Operation Pesto

We were not remotely prepared psychologically for the arrival of the first box. Andrew was coming off an eight show week (this will be a common theme), and I had been out of town at a friend’s wedding all weekend.

The email from Nichols Farm came on Monday morning. Going on year three, we knew more or less what to expect in an early June box: spinach, kale, lettuce, rapini, potatoes, asparagus, radishes, and strawberries. I read the list to Andrew, and he stared into space for a few minutes and asked me to read it again (this will also be a common theme). Mondays are his day off, and after playing 5 shows in the span of 48 hours, he has difficulty with basic cognitive tasks and resembles a person who has recently awoken from oral surgery. It usually passes by mid-afternoon. Despite this, we came up with a plan that I was pretty sure Andrew had agreed to, and I went about going through the refrigerator indiscriminately throwing things out to make room for the contents of the box.

My friend Sammi was in town, and on Tuesday, the day the first box arrived, we were playing a recital together. We had our final rehearsal in the morning and then I headed off to pick up the box. It was around 1:30 PM when I got home with it, and I was already ravenous and a little light-headed. But having thrown everything out from the refrigerator, if I wanted lunch, I needed to make it out of the CSA.

Actually, this is not true: I could have run up the street for a sandwich, eaten it, warmed up for my concert like a responsible professional, and put off dealing with vegetables until the next day, but I was blindly determined not to fall behind on the first day of the CSA. These things can build up quickly, I said to myself as I struggled to stand. We need to make sure there’s space for when the 12 ears of corn arrive in late July. 

The recipe we had picked out for lunch was a potato salad from Smitten Kitchen.

Spring Salad with New Potatoes and Pickled Onions

First scrub the potatoes clean and cover them with an inch of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 min, or until they’re done. (It took mine 35 min because I was using russets instead of little ones…) While that’s happening, you can make the pickled spring onions. Mix together a half cup of warm water, a half cup of rice wine vinegar (recipe called for white wine vinegar, didn’t have any), 1 TB salt and 1 ½ teaspoons sugar and add 4 spring onions sliced thin. This goes in the refrigerator.

At this point, the potatoes weren’t done and I was getting desperate so I  made myself a smoothie. Things improved considerably after that.

When the potatoes were finally cooked, I dumped them in the sink and doused them with cold water. Then you’re supposed to refill the pot the potatoes were in with fresh water and bring it to a boil. Deb Perlman from Smitten Kitchen mentions that it’s nice to do this so that you have fewer dishes to clean, allowing me to entertain the delusion that my kitchen wouldn’t be completely destroyed after making this recipe. 

While waiting for the water to boil again, I made the dressing: ¼ cup olive oil, 2 TB mustard, 2 TB rice wine vinegar (white wine vinegar if you have it…) and salt and pepper. Once the water was boiling, I threw in the asparagus for a few minutes, then drained it and ran it under cold water. At this point, the potatoes and asparagus got chopped up and I threw the dressing over it.

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It’s worth noting that you’re supposed to let everything come up to room temperature, but I definitely wasn’t going to do that. A few of the pickled spring onions (how long ago did I make those? An hour? Last week?) went on top.

All things considered, this was pretty delicious and surprisingly filling too. I usually get bored of potato salad pretty quickly, but the pickled onions were a fantastic touch and I went back and added the rest of the spring onions to the brine so that we would have more for salads later on in the week. 

CSA vegetables used: potatoes, spring onions, a few radishes, a pound of asparagus

Other ingredients used: rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard, olive oil,

Spinach Pesto

There are few things I enjoy more than waking up the morning after a concert and knowing that I have the entire day off. I was up early to see Sammi off, and leisurely went about my morning cooking project with an uncharacteristic level of patience. 

The box came up with two pounds of spinach, which in case it doesn’t sound like it is huge amount of spinach. Neither Andrew nor I particularly like eating it raw, and we also still had lettuce, kale and rapini to go through, so I decided to make it all into spinach pesto. I used a recipe from Kenji Lopez Alt’s Food Lab cookbook, substituting spinach for basil. Based on the amount of spinach I had, I ended up quadrupling the recipe. I didn’t use up all of the spinach, either.

