Hip hip hooray for my CSA!

Excuse me while I interrupt my countdown-to-El Bulli posts to tell you how much I love my CSA. A CS-what you ask?

A CSA (community supported agriculture) program allows participants to buy a share in a local farm and receive a variety of produce on a regular basis. In January, Daniel and I signed up for a half share with the Carroll Gardens CSA and a few weeks ago, we picked up our very first shipment.

All of our produce comes from Garden of Eve, an organic farm on the East End of Long Island. For the next six months, we'll be able to eat fresh, delicious, and best of all -- chemical-free -- fruits and vegetables. We also added an egg share, and it should come as no surprise that farm fresh eggs rock! Plump and a sunny shade of yellow, these puppies put hormone-packed supermarket eggs to shame.

When you belong to a CSA, you're not only supporting local farmers, but you're preventing unnecessary pollution. Yes, Whole Foods might be organic, but half that stuff comes from faraway places. Think of all the fuel that's needed just to ship it! And, you only get fruits and vegetables that are in season, so you can say goodbye to mealy peaches and freaky tasting tomatoes.

And now, without further ado, here are three more reasons I love my CSA and why I know you would too!

#1: You never know what you'll get in each shipment, so a CSA encourages culinary creativity

Our first shipment included mustard greens, a spicy staple in southern and Indian kitchens. After searching various recipe sites to find a way to cook them, I remembered a Chard and Saffron tart that I was addicted to a few months ago thanks to Luisa.

Soon I was chopping up a mixture of kale and mustard greens and whisking a few of those bright, beautiful eggs, and just a few hours later, Daniel and I were gushing over how much we love this zingy, vitamin-packed veggie.

#2: When your CSA gives you a ton of sweet strawberries, make shortcake!

Our first shipment also included an overwhelming amount of strawberries. We picked everything up on a Saturday and had plans for a potluck BBQ at my friend Courtney's new house in Connecticut that same night. The minute I saw those super sweet berries, I remembered a great shortcake recipe from Everyday Food that would use up 3/4 of them; the rest made a lovely strawberry juice on Sunday.

As long as I've known Courtney (25 years and counting!), she's never been too into sweets.

But now that she's 8 months pregnant with a little boy whose name she won't divulge (Justin? Zachary? Isaac?), she can't get enough of them.

#3: You can take your love of crumb cake to a whole new level

A few days before my CSA started, Melissa Clark wrote about a rhubarb crumb cake in The New York Times. Rhubarb is one of those unusual vegetables that I just love (okra is another), and you all know how much I like crumb cake.

Our CSA started up right around the time Daniel and I downloaded Season 3 of Lost on Itunes. So happy to be reunited with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and my favorite Australians Claaaah and Cha-lie (I'm addicted to saying their names the way they do), I decided to bake a cake.

And now, not only do I love my CSA for giving me the rhubarb to try this recipe, but I'm forever indebted to Melissa Clark for her spectacular spin on coffee cake. Big, fat cinnamony crumbs are comforting and a bit guilt-inducing, and soft, sour slivers of rhubarb keep it from becoming too sweet. We finished the whole thing in two days.

So, have I convinced you to join a CSA yet? If so (and I hope I have!), you can find one if your area here.

Mustard Greens, Kale and Saffron Tart
Serves 6-8

Yeasted tart dough
1 teaspoon active dry yeast ( 1/2 package)
Pinch sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
About 1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons crème fraîche

1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in one-fourth cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees) and set it in a warm place.

2. If the egg is cold from the refrigerator, cover it with hot water and let it sit a few minutes to bring it up to room temperature. Combine 1 cup of the flour and the salt in a bowl and make a well. Break the egg into the middle of it; add the crème fraîche and pour in the yeast mixture, which should be foamy with bubbles. Mix everything together with a wooden spoon to form a smooth, soft dough, adding more flour as necessary. Dust it with flour, gather it into a ball, set it in a clean bowl and cover. Let the dough rise in a warm place, 45 minutes to an hour. If you are not ready to shape the dough at this time, punch it down and let it rise again.

