From the Land 12/14

announcements

This is the last week of Fall Share! Please get your contracts in ASAP – all contracts are due by December 31 (but I know how December goes – get them in while you’re thinking of it!)

food for thought

onions from Whipstone; and salad mix, baby fennel, oranges, swiss chard, and spaghetti squash from Crooked Sky!

veg of the week

fennel: Foeniculum vulgare

Fennel is a crunchy, slightly sweet, licorice-tasting plant that is used as a vegetable and an herb, with both culinary and medicinal uses. Fennel originated in the Mediterranean, though it is now grown in many parts of the world and is most commonly associated with Italian cuisine. It grows so prevalently in some parts of the US and Australia that it is considered an invasive species. It is cultivated for its leaves, stalks, fruits (often mistaken as seeds), and – in the case of Florence fennel, like what we’re getting this week – the bulb. It is known for its unique anise or licorice taste, due to presence of anethole (which is also present in higher quantity in anise and star anise).

Fennel contains a unique combination of phytonutrients that give it strong antioxidant activity. Anethole – that which causes the anise or licorice flavor – has been shown to reduce inflammation, help prevent cancer, and protect the liver from toxic chemical injury. Fennel is also an excellent source of vitamin C (immune strength), fiber (healthy cholesterol levels), folate (healthy heart), and potassium (lowers high blood pressure).

The leaves, bulb, stalk, and fruits (“seeds”) are all edible. The bulb and stalks are excellent sauteed with onions or braised with scallops, sliced as a sandwich topping, sliced thin and topped with plain yogurt and mint leaves, or sauteed and served with salmon. The leaves and fruits can be used fresh or dried to keep on your spice rack!

Food Rule #30
by Annie Teegarden
Looking through Michael Pollan’s food rules, I stopped on #30: “Eat well-grown food from healthy soil.”  One of the benefits of being part of a CSA is that we know our food is grown by people who care about food and their soil. But anyone who gardens knows it’s sometimes not easy to keep Arizona soil healthy.
When I first moved to Arizona from the midwest, I could not believe that food would grow here.  “It’s the desert!” I would say, but after a while I realized that the soil doesn’t need to be beautiful and black to produce delicious food.  Typically, healthy soil has a good layer of organic matter on top, plenty of living organisms, a little moisture, and a loamy texture.  If this was a natural ecosystem, healthy soil would also have a permanent root system, but since we are talking about agriculture, we know that there will only be plants in this plot of land for part of the year during the growing season. So how do farmers keep their soil healthy?
There are many practices farmers use to keep up the health of their soil.  On a conventional farm, fertilizers (especially synthetic nitrogen) are put into the soil on a regular basis, because the plants continually take what they need for optimal growth, leaving the soil needing to be replenished. On a small scale and on organic farms, manure and compost are great ways farmers can help improve soil fertility.  In general, cow and horse manure is rich with nitrogen and phosphorous, which are the two of the most essential nutrients.  Compost is also high in nutrients. Of course, the quality of the compost and manure depends on what is either in the compost, or what the animal was eating.  If those primary sources are high in nutrients, then the final product will also be high in nutrients.
If you know that your soil is lacking in nitrogen, another good way to keep up high nutrients is rotating crops with intermittent years of cover crops that are legumes.  Legumes are nitrogen fixers, which means that they will produce their own nitrogen if nitrogen is limited in the soil.  (If the soil is already high in nitrogen, the plant will not fix any of its own and take all it needs from the soil.)  Planting a crop of legumes, like alfalfa, for a few years, then tilling it into the soil to let it decompose, is a great way to keep your soil healthy and nitrogen-rich.
Our PCCSA farmers use many of these methods to keep their soil healthy and produce the highest quality food. Whipstone and Crooked Sky Farms are both Certified Naturally Grown, which means they don’t use any synthetic fertilizers (or insecticides, herbicides, or fungicides, for that matter) on their soil. They use crop rotation, compost, manure, and cover crops to keep their soil – and therefore our food – healthy. Chino Valley Farms uses only organic inputs in their greenhouse, and crop rotation in their fields to maximize their produce. Rabbit Run, while not certified organic or naturally grown, is committed to ecologically responsible growing methods, which means using no synthetic fertilizers or chemical pesticides, applying compost and implementing crop rotation, cover cropping, and fallow season.  As they sum up on their blog: “Our main pest and weed control is done by building soil health. Healthy, living soils mean strong plants that have increased disease and pest susceptibility.” All of our farmers work hard to keep their soil healthy, producing the highest quality produce for us to enjoy throughout the year! Beautiful.
recipes
orange, fennel and avocado salad
adapted from epicurious.com
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 navel orange
  • 1 fennel bulb, stalks cut off and saved for later
  • 1 firm-ripe avocado