Kenji recommends blanching the greens in water so that they’ll stay bright green, rather than turn brown three minutes after you put them in the refrigerator. Usually I skip this step, but I figured since I was making about 6 cups of pesto I probably was going to have it around for a while. This meant blanching the spinach in two different batches, and then trying to cool it all off immediately before it turns itself to mush.

The spinach went into the food processor, along with a pound of grated parmesan cheese, an entire container of pine nuts, the zest of four lemons and the juice of two, along with a cup and a half of olive oil. We also added an assortment of basil, thyme, and sage from the garden to give the pesto a little more flavor.

The first day we had it on pasta. It was fine, but not spectacular – spinach pesto doesn’t have a lot of a flavor and we didn’t have a lot of extra things to add to the pasta. It was frankly pretty delicious by the spoonful, though, and the next day I had it on sliced ciabatta  for lunch which was delicious.

You can freeze pesto if you leave the cheese out, but I didn’t do that so now we have about 6 cups of pesto in the refrigerator. The internet seems to feel it will last 5-7 days, so we are going to be a eating a lot of pesto in the next few days, and perhaps giving it out to strangers as well.

CSA vegetables used: 3/4 of the spinach.

Other ingredients used: lemons, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, sage, thyme, oregano

Roasted Chicken & Lettuce with Buttermilk Dressing

Lettuce is one of the more challenging CSA ingredients to use up, because as far as I know it can’t be pickled, cooked, or blended. And in the order of going badness, it tends to be towards the top, so I was feeing some urgency with respect to the lettuce. We roasted a chicken, and served it with a salad made of lettuce, radishes, cherry tomatoes, blue cheese, and pickled spring onions along with a buttermilk dressing from Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune.

The buttermilk dressing is 2 shallots, 1 garlic clove, 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk, 2 cups of mayo (she specifies Hellman’s), 1 tsp pepper, a pinch of salt, the juice of 1 lemon, 1 1/2 cups of mint, and 1 spring onion. It all goes together in a blender.

 

Not too bad for a dinner ready by 5:30 PM.

CSA ingredients used: lettuce, two radishes, one spring onion

Other ingredients used: chicken, herbs, buttermilk, mint, mayo, salt, pepper, herbs, cherry tomatoes, blue cheese, garlic, lemon.

Next: Sausage with Rapini and Saag Paneer

 

 

 

Week 2: Working Grill

Ladna, Pan-fried Halibut with Kale and Kohlrabi Salad, Fried Eggs with Grilled Asparagus & Red Springs Onions

As the weekend approached, I began crumbling into a ball of stress due a complete failure to plan out anything that I needed to get done other than the CSA . Friday morning I hustled to design business cards and a poster for an event on Sunday, and then set about trying to find someone who could print them for me on basically no notice. In the midst of all of this, we somehow managed to piece together a string of delicious meals that provided enough leftovers to get us through the weekend.

Friday: Ladna with Tofu and Leaf Broccoli

The chief achievement of the week was making ladna at home on the grill. We had wanted to cook ladna the week before, but our local asian grocery store was out of the wide fresh rice noodles that it turns out are pretty essential (we made pad Thai instead). We still had the idea for ladna floating around in our heads, however, and upon seeing that we had leaf broccoli in the CSA, we decided to make it a priority to track down the right kind of noodles.

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This is what leaf broccoli looks like.

This meant a trek to Tai Nam Market near Argyle and Broadway, an intersection filled with some of the best Thai and Vietnamese food in Chicago. It’s an intense grocery store, with live seafood crawling around in tanks next to row upon row of whole fish on ice. We wandered back and forth in front of the row of fresh rice noodles, feeling a little self-conscious that it took us, like, 10 minutes to be sure we had the package we needed.

