Monday, August 22, 2016

Week 17, CSA News

The Spice of Life

Herbs are such a small part of what is grown at Elmwood Stock Farm, but they’re an important part, too. Dozens of acres on the farm are dedicated to growing vegetables and hundreds of acres to the livestock and hay. There’s about ¾ acre planted in herbs, and these are mostly perennial herbs—those that survive the winter and come back each year, without a lot of fuss. But what would our vegetable, egg and meat offerings be if it weren’t for herbs and seasonings to add to them in your favorite dish? While it’s not our farming focus, we realize life can be pretty boring without herbs.

Herbs Every Year

Many herbs are native to the Mediterranean, which has a hot but dry climate, so it seems strange that they would do so well in Kentucky, considering our cold winters and humid summers. Sage, thyme and oregano are the perennial herbs that you most often find in your CSA share—all Mediterranean.

Perennial herbs are hardy and usually have woody stems that allow them to put up with whatever Mother Nature dishes out year after year, but in tough winters, perennial herbs do struggle. Once these garden beauties are established, they don’t require a lot of watering. In fact, they don’t want much water at all, even when they are just starting out. “Wet feet” invites root-rot and fungal issues that the plants can’t really come back from.

It may seem like we take our perennial plants for granted, assuming they’ll just be here again next season, but we are glad they’re here and give them the maintenance they need to keep going. They are one of the first crops to be ready in the spring when our taste buds are appreciative of new, fresh flavors after the long days of winter. Perennial herbs that aren’t mulched require cultivation to keep down the weeds. We weed these using people power—a walk-behind tractor, hand hoes and even some hand weeding. Herbs that are mulched require less weeding, but we do need to make sure they receive enough moisture during the hot days of summer.

These herbs are nice to have around, not just for our dining pleasure but also for the insects’. Many perennials bloom in the spring or early summer, offering a fragrant food source for pollinators.

One Year at a Time

The annual herbs need more attention than the perennials, which is ironic since they’re around for such a shorter period of time. Sweet basil is our most popular annual herb, which you’ve seen (and smelled) in your share recently. It pairs nicely with tomatoes this time of the year.

Basil likes to be watered regularly—but not too much, otherwise the plant gets stressed and the leaves turn yellow. Basil doesn’t like the cold, otherwise the leaves turn black (which is why you can’t easily refrigerate this herb). Basil also wants to go to seed if it’s not harvested regularly, and then the taste changes.

If you grow basil at home, like many people do, you know that the more you harvest from your plant, the more it will produce for you. You can harvest as much as one-third of the plant at a time, in fact. As long as you’re cutting just above a leaf pair, it’ll keep sending out more, creating a bush-like plant. Basil loves attention, it seems, as is the case with many of the annual herbs.

Give Them a Try

When herbs come in your share and you’re not quite sure what to do with them, you have a few options:
* Freeze them. Chop your herbs, sprinkle them into ice-cube trays about one-quarter full, and fill the trays halfway with water. Remove the frozen cubes to a plastic bag for storage. 

* Make a pesto. Pesto is not strictly a basil-and-pine-nut sauce. Use any herb or any combination of herbs along with an oil, salt, and a nut or seed. You can even use the leaf tops of your celery for a delicious pesto! Any type of cheese is an option, too.

* Dry them. Bundle and hang your herbs upside down away from direct sunlight for a few weeks. You can also dry them in a dehydrator or 180-degree oven for a few hours. Crumble the dry leaves into an airtight container, and use them all year long.

* Make a tea. This especially applies to sage, but thyme and oregano make nice teas, as well. Boil water, remove it from the heat, add the herbs, and cover to steep for one to 24 hours. These are refreshing when cold and nourishing when hot. If you are pregnant, nursing or have medical issues, first read about the potential effects of an herbal tea.

* Infuse oil. Start with a bottle of nice olive oil, add sprigs of whatever herb you choose, and let it sit for one or two weeks. Use this oil to impart a light herb taste to your dishes.

While herbs are not the superstars of your CSA share, don’t let them pass by without notice! They add a lot to the farm and to your meals. - Lisa Munniksma

In Your Share

Green Beans
Sweet Corn
Bell Pepper
Kale Greens



Celery-Almond Pesto, Abbey Steffen recipe

This pesto can be used much like a normal basil pesto. It is wonderful tossed with pasta and topped with a grilled chicken breast.

4 cups fresh celery leaves
¼ cup raw, blanched almonds
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tsp. kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and blend until finely chopped, almost a paste consistency. Toss the pesto with hot pasta or roasted potatoes. It is even great as a spread on an egg salad sandwich.

Cheesy Kale and Quinoa Casserole, adapted from Oh My Veggies

1 T. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
½ c. chicken or vegetable broth
2 c. cooked quinoa
zest of 1 lemon
2 c. cooked cannellini beans
¾ c. plain Greek yogurt   
2 c. shredded mild cheddar cheese, divided
red pepper flakes
¼ c. raw walnut halves, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 3-quart baking dish, and set aside.
Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add onion, and cook until tender and starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add kale and broth. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 6 to 8 minutes, until the kale has wilted and broth has evaporated. Remove from heat.
Add kale mixture to a large bowl, along with quinoa, lemon zest, beans, yogurt and 1 cup of cheese. Mix until well combined. Season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and the walnuts.
Bake 10-13 minutes, until heated through and cheese is melted.

Grilled Heirloom Tomato and Pesto Pizza, adapted from Whole Foods Market recipe

1 lb. frozen whole wheat or white pizza dough, thawed
4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
8 T. prepared basil pesto or the celery-almond pesto above!
1 lb. heirloom tomatoes, very thinly sliced
½ tsp. fine sea salt, divided
½ tsp. ground black pepper, divided
¾ c. crumbled goat cheese

Divide pizza dough into 4 equal balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball out to a rough circle about 9 inches in diameter; brush each side of the circles with olive oil and place on baking sheets.

Prepare a grill for medium heat cooking. Working with one piece of dough at a time, place it on the grill rack and cook, rotating the crust frequently with tongs to help it cook evenly, until darkly browned on the bottom and air bubbles form on top, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer browned-side up to the baking sheet; spread the browned side with 2 tablespoons pesto. Top with a few slices tomato (don't cover the entire surface or the pizza will end up soggy), sprinkle the top with a teaspoon each salt and pepper, and dot with goat cheese. Slide or lift the pizza back onto the grill, close the grill cover and cook, rotating the pizza every now and then, until the bottom is deeply browned and the cheese begins to melt, about 3 minutes. Slide or lift the pizza back onto the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Balsamic Grilled Baby Potatoes, adapted from allrecipes

Add whatever fresh herbs you have on hand to this recipe too!

2 lb. potatoes, cut into 1 to 2 inch pieces
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1 T. olive oil
2 T. onion powder
salt & pepper
2 T. butter, cut into small chunks

Preheat grill for medium heat and lightly oil the grate.
Place a 24-inch-long piece of aluminum foil on a flat work surface. Spread potatoes onto the middle of the foil. Drizzle vinegar and olive oil over the potatoes; season with onion powder, salt and pepper. Dot the top of the potatoes with butter.
Bring opposing sides of the foil up and around the potatoes. Fold the two edges together at the top to create a seam. Fold the remaining two edges to seal the packet.
Cook packet with the seam-side up for about 10 minutes, turn and cook another 10 minutes. Turn once again and continue cooking until a fork stuck through the foil and into the potatoes meets no resistance, about 5 minutes more.