I’ve gotten a little mellower: “Sure! You can juggle knives. Just don’t use my good ones.”
The little things don’t bother me as much: “You dressed yourself? Of course you can wear a tie-dyed shirt and camo shorts to school.”
I’ve gotten a little wiser and surer of my convictions: “Yes, it does matter where your food comes from.”
And I’ve gotten a tiny bit smarter. Instead of braving the weekly perspiration-soaked hordes at farmers markets, I signed up to be a part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).
For those of you not familiar with CSAs, here’s a primer. Members of these groups, or coops as they are also called, buy shares of a farm for a year or a season. We pay the farmer in advance, banking on a consistent and steady flow of fresh produce for a set period of time. Like any business, there are good CSAs and bad CSAs; as a general rule, when quality goes in, quality comes out.
If you are not already signed up for a CSA, now is the time to do your research for next year. Doesn’t that sound crazy? Visit your local farmers market of choice and see who has the best stuff. Ask around and see which farms also function as a CSA. Compare apples-to-apples (or tomatoes to tomatoes), literally. Every year’s production is different, but the attention to detail and commitment to excellence should be consistent. You need to do your homework and determine whether the farm produces the variety and caliber of goods you want. Is organic important to you? Do you want traditional fruits and vegetables (strawberries, beans, etc.) or would you prefer heirloom varieties or things you can’t find in the grocery store (Easter Egg radishes, kohlrabi, etc.)? Will the CSA deliver to your home or office or to a designated pick-up spot in your area?
The CSA I joined was discovered via weekend trips to Pepper Place. Saturday after Saturday, these folks featured the kinds of fruits and vegetables I wanted to eat at home. They also consistently supplied produce to many local restaurants, including Highlands Bar & Grill and Hot & Hot Fish Club, and they were usually one of the first tents to sell out. Spots on their CSA rolls were highly coveted but also assigned fairly; if I signed up early enough and sent in my first check on time, I could join. After determining the 2011 deadline last summer, I actually added an alert to my iPhone’s calendar. See? Older. Wiser.
My first delivery arrived at my designated pick-up spot, Continental Bakery, on April 14, and was preceded by a reminder e-mail, listing the contents for the week. Every week, the package is different and offers items I may never have tried before. One week, a small amount of fava beans arrived. Hearing the words “fava beans,” most of us think of that line from Silence of the Lambs, when Anthony Hopkins menacingly whispers that he’s looking forward to enjoying a nice Chianti and fava beans with his next dinner “guest.” I’d never cooked fava beans before, so that week, I learned to prepare them and my kids learned to eat them. And we all learned that we loved them.
Another week, we found purple and white kohlrabi in the box my daughter calls “our rations.” A note from the farmer suggested grating the bulb-like vegetable into our accompanying salad greens. Very tasty. I confess we also received some turnips which no amount of bacon fat could make delicious to our family. Luckily we have a neighbor who adores them and was happy to benefit from the largesse. Guess who else added the CSA sign-up alert to her calendar next February?
Of course, I still brave the sweaty crowds at any farmers market in town; I simply can’t grow enough tasty tomatoes in my small home garden to satisfy. Now, however, I don’t have to get up at dawn to be the first one to the tent that always sells out. They deliver.
Fava Beans and Pancetta
2 cups shelled and peeled fresh fava beans (may substitute fresh lima beans or cooked edamame)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces pancetta (may substitute thick, smoked bacon), diced
4 small (or 2 large) cloves garlic,chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. If using whole fava beans, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fava beans (in shells) and blanch for two minutes. Remove from heat, drain and plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Let cool slightly; the beans will now easily slip from the pods and shells.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta and garlic and sauté for a few minutes until the garlic loses its raw flavor. If using bacon instead of pancetta, add it to the pan without the garlic first to render some of the fat and not overcook the garlic.
3. Add the fava beans and stir to coat. Cook over medium heat until the beans are tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add thyme and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
These are great on their own but we enjoyed them as a bed to some fresh grilled salmon.
Christiana Roussel lives in Crestline and is a lover of all things food-related. Want more tasty ideas of what to do with your CSA picks? You can follow her culinary musings on-line at ChristianasKitchen.com or on Facebook (ChristianasKitchen) or Twitter (Christiana40).