The Farm (Shares) Report, 9/8/05 (Improvise!)

September 13, 2005 psipsina

Sorry for the delay in posting my next installment of The Farm (Shares) Report — it is a very busy time of year at my new job.

Our most recent delivery from Steve Parker included:

  • Arugula
  • Beets (including lovely, healthy greens)
  • Three small, glossy eggplants
  • Three huge cucumbers
  • Two pounds of tomatoes that taste like tomatoes
  • Three leeks
  • Radishes
  • More parsley than I can grow in a year

One of the reasons I love farm shares is the creative challenge. The great wealth of America means that we can have what we want, whenever we want it, if we’re just willing to pay up. And the economies of scale, both natural and artificially subsidized, mean that we don’t even have to pay up that much. You want peaches in February? There’s a grocer in your neighborhood who has them shipped in from New Zealand, and they don’t cost that much more than they would in August. If salad is on your dinner menu tonight, you can drive (or I hope, walk!) to the grocery store and pick from several different kinds of lettuce.

The increasing availability of virtually every kind of produce year round means that the way we approach cooking is as follows:

  1. Read a recipe.
  2. Make a list of ingredients.
  3. Go to the store and buy them.
  4. Follow the recipe exactly.

The farm shares have radically changed this for us. We are not a rule-setting household, but we have an unstated rule of thumb about produce this summer. We are getting piles of produce from Steve every week, so we buy as little additional produce as we can. There are some exceptions. Steve doesn’t grow fruit, so we buy fruit occasionally. (Neither of us is a huge consumer of fruit, anyway, and the fruit in the grocery store is almost always disappointing – unripe, rock hard, and sour, or overripe, black, and beginning to mold.) Garlic, onions and hot peppers are more like spices or seasonings than vegetables, so we buy those as well. Certain things, such as avocados, lemons, and limes, do not grow in Massachusetts, so we pick a few of those up from the supermarket as well. And that’s about it.

This means, by the way, that we eat only what’s in season. We haven’t seen lettuce from Steve since some time in July. Lettuce is a cool weather vegetable. It just isn’t available right now. I don’t mind – we had so much lettuce in June and early July, I’m ready for a little break from lettuce. This is how people have eaten since before recorded history, and it’s probably how we evolved to eat, which means it’s probably good for us.

Our way of approaching cooking is as follows:

  1. Take stock of what we have, including what Steve brought this week and what might be left from last week.
  2. Think about how we might combine a few of these things into a dish.
  3. Improvise.

Step 2 sometimes means thinking about dishes we’ve made in the past or have eaten in restaurants. Sometimes it involves looking through cookbooks. But in either case, the rule is, whenever possible, Make do, or do without. If the cookbook calls for produce that we don’t have, we either substitute something, or we don’t make the recipe.

When we brought the veggies home on Thursday, the most obvious choice was one of those ubiquitous Middle Eastern salads that are served at every falafel hut in the world: chopped cucumber, tomato, and onion, dressed simply with lemon juice and olive oil.

Well, we had no lemons, but we had two limes. Last summer, purist that I am, I would’ve felt obliged to go out and buy a lemon, but I decided we could make do.

I thought of using leeks, which aren’t quite the same as onions, in the salad, but we had a sweet onion we’d bought last week when Steve wasn’t able to deliver. I’ve eaten leeks raw, but my impression is that they are better cooked. There was also one green pepper from the delivery two weeks before that was miraculously still in good shape – a testament to how fresh the stuff is when Steve delivers it.

So, here’s what went into the salad bowl.

Not Quite Authentic Syrian Salad
1 large cucumber, peeled, and seeded if the seeds are tough
2 dead-ripe tomatoes (leave out if all you can get is those supermarket styrofoam balls spray-painted pink)
1 green pepper
1/2 sweet onion
large handful of radishes with dirt still clinging to them
enormous handful of parsley
limes (or lemons or whatever)
olive oil
salt and pepper

Cut large veggies into 1- or 2-inch chunks, as you like. Wash radishes thoroughly and cut into halves or quarters. Wash and chop parsley and add. Squeeze in the citrus juice. Add plenty of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

Serves two people for two meals

Over the weekend, the Red-Haired boy made eggs scrambled with tomato, leek, eggplant, and arugula. Same principle – use what you have.

The thing is, eating what’s in season, we do not feel deprived. The array of stuff we get every week is so dazzling, how could we want anything else?

One last word, and this about parsley. I am not kidding when I say that the bunch of parsley we got this week is more than I could grow in a season. It is the size of an extravagant head of lettuce. The first couple of times Steve gave us parsley, we were bemused. I grow herbs in pots out back, and I could harvest all the parsley I needed.

Then my parsley plant went to seed. I had forgotten that parsley is not a perennial – it’s actually a biennial. And the nursery I bought it from must have sold me a year-old plant, because it shouldn’t be going to seed until next year. In any case, going to seed means that it will be going the way of all flesh soon.

So this week I was glad to see parsley in our bags – but what to do with it? It can be made into a salad, but that is so fussy – plucking every little leaf off, washing thoroughly, drying in the salad spinner – and parsley leaves are less tender than other salad greens, which means they benefit from being heated slightly. I suppose we could top the salad with some cooked meat …

I might chop a lot of it up with a little garlic and olive oil and freeze it in ice cube trays to be added to soups and sauces this winter. I might make gremolata, which is garlic + parsley + lemon zest. I might make that salad after all. Parsley doesn’t dry well – it smells and tastes like grass clippings – so I won’t be drying it.

I might see if the cats like it.

I might buy (!) some cilantro and make the Moroccan seasoning called chermoula – cilantro, parsley, and garlic.

Maybe I’ll make parsley soda. No, that would make me a villain.

Tomorrow, we get a new batch of veggies. I could really get into this abundance thing, really I could.

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