Whisk together vinegar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until salt is dissolved, then add oil, whisking until combined well.

Cut peel, including all white pith, from orange. Halve orange lengthwise, then cut crosswise into thin slices. Halve fennel bulb lengthwise, then cut crosswise into very thin slices. Halve, pit, and peel avocado, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Toss orange, fennel, and avocado with dressing to combine.

couscous with fennel, chickpeas and chard
adapted from nytimes.com
  • 1/2 pound (1 1/8 cups) chickpeas, soaked in 1 quart water for four to six hours (or overnight)
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, stemmed, leaves washed and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, white part only, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 medium or 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed (save fronds), cored and chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, ground
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, ground
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, ground
  • 1 tablespoon harissa (more to taste; substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper if harissa is unavailable), plus additional for serving
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste dissolved in 1/2 cup water
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 1/3 cups couscous

Drain the chickpeas and transfer to a large pot. Add 1 1/2 quarts water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer one hour while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Tear the chard leaves off the stems. Wash the stems and dice. Wash the leaves thoroughly and chop coarsely. Set aside. Chop the fennel fronds, and set aside.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy casserole, Dutch oven or, if you have one, in the bottom of a couscousier. Add the onion, leek, fennel and a generous pinch of salt, and cook, stirring, until tender, five to eight minutes. Add the chard stems, and stir together for a couple of minutes until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and ground spices, and stir together for 30 seconds to a minute until the garlic is fragrant. Add the harissa or cayenne and the dissolved tomato paste, and stir together for another minute or two. Add the chickpeas with their cooking liquid, plus another cup of water if you think there should be more liquid in the pot. Stir together, and bring back to a simmer. Add salt, cover and simmer 30 minutes to an hour until the chickpeas are thoroughly tender and the broth fragrant.

Stir in the chard greens and chopped fennel fronds. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until the greens are very tender and fragrant. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt, garlic or harissa as desired.

Reconstitute and steam the couscous. Serve in wide bowls, top with the stew and serve.

Yield: Serves four generously.

Advance preparation: The dish can be made through step 4 up to three days ahead and refrigerated. Bring back to a simmer, and proceed as directed. The couscous can be reconstituted up to a day ahead, then steamed before serving. The stew keeps well in the refrigerator for three or four days.

potato-crusted catfish with fennel vinaigrette and spaghetti squash
adapted from foodnetwork.com

For the Spaghetti Squash: 

  • 1 spaghetti squash, about 3 pounds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons minced chives
  • 3 tablespoons minced red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

FOR THE FENNEL VINAIGRETTE:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 bulb fennel, diced
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped assorted soft fresh herbs, such as basil, chives, cilantro, oregano, parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the catfish:

  • 4 (5-ounce) catfish fillets
  • 2 teaspoons creole seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 1 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place the squash halves, cut side down, in the bottom of a roasting pan. Add olive oil and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan and cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the squash is tender. Allow to cool slightly and then run a fork through the squash flesh to release the squash in strands. Toss the squash with the butter, salt and pepper, to taste, the minced chives, red pepper, and garlic. Cover to keep warm and set aside.

