelly green, 3 to 5 minutes. They will become floppy and more compact, so you can add more handfuls of greens. Continue adding handfuls of greens, stirring and submerging them until all the collards are in the pot (6 to 10 minutes). Turn the heat down to the gentlest simmer and note your time at this point.

While the greens simmer, place the onion and tomato in a small bowl. Drizzle olive oil and vinegar over them, add 1 tsp salt, the paprika, and the pepper, and toss to coat. Transfer the vegetables to a medium cast iron skillet (a cookie sheet or casserole dish works too) and add the garlic. Place the skillet under a hot broiler, about 3 inches from the flame or heating element, until the vegetables are nicely charred, 6 to 8 minutes. Set them on the stovetop to cool.

When the garlic is cool enough to touch, peel the cloves and discard the charred skins. Transfer the broiled onion, tomato, and garlic to a blender or food processor and blend at high speed until the mixture is completely smooth, about 3 minutes. You should have close to 1 1/2 cups of purée.

With a ladle, remove most of the stock from the collards pot and discard or save for soup. (Traditionally, you dip corn bread into this pot liquor left over after the greens are done.  It’s delicious for sure, and has lots of the vitamins and minerals that leach out of the greens when you cook them for a long time.)  Add the purée and continue to simmer the greens, for a total of 1 hour from the point at which you noted the time. The greens will be a very dark matte green and completely tender, bathed in pale red gravy.

Cut a generous wedge of buttermilk skillet corn bread and put it in the bottom of a soup bowl.  Ladle the collards on top.  Sometimes we also add an egg over easy.  Dig in!

Buttermilk Skillet Corn Bread
adapted ever so slightly from our trusty Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

You can make this corn bread without the cream if you like, and it’s still delicious.  But the cream, added just before you slide the skillet into the oven, magically transforms into a custardy layer just under the surface.  Vegan folks might like to give this recipe a spin.

3 tbsp butter
1 cup flour
1 cup stone-ground yellow or white cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp sugar or honey
2 cups buttermilk (or 2 cups milk plus 2 or so Tbsp lemon juice or vinegar, left to sit for about 10 minutes to curdle)
1 cup cream

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Put the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet (a cake pan or a deep dish pie pan will work if you don’t have a cast iron skillet) and place in the oven while you get everything else together.  Sift the dry ingredients in one bowl and mix the eggs, sugar, and buttermilk in another. Remove the pan from the oven, brush the butter over the sides, then (carefully — the skillet is still hot!) pour the rest into the wet ingredients.  Combine the wet and dry ingredients, and stir long enough to make a smooth batter.  Pour the batter into the hot pan.  Gently pour the cream over the batter — don’t stir!  Gently slide the skillet back into the oven and bake until lightly browned and springy to the touch, 50-60 minutes.

Leftovers make an excellent breakfast!  We’re particularly partial to eating it with a fried egg and maple syrup on top.  Try it!

DSC_7878

How to be cool as a cucumber

Posted by Lisa on July 02, 2012
CSA, cucumbers, farmers markets, Frog Bottom Farm recommends, recipes, the farm, Vegetables A-Z / Comments Off on How to be cool as a cucumber

The heat these days has us thinking of summers past, and of the ways we dream up to feel a little cooler. This year, as every year, we are grateful for the creeks on the farm,  for family-friendly local businesses with air conditioning, and for neighbors with pools. And thank goodness so many of the vegetables growing right now taste so good with little to no preparation! It’s nature’s remarkable gift.

To help y’all stay cool, and to celebrate the beginning of our cucumber season, we’re reposting a piece we wrote almost three years ago. Read on to learn about our four varieties and to get some recipe ideas — cucumber salad, pickles, even a cocktail!

Sometimes, the only way to beat the heat is to embrace it.

We’re talking trips to the river, dinner outside at the picnic table, burgers and squash and corn on the grill, peach juice dripping down your arms, sweet tea and margaritas, the ice cream truck, ceiling fans, sprinklers, naps. And cucumbers!

Here at Frog Bottom we grow four kinds, enough to help you stay cool for a few weeks at least. We often sample the different varieties at market. If you’re a member of our CSA, be sure to try all the varieties before the season is through. The strange bumpy ones (see below) are our favorite.

About Cucumbers

Cucumbers are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes summer squash, zucchini, watermelons, muskmelons, gourds, winter squash and pumpkins. Cucumbers originated in India and have been cultivated by humans for at least three thousand years, and possibly much, much longer – carbon dating places some seeds found near the Burma/Thailand border as being from 7750 BC! It’s said that the ancient Romans soaked their cucumber seeds in honeyed wine before planting them, in an effort to combat their fabled bitterness. In the Book of Numbers, the Israelites complain during their long exodus from Egypt: “Remember how in Egypt we had fish for the asking, cucumbers and watermelons, leeks and onions and garlic. Now our appetite is gone.”

Cucumbers spread slowly to Northern Europe, where the climate was not particularly suited to growing them, but they were readily adopted by native North American Indians when seeds were first brought by the Spanish conquistadors. Throughout the 1500s European trappers, hunters, and traders bartered with North American tribes for their fresh vegetables and fruits, including cucumbers. Letters from people who visited colonial New England in the 1600s praised the cucumbers and other kitchen garden vegetables there as being bigger and better than what could be grown in England at the same time.

One thing is certain: throughout all these millennia of cultivation, the bitterness has been almost entirely bred out of cucumbers. At Frog Bottom, we’re very careful to pick them while they’re still young – crisp and sweet. Their high water content and mild taste are what make them so refreshing on these hot, sticky summer days.

We grow four varieties here at the farm.

Here’s a pickler:

It’s called a pickler because it’s the perfect length for a canning jar, but this is a great all-around pickle for salads as well. In the bins at market and at CSA pick-ups, you can distinguish the picklers by their short, plump shape and their slightly bumpy skin.

This one, just slightly longer and smoother than the pickler and with slightly tapered ends, is our American slicer:

It’s another versatile cucumber, great on salads and sandwiches or just eaten out of hand.

This is a European burpless:

It’s very long and fairly thin, with smooth skin on the outside and almost no seeds inside. Very tasty!

Our favorite is the Asian cucumber:

It’s the ugly duckling of the bunch, with its wrinkled bumpy skin and funny shape, but what it lacks in classic beauty it more than makes up for with its crisp, sweet flavor. Try one!

Storing Cucumbers

We don’t wax our cucumbers – which means you don’t need to peel them! It also means they won’t keep as long as some store-bought varieties. Stick them in the crisper drawer of your fridge as soon as possible after buying them. Leave them there for up to a week but use them as soon as you can.