3. Flatten the dough, place it in the center of the tart pan, and press it out to the edge using either your knuckles or the heel of your hand. Add only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. If the dough shrinks back while you are shaping it, cover it with a towel, let it relax for 20 minutes, then finish pressing it out. It should be about one-fourth inch higher than the rim of the pan. It can be filled immediately or refrigerated until needed.

7 cups of kale and mustard greens, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/4 -inch dice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
Large pinch saffron threads, soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 recipe yeasted tart dough

1. Cut the chard leaves away from the stems and save the stems for another purpose. Chop the leaves into pieces roughly an inch square, wash them in a large bowl of water and set them aside in a colander.

2. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a wide skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium heat; add the onion and cook it until it is translucent and soft, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, the chard leaves (by handfuls, if necessary, until they all fit) and the salt. Turn the leaves over repeatedly with a pair of tongs so that they are all exposed to the heat of the pan and cook until they are tender, 5 minutes or more. When the chard mixture is cooled, squeeze out any excess moisture with paper towels.

3. To make the custard, beat the eggs, then stir in the half and half, infused saffron, lemon peel, grated Parmesan, a few scrapings of nutmeg and the parsley. Stir in the chard and onion mixture. Season with more salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper.

4. Toast the pine nuts in a small pan over medium heat until they are lightly colored, 2 minutes. Pour the filling into the tart shell and scatter the pine nuts over the surface. Bake until the top is golden and firm, about 40 minutes.

Strawberry Shortcake

Serves 8

1 3/4 pounds (6 Cups) strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and quartered
1 1/4 cups plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons cold (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 cups heavy cream
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss strawberries with 3/4 cup sugar; let sit to bring out their juices.

2. In a food processor, pulse flour, baking powder, 1/2 cup sugar, and the salt until combined. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal but with some pea-size bits of butter remaining, 10 to 12 times. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup cream and the eggs; pour over flour mixture, and pulse until some large clumps begin to form, 25 to 30 times.

3. Using a half-cup measuring cup, gently pack dough, invert, and then tap out onto a baking sheet. Repeat to form 8 biscuits. Bake until lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool, about 15 minutes.

4. Beat remaining 1 1/2 cups cream and 2 tablespoons sugar with the vanilla until soft peaks form.

5. Slice biscuits in half horizontally. Spoon strawberries and their liquid over bottom halves. Spoon whipped cream on strawberries, and replace top halves of biscuits.

Rhubarb ‘Big Crumb’ Coffeecake
Serves 6-8

1/2 pound rhubarb, trimmed
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup melted butter
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1/3 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 8 pieces.
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan. For filling, slice rhubarb 1/2 inch thick and toss with sugar, cornstarch and ginger. Set aside.
2. To make crumbs, in a large bowl, whisk together sugars, spices, salt and butter until smooth. Stir in flour with a spatula. It will look like a solid dough.
3. To prepare cake, in a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add butter and a spoonful of sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed until flour is moistened. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. Add remaining sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, and scraping down the sides of bowl with a spatula. Scoop out about 1/2 cup batter and set aside.
4. Scrape remaining batter into prepared pan. Spoon rhubarb over batter. Dollop set-aside batter over rhubarb; it does not have to be even.
5. Using your fingers, break topping mixture into big crumbs, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in size. They do not have to be uniform, but make sure most are around that size. Sprinkle over cake. Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean of batter (it might be moist from rhubarb), 45 to 55 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

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Anonymous said...

I must clarfy one thing though...while it's true that sweets have never been my thing (usually because I eat so much during the meal that there's no room left for dessert), it was not my pregnancy alone that made the strawberry shortcake so delicious. It really is a yummy summer treat...just the right blend of healthy (fruit) and tasty (shortcake and homemade whipped cream). However, being pregnant does make all eating less of an exercise in gluttony and more of a nutritional necessity...at least, that's how I look at it.

Thanks Lia for a great treat!!!

Anonymous said...

Your CSA rocks! Fruit and eggs! Mustard greens! How fantastic. I'm so glad the chard tart worked equally well with mustard greens. Sounds delicious!

Lia said...

You're welcome, Court! And now that you've made strawberry shortcake sound so healthy, I think I might have to make it again soon.

Luisa, my CSA really does rock. And I highly recommend the tart with mustard greens. Thanks for introducing me to the recipe!


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