Werd up to Allie for partaking in produce shares from a farmers’ co-op! For those who are unfamiliar with the last couple of terms, these organizations basically give you a deal whereby you get a supply of fresh, seasonal, local produce at a pretty good price. You also get to choose whether you receive your share weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc. The biggest personal benefit is expanding your horizons by allowing nature to determine what you eat. Whatever the farms are producing is what you get, which means you may receive items you’ve never seen before in your life, and of course some stuff you “hate”. The biggest non-personal benefit is supporting your neighboring farmers and encouraging local sustainability. Believe me, I love-love-love trying exotic and foreign produce from around the world, but it’s important that we be able to rely on what is immediately around us, just in case the crazy people are right and we have some kind of apocalypse– religious, political, or otherwise.
So of course, these co-op shares can be a bit of a gamble. Unless you’re a seasoned cook, you may not always know what to do with some items, especially when you’re not initially a fan of the ingredient. Or if you don’t know what it is.
Oh, but wait… that’s why I’m here. Duh.
Take Madame Fit Geek’s share for this week: cauliflower, collard greens, celery, romaine lettuce, potatoes, bananas, pears, apples, citrus, carrots, spicy sprouts and fresh dill (I’m jealous).
Alright, fruit and romaine lettuce are easy to deal with. Eat as is, make simple salads, whatev. And actually, you can totally grill romaine lettuce. No, for reals. Personally, I’ve yet to have it, but I imagine the crunch of the stem mingling with sweetness from the lightly caramelized sugars of the leaf… it’s food nerdism. But hey, add some grilled pears, toasted nuts and vinaigrette, maybe those spicy sprouts… perfect for our enviable Florida autumn evenings. Unicorns will flock to your front door.
But then there’s the dill and celery, which Allie says she doesn’t quite like too much. Here’s a general idea for ingredients you don’t really dig on their own: make soup stock. To give a little anecdote and culinary background, one of my uncles is absolutely TERRIBLE at eating his veggies. Frankly, he’s terrible at eating anything. He always has to place special orders at restaurants, requesting exact amounts of sauce, no salt, no garlic or onion, blah, blah, blah. Basically, he doesn’t like flavor. No offense to him, but it’s true. However. When I was visiting several years ago, I watched my aunt prepare his pasta. Since he wasn’t looking, she boiled the noodles with chunks of onion, and whatever else she could to add flavor. It was her little secret. I laughed then, but when I think of it now, it shows how you can use ingredients you wouldn’t normally approach. For example, I’m not too fond of the licorice-like taste of fennel, but I’m down to experiment with it in combination with other flavors. So, in the case of dill and celery, you could chop those babies up (use the leaves too!), saute with some onion, garlic, and whatever other veggies, herbs and spices you’re feeling. Then add water, salt, pepper, and perhaps some kind of vinegar or citrus juice for a kick. You simmer all that for at least an hour, and you have an everlasting base for soups, steam-cooking, blanching, etc. (Oh yeah, strain the liquid when it’s done. You can use the veggies for compost, or throw them at your neighbor.)
And here’s another great idea for the season. Saute the dill and celery with the collard greens, then boil the potatoes… see where I’m going? Mash it all together with olive oil or butter… salt, pepper, maybe a spoonful of sour cream or some grated cheese… Ah, yes, the Irish know this as colcannon. Not quite the traditional recipe, but a nice variation. If you want to do a lower-carb version, steam the cauliflower and use that in place of part or all of the potatoes. Steamed or roasted carrots are also welcome in such a dish.
Oh, and hey, you can practice your baking skills with those apples and pears…
So there are some thoughts. I highly recommend doing the co-op thang. At the moment I can’t, but once I get my own little rabbit hole, I will totally be all up in that. Co-op shares give you variety, both flavor-wise and nutritionally, as well as a skill-building culinary challenge. They teach you to get creative with what you got. Worst case scenario? There’s always Google.