Preparing Cucumbers

We’ve chosen non-bitter varieties and we pick them young. So at our house, we never salt the cucumbers and rarely peel or seed them. It seems a waste of time and flavor when there are so many good things to do with them! We love them as a snack right out in the field while we’re picking. And of course they’re wonderful sliced or diced and added to salads and sandwiches. But we like them so much – and we’ve had such a bumper crop these last two weeks – that we love to dress them up a bit too.  Here are some of our old favorites, and a couple new approaches.

Ali’s Cucumber Salad

We make some variation on this salad two or three times a week during cucumber season. Don’t be afraid to play around with ingredients and quantities. It’s wonderful with wedges of fresh tomato and corn sliced right off the cob, both available at farmers markets now!

Several cucumbers (2 Asian or European, 3 American, or 4 picklers), chopped or sliced
3-4 scallions (minced) or half an onion (coarsely diced)
Handful basil leaves, chopped or torn
Handful feta or goat cheese, crumbled
Juice of half a lemon or a few glugs of your favorite vinegar
A few glugs extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Chow down!

Serves two with leftovers. Easily doubled.

Fridge Pickles

If, like me, you have been meaning to make your own pickles for what seems like a decade now, I am here to tell you: Get up from your computer this very instant and go to your kitchen! It takes about nine minutes! You make a simple brine of water, vinegar, and salt. Then you pour that over cucumbers, garlic, and herbs. Leave the jars alone for a few days, and voila! Pickles! I made them for the first time just last week, using this recipe from Donalyn Ketchum, and they are, in a word, perfect. Crunchy, garlicky, and just sour enough, I can’t stop reaching for them. These pickles aren’t canned, so they need to be stored in the fridge. They’ll keep at least a couple months there, but I doubt they’ll last that long! Also, you can use just about any herb. I meant to use dill but saw, as the brine was coming to a boil, that my dill had gone slimy. So I used fresh thyme instead. Yum!

Gordon’s Cup

If your work day has been relentless and nobody likes what you made for dinner and the A/C is broken, here’s what you need to do: make yourself a Gordon’s Cup. Cucumbers, lime, simple syrup, gin, and a pinch of salt: really, how can you go wrong? You’ll have to plan ahead just a little bit, to make and then cool the simple syrup, but that’s very easy. Make some now and it’ll last you through many of these drinks! Oh, and don’t skip the salt. Just a tiny pinch is really delicious. This recipe from Molly Wizenberg has everything you need to know.

Sautéed Cucumbers

The truth is, we haven’t tried this yet. I’m really eager to know if any of y’all have! Larousse Gastronomique includes several variations. Mark Bittman, author of the accessible, encouraging, and comprehensive How to Cook Everything, and writer of the weekly The Minimalist column in The New York Times, notes that a cucumber is “a vegetable that is rarely cooked but ought to be – at least occasionally.” He suggests a simple sauté of butter, onions, and cucumbers, finished with cream or yogurt and a handful of chopped dill. It’s next on our list; has anyone tried this?

* * *

And you? What are y’all doing with cucumbers this summer? At market and at CSA pick-ups, people have told us about cucumber soup and tzatziki. We’d love it if you’d post those recipes – and everything else you’re making with cucumbers – right here in the comments section.

Okra, four ways

Posted by Lisa on September 02, 2011
Frog Bottom Farm recommends, okra, recipes, Vegetables A-Z / 4 Comments

Confession: we are vegetable farmers, and we are Southern, and until recently I just didn’t like okra very much.  It’s not that I found it offensive exactly. I was always happy enough to eat it in my husband’s gumbo, where, in his deft hands and alongside a rich roux and some smoky spices, its infamous slime is somehow alchemized into a velvety sauce. In a gumbo the okra itself almost disappears, which makes it quite easy to tolerate.  I also tried frying it, over and over again.  It was always okay.  It was certainly pretty to look at, and I felt I must be doing my body a favor by eating it, even if I had to choke it down.  I always felt virtuous eating okra, but I never had very much fun.

With apologies to the many awesome lunch ladies I have known, I am pretty sure the cafeteria at South Columbia Elementary School in Martinez, Georgia, circa 1984, is to blame. I remember dreary piles of the stuff, breaded and steamed and slumping forlornly, almost apologetically, in its compartment of the brownish melamine lunch tray. I looked at its dusty breading and its drab interior, utterly unconvinced, and occasionally gave it a nudge with my fork.  It yielded immediately, like pudding, and slid right back off the fork.  We got off on the wrong foot, okra and me, and I’m afraid now that I wasted more than twenty-five years holding a grudge.

Because this summer?  I’m on an okra bender.  I’m not sure what changed for me, exactly. We’re growing okra again after a hiatus of several years; perhaps I see those gorgeous plants with their flowers like delicate ivory trumpets and I just want to do right by them.  Maybe something clicked for me when Ali said, “I love okra because it’s the most vegetable-y of our vegetables.”  He’s right: when you cook it right, okra’s flavor is green and clean and bright, the very essence of fresh.  Maybe it’s because now, as a mother, I don’t want to waste any more time being virtuous.  What I want is joy at the table, a strong body and a curious mind and an open heart, a rich family life. I swear I’m finding all that in okra.

Boxing okra

A few quick notes and then I’ll share four of our favorite recipes.

Storing okra: Keep your okra in a plastic or paper bag in the fridge, unwashed, and use it within a few days.

Using okra: Please don’t bread it and then steam it. You could steam it very gently, just till bright green and still with some snap to it, and then eat it warm, drizzled with butter and a squeeze of lemon juice, or chilled, dressed with a bright vinaigrette.  Try it breaded and fried, braised, pickled, skewered and grilled, in stews, in curries, in place of squash or zucchini in ratatouille. See below for four recipes we’ve been making over and over again this summer.

A word about okra slime: In Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison writes, “Okra is slimy, and rather than try to ignore this fact, perhaps it’s best just to admit that’s how things are.” Maybe that’s what changed for me this summer.  I’m not trying to wish the slime away anymore.  Instead, I’ve learned how to make it work in a dish’s favor.  In our favorite fried okra, it binds with a cornmeal and parmesan coating to create a perfect golden crust.  In our okra and tomato braise, it thickens the juices of burst cherry tomatoes and makes the most lovely sauce.  And of course it’s essential for thickening up gumbo.  Maybe thinking about it this way will help you, too.

Okra blossom 3

Our Favorite Fried Okra
(serves 4-6, unless you eat like we do, in which case: serves 2)

1 lb okra
1/4 cup milk or cream (an egg might work too)
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Prepare the coating. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, Parmesan, salt, and chili powder. Set aside.

Prepare the okra. Trim off the stems. Slice the okra into 1/4-inch rounds. Place in a bowl and drizzle with the milk or cream – just enough to coat the rounds. You may not need all the milk or cream.

Prepare the skillet. Warm several tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.

Finish preparing the okra. Pour the okra into the bowl with the dry ingredients.  Using your hands or a large spoon, toss the okra in the breading until it’s well coated.

