Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bountiful Goodness

Sometimes a challenge is just the thing to get you out of a rut.

I love to cook, but summer is always a time when I tend to revert back to my quickest, easiest go-to recipes because it seems we're always on the run. Between playing as much tennis as possible, keeping up with the chores and just enjoying the extra hours of daylight, we're rarely home in time to make a big meal. All of this summer fun means I've been cooking less, which is such a waste now that all of nature is exploding with fresh fruits and veggies.

Fortunately, we have our very own garden to sow and Dave took initiative this spring to sign us up for a local CSA (community supported agriculture). Basically, you buy a share of produce grown at local farms and every week you pick up your portion of whatever they harvest. We get ours from LEAF in Lakewood and once a week get a surprise bounty. It's an amazing way to gain access to fresh fruits and veggies and the benefits are numerous:

1. It's inexpensive.
2. You're supporting local farms and businesses.
3. You're reducing your carbon footprint by buying local.
4. You're exposed to all kinds of new produce you might not normally try (consider kohlrabi, celeriac and kale, for instance).
5. You reduce exposure to pesticides and other preservatives because whether it's certified "organic" or not, your food has fewer miles to travel to your kitchen.

And this brings me to my final point: You're forced to use what you pick up. Not only must you "clean out the fridge" as is my hubby's constant goal, but you also need to be somewhat creative about it, particularly if you've never prepared that week's items.

Now, in the interest of fair disclosure, I must admit I haven't been very good about using up our produce in creative ways so far this season. In fact, for the past few weeks, I've been pawning off our half of the share we split on our friend Kristine because we just haven't been home. Fortunately for us, she's quite the cook herself and has been kind enough to invite us over for several delicious and nutritious meals made from the bounty (note that the hubby shamelessly invited himself over to enjoy the beets because, as he said, "Kelly doesn't like them so she won't make them." Insert the sad Dave face and you know why Kristine invited us over. Her beet and goat cheese salad was delicious, by the way).

But this week I'm turning over a new leaf (pardon the pun!). I vow to use our share of the bounty and to try out several new recipes. To do this, I've consulted one of our favorite cookbooks, Farmer John's, which quite handily was compiled by a CSA farmer in Illinois to help his shareholders learn new ways to use their produce (great to know I'm not alone in my quest, or in being unfamiliar with how the heck you're supposed to use celeriac!).

And let me tell you, our share this week was bountiliicious. We have zucchini, summer squash, pickling cucumbers, kale, beets, romaine lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, onion, green tomatoes and eggplant. And that's not even taking into account the massive amounts of herbs just harvested from our own garden, including basil, dill, lemon balm and mint. So here are a few of the recipes I have in mind to use up this week's hooch. I'm also sharing the delicious dish Kristine made for us last night using the previous week's bounty. I will definitely make it myself sometime soon.

Whether or not you're signed up for your local CSA, you should definitely consider taking advantage of the fresh, seasonal produce to create new levels of yumminess in your own kitchen!

Kale and White Bean Soup
with sundried tomatoes and saffron

(adapted to from Farmer John's Cookbook)

3 tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 1/2 cups leeks
1 medium potatoes, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
1 1/2 cups peeled chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
6-7 large kale leaves, stems removed (3-4 cups)
3/4 cups cooked or 1 can (rinsed, drained) white beans
1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
pinch saffron
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic and fennel seeds, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add onion and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add potato, carrot and parsnip and cook, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.

2. Add fresh or canned tomatoes. Pour in stock. Stir in bay leaves and oregano. Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce heat so it continues to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the kale, beans and sun-dried tomatoes. Simmer until veggies are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove pot from heat; add saffron.

Marinated Cucumber Dill Salad
(from Farmer John's Cookbook)

3 large cucumbers, very thinly sliced
1 tbs coarse sea salt or kosher salt
2/3 cup white or apple cider vinegar
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
2 tbs finely chopped fresh dill

1. In a large bowl, use your hands to thoroughly but gently mix the cucumbers and salt. Place a plate on top of the cucumbers, then place a 2- or 3- pound weight on the plate (helps release salt). Set the cukes aside to marinate at room temp. for several hours or in the fridge overnight.

2. Drain the cukes thoroughly in a colander and pat dry on a clean dish towel. Rinse and dry the bowl, then return the cukes to the bowl.

3. Mix vinegar, water, sugar, salt and pepper in small pot over medium heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 mins. Remove from heat.

4. Our the hot vinegar mixture over the cukes. Sprinkle with dill and mix to combine.

Baked Zucchini Halves with Wild Rice and Quinoa
(from Farmer John's Cookbook)

1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise
1 ½ cups cooked quinoa
½ cup wild rice
(note, I may substitute bulgar wheat for one of these grains)
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 ½ tsp. olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
1 rib celery, chopped
¾ cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tsp salt
Butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut out the center from each half of the zucchini with a paring knife, being careful not to puncture the bottom or the sides; reserve the centers. Transfer the hollow halves, cut-side up, to a baking dish.