Friday was the first day of the summer that hit the 90s, so it was arguably not the best day for grilling. But we were deeply motivated having had so much fun grilling the pad Thai, so come evening I traipsed outside with a cold beer to light the coals while Andrew prepped the ingredients inside.

Like any stir-fry, ladna is all about the prep. The rice noodles came in a 2 pound block that seemed fused together. Separating them was a bit challenging, but the recipe from Hot Sour Salty Sweet suggested running them under warm water, which seemed to help a lot. Ladna “gravy” is made with 1 TB fermented soybean paste that’s been mashed until smooth, 1 TB soy sauce, 1.5 TB fish sauce, and 1.5 TB rice vinegar. You also use 1.25 cups mild chicken broth. We had a homemade chicken stock on hand which isn’t exactly mild, so we diluted it by half with water. You also need a cornstarch slurry made with 1 TB cornstarch to 3 TB water.

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In order of appearance

The other big discovery was the chili-vinegar sauce that went along with it. It was really simple: 1/2 a banana pepper sliced thinly, 1/2 cup rice vinegar, and 2TB or so of sugar. We recognized the condiment because we’d seen it at the table when ever we went to Thai Pastry on Argyle, but we had no clue that it was supposed to go on ladna.

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Chile-vinegar sauce

 

Like with the pad Thai, we put the wok directly on the coals until it was scorching hot and then the cooking happened in a sweaty fury. The noodles went in first, cooking for a couple minutes and then being set aside in the serving bowl. The garlic and tofu came next, then the leaf broccoli (some of which overflowed the pan and fell onto the coals, see below). When the leaf broccoli had wilted and the tofu browned, we tossed in the ingredients for the sauce, which came to an instantaneous boil. A few moments later, the sauce had thickened and we poured it over the noodles and went inside to escape the heat.

After we ate, I sat in a sort of stupor, muttering about the dish being a “gamechanger,” though I don’t really remember what I meant by that. All I can say is that everyone should give it a try, on the grill if you can. The flavors were intense, blended yet distinct, and the chile-vinegar sauce brought the whole thing alive.

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A gamechanger

CSA vegetables used: Leaf broccoli

Other ingredients used: Tofu, rice noodles, fermented soybean paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, chicken broth, corn starch & water, banana pepper, sugar, rice wine vinegar.

Sunday: Pan-fried Halibut with Kale and Kohlrabi Salad

I felt it was important while making the week’s plan to put a dent in the kohlrabi before it started getting the upper hand, and we also had a large quantity of kale that didn’t yet have a designated purpose. I didn’t have high hopes for a google search for”kale and kohlrabi,” but probably shouldn’t have been surprised when I came across the webpage of someone else trying to use up their CSA. In this case, I found a recipe for kale and kohlrabi salad with a lemon-tahini dressing recipe from Emma Frisch.

To make the dressing, you blend 2.5 TB tahini, juice from one lemon, 1 TB honey, 1 TB toasted sesame oil, 1 tsp horseradish, and 1 tsp salt. The kale is sliced up thinly and the kohlrabi grated so that it sort of looks like cheese. I doubled the recipe for the dressing and dumped it on top of all of the kale and kohlrabi without too much thought, resulting in the salad being significantly overdressed. Luckily, kale and kohlrabi can stand up to being drenched in tahini dressing more than, say, a bag of spring mix, and it was still quite edible.

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Our protein of choice was halibut, which Andrew pan-fried in butter and olive oil after dusting with smoked paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper. He cooked it over medium high-heat for about 3 to 4 minutes a side, until it was just beginning to flake.