Fry the okra! When the skillet is ready, dump in the whole mess of okra. We use a 10-inch cast iron skillet and it’s a tight fit, but it works perfectly.  Use a large flat spatula to tamp the okra down.  Fry until the cheese begins to turn golden.  Flip the okra over with a spatula.  You’ll have to do this in sections and it will seem messy, but keep going!  Fry until the cheese on this side begins to turn golden.  Flip back to the first side, and fry another minute or two.  Flip back to the second side, and fry another minute or two.  Eat!

Braised Okra with Cherry Tomatoes
(serves 4-6, unless you eat like we do, in which case: serves 2)

Braised okra with cherry tomatoes

This recipe comes to us from Noell, who used to host our Ginter Park CSA pickup. Don’t be fooled by its apparent plainness: this belongs in everyone’s summer arsenal.  It’s amazing eaten straight from the skillet, and pretty darn good eaten straight from the fridge as well.  It’s wonderful on top of quinoa and other grains, and it makes a great wrap or burrito filling.  Every time I take a bite I grin.

Quantities are approximate.  Use roughly equal amounts of okra and cherry tomatoes, and garlic to taste.

1 lb okra
1 lb cherry tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic (or to taste), chopped
olive oil, salt & pepper

Warm a few tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Meanwhile, trim off the okra stems and then slice in half lengthwise, or slice into 1/4-inch rounds.  When the skillet is ready, add the okra and the chopped garlic.  Saute for about 10 minutes, flipping occasionally, until the okra begins to brown.  Add the cherry tomatoes, and salt and pepper to taste, and cover.  Braise 5-10 minutes, checking every few minutes.  The dish is done when most of the cherry tomatoes have burst.

Frog Bottom Gumbo
(serves a lot)

Ali comes from the Gulf Coast along the Florida Panhandle, and man is the eating good when we’re there!  Fried oyster poboys, crawfish étouffée, boudin, just-caught shrimp – all sublime.  But Pensacola is a far piece from Pamplin.  It’s a good thing the man can cook.  Here’s his gumbo recipe.  Almost all quantities, except for the flour and butter or oil for the roux, are flexible, and you can change quantities or even ingredients to suit what you have on hand. Beyond what’s listed here we’ve included things like green beans, carrots, and squash.  Trust that once you’ve got a handle on making a roux, the rest of this dish will come together easily.

3 tablespoons butter or neutral tasting cooking oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 onions or 3 shallots, coarsely chopped
1/2 lb okra, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
2-3 sweet peppers, coarsely chopped
3-4 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
2-4 cloves garlic (or to taste), chopped
1 jalapeño or other hot pepper, minced
ketchup, cumin, cayenne, Worcestershire to taste
any meats or seafood you like — We like any combination of leftover chicken pulled from the bone, 1/2 lb sausage, 1/2 lb shrimp. The meats are delicious but optional – it’s untraditional but you might consider adding mushrooms or eggplant if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
3-4 tomatoes or 1 large can tomatoes — Some argue that tomatoes have no place in a traditional gumbo, but we think they’re delicious.
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup uncooked white rice

First, chop your vegetables. It’s very important that they be ready to go before you start the roux, because adding the vegetables to the roux at just the right time is what keeps the roux from burning.  Everything can be chopped coarsely, except your hot pepper, which you probably want to mince.

Make the roux. A roux is made of equal parts fat and flour, cooked together over low to medium heat and stirred constantly until it’s done.  Set your burner to medium and add your butter or oil.  When the butter is melted or the oil warm, add the flour and begin stirring.  We use either a metal turner with a straight edge, or a wooden roux stirrer.  You could also use a whisk.  Do not leave the stove while you’re making the roux.  Stir constantly and pay close attention to the color of the roux.  For the purposes of a gumbo, you’ll be aiming for a brown roux, the color of a penny or darker.  A darker roux will give the sauce in the gumbo a richer taste, but know that the darker you try to get it, the more you risk burning the roux.  If black flecks appear, it’s burned.  You can’t fix this.  Throw it out and start over.

When the roux is a dark coppery brown, add all the vegetable except the tomatoes. They’ll absorb the heat and stop the roux from cooking. Also add any raw meats at this time.  Cook until the vegetables are soft and the meat is mostly cooked.

Add salt, pepper, ketchup, and spices to taste.

Add the tomatoes, the stock, any leftover meats you’re using up, and the uncooked rice. Cook until the rice is done.

Add the shrimp (if using) and cook just until they’re pink and firm, just a couple minutes.

And now: eat!

Lacto-Fermented Okra Pickles

I’ve been having quite a lot of fun experimenting with lacto-fermented vegetables this season.  In this approach, you ferment or pickle your vegetables in a brine of water, salt, and sometime whey.  The brine inhibits the growth of putrefying bacteria (the stuff that makes food rot and stink) and encourages the growth of friendly lactic-acid-producing bacteria.  These lactobacilli convert the starches and sugars in the vegetables into lactic acid – a natural preservative.  Lacto-fermented vegetables will last for months in cold storage.  This summer we’ve lacto-fermented garlic scapes, cucumbers, salsa – and okra!

Our preferred method uses fresh whey, which we get by straining plain whole milk yogurt for a couple hours. Fresh whey contains lots of lactobacilli and so gives the whole process a bit of a boost.  Lacto-fermenting is quite simple, but it can be unpredictable and is significantly affected by things like ambient temperature and the stuff that’s in your tap water.  Using whey seems to help.  That said, you don’t need it, so we’ll tell you how to do it both with and without whey. You’ll need a kitchen scale for our no-whey recipe.

Both recipes double (and triple, quadruple, etc.) easily. We love that you can lacto-ferment in such small batches, but by all means, if you have enough to make more, do!!

A quick word on water, salt, and jars: Don’t use tap water that is heavily chlorinated, because it will kill the lactobacilli. If you can smell or taste chlorine in your water, boil it first, and then let it cool.  Likewise, don’t use salt with iodine, which is also antimicrobial.  Sea salt and pickling salt both work fine.  Jars should be clean but do not need to be sterilized.

We’re greatly indebted to both Nourishing Traditions and Wild Fermentation for our lacto-fermentation education!  Both books are fantastic resources.

pickled okra

Lacto-Fermented Okra Pickles (with whey)

as many okra as will fit in a pint jar
1-2 cloves garlic, smashed with the broad side of a chef’s knife
1/2 tablespoon sea salt or pickling salt
2 tablespoons whey (see note above)
1/2 cup water
any spices or seasonings you like – black pepper, cayenne, coriander, cumin, curry, garlic, ginger, and mustard all pair well with okra

Wash the okra and stuff it, along with the garlic, into your pint jar. Pack it in there really tight; you don’t want any pieces to float above the brine when you add it. Make sure there’s about an inch of headroom between the top of the okra and the top of the jar.

