I’m looking forward to going to Penzey’s spices while we’re back home in Madison. We’ve run out of awful lot of things and had to buy subpar quality spices from the co-op. They try to keep good spices in stock, but there’s only so much turnover on things like ground cardamom or whole nutmegs.
I have never before seen locally grown, organic iceberg lettuce. It looks a little bit less freakish than the stuff you find wrapped in plastic at the grocery store, but only a little bit less freakish. I’m curious what these heads of lettuce would retail for at the farmers market or at the co-op. Just because it’s funny, we may have a composed salad where we serve wedges of iceberg lettuce. Has your CSA ever delivered iceberg lettuce?
The other treats this week was green garlic. This is a young garlic plants that have not had time to form a head of garlic and mature. The white bulbs and some of the green stems are edible, and the flavor tastes like garlic but not as strong. Sam is using some of the cream garlic in tonight’s dinner; pasta with garlic and olive oil and cheese.
So I need to address the obvious – What is a locavore? The most boilerplate comes from the very first post of this blog – The dictionary definition, “A person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food.” There’s two problems I have with this definition. First, it frames locavore as a “diet” and second, the definition leaves “local” to be defined elsewhere. Please excuse me as I pick at nits.
I don’t like diets – in the modern use of the word as a set of guidelines on choosing food, not in the Anthropological meaning of the word as anything that people eat. Diets come as arbitrary sets of rules or guidelines that ossify eating practices and attempt to define the world into “good” and “bad” foods. Lard? Bad. Broccoli? Good. Locally-raised pig lard? Bad (unless you’re a locavore, then it’s good). Conventionally farmed broccoli from Argentina available in New Hampshire in February? Good (unless you’re a locavore, then it’s bad…) I really do NOT want anyone to think there is some list of goods and bads making up the Locavore diet and that you may only eat things on the good list and nothing off the bad list. Diet also emphasizes choosing foods and avoiding foods – a universe of possibility that neglects what you do with the foods you choose or what happens to the foods you avoid. I want locavore to mean more than just choosing foods that are good and avoiding foods that are bad because locavore is more than just the food – it’s about preserving food, cooking food and enjoying food too…
Second, the dictionary leaves out what “local” means. The dictionary defines “local” as “belonging or relating to a particular area or neighborhood, typically exclusively so.” Local as geography. So each locavore is a pin on a map with a circle around it. I don’t much like that either. We can use other definitions of “local” to broaden our understanding of food. I think of food using a network definition. Imagine a network of food producers, packagers, distributors and consumers. Each person or organization is a node and is linked by the transactions between nodes. We all eat within this type of network-I buy a can of tomatoes sold at the coop, shipped by a grocery wholesaler, packages by a plant, picked by a person, grown by a farmer. Alternatively I go to my pantry and get a jar of home-canned tomatoes that I bought at a farm stand that were picked by the farmer. Local, to me, means both geography AND relationship networks. How can we act to minimize both distance and connections?
So, I’m being pedantic, but I want to explore these ideas more fully in this blog… This is why I started in the first place. To gain a better understanding of how and why I eat locally.
So back to my original question: What is a locavore? The dictionary says, “A person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food.” Let’s modify this…
A locavore is person who acquires, preserves, cooks and eats food in order to minimize the distance between the food production and consumption.
What do you think?
I like to pickle – to preserve vegetables in a salt and vinegar brine. I pickle for three reasons: First, it’s a way to preserve some veg to eat later in the season. Second, I have a bad salt-sour tooth (like a sweet tooth, but more for salty and sour things). Third, my pickles never turn out the same way twice, so it’s always a surprise when I open a jar.
Sidenote: pickling is not fermenting… They’re different processes. Pickling is killing microbes and reducing their ability to reproduce by introducing a hot, salty and acidic environment. Fermenting is using the microbes to create a warm and slightly acidic environment that both slows reproduction and breaks down foodstuffs. Some old-school cucumber pickles are both fermented and pickles, but not all.