CSA vegetables used: kale and kohlrabi

Other ingredients used: halibut, tahini, honey, horseradish, lemon

Monday: Fried Eggs with Grilled Asparagus & Red Spring Onions, Bruschetta with Spinach Pesto and Feta

The weekend was incredibly busy, with a rehearsal, a gig, a concert, and three hours spent introducing preschoolers to miniature cellos as part of the kids activities tent at the summer street festival in our neighborhood. When Monday came along, all I wanted to do was sleep and eat leftovers. While peering into the fridge to see what our options were, we found the CSA asparagus, which had gotten pushed to the back and hidden by a large bag of kohlrabi leaves. The tips of the asparagus had already started to go, but they were salvageable.

We decided to make the classic and easy dish of fried eggs served over asparagus. During a walk to get wine before dinner, we marveled at how pleasant it was outside once again and decided we should just grill everything—the asparagus and the spring onions—use the wok to fry the eggs. We also still had spinach pesto, which we decided to slather on slices of grilled bread.

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We grilled the asparagus for 3 to 4 minutes over the hottest part of the fire. Then we halved some CSA spring onions and grilled them for about two minutes until they were dark.

We started the slices of bread on the cooler part of the grill until the edges were starting to brown. We then finished them over the hottest part of the fire, turning them frequently to keep them from burning. The slices of toast came off the grill and were promptly spread with pesto and sprinkled with feta.

The eggs were fried in a big glug of olive oil in the wok over the grill, and Andrew spooned oil over them while they cooked.We were aiming for a flash-cooked fried egg, extolled by Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen and Kenji Lopez-Alt. The heat was a little hard to judge, and so the yolks were harder than we liked by the time the whites were cooked through. Andrew thinks he should have put the wok directly on the coals and let the oil heat up a few seconds longer. He’s eager to try it again.

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Not bad

CSA vegetables used: asparagus, spring red onions, leftover spinach pesto

Other ingredients used: eggs, bread, olive oil.

Next: Week 2 field report

Week 1: Hitting the Arugula Sauce

This was officially make-up week in my cello studio and I had half the teaching load as usual. Thursday I had exactly nothing to do, and what better way to spend a day off than trying to figure out all of the ways a person can eat arugula?

Open Faced Sandwiches with Arugula Butter and Soppressata

Thursday’s lunch inspiration came from Cucina Rustica by Viana la Place and Evan Kleiman. The recipe calls for crostini, arugula, butter and bresaola, which is a dried salt beef. After investigating, we prudently decided that making our own salt beef was too much of an undertaking, and went for soppressata (an Italian sausage) from the deli instead.

To make the arugula butter, you put room temperature butter in a food processor along with a a few handfuls of arugula and a little salt. Seconds later, you have arugula butter. The upside: you get to eat butter and use up your CSA simultaneously. The downside: these pretty little sandwiches are not actually intended as lunch food, more an antipasto, so you may be hungry an hour after eating them.

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Not filling. Tastes great!

CSA vegetables used: half the arugula.

Other ingredients used: soppressatta, toast, butter.

Grilled Pork Chops with Rice, Asparagus, and (Italian) Salsa Verde with Arugula

With the weather perfect, a sense of vacation upon us, and a desperate need for protein, we decided to grill some pork chops for dinner. Andrew brined them for a few hours, and we grilled them along with half of the CSA asparagus and ate them with rice.

We made a salsa verde from Cooks Illustrated to go on top of the pork chops. This salsa involved mixing 1 cup oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 cups arugula, 2 cups parsley, 1/4 cup capers, anchovies, 2 cloves of garlic, and salt together in a food processor.

Andrew for some reason started this in a mortar and pestle, but was soon overtaken by a sense of the futility of his own existence and wisely finished it in a food processor. The original recipe called for adding a couple slices of sandwich bread into the salsa, something about keeping the sauce from separating, but we didn’t do it and everything worked out fine. We only made a half batch, but if I could go back I think we would have done the full recipe.

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Being a loyal Texan, this is not even remotely what I picture when I think of “salsa verde.” But this sauce is so delicious that it’s the kind of thing you might end up slathering all over everything you own.

CSA vegetables used: half the arugula, half the asparagus.

Other ingredients used: capers, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, pork chops, brown rice.

Next: Ladna, interrupted.