Combine the rest of the ingredients and pour over the okra. (If you want, you can gently warm the water and salt in a pot first, stirring until the salt is dissolved, and then add the rest of the ingredients.  Alternately, you can simply gently turn the jar back and forth whenever you think of it during the first day or so of fermenting, which will also help the salt dissolve.)  Add a bit more water if necessary to cover the okra completely; lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process, and if any vegetables are exposed above the brine, you risk either mold or mushy vegetables. The okra can expand slightly as it ferments, so be sure to leave about an inch between the top of the brine and the top of the jar.  Cover and keep at room temperature for 2-4 days, until bubbles begin to form and the okra is as sour as you like it. Taste it after 2 days; if you like how it tastes, put it in the fridge.  If you want it to be more sour, give it another day or two before putting it in the fridge.  That’s it!  Lasts several months.

Lacto-Fermented Okra Pickles (without whey)

If you have a kitchen scale, this method will definitely appeal to the math or food safety geek in you.  The amount of salt you use in your brine can vary quite a lot, but you do need to get it in the right range.  Too little salt and putrefying bacteria will survive (you’ll know if this happens – your ferment will mold and/or stink!).  Too much salt and all your bacteria will be killed, including the good guys.  Aim for a brine that is 3%-5% salt.  We prefer the tang of a 5% brine, but 3% is still strong enough to kill the bad guys and let the good guys survive.

Here’s how this method works.  Wash the okra and stuff it, along with garlic if you like, into your pint jar. Pack it in there really tight; you don’t want any pieces to float above the brine when you add it.   Add water to cover.  Make sure there’s about an inch of headroom between the water and the top of the jar. Put a bowl or jar on your kitchen scale and tare it.  Now pour the water covering the okra into the jar on the scale.  Note the weight and do a little math to determine how much salt you’ll need.  For example, if your water weighs 300 grams, a 5% brine requires 15 grams of salt, and a 3% brine requires 9 grams of salt.  Put the water, salt, and any spice or seasonings you like (see previous recipe for suggestions) into a pot and heat on your stove, stirring occasionally, until the salt is dissolved.  Pour the brine over the okra, cover, and keep at room temperature for 2-4 days, until bubbles begin to form and the okra is as sour as you like it. Taste it after 2 days; if you like how it tastes, put it in the fridge.  If you want it to be more sour, give it another day or two before putting it in the fridge.  That’s it!  Lasts several months.

——————————————–

Hope these recipes are enough to get you on the right road if you’re an okra skeptic!

If you’re an okra lover, please share your favorite recipes in the comments!

okra blossom insta

So is the eggplant.

Posted by Lisa on August 18, 2011
eggplant, recipes, Vegetables A-Z / 2 Comments

It’s funny the way the same vegetables on the same farm in the same soil can give such varying yields from year to year.  Most of us are familiar with squash and zucchini overload – but this year, our first generation of squash was decimated by squash bugs.  (The current generation looks great though — first pick this morning!)  If you were in our CSA last year you’ll remember weeks when you had to conscript perfect strangers to help you haul your watermelons to the car!  The melons are tasty this year, but we’re not seeing the bumper crops of last season.

But the tomatoes!  Last year’s record heat was hard on them, but this year they’re hopping.

So is the eggplant.  Which you might have noticed.

DSC_1007

Bounty!

We love the stuff, but we know it can be intimidating.  Perhaps it’s because it’s one of only a few vegetables you really can’t eat raw; uncooked eggplant contains a compound called solanine, which can cause stomach upset at high doses.  Or is it that eggplant has a reputation for being bitter?  Eggplant can become bitter as it ages, so it’s true that you risk bitterness when you buy it at the grocery store – there’s no telling how long ago it was harvested.  But we pick ours within a couple days of delivering it to you and keep it in cool storage, so it’s not bitter.  Maybe eggplant is intimidating because despite the incredible culinary diversity in our country, most Americans don’t eat a lot of eggplant as kids.

But we’re here to tell you: eggplant is versatile and delicious.

DSC_0995

Eggplant blossom

Storing eggplant: There’s no great answer here.  Eggplant does not store well.  It prefers a temperature of about 50°F. You can leave it on the counter for a day or so, or put it on the bottom shelf of the fridge, but in either place it will begin to age pretty quickly, getting brown spots and losing its mild flavor.  So plan to use it quickly.  Or pickle it!

Using eggplant: Was there ever a more versatile vegetable? Eggplant is such a fantastic element of vegetable-heavy summer fare because 1) it’s hearty and lends real bulk to a meal, and 2) it’s like a sponge, absorbing the flavors of whatever you’re cooking.  It’s great broiled, grilled, sautéed, and roasted.

To salt or not to salt? You’ve probably heard that you need to salt eggplant before cooking.  We disagree.  More or less.  Here’s the deal: since grocery store eggplant is sometimes not fresh, salting can help draw out the bitterness.  But our eggplant is young and tender, so this truly isn’t an issue.  The more compelling reason to salt eggplant has to do with its amazing ability to absorb.  If you’re going to be sautéing your eggplant on the stovetop, you might consider salting it; it will soak up far less of your cooking oil.  But if you’re roasting it (solo or with other summer vegetables like tomatoes and onions and squash, with which it pairs deliciously) or grilling it or broiling it, we say: don’t bother.

To salt: Cut the eggplant into cubes or slices.  Toss lightly with salt.  Put the eggplant into a colander and let it stand for about an hour.  Give it a quick rinse and blot or squeeze dry.  If your recipe calls for salt, wait till the dish is cooked and taste before adding additional salt.

Lots (and LOTS) of recipes below!

DSC_0724-1

Heather in the eggplant patch

Whole Roasted Eggplant. Preheat your oven to 400°F.  Prick the eggplant in several spots with a fork.  Bake on a cookie sheet or in a casserole dish until soft to the point of collapsing, 30 minutes to 1 hour.  Eat this as a vegetable, drizzled with a little olive oil and some fresh herbs and salt.  Or scoop out the flesh and purée it (or mix it by hand) with some olive oil, garlic, chopped parsley or other herbs, and salt and pepper; serve with crackers, bread, as a dip for other vegetables, or as a sandwich spread.  Add some tahini and lemon juice and you’ve got baba ghanoush. (Bonus: I think roasting eggplants smell like brownies in the oven.)

Our Favorite Ratatouille. This stuff is fantastic. Serve it as a side with dinner, but make enough to have leftovers.  It’s also great in wraps and as a pizza topping!

Chinese Noodle Salad with Roasted Eggplant. Scrumptious. Lots of chopping, but so worth it.

Khoresh Bademjan (Persian Eggplant Stew). Thanks to CSA member Bethany for this one!

Bhurtha. A wonderful Indian dish of eggplant and tomatoes with lots of great spices. Thanks to CSA member Stacey for this one!

Eggplant Fries. We haven’t tried these yet but they look so interesting.

