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8.31.11

From Farm to Plate

Creative ways to use everything you bring home from the farm stand.

The Whippoorwill Farm stand overflows with the bounty of an early autumn harvest on a typical day in September. Bins of juicy, flavorful tomatoes and beautiful lettuce heads still appear alongside fall favorites such as Delicata squash and kale. The vegetables come from the field directly into the stand, and farm workers continue to pick and refill bins as the day progresses.

Many Island residents are committed to the concept of community-supported agriculture (CSA). The abundance, flavor, and freshness of the food are the driving reasons more than four hundred families and individuals joined Whippoorwill’s CSA program this year. They pay in advance for a small or full-size share, and in return receive five, ten, or twenty weeks of produce from the farm on Stoney Hill Road, off Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road in Oak Bluffs. With this commitment in hand, forty-nine-year-old owner and farmer Andrew Woodruff can generally predict how a season will progress. Andrew, who started farming on the Island in his teens, now manages twenty-five acres with a seasonal crew of six. Steady, hard-working, and generous, he has also encouraged and guided a number of young Island farmers over the years, many of whom got their start on his farm.

For shareholders, picking up the vegetables each week is the easy and fun part – admiring the produce as you fill your bags, talking to strangers and friends alike as you pick peas or beans in the farm fields, imagining the meals you will make. The more challenging aspect comes once you’re back at home, confronted with the task of storing all the vegetables and figuring out how to use everything – especially veggies you’re not quite accustomed to.

I decide to pick up a week’s full share and document what comes out of it. My goal is to use everything, and along the way share some tips, ideas, and recipes. In the past, despite my best intentions, the beets would often pile up. And though I could rattle off many great ways to use bok choy (in a stir-fry with ginger and sesame seeds is my favorite), I couldn’t seem to keep up with it.

One thing that surprises me at the pickup is the number of people who don’t like kale – or think they don’t like it. Some pass it up or offer their portion to others. Because I spent a year developing leafy green recipes for my cookbook Greens, Glorious Greens, I hastily jot down some e-mail addresses and offer to send a few favorite kale recipes, including a popular sautéed kale with raisins and pine nuts (recipe follows). Because kale, once stripped from its stem, will soften up readily, this leafy green powerhouse is also perfect to include in fall soups: Portuguese kale soup with potatoes and sausage is an Island favorite; kale soup with barley or farro; or a v ersion with mini meatballs. My other recent ideas for using up abundant amounts of garden kale include combining cooked kale and ricotta in wonton wrappers to serve as ravioli in tomato sauce; adding cooked, chopped kale to meatloaf; or the kids’ favorite, kale and cheese quesadillas. Then there’s the famous crispy kale – a recipe from West Tisbury resident Joanie Ames – for which you simply rub the kale leaves well with olive oil, sprinkle on a little salt, and bake until crispy (ten to fifteen minutes at 325 degrees).

When I arrived at the farm for my pickup, I was hoping for a few leeks and potatoes for a good fall soup, since leeks are a favorite for flavoring most any soup. But not this week! Instead, I find fennel in the giveaway bin – not a regular part of the allotment. Sometimes the giveaway bin is filled with slightly blemished tomatoes, which in the past I have scooped up to roast, peel, and then freeze for winter meals. This week it’s the free fennel. One shareholder tells me, “I cut this in half last week, put a little olive oil on it, and grilled it. Boy, was it good.” That does sound good, and I have the feeling I’ll do the same.

From my other conversations at the farm stand, I learn a great tip right off the bat: Wash everything before you put it away, so it’s ready to use during the week. Once home, I rinse the lettuce twice in the salad spinner and spin it dry. I strip the kale from its stem and also quickly soak that in the salad spinner. The carrots, beets, broccoli, peppers, and bok choy are rinsed and drip-drying on a paper towel. The best way to store these vegetables, especially the greens and lettuces, is to remove as much moisture as possible. A simple and inexpensive salad spinner is easy and effective. Store the vegetables in an open plastic bag stuffed with a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture; it’s the moisture that promotes decay. This process takes about ten minutes. I’ve never done it before, but I can already see it will help me use everything. Right away, the flowers brighten up the table.

I sit down with a pencil and sketch a rough outline for the next four days. At a glance, I see what else I need to pick up, and make one trip to the grocery store. I rarely plan my meals more than a day in advance, so it turns out my meal preparation is a lot easier and more efficient than usual.

The CSA bounty includes two pounds of carrots, the exact amount needed to make a puréed carrot-ginger soup, which I’ve been craving. So that becomes dinner number one, alongside a salad topped with hard-boiled eggs and cheese for protein, and a first course of the crispy kale my son and I both love.

I think the key to using the generous amounts of lettuce and mixed baby greens that are always available at the pickups is to make up a jar of tasty salad dressing. Once it’s made, you can use the same dressing, but mix up the salad toppings for a different salad each day: Try Mermaid Farm feta with tomatoes; roasted beets and goat cheese; pears and pecans.

For the tomatoes, my head spins with ideas: a pasta with tomatoes and veggies; a tomato-and-basil tart; steak with tomatoes and mixed greens; or BLTs, which no one seems to tire of. In the end, I choose an idea I picked up years ago from Italian cookbook writer Marcella Hazan: baked tomatoes stuffed with salmon, to accompany grilled eggplant and fennel. Plus pita chips and a yogurt dip – or tzatziki, as Greeks call it – made with mint or cilantro, to which I add cooked, grated red beets. Dinner number two comes to fruition.

Delicata squash is a favorite, and its appearance at the CSA makes me happy. Never miss taking this sweet and tender variety of squash when it’s available; it makes a great side dish and goes with almost everything in the fall. I think the best (and easiest) way to cook this oblong striped squash is to cut it in half lengthwise, rub with olive oil, and cook face down on parchment paper (twenty to thirty minutes at 350 degrees). When it can be easily pierced with a fork – though not collapsed – I turn it over and season with few pinches of salt, a dab of butter, brown sugar or maple syrup, and cinnamon. However, in this case, because I’m newly addicted to the vanilla-and-cardamom-glazed squash rings with maple syrup in Susie Middleton’s cookbook Fast, Fresh and Green, that gets the nod for dinner number three. The squash is served with sautéed kale and roasted chicken.

I am nearly there. Proudly, I plan to use the bok choy (the farm grows the variety called pac choi) to make pot stickers, a kind of Asian dumpling, for brunch, served with stir-fried broccoli. I use more salad greens for lunches. I cheat with the green peppers (not a favorite ingredient of mine): I cut one up as an experiment and give it to my son, who loves to snack on red peppers; it works and becomes part of the daily mix.

I have to admit, I lost – or maybe never came home with – the hot peppers; I might have used them to spice up some beef-and-bean tacos or a coconut-curry vegetable dish. And alas, I did have a few beets left over in the vegetable bin. But along the way, we enjoyed some great Island bounty and delicious simple meals – and helped keep a farm in business.

The following recipes by Catherine Walthers were originally published with this article:

Carrot-Ginger Soup

Salmon-Stuffed Tomatoes

Kale with Raisins and Pine Nuts

Steamed Pot Stickers with Bok Choy