Week 23: November 8th

Week 23: November 8th
What’s in your Share This Week?
Brussels Sprouts
Watermelon Radishes or Scarlet Queen Turnips
Lacinato Kale
Butternut Squash
Sweet Peppers
Head Lettuce
Lots of new Fall food this week, some of it rather on the alien-looking side! If you’re not sure what to do with it all, there are recipes galore to be found with the Recipe Wizard and on www.epicurious.com. The emphasis on root crops at this time of year always suggests the easy and obvious meal to me: roasted roots extravaganza! Here are some basic tips and info in the meantime:
The New Stuff: How to chop it, cook it and keep it…
Brussels Sprouts
Your Dr. Seuss vegetable of the season has arrived! You may have never encountered Brussels sprouts on the stalk in the grocery store, but this is how they grow out in the field (plus a lot of leaves that we strip off when we harvest). Harvesting these stalks is one of the more athletic, samurai endeavors on the farm: every stalk gets whacked down with a machete, and then chopped again at the midriff to make them short enough to fit into the totes. Brussels sprout stalks are as woody as a young sapling at the base, so you work up a sweat in the process – and spend a good amount of time sharpening your machete along the way!
Brussels sprouts are another one of those “love ‘em or hate ‘em” kinds of veggies – often because people are forced to eat them as a kid – AND because most of the U.S. crop is grown on the central coast of California where temperatures don’t get cold enough to sweeten up the sprouts. Cold temperatures – and especially a frost – will replace the stinky old gym sock flavor with a wonderful sweetness and tenderness. I hope you’ll give these sprouts a chance. It hasn’t frosted yet, but they’re pretty good. Wonderful steamed or roasted.
To store, strip them from the stalk and put in a plastic bag in the fridge. If you get any sprouts that have some black funk on the outer leaves, just trim their butts with a paring knife and peel away the first couple layers of leaves – like a mini cabbage. You’ll find a perfect, clean sprout beneath those outer leaves.
The big, white carroty-looking roots in your tote this week are parsnips – another of the most underrated garden veggies in the U.S. But some will claim that parsnips deserve the “most sweet and delicious” award of all the root vegetables. Our parsnips always have a little bit of “rust” on their skins – a cosmetic defect that only goes skin deep. It’s easily removed with a peeler.
Due to their extremely long growing season (planted in May, mature in November), they don’t find their way into our seasonal kitchen until late in the fall. Like many of the autumn crops we grow, they improve in flavor after a frost – getting much sweeter as the starches convert to “anti-freeze” sugars. They were widely cultivated all over medieval Europe, and some of the sugary varieties were fermented into wine! They found their way to North America in the 17th century, but have never had a starring role in our cuisine, unfortunately.
Parsnips are high in potassium, have more vitamin C than carrots, and rival potatoes for their carbohydrate and vegetable protein punch. You can mash them, roast them, steam them, puree them with pears, sautee them with butter, grate them into salads, use them as a substitute for spuds in potato pancakes, roast them with other root vegetables, make soup…the possibilities are endless. They store well for many weeks in the fridge.
Also known as celery root, celeriac is closely related to its better known cousin. Its stalks and foliage are very similar to celery, but celeriac is cultivated specifically for its swollen, edible, bulbous root crown. Like parsnips, it has a long growing season (May-November here), and can be enjoyed all winter long with the right storage conditions.
It’s another of those veggies that is commonplace in Europe (we saw it in every grocery store in Italy, right next to the common head lettuce and bananas), but unusual in the U.S. Don’t be put off by it’s alien exterior. Beneath that furry façade lies a delicious, versatile veggie. It has a concentrated sweet, nutty, celery flavor that works raw or cooked. We love to cube it up and roast it with parsnips, Brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, spuds, fennel and any other roots lying around. It’s also wonderful boiled and mashed with potatoes, used in place of celery for seasoning up a soup or stir-fry, or raw – grated into salad, dipped into dressing, or plain.
To get to the heart of the matter, peel away the outer skin with a paring knife. Rinse off any dirt and have at it! Celeriac store best in the drawer of the fridge in a plastic bag – for up to a month!
Watermelon Radishes or Scarlet Queen Turnips
You’ll be getting one or the other this week. If you’re in the Watermelon radish crowd, you’ll see a bunch of pale-green-skinned radishes in your tote with a crown of tall green leaves. Inside those radishes – especially the bigger ones – is a mild, fuschia, juicy heart! If you slice up your radishes like a mini-watermelon, you’ll get the same effect: a tough green rind cupping a juicy, fruity pink heart! All the spice is in the skin, so take it or leave it, depending on your preference.
As for the Scarlet Queens, they are a great late-fall vegetable, and pretty! Scarlet-skinned with pure white flesh inside, they are like the radishes: all the spice is in the skin, so peel ‘em if you like it mild or bite straight in if you like a kick!