Another sidenote: Pickling can produce both self-stable pickles and pickles that need refrigeration to keep from spoiling-so-called “refrigerator pickles.” I prefer refrigerator pickles because they’re very easy to make and the resulting veg stays crisp.
To start out this season, I made pepper pickled radishes. These are radishes pickled in a vinegar-salt-sugar brine with peppercorns. They turn a light shade of pink as the color leaches out of the radish into the brine. For a new twist this year, I added a sliced onion. In retrospect, I used too much onion, so these are more pepper pickled onions with some radishes thrown into give it a pink color. As they hang out in the fridge, the pepper flavor gets stronger while the vinegar mellows.
Pepper Pickled Radishes
(Makes 1 pint of radishes. All measurements are approximate… This is the variability I talked about…)
- 8 radishes – about 1″ in diameter
- 1 small onion
- 1 tbsp peppercorns
- 1 cup rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
- 6 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- Heat the vinegar, salt and sugar to almost boiling. Taste it and adjust salt and sugar to your preference.
- Thinly slice the radishes and the onion on the mandoline.
- In a pot of boiling water, sterilize a clean canning jar, ring and lid for 10 minutes.
- Fill the sterile, hot jar with layers of radish slices, onion slices and peppercorns. Press firmly to pack the jar very tight. Pour over the hot brine until within 1/2″ of the rim of the jar. Tap the jar firmly on the counter to release air bubbles. If air bubbles are still visible, jam a butter knife down the veg to release the air bubbles. Press down any veg sticking up out of the jar, so it won’t touch the jar lid. Top off the jar with extra brine to reach within 1/4″ of the rim of the jar. Wipe the lip of the jar clean, top with the lid and screw on the ring to hand-tight.
- Put the jar in the way back of the fridge. Let cool for at least 24 hours.
This is the first post of a new series – the Locavore Survival Guide. I hope to provide some advice for novice locavores who are trying out the Farmer’s market, maybe purchasing a CSA (Community sponsored agriculture), or just choosing from the “locally grown” section of the supermarket. After 10 years of eating locally, I hope to have learned a thing or two, and I can share some of my experiences making this same transition. Look for Locavore Survival Guide posts on Tuesday mornings…
Storing Greens in the Fridge
In the early Spring, my winter stores are low, my kuhlschrank is empty and turned off, and I have more empty canning jars than full. Spring vegetables don’t take well to preserving – they’re leafy and tender. So, in the Spring we scramble to eat all of the veg before it goes mushy.
Some examples of Spring vegetables that we ate in Wisconsin and hope to eat in New Hampshire include: Spinach, radishes, lettuce, asparagus, cooking greens (frisee, endive), Chinese vegetables (bok choi, tatsoi), tiny beets, and sweet salad turnips. Most of these are leaves, a few stems and swollen roots, and no fruits yet…
Most of these leafy greens will wilt and dry out if just put in the refrigerator. Compared to store-bought greens, locally-bought greens will stay crisp and moist much longer in the fridge. The local veg that I get in our CSA is often only 1 or 2 days out of the ground, while some veg in the grocery store may have been picked weeks before. For locally picked veg, by my accounts, you have about 2 days in the fridge with unprotected greens before they’re wilted and inedible. However, if you put a little effort up front, these vegetables will stay very crisp and moist in the fridge, without getting soggy and mildewy. You can plan to pick up your CSA on Friday and still have crisp veg to cook with on the following Thursday. It’s all about moisture control.
First, all leafy greens need to be in a bag to keep in the moisture, but if there’s too much moisture, then the greens with get soggy. To absorb extra moisture, I wrap greens in paper towels, then put them in the bag, and twist the bag shut. This gives an environment where the moisture will stay constant, and any extra will be absorbed by the towels. Store the bagged veg in the bottom of the fridge, in a “crisper” drawer, if you’ve got room. However, bagged like this, the greens should stay crispy for 5 days, longer if they’re really recently picked.