While the squash is cooking, prepare the Fennel Vinaigrette. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the fennel and saute until tender, about 6 minutes. Add the red onion, garlic, and fennel seed and cook, stirring, until onion is soft and garlic is fragrant, 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and wine and cook until the wine has evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the red wine vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Transfer to a nonreactive bowl and allow to cool to room temperature while you prepare the catfish.

Season the fillets on both sides with the creole seasoning. Rub the flesh side of each fillet with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the mustard. Squeeze the grated potatoes with your hands to release any liquid and then divide the grated potatoes between the 4 fillets, pressing onto the flesh side on top of the mustard coating.

Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F.

Heat 1/2 cup of the vegetable oil in each of 2 large nonstick skillets over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, carefully add the fillets, potato side down, being careful to keep the potatoes on the fish. Cook until the potatoes are crispy and golden, about 4 minutes. Transfer to the oven and cook until the catfish is cooked through, about 10 minutes. (Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your fillets.) Remove from the oven. Spoon some of the spaghetti squash onto the center of 4 plates, and serve the fillets over the spaghetti squash. Divide the Fennel Vinaigrette among the tops of the fillets, about 1/3 cup each. Serve immediately.

From the Land 12/7

announcements

Spring Share contracts are available starting today! You’ll notice some changes on the contract, so please let us walk you through it the first time. The main changes are reflected on two different contracts/share options: “Prescott College student/staff/faculty” (runs on the academic calendar) and “community” (runs first week of January through the opening of the Prescott Farmers Market mid-may). In addition, the “full” sized share is growing from an average of 6 items to an average of 8: usually still produce, but occasionally a “special” item like pasta, honey, cafe bread, jam, eggs, or even samosas! You’ll notice the price increase, but we think this model could actually provide more of the items you eat on a regular basis, as well as some items that are able to be easily stored for later. The contract is laid out in a way that allows for more complicated pricing structures (because of different share options), so don’t hesitate to ask for help figuring your total! We hope you enjoy our CSA “experiment”, and as always, we are open to your feedback and suggestions.

Your contracts are due by December 31! I would recommend turning them in ASAP, before the holiday craziness hits!

Please remember that the Crossroads Cafe gives a 20% discount to all PCCSA members on Wednesdays. Stop in for lunch before or after picking up your share, and remember to tell them that you’re a CSA member!

food for thought

red onions, butternut squash, garlic, beets, parsnips, and fingerling potatoes!

veg of the week
beets: Beta vulgaris

Beets are a member of the Chenopodiaceae, or Goosefoot family, along with spinach, chard, sugar beets and quinoa (this family also contains many salt and drought-tolerant weeds, and is now included in the Amarathaceae family). The sea beet, the ancestor of all these species, is found throughout the Mediterranean, the Atlantic coast of Europe, the Near East, and India. The beet has been cultivated since the second millennium BC, and though the leafy varieties were more common in early times, they later lost popularity with the introduction of spinach.

Beet greens can be eaten lightly steamed or stir-fried, and the beetroot is usually eaten boiled or roasted, either hot, pickled, or cooled and sliced onto a salad. They are often peeled, steamed and eaten warm with butter, cooked, pickled and eaten cold, shredded raw onto salads, or chopped into a beet soup like borscht. 

Beetroot juice is used to enhance athletic performance, presumably because of the abundance of nitrates. The red pigment contains antioxidants that help prevent heart disease and stroke and lower cholesterol; they contain the phytochemical compound Glycine betaine, which lowers levels of homocysteine, a highly toxic metabolite that promotes platelet clot and atherosclerotic-plaque formation. Beets are also an excellent source of folates (necessary for DNA synthesis in the cells), vitamin C (a powerful antioxidant), niacin, iron, manganese, magnesium, and potassium, which lowers heart rate and regulates cellular metabolism.