Roasted Eggplant Dip. Mmm! From Noell, who used to host our Ginter Park CSA pickup.

Melanzane Sott’Olio (Pickled Eggplant under Oil). Mmm again!  How about a jar of this stuff, a couple sliced Brandywine tomatoes, some crusty whole grain bread, and a glass of wine? Dinner.

And if you still have eggplant left, check out: these eggplant recipes at Tasty Kitchen, The Crisper Whisperer – How to Handle Eggplant Overload at Serious Eats, and A Good Appetite – Counting the Ways to Cook an Eggplant at The New York Times.

DSC_0987

DSC_0585
Happy eating!

Celery: a proper introduction

Posted by Lisa on June 29, 2011
celery, recipes, Vegetables A-Z / 1 Comment

DSC_9493

Celery is making its first appearance of the season in the CSA shares and on our market tables right now.  Farm celery is not your average party tray crudité, so we thought we’d make a proper introduction.

The Roman poet Horace wrote, “Fill the cups with Massic wine, which makes us forget all our ills; imbibe the flowers of these mighty springs, and make in haste crowns of ache (celery) and myrtle.”  This is a very pretty way of saying the ancient Romans believed wearing celery wreaths was protection against hangovers!  Could this be where the idea of a celery stalk in a Bloody Mary comes from?

The celery we grow is certainly potent stuff!  We don’t blanch the stalks, so this celery is dark green, full of nutrients, and packed with flavor.  Use it sparingly.

Storing celery: Celery has a very high water content, so get it into a cold fridge as soon as possible.  It’s best stored in a loosely closed plastic bag, sprinkled with water every day or two to help prevent dehydration.  If it seems a bit limp when you’re ready to use it, you can crisp it up by putting it in a bowl or dish of ice water in the fridge for a few hours.

Using celery: Celery is commonly used raw to season all kinds of salads.  Try a potato salad with our new potatoes and celery!  Remember that our celery is much stronger than supermarket celery, so you’ll need less of it.  Cooked, it lends a lovely flavor to casseroles and stuffings.  It’s also in the trio of aromatics (along with carrot and onion) that make up a mirepoix, a classic flavor base for stocks, sauces, soups, and stews.  The ratio is two parts chopped onion, one part chopped celery, and one part chopped carrot.  Mirepoix can even be used to add complexity to storebought stock and broth; just simmer it in the stock (about a quarter pound mirepoix per pint stock) for half an hour.  But its familiar status as condiment or seasoning belies celery’s identity as a vegetable in its own right.  It can be a major ingredient in a puréed soup.  This week I’m of a mind to try a chilled celery and beet soup, topped with a little yogurt or crème fraiche – I’ll report back!  And braising!  Braising turns celery, which I, frankly, sometimes find too assertive, into something tame and sweet.  Try slicing the stalks in half lengthwise and putting them in a casserole dish with a couple cups of stock (or water), a few tablespoons of lemon juice (or wine), a few tablespoons of butter (or olive oil), and some salt and pepper; cover tightly with aluminum foil and cook at 350° for an hour and a half.  Drizzle with melted butter and parmesan and run it under the broiler until the cheese is browned, or cool and toss with your favorite vinaigrette, or drizzle with brown butter.

Do you have any favorite family recipes for celery?  Please share in the comments!

And bon appétit!

DSC_9491

Sneaky collards + buttermilk skillet corn bread

These are collards!

Any time (my dad) gets to eat greens — of any kind — two days in a row, he considers himself extremely lucky, and he is not alone. In 1984, at the annual Collard Festival in Ayden, N.C., a man named C. Mort Horst set a world record by eating seven and a half pounds of collard greens in 30 minutes. (However, it was reported that he kept them down just long enough to claim his prize.) A year later, a woman named Colleen Bunting contributed to an anthology devoted to collards called ”Leaves of Greens: The Collard Poems.” In one the poems, she addresses (a common) prejudice: “Some say collards don’t smell so nice,/ But eat them once, and you’ll eat them twice.”

— from Green Party by Julia Reed, New York Times

Some of you grew up with these broad-leaved beauties, but I’m sure there are others among you who have arrived home with your shares in recent weeks and thought, “Ummm … this is as big as my head.  What on earth is it?”

These are collard greens, and they’re delicious, and they’re good for far more than playing peek-a-boo with your baby — although I highly recommend that as well.

You’ve probably been told to eat yer greens and they certainly are nutritional powerhouses.  Collards are probably the best vegetable source of calcium, on par with milk cup for cup.  They’re also very high in Vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, niacin, and protein.

So, short of gnawing on the raw leaves, how do you get all that good stuff in your body?

Claire, Shannon, collards

Traditionally, collard greens are simmered for a looooong time with a ham hock or a hunk of slab bacon or salt pork until they’re silky soft.  They’re quite good like this, although the sour smell of this long cooking is unpleasant to some people.

They’re quite versatile though.  You can chiffonade them and sauté them with garlic in olive oil.  This takes less than five minutes and the greens taste bright and fresh. These short-cut collard greens resemble traditional collards, but you microwave the greens for about 5 minutes first, which cuts the cooking time significantly, and you add chopped bacon at the end instead of cooking the greens with the pork.  Of course, simmering collards in a pork-based stock gives them great flavor; mushroom stock is a great vegetarian option.  And if you’re open to trying them raw, how about collard wraps? This recipe is a great jumping-off point — you could fill collard wraps with all kinds of things!  If raw collards are too strong for you, you can blanch the greens for a minute or two first to mellow the flavor.  And of course, hoppin’ John and collard greens is a traditional Southern New Year’s Day meal for good luck!

Tamping the collards

Our very favorite way to eat collards comes from the quite irresistible The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners, via our friend Eunice. Eunice is a tireless cook with an impeccable palate and I am doing all I can do bring her to the farm for a week next year as a chef-in-residence.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  A gal can dream.  But right now, what we’ve got are her delicious collards.

Sneaky collards.

They’re so called because they have a wonderful spicy smoky flavor, but they’re cooked without pork. They’ve got no animal products in them at all, actually, so this is a great vegan dish.  Don’t let that deter the meat-lovers among you, though.  This is a fine, fine meal.  In fact, we’re having it for dinner tonight, so I’d better give you the recipe right now so that I can get cookin’!

We love to spoon a heap of sneaky collards over a big wedge of custard corn bread in a soup bowl. It’s fall in a bowl. We’re ready.

Sneaky Collards
adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee

8 cups water
3 dried chiles or 1 Tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
3 3/4 pounds collard greens, ribbed, washed, and cut into 1-inch ribbons
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled, and quartered
1 large tomato, cored and quartered, or 1 large can whole tomatoes (1 can diced tomatoes works in a pinch!)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton) or Hungarian paprika
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

In a very large stockpot, bring water to a boil over high heat. Add the chiles and 1 Tbsp salt, and reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the stock has a nice salty spiciness, about 10 minutes.