Each week, I strive to look over our store of vegetables and draw up a menu for our dinners. It helps me to focus my grocery and farmer’s market purchases, plus, as I’m walking home from work, I can go over the plans for dinner and be ready to prep when I walk in the door (or after Pidi and I get home from the Dog Park.) As you can see from the board, Sunday night’s dinner was supposed to be “white ends & pasta w/greens” and since it’s Sam’s day off work, he was planning on cooking. He asked me for the recipe, but I realized I had never written this recipe down anywhere. I put pen to paper (figuratively), so Sam didn’t have to develop his psychic abilities to cook recipes that I’ve made up and never written down…
Escarole is a fleshy lettuce with a mild, bitter taste and is very similar (indistinguishable, I think) from endive. Sometimes, sadistic farmers grow “chicories,” blanched plants that are forced to grow into tight pointed heads. All of these veg – escarole, endive, chicories – are part of the family of Italian cooking greens. For people who don’t like cooked lettuce, think of fleshy Italian cooking greens more like spinach or kale – greens that we cook without batting an eyelash – instead of like lettuce.
Not knowing what to do with escarole, a few years ago, I turned to Farmer John’s The Real Dirt on Vegetables that recommended cooking escarole with pasta in olive oil with garlic, and to Alice Waters who has a recipe for greens and white beans in her Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook (repo@Serious Eats). I combined the two – because who doesn’t like beans and pasta?
White beans and escarole with pasta
- 1 head of escarole (see the picture above for sizing)
- 14.5 oz can of small white beans, great northern beans, white kidney beans or cannelloni*
- 1 pound small pasta that cook up to be about the same size as a bean**
- 3-4 garlic scapes
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
- Shaved parmesan (optional)
*I’ve tried this with dried beans, and you need the thick bean broth from the canned beans to form the basis of the sauce. Don’t try it with dried beans.
**Ditalini is the perfect pasta for this dish since it cooks up to the same size as a bean, but it’s hard to find. Alternatives are rotini, penne, cut spaghetti or elbow macaroni.
- Wash and dry the escarole and chop or tear it into 2″ pieces. Taste the core and make sure it’s not terribly bitter before including it.
- Mince the garlic scapes, omitting the tip of the scape, if dry, and the neck where the scape bulbs into a spade shape.
- Boil water with salt, and cook the pasta until al dente.
- While the pasta cooks, heat 1-2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the scapes and cook for a minute until they’re soft.
- Add the escarole and turn in the olive oil to wilt. If it won’t all fit in the pan (often it doesn’t…) steam the greens by adding all of the escarole to the pan and 2 tbsp water. When it steams, cover the pan for 1-2 minutes until the escarole has wilted and is more manageable. Turn the escarole in the oil to mix around the flavor.
- Open the can of beans and pour the whole can, bean sauce and all, into the skillet. Bring the beans and greens to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the pasta is done.
- Before draining the pasta, reserve a cup of the cooking liquid. This will CYA if there isn’t enough bean juice to coat the pasta and you have to thin it out a little bit.
- If the skillet will hold it, add the pasta into the skillet and cook for another minute or two. Otherwise, return the pasta to the pot, and use the heat of the pot to dry off the extra moisture. Add the contents of the skillet and mix. If there’s not enough sauce, thin it out a bit with the reserved cooking liquid.
- Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. If you like the dairy thing (this recipe is vegan up until this point), take the pan off the heat and stir in cream.
- Top with shaved parmesan, if you like the dairy thing… Parmesan is salty, so don’t over-salt the dish.
After months of waiting, we FINALLY have a CSA and we’re getting shares! I’ll be posting pics of our CSA deliveries from Cedar Circle Farm as they come in – look for the tag This Week in Veg. We got arugula, radishes (with greens), spring onions, bok choi, and two heads of lettuce.