Subscribing to a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm share can be both exciting and overwhelming. There’s something thrilling about the anticipation that builds all week, leading up to delivery day when you lift the lid of your box to discover what combination of fresh-off-the-farm produce your farmer has brought: Perhaps gnarled heirloom tomatoes in Crayola-vivid yellows, oranges, and reds; or crisp carrots tied in bunches and with feathery tops still attached; or juicy cantaloupe with its gentle, sweet perfume. But it can be a challenge to find new ways to use up all of that produce, especially vegetables you’ve never seen before (like celeriac, or Harukai japanese turnips) or vegetables you’ve seen before and dislike (kale or black radish, for example). The newly released cookbook Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers, by Sur La Table with Janet Fletcher [304 pages, jacketed hardcover, Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, $35.00] strives to help you “make the most of the fresh ingredients from your CSA box or farmers’ market and celebrate the goods grown in your community.”
Not merely a cookbook, Eating Local also profiles 10 CSA farms that “are a representative cross section of the movement,” including Nitty Gritty Dirt Farm in Harris, MN, which both cultivates produce and raises livestock, and Morning Song Farm in southern California, which claims to be the nation’s only rare-fruit CSA. Collectively, the 10 profiles sketch out for us the life of a CSA farmer, from starting the farm, to selecting crops, to packing the boxes each week. Of Nitty Gritty Dirt Farm, the authors write, “Empty cardboard boxes stand ready in the shade of the hoop house, waiting to be filled according to [farmer] Robin’s posted diagram: heavy stuff on the bottom, shapes juxtaposed artfully, a riot of color on top. She wants shareholders to open the box and be stirred by the beauty.” Each profile contains snippets of insight, from kitchen tips such as “Take pesto beyond basil. Substitute spinach, kale, or garlic scape for some or all of the basil” to a listing of the farmers’ favorite crops, to a sentence or two discussing the farm’s philosophy.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Farm contributed three recipes: Pickled Yellow Wax Beans with Fresh Dill; Nitty Gritty Dirt Farm’s Slaw; and Nitty Gritty Dirt Farm Ketchup.
Recipes — 150 of them — are divided among three major sections, vegetables; fruits; and poultry, meat, and eggs; and then organized alphabetically for easy reference by primary ingredient within each section, from artichokes to turnips; apples to pomegranates; and beef to pork. Many of the recipes, such as Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwich with Asian Pears and Prosciutto or Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Tahini Sauce, require the use of a grill, so, if you do not enjoy grilling, this might not be the book for you. Because two of the three sections are produce-focused, many of the recipes are vegetarian; however, even in the vegetables section, some of the recipes call for anchovies, a bit of bacon, or slices of sausage. Storage and gardening tips appear at the back of the book.
Sprinkled throughout the book are creative suggestions for using parts of the vegetables one might normally discard: Use “bok choy ribs as a celery substitute, or as low-calorie dippers in place of chips for guacamole”; or tender, young radish greens to make pesto; or carrot tops to make soup or sparingly in juicing and in salads. One recipe, Warm Chard Ribs with Yogurt, Toasted Walnuts, and Dill, centers entirely around the chard rib, which more commonly ends up in compost heaps.
We tried several recipes from the book, our favorite of which was the very simple Crispy Kale Chips, which yielded astonishingly crisp strands of kale that dissolve in your mouth. We also liked the Carrot-Zucchini Bread With Candied Ginger, which is a zingy and colorful take on ordinary zucchini bread. The recipe yields two loaves, which will help you clear out your crisper drawer. Finally, Creamy Grits with Sweet Corn was exactly as advertised: creamy and sweet. I hated to part with precious corn early in the season, but it’s a terrific way to use corn when you’re tired of eating it off the cob. Fletcher’s recipes are thorough and clear, and seem to anticipate your every question.