Add a few handfuls of greens to the pot. They will float on the surface, so stir them frequently, submerging with the spoon, until they have turned a bright kelly green, 3 to 5 minutes. They will become floppy and more compact, so you can add more handfuls of greens. Continue adding handfuls of greens, stirring and submerging them until all the collards are in the pot (6 to 10 minutes). Turn the heat down to the gentlest simmer and note your time at this point.

While the greens simmer, place the onion and tomato in a small bowl. Drizzle olive oil and vinegar over them, add 1 tsp salt, the paprika, and the pepper, and toss to coat. Transfer the vegetables to a medium cast iron skillet (a cookie sheet or casserole dish works too) and add the garlic. Place the skillet under a hot broiler, about 3 inches from the flame or heating element, until the vegetables are nicely charred, 6 to 8 minutes. Set them on the stovetop to cool.

When the garlic is cool enough to touch, peel the cloves and discard the charred skins. Transfer the broiled onion, tomato, and garlic to a blender or food processor and blend at high speed until the mixture is completely smooth, about 3 minutes. You should have close to 1 1/2 cups of purée.

With a ladle, remove most of the stock from the collards pot and discard or save for soup. (Traditionally, you dip corn bread into this pot liquor left over after the greens are done.  It’s delicious for sure, and has lots of the vitamins and minerals that leach out of the greens when you cook them for a long time.)  Add the purée and continue to simmer the greens, for a total of 1 hour from the point at which you noted the time. The greens will be a very dark matte green and completely tender, bathed in pale red gravy.

Cut a generous wedge of buttermilk skillet corn bread and put it in the bottom of a soup bowl.  Ladle the collards on top.  Sometimes we also add an egg over easy.  Dig in!

Buttermilk Skillet Corn Bread
adapted ever so slightly from our trusty Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

You can make this corn bread without the cream if you like, and it’s still delicious.  But the cream, added just before you slide the skillet into the oven, magically transforms into a custardy layer just under the surface.  Vegan folks might like to give this recipe a spin.

3 tbsp butter
1 cup flour
1 cup stone-ground yellow or white cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp sugar or honey
2 cups buttermilk (or 2 cups milk plus 2 or so Tbsp lemon juice or vinegar, left to sit for about 10 minutes to curdle)
1 cup cream

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Put the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet (a cake pan or a deep dish pie pan will work if you don’t have a cast iron skillet) and place in the oven while you get everything else together.  Sift the dry ingredients in one bowl and mix the eggs, sugar, and buttermilk in another. Remove the pan from the oven, brush the butter over the sides, then (carefully — the skillet is still hot!) pour the rest into the wet ingredients.  Combine the wet and dry ingredients, and stir long enough to make a smooth batter.  Pour the batter into the hot pan.  Gently pour the cream over the batter — don’t stir!  Gently slide the skillet back into the oven and bake until lightly browned and springy to the touch, 50-60 minutes.

Leftovers make an excellent breakfast!  We’re particularly partial to eating it with a fried egg and maple syrup on top.  Try it!

A tidy mess o' greens

We dig sweet potatoes.

3 lbs 1 oz!

3 lbs 1 oz!

Autumn is really here!  Three cheers!  Another three!  Who else is with me?

We’re a bit crazy about fall vegetables, and what better way to begin talking about that than with this beautiful monster of a sweet potato?  Perhaps Deborah Madison says it best in her inimitable, indispensable Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone*: “Nearly every time I bite into a roasted sweet potato, I ask myself if anything can be more delicious.”

Sweet potatoes have a lot going on nutritionally: they’re chock full of Vitamin A in the form of beta carotene (which means they’re a great immune system boost, and help you see better too!), are a very good source of Vitamin C, and also contain a significant amount of fiber, iron, and potassium. Lots of their nutritional value is found just under the skin, so consider leaving the skin on when you cook or bake with sweet potatoes.  We don’t use any pesticides, so you can be sure the skins are safe to eat!  And remember, carotenes are fat-soluble.  This means it’s important to eat carotene-heavy foods with some fat, to fully digest and absorb all the good stuff.  So butter those sweet potatoes!

Just out of the ground

Storing sweet potatoes

We dug the sweet potatoes going into this week’s shares last week, and so they’re only partially cured. You can eat them right away and they’ll be delicious, but their sweetness will intensify if you cure them a few more days at home.  Just leave them in a box, covered with paper or heavy cloth, in the warmest place in your house, for up to a week.  After that, we suggest keeping them in a cool, dark location, ideally not the fridge.  Try wrapping them in some newspaper and putting them in a reasonably well ventilated cabinet or pantry closet.  They should last several weeks, but do be gentle with them. Despite their tough-looking skin, they’re not as rugged as regular potatoes.

Some of our sweet potatoes this year are pretty enormous!  Don’t be afraid of them.  If you slice off as much as you need, you’ll see a milky white fluid begin to appear.  This is naturally occurring latex! It will form a film over the exposed flesh, and will preserve the sweet potato for another couple days at least.  Generally raw sweet potatoes shouldn’t be stored in the refrigerator, but we sometimes do put them there after we’ve sliced off a piece, and we make a point to use the remaining sweet potato fairly quickly so it isn’t damaged by the dry cold.

Sweet potatoes come in all shapes and sizes!

Sweet potatoes come in all shapes and sizes — just like people!

Eating sweet potatoes

I grew up eating sweet potatoes smothered in marshmallows at the Thanksgiving table … and that was about it.  While I’ll gladly eat them that way even now, golly, I was missing out on so much!  Sweet potatoes are delicious just about any way you cook them: roasted, grilled, braised, steamed; whole, sliced, cubed, mashed, puréed.

Our favorite way to eat sweet potatoes is to slice them into thin rounds, toss with a few good glugs of olive oil, salt, and a few cloves of minced garlic, and arrange in a single layer or so on a cookie sheet. Bake at 400°F for about 15 minutes on one side, and then flip them and cook another 5 or 10 minutes, until they to start to caramelize at the edges.  So good!  We eat them this way a couple times a week but never time the cooking exactly, so do cook them a bit longer if they’re not caramelized yet.

Green things like kale and collards are a happy complement to the sweetness of sweet potatoes. Recently we’ve been eating these roasted sweet potato rounds, or baked sweet potatoes with butter, alongside a raw massaged kale salad (more on that soon in a few days!) and salmon fillets seared in our trusty cast iron pans.

They make wonderful casseroles, of course (savory and sweet), and are also great roasted right alongside chicken, pork, or beef.  They’re fantastic in stews — try a stew of sweet potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and beans, seasoned with peanut butter, garlic, ginger, and cayenne, and served over rice or quinoa.  Puréed, they make an easy early baby food (puréed sweet potato freezes great) and a wonderful soup.  They’re also wonderful cubed and then steamed or roasted, and added to burritos or tacos with black beans and cilantro.