Coarsely chop the zucchini centers and put them in a large bowl. Add the quinoa, wild rice and Parmesan. Stir until combined.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and celery, cook for 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the bread crumbs are well mixed in and heated through, about 1 minute.

Add the bread crumb mixture to the quinoa/rice mixture and combine well.
Stuff hollow zucchini halves with mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 40 mins.

Remove foil. Continue baking until zucchini is very tender and the filling is golden brown, 10 to 20 mins.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan
(My own concoction, so consider the measurements just "guidelines"! I never measure unless I'm following a recipe)
Serves 4

1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced into thin strips lengthwise (make them thin if you like crispy eggplant and thicker if you like yours meatier)
1 cup bread crumbs (you can use any kind: regular, whole wheat, panko, cornmeal)
1 tbs Italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
2 egg whites
jar or homemade marinara sauce
whole wheat pasta
Optional: 1/2 cup fresh shredded Romano cheese or mozzarella

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Add dash water to egg whites and whisk with fork in wide bottomed bowl. Pour bread crumbs, Italian Seasoning, salt and pepper into separate wide bottomed bowl or plate and mix. Dip eggplant in egg whites, covering both sides, then use same dipping technique with bread crumbs.

Lay coated eggplant strip onto baking sheet (if you have a wire rack to put on your baking sheet, this will work best. Otherwise, be sure to spray it really well). Bake for approximately 15 -20 minutes until bread crumbs brown, turning once and checking often. Note: The thinner the eggplant, the faster it will cook). If you like, sprinkle the tops with fresh Romano or mozzarella cheese. Or both if you're feeling spunky! Put back in oven until melted.

Serve with pasta and marinara sauce.

Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans
This is the recipe Kristine made for us last night! Yum.
(from Eating Well)
Makes 6 servings

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 16-ounce package shelf-stable gnocchi (see Tip)
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup water
6 cups chopped chard leaves (about 1 small bunch) or spinach
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings
1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
¼ cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add gnocchi and cook, stirring often, until plumped and starting to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

2. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and onion to the pan and cook, stirring, over medium heat, for 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and water. Cover and cook until the onion is soft, 4 to 6 minutes.

Add chard (or spinach) and cook, stirring, until starting to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, beans and pepper and bring to a simmer.

Stir in the gnocchi and sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan.

Cover and cook until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling, about 3 minutes.

Tip: Look for shelf-stable gnocchi near other pasta in the Italian section of most supermarkets.

Nutrition Information
Per serving: 325 calories; 7 g fat (2 g sat, 3 g mono); 8 mg cholesterol; 55 g carbohydrate; 14 g protein; 6 g fiber; 616 mg sodium; 360 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (50% daily value), Vitamin C (40% dv), Calcium & Iron (19% dv).3 Carbohydrate ServingsExchanges: 3 starch, 1 vegetable, 1 lean meat, 1 fat

Zuppe Toscana
(This is one Kristine's sister Ashlee created to mimic one of her Olive Garden favorites. It's extremely tasty! Check out her other recipes at Thanks to Kristine for making this for us when Dave invited us over for dinner.)

1/2 lb. Italian turkey sausage
1 small onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. yukon gold potatoes, quartered and sliced
4 c. chicken stock
2 c. 2% milk
2 c. shredded kale (or spinach)
Salt and pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes

In a soup pot, saute sausage over medium heat. Lightly brown, drain, and put back in pot over medium-low. Saute in garlic and onions, season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes.
After 5 minutes, add in potatoes and stock.

Cover and bring to a simmer, cook for 10 minutes. Add milk and spinach, bring back to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve with a salad and crusty bread.

(Just pick your favorite herb! Basil, Lemon Balm and Parsley all work well. You can also used cooked kale or spinach)

1/2 cup herbs
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
6 tbs olive oil or chicken broth if you want to reduce the fat (another trick from Ashlee)
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 2 tbs fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Optional: toss in a few sundried tomatoes add a different twist

Combine ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth. Use on pasta, toasted bread or sandwiches.

Note: Pesto freezes well, so it's a great way to use up your herbs. Put spoonfuls into an ice tray, let freeze and transfer to freezer safe bags. This is great for winter nights when fresh herbs are more scarce/expensive. Just add to skillet with veggies and pour over pasta or defrost in the microwave.


Kels said...

As an update, I only marginally succeeded in this mission. I did make some yummy pesto, gnocchi and eggplant parm, but I'd be stretching to say I accomplished all I'd hoped with this post. Perhaps I was a leetle to ambitious. I can only be grateful I didn't not end up with so much excess bounty that Crazy Farmer Dave (the hubby) freaked out on me for wasting such green goodness. But I'm not giving up! These recipes are still on my list, and I now have boatloads of zucchini with which to make them!

laura said...

eggplant parm was indeed delicioso!

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