Lush color photographs, of farmers, of produce, and of completed dishes, appear on nearly every page of the book, making it as enjoyable to flip through the book as it is to cook from it or read through it. If you are looking for contemporary twists on everyday recipes, and a reminder of why you buy produce from your neighborhood farmer, Eating Local would provide inspiration from the first asparagus tips that shoot up in spring to the last yams dug out in fall.
Crispy Kale Chips
CSA farmers who grow kale say that many of their shareholders lack recipes for this highly nutritious leafy green. Kale chips to rescue. Roasted in the oven, the leaves crackle when you eat them and dissolve like snowflakes on the tongue. No matter how many batches you make, they will disappear in an instant. The DeLaney Community Farm blog credits Bon Appetit magazine for the idea.
½ pound Tuscan kale or curly kale
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 250°F. With a knife, separate the kale leaves from their tough central rib and discard the ribs. Wash and thoroughly dry the kale leaves. Put them in a large bowl, drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat them evenly with the oil. Arrange them on baking sheets in a single layer.
- Bake, in batches if necessary, until the leaves become fully crisp, 25 to 30 minutes. You can serve them immediately or let them cool. They will stay crisp for at least a couple of hours.
Carrot-Zucchini Bread with Candied Ginger
Makes two 8-inch loaves
When summer delivers too many zucchini, many people reach for a zucchini bread recipe. Here’s one with a difference: wisps of grated carrot for color and nuggets of moist candied ginger for spice. The idea for jazzing up a quick bread this way comes from Annie Baker, a respected pastry chef in California’s Napa Valley. Wrap and freeze the second loaf if you don’t plan to eat it within a day or two.
Nonstick cooking spray, for preparing the pan
3 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
½ cup minced candied ginger
3 large eggs
1 cup canola oil
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup carrots, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater
1 cup zucchini, grated on the large holes of a box grater
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Coat two 8½- by 4½- by 2¾-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray.
- Sift together the sifted flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, and baking powder into a medium bowl. Stir in the salt and candied ginger.
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until light and foamy. Add the canola oil, sugar, and vanilla, whisking vigorously until the sugar dissolves. Whisk in the carrots and zucchini.
- Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture all at once and stir with a wooden spoon just until blended. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans.
- Bake until the breads are well risen and firm to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in the pans on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert and finish cooling right side up on the rack.
Creamy Grits with Sweet Corn
Cut fresh kernels off the cob and stir them into grits for the final few minutes of cooking to impart some summery sweetness. Serve as a side dish for grilled sausages or pork chops, or as a vegetarian companion for Grilled Tomatoes with Pesto or Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Oregano and Feta. If you have access to a household grain mill, such as the grain mill attachment for a stand mixer, you can grind your own grits from the dried white corn (maiz blanco) sold in Mexican markets.
2 cups corn grits (not instant), preferably stone-ground (see Note)
1 ½ quarts plus about 3 cups water
2 large or 3 small ears corn
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Put the grits and the 1 ½ quarts water in a bowl and soak overnight. The next day, skim off any papery hulls floating on the surface.
- In a small saucepan or a tea kettle, bring the 3 cups water to a boil, then adjust the heat to keep just below the boil. Put the grits and their soaking water in another medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over moderately high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. When the grits thicken, after about 5 minutes, cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally and adding hot water as needed to thin, until the grits are creamy and no longer gritty, about 1 hour.
- While the grits are cooking, husk the corn and cut the kernels away from the cobs with a large knife. You should have about 3 cups.
- When the grits are ready, stir in the corn kernels, cover, and continue cooking until the corn is tender, about 15 minutes, adding more hot water if needed to maintain a creamy consistency.
- Add the butter and stir vigorously until it melts. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
NOTE: Stone-ground grits are available at well-stocked grocery stores and from mail-order sources, such as Anson Mills.
A complimentary review copy of Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers was provided to me by the publisher. I received no compensation from anyone connected with the creation or publishing of the book. My opinions are my own.