Community Supported Agriculture

As we all know, CSAs are a great way to support local farmers and receive fresh produce – either seasonally, or as in our case, year-round. According to Wikipedia, CSA “is a socio-economic model of agriculture and food distribution. A CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farming operation where the growers and consumers share the risks and benefits of food production. CSAs usually consist of a system of weekly delivery or pick-up of vegetables and fruit, in a vegetable box scheme, and sometimes includes dairy products and meat.” The farms involved usually focus on using sustainable growing practices, such as organic, Certified Naturally Grown, or bio-dynamic.

CSAs are a quickly growing feature of the local food movement. As of 2007, the USDA estimated that 12,000 farms sell through some type of CSA, and that 270,000 families participate in a CSA program – in the United States alone! Impressive numbers, which means we’re really onto something here.

The CSA model of local food distribution reached the US in the 1980s, beginning with a couple different farms on the east coast. The concept was based on the Japanese “teikei” (“food with a farmers face on it”), in which a group of consumers gets together, buys or leases land, and then hires a farmer to grow food for them. The idea has since spread and grown into what today is often very different from the original teikei model.

Traditionally, CSAs in the states consist of a single farm with “members” that take on the shared risk in the growing season.  The members sign up and pay upfront at the beginning of the season so the farmer can purchase supplies and plant their fields.  In return, the member gets a share of the bounty each week.  If there is a drought or cabbage loopers, the farmer still shares what they have. This model works well for many farmers (our local example is the Whipstone Farm CSA), but in recent years, different models of CSAs have sprouted up for one reason or another.

Aside from this traditional model, three other models have become common: the supplemental CSA model, the multi-farm CSA model, and the cooperative model. The supplemental CSA is generally a single farm that, when needed or desired, provides additional items from other farms (like a meat share, dairy, or fruit).  A multi-farm CSA is the model we use here at the PCCSA: an organized set of growers with a set distribution with seasonal support.  A cooperative CSA is a legal cooperative, in which growers organize planting, quality control and share marketing structures, usually with staff to help with the non-farm duties.

Each of these models are beneficial to their communities; some support a single farm and share in its risk, allowing the farmers to reduce their vulnerability and earn a livable wage. Some, like the PCCSA, support many farmers in the area, providing them with another market for overflow, smaller amounts of storage crops, and in cooler weather when farmers markets are not in season. The cooperative model allows farmers to plan their growing season ahead of time, knowing exactly what will be needed by the CSA. As you know, being a CSA member has many health benefits on both a personal and a community level:

  • it helps us stay in touch with the changing of the seasons. A CSA member notices that the selection of produce changes with the weather: here in central AZ the summer provides tomatoes, pepper, melons and okra, while the winter provides more root crops, salad, herbs and greens. I think I could probably tell what season it is just based on our CSA shares! Eating seasonally allows us to eat the healthiest, freshest produce possible, because it is always picked at the height of freshness, rather than being harvested early and shipped hundreds (or thousands) of miles.
  • it supports local growers. In the PCCSA, we support 15 farmers and ranchers over the course of the year, including many vegetable farms, a pecan farm, an apiary, many chicken and egg producers, as well as two cow and several goat ranches. All of our farmers also sell their goods through other CSAs or farmers markets in the area, which provides them with enough of a living to devote themselves full-time to the farm.
  • it keeps money in the community. By shopping at any local business (farms included), a vast majority of the money spent stays in the community (in part because local businesses tend to support other local businesses), while most of the money spent at a chain store leaves the community.
  • it keeps us healthy. When we have healthy food in the fridge, we automatically eat healthier! Getting a CSA share puts that healthy food into our homes, and for most people this motivates them to plan and cook more meals at home, eat fresher produce, and create community around food.
  • it allows us to try new foods. Being a CSA member means that your share probably includes occasional items that are not familiar or that you would not necessarily choose at the grocery store or farmers market. I have discovered some of my favorite vegetables this way: salad turnips, beets, kohlrabi, and chard. Once they’re in my fridge, I have to cook them, and I am “forced” to be creative, venture outside of traditional cuisine, and discover amazing combinations and flavors in the process.

