Tuesday, July 1, 2014

2014 Farm Share - Week 1

Hello again Honest Chef readers - it's that time of year again. Farm share time! The time when New England actually produces fruits and vegetables - that is, summer summer summer time. And I am here to help you with summer recipes for all that delicious produce you get in your Farm Share, Farmer's Market, garden, or neighbor's surplus. In other words, how to Flip your Farm Share!

Over the winter I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to do another farm share. Looking back on last year's experience I realized that I learned so much about cooking vegetables, incorporating more of them into my diet, and most of all, being creative with whatever I was given. So it wasn't too hard to say yes to another farm share, but since Siena Farms was the only one I had ever tried. Granted, it was great, but it was pricey. So I did a little comparison between Siena farms and the Ward's Berry Farm share offered through my work. The box had a bigger volume, it was cheaper, it had vegetables AND fruit, and part of your purchase goes toward purchasing farm boxes for families who don't have enough food. So again, seemed like a no-brainer. Would the quality be as good? Well, that remains to be seen.

So, for this season, what did I get in week one?

2 bunches of carrots (one orange, one purple), 3 mini summer squash, 1 head of red lettuce, 1 quart of strawberries, 1 bunch purple russian kale, one (teeny) bunch of rainbow chard, a bag of peas, and a jar of strawberry jam [not produce, but i'll let it slide this week.]

Those of you who know me can already guess that I just ate the strawberries straight up. No recipes needed. The strawberry season is so fleeting here that I don't ever really want to cook these or hide them in something. If  you want to dress the berries up though, I highly suggest two simple methods: one, drizzle on some maple syrup onto cut strawberries, and two, put two dollops of sour cream and 4 TBSPs of brown sugar on top of a big bowl of them. MMMMMMmmmm. So delicious.

However, I did want to give you a tip about storing fresh strawberries - field strawberries like this go bad pretty quickly. The way to keep them fresh as long as possible is to get a cookie sheet, cover it in a paper towel, and gently transfer the UNWASHED strawberries to the sheet (see left). Put this in your fridge and they should last at least a few days. Washing them ahead of time will hasten their demise, trust me. Even if you don't have space for a cookie sheet in your fridge, don't wash them until you're ready to eat!

Moving on.

This week was crazy busy, so to get ahead, and to use a lot of veggies in one shot, I decided to make a vegetable lasagna. I highly recommend this as a dish to prepare ahead and then just pop in the oven for dinner the following night. It's so easy, and can be scaled up to feed a crowd. Not to mention it's delicious and much healthier than the traditional meat and cheese.

Vegetable Lasagna

1 package of no-cook lasagna noodles
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (or whole peeled, that you can crush yourself)
2 clove of garlic, minced
1 yellow or vidalia onion, sliced
1 1/2 cups of ricotta cheese
11 small bunch swiss chard
1 large bunch of kale (cut the leaves off the stems, which you can discard)
10 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
3 small zucchini, cut into rings 1/2 in thick
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese/parmesean cheese or a combination
Olive oil, salt, and pepper

The key to making this veggie lasagna hold together is cooking all the vegetables first, to release their liquid. If you tried to assemble and cook this with all raw veggies, you'd get a soupy mess and you will be sad. I used these veggies, because that's what I had, but you can put any combination of cooked vegetables together that you like into this lasagna.

First, put on a large pot of water to boil. Then, get a large bowl, and mix your tomatoes with the minced garlic, 2 tsp of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Set this aside.

Rainbow chard, cooking.
Once the water has boiled, throw in your swiss chard, and let it cook for 2-3 minutes until it is wilted and cooked through. Remove it from the water with a slotted spoon or strainer, and put it in the middle of a dish towel. When this is cool, wrap the chard in the dish towel, and squeeze any liquid out of it that you can (over the sink). Take out the squeezed chard, and chop it up so that the pieces are small. Repeat this exact same process with the kale, only chop it in a bit bigger pieces.

While you're waiting for these things to cool, put a skillet over medium heat, and add 1 tbsp of olive oil. Then add your onions and a sprinkle of salt and let these cook down while you are squeezing everything and preparing the ricotta mixture. Make sure to check them now and then so they won't burn! They are done when they are soft - set them aside.

Set the kale aside, but mix the swiss chard into your ricotta cheese, along with a 1/2 tsp of salt, some pepper, and your basil. Set this aside.

Finally, use the onion skillet (or a different one if you multitask well), and add 1 tbsp of olive oil, and then the rings of zucchini, in one layer (if there is too much zucchini to fit in one layer, do it in batches). While these are cooking, sprinkle them with salt and pepper.

At this point you might be noticing a S&P trend. That's because if you season each component of a dish and your final dish will come out great! I promise. Just taste each one and make sure you like it on its own. 

When the zucchini are done, set them aside. Now everything will be set aside, because you are ready to assemble. Get a station ready, like the one here (not all ingredients in view).

Add a little tomato sauce to the bottom of your lasagna pan (no chunks here - make sure the bottom sauce is as smooth as possible), and then open up your lasagna noodles and put them right in. Some people say these no-cook noodles are cheating. Let me tell you, they are not. You won't sacrifice taste and if you boil lasagna noodles and then assemble you will sacrifice several fingers and other body parts trying to get those long slippery noodles out of a huge pot of boiling water. So take my advice and don't.

Next, layer on the ricotta mixture by spreading onto the noodles. Then add your vegetables in layers, and plan for at least two, maybe three layers depending on your pan (so divide contents of bowls in 2 or 3). I did zucchini in a single layer, then onions, then kale. Top this with your shredded cheese, then more tomato sauce, and repeat (noodles, ricotta, veggies, etc etc. See below for instructions. Finally, make sure you top layer is just noodles with plenty of sauce on it. Since these noodles are exposed they need a lot of sauce to soak up. See visuals below. 

Top the lasagna with mozzarella cheese. If you're saving for later, wrap with tin foil that has been sprayed underneath with a bit of cooking spray so that when you try to take it off later all the cheese doesn't stick to it, and put it in the fridge. When you're ready to cook, set the oven to 400, and let it cook, covered in tin foil for about 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling. Then take the foil off and let and cheese brown (about 10 minutes more). 

Cool a bit before diving in so you don't scorch your mouth, and serve with a side salad (yes, that's 4 farm share veggies used in one meal!). We'll talk a bit more in other entries about what I decided to do with some of the other goodies -- carrots in a peanut noodle dish, and peas in a risotto, which you can check out from last year here, with some lemon and mushrooms.

Welcome to Summer everyone. Time to seize the season!