Monday, June 15, 2009
Pandora's (CSA) Box
Well dear readers, I am back in culinary action and with a vengeance thanks to my new CSA program. After a long hiatus and semi-self-imposed break, I've been officially reinvigorated. On Wednesday I picked up my first batch of certified organic seasonal produce grown in Norwich, New York on the Norwich Meadows farm, which provides the majority of the products for my CSA (community supported agriculture). They also source nearby farms in order to provide a greater variety or products, so the eggs may come from one farm and the honey from another. The pick-up was just a few blocks from my house in Hells Kitchen and super easy. Each member comes ready to weigh or count out their share of each vegetable and places it in what are hopefully reused or reuseable bags. If there's something you already have enough of, don't want, or don't need, there is a swap box where members can make an even exchange of produce. I was a little disappointed that we got such a large number of turnips (which I'm not quite sure how to use), and assumed that I'd just find a swap box full of turnips. But it turns out that my fellow shareholders are more creative than I, and the box was chock full of the other goodies we were provided with. Among them was a carefully curated bag of gorgeous rainbow swiss chard (the greens were mixed this week, but you could sort through them if you wanted a particular type), which I immediately swapped for my enormous bag of turnips. All leftover and unclaimed shares are donated to the church where the pick-up is held and passed on to the homeless, so at least I know that if I can't make it one week, my food is going to someone that needs it.
Even though there were several other goodies in my bag (including green garlic, purple spring onions, bok choy and rainbow radishes), I was overly excited to make the swiss chard. I love greens, particularly swiss chard, and had been waiting for them to appear at the farmers market. They've only recently started showing up in micro green form and are still on the pricier side, so I was overjoyed to have a double dose of full grown leaves (and a few little guys) to work with. Swiss chard looks hearty, but unlike its winter green cousins, actually cooks down quite easily and very quickly since it's not built to withstand the winter cold. I didn't get to take on braised greens very much this winter, so I decided a quick braise with a few treats thrown in would do the trick on a humid, rainy day. After doing some research I decided that I could add some nuts for crunch (I went with toasted pine nuts) and maybe a fruit or raisin for texture. I was going to start out with dark currants, but ended up choosing dried cranberries. I lack a sweet tooth and instead have the less common tart tooth, so I figured I'd add some bite with the cranberries.
The dish came together incredibly quickly, if fact, chopping up the stems is what took the longest. Some people like throwing them out, but I highly recommend keeping them for crunch and color. And if you don't want to use them here, don't toss them! Keep them and throw 'em into a soup or stock for flavor, and even a little color (the red stems impart a nice hue on stocks and sauces). I was initially a bit worried about the cranberries, thinking that they may not act as required, but they were more than up to the task, transitioning from wrinkly, prune-y lumps to gorgeous, plump, ruby hued spheres. They even lost a bit of their tartness as they cooked, lending the dish just the right bit of balance. the little bit of chicken stock that I braised everything in really helped tenderize the greens and added a bit of depth to the dish. In the end it turned out great, and would make a delicious side dish to almost any meal (or a great vegetarian meal). The rainbow colors are gorgeous, nice and bright for this time of year, or you could go with regular green swiss chard and have a nice Christmas colored dish on your hand. I was really happy with my first dish made in a good long while, so here's the very easy recipe I came up with.
Rainbow Swiss Chard With Cranberries And Pine Nuts
1 1/2 lbs rainbow swiss chard (regular green will do), stems and leaves roughly chopped
2 large or 4 small spring onions, whites and light green parts thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup dried cranberries (currants or sour cherries would work too)
1/3 cup chicken or non-tomato based vegetable stock
salt, to taste
1. Heat oil, spring onion and garlic in a large skillet until onion is soft and garlic is fragrant. Add pine nuts and cranberries and cook until cranberries are plump, about 2 minutes.
2. Add swiss chard in batches until it is all in the pan, slightly wilted. Add stock, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Cook, covered, until stock is mostly absorbed and swiss chard is cooked through but not soggy. Taste for salt and pepper and serve. Enjoy!