Week 14: September 6th
What’s in your Share This Week?
Red & Gold Beets
Fresh White Shallots
The New Stuff: How to eat it, cut it, cook it, and keep it:
At last, beans! Like most of our direct-seeded crops (corn, spinach, carrots, beets, dill & cilantro, etc.), the beans have come on late this year. We can blame it entirely on the weather we got in May & June – so much rain that it was impossible to successfully direct-seed any crops into our soggy bottomland. As a result, the beans didn’t get a chance until the end of June – which is why it’s now the beginning of September and you’re seeing them for the first time!
This particular variety is a large, flat, Italian pole bean that will grow as high in the sky as our trellising will allow. Don’t confuse them with other large, wide beans like favas. They are as tender and sweet as any skinny little green bean out there! Our favorite way to prepare them is to cut them on the diagonal into 2” pieces and then ever-so-lightly steam or sautee them until they’re bright green and still tender. Eat them naked, or let a little salted butter melt on top. Holy moly!
Your beans will keep in the fridge for a week or so in a plastic bag, but really, why wait?
Fresh White Shallots
Shallots are often lumped into the onion family, but in fact, are a much closer relative of garlic. They are common to French cuisine (especially to impart that Je ne sais quoi to sauces and dressings) but you can use them any way you would eat an onion.
We usually plant them as pencil-thick starts at the end of April (seeded in the greenhouse in February), alongside all the onions and leeks. This year we didn’t get them into the ground until late May, due to the weather. Fortunately, they sprang in action and have grown beautifully this season. A single shallot seedling will divide itself into multiple “bulbs,” somewhat like a clove of garlic turns itself into a multi-cloved head.
This is your first fresh taste of one of the three varieties we are growing: Olympus (white), Saffron (gold), and Ambition (red). It’s not very common to encounter fresh shallots; they’re typically sold cured, with dry skins and without tops. That said, there’s no reason not to eat them straight out of the ground for a juicier shallot experience! We decided to harvest the Olympus this week because they seem to be poorer keepers than the red and gold varieties. In the coming weeks we’ll be pulling the rest of them out of the field, curing them in the shade (a process of simply letting the tops dry down out of the sun in a dry place where there’s good ventilation), and then trimming them up for later distribution in October and November.
The amazing thing about cured shallots is their storage life. They keep better than any onion or garlic I’ve ever met. We still have cured shallots on our counter from last September, and they are perfectly perfect.
For these fresh shallots, keep them in the fridge in a plastic bag. They should hold for at least a week, if not longer.
We started picking the first few cherry tomatoes from our outdoor planting a couple of weeks ago, and each week there have been more and more. Finally this week they added up to just enough to put them on rotation. The harvest will only swell as September comes on, so everyone should be seeing them in their totes over the next few weeks.
As many of you know, there is a mantra at Valley Flora: “everything we do has to be at least 51% art.” That is at least part of the reason I decided to grow six(!) different cherry tomato varieties this season, in hopes of filling those pint baskets with a rainbow of color and flavor. We’re growing the beloved Sungolds (orange & tropical); steadfast Sweet Millions (red and reliable with classic cherry tomato taste); late-bearing Isis Candy (an heirloom swirl of orange, red & yellow), mysterious Black Cherry (also a late-bearing heirloom, with a deep purple-black color); controversial Yellow Pear (cute but with somewhat insipid flavor); and perky Yellow Mini (cheerful lemondrops).
The heirloom varieties have yet to really hit their stride, but should begin bearing more heavily in the next couple of weeks – at which point the rainbow effect should really attain lift-off!
As for keeping your cherry tomatoes – and all tomatoes in general – don’t put them in the fridge! They will get sweeter and riper if you leave them on the countertop. I tend to enjoy them most like a candy snack – straight out of the pint. But they also make divine gazpacho, and are absolutely wonderful dried (for those of you who have a dehydrator or a gas oven with a pilot light). Dried, all of their sugars and flavors become concentrated and will add wonderful flair to winter pasta, soups, quiche and more. Simply cut them in half and dry them down until they’re just shy of crispy (usually takes a full day or so). We keep ours in a Ziploc in the freezer to ensure that they don’t mold in our damp climate.
For those of you receiving Pac Choi this week, I feel like I should apologize. Or explain. Or….
If you got your Harvest Basket today, you probably already lifted the lid and screamed. The enormous (as in 3-4 lbs!) vegetable lying on top is not an alien creature, but a very large pac choi. I personally have never seen them get this big or unwieldy (it’s the same variety we grew last year), but somehow they are about twice as big as usual, and 3 weeks early. Go figure. I guess there’s at least ONE vegetable on the farm that’s loving this cool weather!
If you can’t appreciate it for it’s sheer mass and intricate balustrade of upright white stems, well then, hopefully you’ll make a big stir-fry, invite all your friends over, and enjoy its flavor. Remember that you can eat both the white stems and the green leaves of the pac choi (in fact, the stems are my favorite part – succulent! The flea beetles seem to like the leaves the most, hence the scattershot holes in the leaves – and that’s despite our best efforts to prevent this kind of cosmetic damage by using floating row cover to protect them…..sigh). If you’re not a flea beetle, pac choi is wonderful lightly steamed, braised in sake or a sesame-soy glaze, stir-fried with cashews, or if you really want to make it disappear, add it to soup. Think garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, peanut oil, a dash of sugar, some chicken or veggie stock, salt and pepper – some combo of all that in a pan with your giant choi, and you should be good.
And if you can find a plastic bag big enough, it should keep in your fridge for up to a week. Good luck.