Fall’s Royal Crop: Growing, Selecting and Eating Storage Squash

A great and timely story from last year!

NOFA-NY Field Notes

Erik Fellenz weighs red kuri squashWith names that tend toward the fairy-tale (Cinderella, Moonshine, Black Forest, Hubbard, Carnival) to the exotic (Rouge Vif D’Etampes, Musque de Provence, Kakai, Red Kuri) to the downright confusing (Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, NutterButter, Pink Banana), the thick-skinned storage varieties of the Cucurbitaceae plant family (which also includes summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, decorative gourds, chayote, and luffa gourds) represent a diverse and flavorful food source for us in the Northeast.  Many of us are accustomed to paying rock-bottom prices for pumpkins and gourds destined only for carving and decoration, and buying canned pumpkin off a grocery store shelf (organic canned pumpkin is available in this day and age, a nice alternative for the non-DIYers among us).  A conventionally-grown or imported pumpkin creates quite a toll on the environment, and builds a perception that all thick-skinned squashes, whether for centerpieces, Jack-o-Lantern carving, or eating, should be a…

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Top 3 Veggies for Eat Some, Freeze Some

Overflowing Harvest Basket!

Overflowing Harvest Basket!

Wow my garden is overflowing!  The early season rain and late season heat have combined to produce a jungle out there!  As much as I love fresh vegetables in season, there is no way I can eat my way through this situation.  My friends, family, and co-workers are starting to dread my appearance with my “big bag of whatever was ripe that morning”.   While I revel in how easy it is to eat and share fresh amazing produce now, come winter the limited availability of locally raised, fresh organic produce makes me sad. So this is my survival tactic – eat now, freeze some for later. These are my top 3 veggies for this strategy:

#3.  Sweet Corn. It can be a challenge to find organic and sustainably grown sweet corn, and when I find it I buy a bunch. Who can argue against fresh picked corn, lightly steamed and served with creamy butter and sea salt, or soaked in the husk and grilled until the kernels caramelize into a nutty sweetness? That said, corn is pretty filling and I can only eat so much at once. So, while one group of ears is cooking, the other group is getting sliced off the cob, popped into freezer bags, and stacked into the freezer. I find that freezing the kernels from two ears of corn per bag provides the nearly perfect portion for winter chowders, sweet corn risotto, corn fritters, and anything else “corn”. The amazing thing is that this method seems to perfectly preserve that fresh corn “pop” and wonderful flavor.

#2.  Peppers. Peppers to me are as much of a stable as carrots, onions, and celery. I love fresh picked sweet peppers raw in my salads, dipped in hummus, or just to nibble on through the day. Peppers always seem to ripen in bulk, way more than I could ever eat before they spoil. So I eat some now, and the simply wash, chop, and freeze the rest. Although frozen peppers lose their fresh crunchy texture, they keep that summertime flavor and work perfectly in soups, stews, chili, and any other recipe that calls for peppers. One of my favorites is to use the frozen peppers in Chicken Cacciatore with a chicken from one of my local farmers.

#1 Tomatoes. Ok, I admit it, I am a tomato addict and can do an entire story just on this one fruit. I can eat tomatoes – so long as they are fresh and local – every single day and not tire of them. Even so, the prolific nature of my many tomato plants outpaces even my appetite, so while I enjoy fresh tomatoes raw in any way you can think of in season, I take a few extras and dice them and put them in the freezer. Like peppers, they will lose a little in texture, but the amazing fresh tomato taste remains and is awesome in the winter when mixed with pasta or used in any of a variety of soups and stews and sauces. My favorite winter soup is tomato, white bean, and rosemary. Even as I enjoy the slice of that Brandywine on a sandwich, I am thinking of that soup in my future as I put the remaining in the freezer.

So eat now, and eat later!  Enjoy being a locavore all year!

Recipe for a Rainy Day and a Giant Bulb of Fennel….

The Giant Fennel Bulb

The Giant Fennel Bulb

With the weather promising cold and rain today, last night I made a run down to my garden to see what might be primed for picking.  While rummaging through an overgrown patch of swiss chard, there I found this amazing bulb of fennel.  By amazing I mean nearly the size of my head.

Fennel is a wonderful, aromatic plant that is a member of the carrot family.  In ancient times it was revered by the Greeks and Romans both for its culinary as well as medicinal properties.   All parts of fennel are edible, the fronds are also lovely and you can even freeze it if you don’t mind the loss of texture.  Young fennel bulbs are tender and delicious raw in salads and pair wonderfully with many Italian dishes.  But I had no idea what to do with this giant bulb.  It’s roots were so impressive that it took  two hands and a lot of strength for me to pull it out – fennel is actually a perennial so it grows to survive and thrive no matter what the weather.   I could not imagine eating this giant raw.  After spending some time googling around ideas, I finally came up with my own inspiration:  fennel simmered until tender with olive oil, garlic and sweet red onions, then finished with fresh picked cherry tomatoes and swiss chard.  Served over pasta and topped with fresh parmesan….wonderful!  Here are the top things I learned in this process.

  1. Cleaning fennel takes some attention.  Dirt gets into all of the crevices of the bulb.  To get the grit out, I found that washing the bulb, slicing it thin, and then running the slices through my salad spinner worked great to get it all clean.  Remember to remove the core!
  2. Fennel and swiss chard are an AMAZING combination.  The sweet, aromatic anise flavor of the fennel pairs wonderfully with the bitter greens of the swiss chard.
  3. While any fresh tomato may do, I used whole cherry tomatoes.  The effect was lovely.  Intense tomato flavor, a little “pop”.  My personal favorite for this recipe are my home-grown organic gardener’s sweetheart tomatoes (thank you Fruition Seeds!).
  4. You don’t need a recipe.  Just put it together any way and in any combination that works for you.  My main advice is to layer the flavors and the cooking, starting with meat (Italian sausage or diced pancetta work great in this recipe) and longer cooking aromatics first (the fennel, onion, and garlic) and layering in the other ingredients based on their cooking time, with tender greens like swiss chard at the very end.
  5. This tastes amazing over your favorite pasta, rice, or grains!

    The end result:  Fennel, Tomato and Swiss Chard Sauce

    The end result: Fennel, Tomato and Swiss Chard Sauce

To find sources of swiss chard, tomatoes, and fennel near you, check out our on-line directory.  Enjoy a cool rainy day of locavore cooking and eating!