They’re a great addition to breads too!  We make a seriously good braided Hawaiian Sweet Potato Bread from a delightful little cookbook called Goddess in the Kitchen (we thought it was out of print, but it seems it’s just been repackaged as Romancing the Stove: Celebrated Recipes and Delicious Fun for Every Kitchen Goddess).  Last Thanksgiving we made these yeasted sweet potato rolls from James Beard via Joe Yonan at the Washington Post: heavenly.  We haven’t tried these sweet potato biscuits, but they look darned delicious as well.

Have you tried mashed or puréed sweet potatoes in pancake or waffle batter yet?  So good.  And sweet potato pound cake is out of this world.

Other things I’m itching to try: sweet potato gnocchi, a sweet potato soufflé with a bit of cayenne and some crumbled fried sage leaves on top, bread pudding with cubed sweet potatoes.  Ohhh, and how about a sweet potato milkshake with a bit of maple syrup??  Ahem.

One more cooking tip: try substituting sweet potatoes in any recipe that calls for other orange foods like carrots, pumpkin, or winter squash.  It almost always works!

* We participate in the Amazon Associates program. We earn a small commission if you buy any cookbooks by following our links.  We promise we will only link to cookbooks we know, trust, and love. Please get in touch with us if you’d like to know more.

(Sweet potato pound cake recipe below!)

Digging sweet potatoes

Sweet Potato Pound Cake
adapted from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott

We started making this pound cake in February 2009, right around the time I found out I was pregnant with our own little sweet potato.  Perhaps that explains why I ate that first one for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert till it was gone.  Perhaps not.  This recipe makes a big cake. You stand forewarned.

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
4 eggs
2 large sweet potatoes, baked until soft, peeled and mashed (you want 2 cups — eat the rest!)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter and flour a Bundt pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt, and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the milk and vanilla, and set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until they’re light and fluffy, and then add the eggs one at a time, blending well after each egg.  Add the mashed sweet potatoes and mix on low for about a minute. Add half the flour mixture and mix on low or with a wooden spoon until it’s just incorporated into the batter.  Now add half of milk, continuing to mix gently, then the rest of the flour, mixing gently again, and finally the rest of the milk, mixing gently until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 60-75 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. If you can bear it, let it cool in the pan on a rack for about 20 minutes before gently flipping it out of the pan and onto the rack.  Our friend Shari, who told us about this recipe, warned that it makes your kitchen smell like heaven.  Make some coffee while you wait.  Have your first cup while browsing the archives of this joy+ride, the lovely site co-curated by Shari.  When the cake has cooled just a bit, slice yourself a piece and take it, and the coffee, out to the porch. Exhale. Also makes a great breakfast toasted.

Sweet potato pound cake

Two notes:

1) If you prefer, you can peel, cube, and steam the sweet potatoes, instead of baking them, before mashing them.  We prefer the sweetness that baking them brings, but either method makes a delicious cake.  We don’t recommend boiling sweet potatoes because they can become a bit waterlogged and also lose some of their nutrients.  (And we know you’re eating this cake for its nutrients.)

2) You can use two 8″x4″ loaf pans instead of a bundt pan.  The baking time will probably be shorter — keep an eye on the loaves and check with a tester.

two sweet potatoes

The incredible edible garlic scape!

Sure, when they’re bunched they look like some wacky offspring of an octopus and … a Martian?  Tuck them (with some skillful maneuvering) into a mason jar and they make a striking centerpiece.  And I was half tempted to wear some as jewelry at our wedding a few years ago!  But behind their whimsical exterior lies a seriously delicious vegetable.  We’re talking about garlic scapes.

We’re pretty garlic crazy around here.  Rare is the evening that doesn’t begin with mincing a few cloves of garlic and tossing it into the cast iron skillet.  We hope the same will be true for you this summer too.  We grow a variety called Music, with beautiful purpley-white cloves and strong perfect flavor.

Sadly, we didn’t offer it last year.  We plant our garlic in the fall, and in the fall of 2008 we were still farming full-time on rented land in Northern Virginia, and we just weren’t able to get away long enough to plant garlic down here at Frog Bottom.  But we’re settled here now and we hope neither you nor we will ever have to go without garlic again!

While there are hundreds of garlic varieties, all of them are either softneck or hardneck.  Garlic from the grocery store is almost always softneck.  The cloves are small and grow in concentric circles.  Most softneck varieties have excellent shelf life, which makes life much easier for produce department managers.  But we think hardneck varieties just cannot be beat for flavor, and the kind we grow keeps quite well.

Hardneck garlic has one layer of large cloves which grow around a tough central stalk.  This stalk sends up a flower shoot in the spring: the scape!  We pluck these right off so the plant continues to put its energy into developing a large bulb.  And then we head right to the kitchen.

Garlic scapes have a pretty strong garlic flavor and can be used in any recipe that calls for garlic. Chop or mince them and throw them in a skillet with some olive oil or butter.  Cook until they begin to soften, and then add more vegetables and cook until the vegetables are tender — perhaps diced beets or roughly chopped chard from this week’s share??

Scapes are delicious in egg dishes like scrambled eggs and frittata.  Or try mixing sautéed scapes into ground beef or other ground meat for burgers or meatloaf.  They’re also great in stir-fry and soup!

We haven’t tried pickling scapes yet, but this recipe (scroll down once you click through) in the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange summer newsletter has us itching to!

Perhaps our favorite thing to do with them?  Garlic scape pesto!  Garlic scapes and basil don’t grow at the same time, so you’ll have to either freeze the scapes and wait for basil season, or get creative.

Here’s how we did it last week:

In a food processor or strong blender, combine one bunch roughly chopped garlic scapes, a good squeeze of lemon juice, a couple pinches of salt, a good glug of olive oil, a small handful of pine nuts or any other nuts, and a good handful of something green and leafy — this would be an excellent use for your beet greens, which are delicious!  Chard works too.  Process until it gets to a consistency you like — the scapes can be a little tough so I prefer to process the pesto till it’s fairly smooth.  You might need to add more olive oil, or a little water, to thin it out.  Taste it and see if you want a bit more salt or lemon juice.  Pesto is a very forgiving sauce, so don’t be afraid to experiment!  Put it in a bowl and stir in a half cup to a cup of grated parmesan cheese.  Et voila!

(You can make this pesto without a food processor or blender.  Just mince those scapes as finely as you can!)

Pesto is so versatile and will keep for several days in your fridge or almost indefinitely in your freezer. In the last week and a half or so we have put it on pasta, stirred it into scrambled eggs while they were cooking, spread it on top of salmon before sliding it under the broiler, stirred it into sautéed vegetables, and used it as pizza sauce.  It would also be great stirred into soup, or any kind of egg, potato, or pasta salad.

Tell us about your garlic scape adventures!