Lacinato Kale
There isn’t a more appropriate type of kale to send to you this week, on the heels of our trip to Italy! Lacinato kale, or cavalo nero in Italia, grows EVERYWHERE in Italy! It is planted along train tracks, in flower pots, backyard gardens, at freeway interchanges! It appears that it is the national kale of Italy, and for good reason! Lacinato is my favorite variety at this time of year: sweet, hearty, and flavorful – the perfect accompaniment or centerpiece to a cozy winter meal.
Butternut Squash
The quintessential soup-making squash! Butternuts are the meatiest – and creamiest – of all the winter squash, making them ideal for bisques, bevies, and creamy soups. They store for weeks – even months – on your counter, giving you plenty of time to peruse cookbooks for your ideal recipe!
On the Farm…and in Italia!
We are just home from Italy and the Terra Madre conference, and settling back into farm routines. It was a relief to return home to a smooth-running ship, thanks to the hard work of Roberto and Tiffany who kept the harvest coming, and to Roxy who made sure all of the food got to town each week! What a team! We are so grateful to get to work with such awesome people. Hats off to them!
Lucky for us there were no big freezes or floods or natural disasters in our absence. Instead, the cover crops put on 6 inches of growth, the celeriac sized up, and the hills turned green. The farm looks great – ready for winter, but still pumping out the food!
Italy – or “Eataly” as it’s often dubbed - was an adventure more full than a few paragraphs could describe, but suffice it to say that food is king there! We ate well, for sure, but even more fascinating were some of our observations about how – and where - their food is grown. The climate if fairly similar to ours, leaning a little more towards California as you travel south, and we saw a lot of similar things growing in their gardens and farms: huge lacinato kale plants everywhere; leeks; fennel (and LOTS OF IT – they LOVE the stuff!); mustard greens and turnips; winter broccoli; romanesco; cauliflower; chicory (escarole & endive); fava beans; cardoons and artichokes. The last of the tomatoes were still clinging to the vines, the fig trees were losing their leaves, and the grape vines were turning yellow – much like home.
Unlike here, however, the olive harvest had just commenced, black and white truffle hunting was in full swing, and chestnut season was on in the woods! We got to spend one day with a group of villagers gathering chestnuts in the forest and then took them home for a community festival where together we roasted the bounty and indulged in all kinds of traditional chestnut sweets. I am newly inspired to plant a grove of chestnut trees on the farm!
Italy is densely settled; we were never in a place where you couldn’t see houses, lights or roads (even in rural Umbria, where we spent two days). But the striking thing about their landscape (other than the medieval fortresses atop the hills, the soaring gothic churches, and the ancient stone architecture) is the omnipresence of gardens and small farms tucked everywhere. You can’t throw a stone without hitting something edible, whether you are amidst the narrow, serpentine streets of old Genova or the rolling hills of Tuscany. Every available space is growing something – be it grapes, or olives, or figs, or kale. We even stumbled upon a 6” by 6” square of dirt at the corner of an ancient church in Assisi – cobblestones in every direction – and there grew a skinny olive tree, loaded with fruit.
That may be part of the reason that most of the produce we encountered at outdoor markets, in little shops, and in the supermarkets was from Italy. Every product was labeled with its place of origin, and most things had come from provinces within the country: clementines, apples, pears, lettuce, lemons, herbs, potatoes - you name it. And that was just the produce! A vast majority of the products we found on store shelves were Italian in origin as well: of course olive oil, Balsamic vinegar of Modena, and wine, wine, wine (all three of which were remarkably cheap!). Not only were they Italian, but they were labeled with a D.O.C. stamp – “denominazione di origine controlata.” The government there gives products from specific regions a stamp of certification, for instance: Chianti wine is only produced in Chianti and you can’t call a wine produced outside of Chianti, “Chianti.” Parmiggiano Reggiano comes only from Reggio. All the balsamic vinegar was from the town of Modena.
The amazing thing is that their D.O.C. system is incredibly specific. When we shopped for wine, instead of choosing something from, say, the Napa Valley or the Columbia Gorge, we would buy something that came from a specific town instead. There is a village in the Piedmont region (in the Northwest) called Asti, which is famous for wine, cheese and other delectables. Those products carry a specific “Asti” D.O.C. stamp. And with that stamp, there is an enormous amount of pride in the product, and a means by which to protect their market niche and assure quality.
It is almost true that the wine is cheaper than the water in Italy, but I unfortunately wasn’t able to partake of much of it – no matter the bargain. As some of you know, I’m about 7 months pregnant these days(!). Even if I had to skip out on many a bottle of local red, I did my part to make sure the growing belly was well-fed on homemade raviolis, thin-crusted pizza, and all kinds of amazing cheeses, salami, truffles and olives. In fact, everyone ate so well, we’re not sure if the pregnant lady here gained the most weight in the end - even with the growing baby inside!
I’m due in early January and we’re hoping the next member of the Valley Flora family comes out speaking Italian.
Thank you again to everyone who made our time at the Terra Madre gathering in Italy possible. It was an incredible couple of weeks. We feel lucky to have had the opportunity to have met farmers from 161 other countries around the world with a shared purpose, to learn about unique food traditions and cultures, and to savor Italy. It wouldn’t have been possible without all of the support from our community. Grazie Mille!