recipes

roasted beet and butternut squash soup
adapted from dinnerwithjulie.com

  • canola or olive oil, for cooking
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 2-3 beets, tops trimmed
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1-2 cups orange juice
  • 1 L chicken or vegetable stock
  • a big splash of half & half (optional)
  • sour cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450F. Spread the squash out on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Wrap the beets individually in foil. Place the sheet in the oven and the beets directly on the rack; roast for 30 minutes, or until the squash is soft and turning golden on the edges.

In a medium pot, heat a drizzle of oil over medium heat and saute the onion for a few minutes, until starting to soften. Add the garlic and roasted squash. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel and chop the beets; add to the pot along with the orange juice and stock and simmer for about half an hour.

Add the cream, puree the soup with a hand-held immersion blender and season with salt to taste. Serve warm with a dollop of sour cream. Serves 6.

parsnip, carrot and potato mash
adapted from grouprecipes.com
  • 6-8 parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 6 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped in large chunks
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, whole
  • 8-10 medium potatoes. peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup butter (may require a little more)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup or brown sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place parsnips, carrots, onion, garlic cloves and potatoes in a large pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook until fork-tender.

Drain the water from the vegetables, and mash with butter, milk, and maple syrup / brown sugar until well blended. If you want, you can beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Do not beat for too long, just until smooth.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve hot. Makes 6-8 servings

almost instant pickled beets
from prescottfarmersmarket.org – originally adapted from simplyrecipes.com

  • 4 or 5 beets
  • 1/4 C cider vinegar
  • 1 T sugar or honey
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/2 t dry mustard
  • salt and pepper

Cut beets to uniform sizes so they will cook evenly. Steam or boil around 30 minutes or until done. (Alternatively, you can roast them by wrapping them whole in foil and cooking them in a 350°F oven for about an hour.) A fork easily inserted into the beet will tell you if the beets are done or not.

Drain the beets, rinsing them in cold water. Once cool, use your fingers to slip the peels off of the beets. The peels should come off easily. Feed the peels to the chickens – they’ll probably like them. Slice the beets.

Make the vinaigrette by combining the cider vinegar, sugar, olive oil, and dry mustard. Whisk ingredients together with a fork. The dry mustard will help to emulsify the vinaigrette. Adjust to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Combine beets and vinaigrette in a bowl and allow to marinate for a half hour at room temperature. Serve – delicious!

curried butternut squash soup
shared by Annie

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup diced shallots (can be white onion)
  • 3 whole cloves garlic
  • 1/8 cup minced fresh ginger
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper
  • 3 1/2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into chunks
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 5 – 6 cups chicken broth, heated
  • 1 inch chunk palm sugar or 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 15oz can coconut milk
  • fresh chopped chives or fresh curry leaf for garnish

In a deep stew pot over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the shallots or onions, stir for several minutes until wilted. Add the garlic and ginger, soften 3 – 5 minutes. Add bay leaves and crushed red pepper and cook for an additional minute or two.

Now add the squash, salt, and curry powder and cook for ten minutes or so.

Turn the heat to medium high and add the chicken stock. Put the lid on the pot and bring to a boil. Immediately lower the heat and simmer for an additional 30 minutes, stirring and mashing every 5 minutes. This will ideally reduce the size of the squash chunks. About 15 minutes into the boiling process add the sugar and coconut milk, stir.

When 30 minutes are up, remove the bay leaves from the soup. With an immersion blender, puree the soup to achieve a consistant texture.

Reheat to soup 10 – 15 minutes, adjusting the salt to taste. Garnish with chopped chives or curry leaves. Serve pipping hot!