Daily Farm Photo: eat yer greens!

Posted by Lisa on December 02, 2009
daily farm photo, greens, recipes, Vegetables A-Z / 8 Comments

People, we have been remiss.

We’ve been sending you home with bags full to bursting with collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, rape, and more every week for ages now … but when it comes to helping you scale those mountains of green — when it comes to telling you what you can do with them — our advice has been meager.

And that’s really too bad; we’re actually quite fanatical about the stuff, and it would be a shame to reach the end of a CSA season knowing we might have converted many a greens skeptic if only we’d provided recipes!

Greens are as good for you as you’ve always heard, chock full of iron and calcium and vitamin C and beta carotene.  They’re a great boost for your immune system as it fights everything from the common cold to, studies suggest, cancer.

But don’t force them down just because you should!  Greens are delicious and quite easy to prepare.  Although they span the flavor spectrum, from mustard’s potent spiciness to Red Russian kale’s surprising sweetness, they all take to the same basic preparation with ease.

We eat greens several nights a week this time of year.  Most of the time we chop them coarsely (with or without the stems, depending on our mood and our patience) and sauté them in olive oil with onion and garlic.  We usually eat them like that, or sometimes we add a couple glugs of balsamic vinegar or soy sauce, or a squeeze of lemon.  You can add almost any other vegetables to the sauté as well — in the early autumn, we thought two or three diced tomatoes added to the mix was particularly good.  Canned tomatoes would work just fine this time of year.

If you’ve got Red Russian kale (that’s the stuff with the purple veins and ruffled edges, at the very right edge of the photo above) here is what you must do: melt some butter in a wide skillet or a pot, and toss in a couple diced apples and a hearty amount of that kale.  A pound is not too much.   Cook until tender, stirring occasionally.  That’s it!  Unbelievably good.

Another idea is kale chips!  These win over lots of skeptics, but you’ll find yourself making them time and time again because they’re so fast and wonderful.  Arrange kale on a baking sheet in a single (or so) layer, toss with a little olive oil and salt, and bake at 375° for 10 minutes or so, giving the cookie sheet a shake or two if you remember, until the edges get crispy.  We usually do a double batch.

Two other greens recipes we love, both from the wonderful food blog Orangette:

Braised Winter Greens with Chickpeas, Onions, and Garlic Fast, and great with any greens.  Especially good with a poached or fried egg on top.

Chard, Onion, and Gruyère Panade This isn’t complicated but it does take some time to come together — not a quick weeknight supper, but a great simple meal for a chilly weekend lunch or supper.  This is comfort food of the highest order, rendered from the simplest ingredients: greens, onions, garlic, bread, cheese, and broth.

We’ve got another favorite recipe on deck for tomorrow the first moment we can stop gazing at the baby.  In the meantime, what are your favorite ways to prepare greens?

Daily Farm Photo (with recipes!): eat a tomato

When we heard news of the late blight that swept much of New England and the mid-Atlantic this summer, our hearts just about fell out of our chests for the farmers up there.  Late blight is a fungus that destroys tomato plants and can also spread to potatoes; it spread like wildfire in the Northeast this summer.  It’s awful to imagine a summer without tomatoes.  And tomatoes are quite often a vegetable farmer’s bread and butter — a summer without tomato income is a very, very scary thing.

Luckily, Virginia seems to have been mainly spared, and we’ve got some gorgeous ones for you in the CSA and at market right now.  I always say you should eat tomatoes like there’s no tomorrow.  Nothing tastes like a vine-ripened tomato in the thick of summer, and their season comes but once a year.  This year, I’m eating them with an extra grateful heart.

We’re growing eight kinds of tomatoes at Frog Bottom this year, a mix of heirloom and home garden hybrid varieties.  All are thin-skinned and delicious.  I really am hard-pressed to pick a favorite — but if I must, I’ll always reach for a Cherokee Purple first.  That’s the purple one I’m touching in the photo above.  Let it ripen as long as you can stand it (at room temperature — never in the fridge), till it’s a deep dusky purpley-pink.  It’s amazingly sweet but with a nice balanced acidity.  It’s a natural for slicing and eating as is or in a sandwich.

Stop by the farm any day at lunchtime and you’ll likely find Ali and me both with sticky tomato juice running down our forearms and a bit of a homemade mayonnaise mustache.  Can you think of a better way to celebrate the season?

Here are our favorite ways to eat tomatoes right now; all require pretty minimal preparation and let the natural intensity of the tomato shine through.

Sliced and doused with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. When we want to gild the lily we add basil leaves and fresh mozzarella.

Sliced and stuffed into a simple sandwich of toast slathered with homemade mayo. We haven’t bought mayo in ages.  It’s fast and easy to make your own, and once you start, you’ll wonder who kept this secret from you your whole life.  To make your own mayo: Blend one room temperature egg, some dried or jarred mustard, the juice of one lemon or a roughly equivalent amount of vinegar, and a bit of salt in the blender or food processor for a minute or two.  Then add oil (we usually mix equal parts olive and canola, but experiment to see what you like) — usually about 3/4 cup — in a very slow stream while still blending, until everything is emulsified.  Our mayo tends to be thinner than storebought, but you can add more oil if you’d like it thicker — or a bit of water or milk or cream if you want it thinner.  You can also stir in more lemon juice, mustard, salt, or pepper at the end to taste if you want.  Put whatever you don’t use right away into a tightly sealed jar in the fridge and use within a week.

Coarsely chopped and roasted in the oven with olive oil and salt for an hour or two or three. It can be hard to turn on the oven these days, but we’re always glad we did.  Slow roasted tomatoes are like candy.  Toss them with pasta, add them to a salad, smear them on toast with goat cheese, or just stand there at the stove and eat them all right out of the roasting dish.  Roasted tomatoes freeze very well.

Tomato bread salad. Tear or slice some chewy, slightly stale bread into rough 1-inch chunks, toss with olive oil, and bake until crispy.  Toss with halved garlic cloves, chunks of tomato, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and some basil or other fresh herbs.  Let the whole thing sit for about ten minutes and then dig in.  Avoid the garlic cloves.  Or not.  We first started making it when we read about it several years ago on Molly Wizenberg’s food blog Orangette.  We can’t recommend this website heartily enough for its wonderful storytelling and its no-nonsense, always-delicious recipes.

Panzanella. Tomato bread salad’s slightly fancier cousin — a bread salad that originated in central Italy.  Here are two delicious versions, one at Kitchen Parade and one at Chocolate & Zucchini.

And if you can’t eat  your way through all the tomatoes: freeze ’em!  They’re slightly more accommodating when you use them later, if you blanch, peel, and coarsely chop them first.  But when we don’t have time for that we throw them into Ziploc bags whole.  Then we use them in sauces and casseroles in the winter.

And what about y’all??  Please leave a comment and tell us how you eat your tomatoes!