Clare Vergobbi is one of our apprentices this season, working at River Road Neighborhood Farm for the summer. She is an essential part of what we do there, each day, and in turn, we are teaching her many skills for her future. Simultaneously, she is studying at the University of Montana. Thanks to Missoula Federal Credit Union for making two of our apprenticeships possible. Here’s Clare on tomato pie:
There’s nothing quite like hand feeding a chicken, pulling up a handful of carrots you seeded, weeded, and hand-watered for two months, or watching the sun set over mountains while the farm is full of families picking up their vegetables for the week.
These are the simple lessons good soil, clean water, hard work, and fresh food can teach. I’ve spent the last two summers as an apprentice at River Road Neighborhood Farm, one of Garden City Harvest’s four farms, where I’ve been learning by doing. River Road grows food for over 80 households who are members of the farm, and helps stock the kitchen at the Poverello with food each week of the season.
That brings me to tomato season. At long last, it arrived—albeit about a month later than usual and much lighter than the motherlode that blessed gardens and farms around Missoula last year.
That brings me to tomato season. At long last, it’s here—albeit a month later than usual and much lighter than the motherlode that blessed gardens and farms around Missoula last year. I spent most of the winter and spring eating the tomato soup, sauce, salsa, and frozen fruits I preserved last fall, and most of the summer waiting for tomatoes to come back into season. Desperate for tomatoes, I started making a list of everything I wanted to make out of them this year at the first hint of red on the vines at the beginning of August.
I work as an apprentice at River Road Neighborhood Farm. Working alongside Greg Price and
Unfortunately, it’s hard to outsmart the whims of nature and August and September have been colder and rainier than anyone would have liked—less than ideal weather for tomatoes. Harvests of tomatoes, peppers, and other hot weather crops have been exercises in frustration at River Road for the past few months. However, harvests are finally topping out above 100 pounds and I have faith that we’ll all end up with enough tomatoes to have more than enough for preservation. The fleeting inconsistencies of this season reminded me that the best tomatoes are those enjoyed fresh off the vine, standing in the field with juice running down my fingers or starring as a primary flavor in a light dish.
One of the dishes on my tomato wish list this year is tomato pie, a recipe I came across in a few southern cooking websites last winter. The version I made was also heavily inspired by an onion pie that my lovely coworker Samantha brought to work one day. Tomato pie is an amazing way to showcase the deep flavors and beautiful colors of heirloom tomatoes—my favorites for this dish were Cherokee Purples and Golden Kings, but any large heirloom would be a good choice. I opted for a slightly healthier version (minus the sour cream and mayonnaise) than the original recipes I came across; a combination of the onion pie recipe and a fantastic recipe for heirloom tomato pie I found on Dig This Chick, a local Missoula blog.
With a sunny week ahead of us, there’s still a chance to take advantage of the fresh tomatoes ripening in your gardens and on our farms. Grab a bunch of romas for your soups and sauces and a few lumpy, beautiful heirlooms for this pie.
Heirloom Tomato Pie
1 cup breadcrumbs
3-4 sliced heirloom tomatoes
4 cups shredded cheese—I liked parmesan, white cheddar, and gouda
1 cup milk or plain yogurt
1 small onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, diced or sliced
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 tablespoon chopped chives
¼ cup diced fresh basil (or 1 tablespoon dried basil)
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
For the crust, take a cup or so of breadcrumbs and mix with 3 tablespoons of melted butter, then press mixture firmly around the pie pan.
Caramelize onions and garlic.
Mix milk/yogurt, egg, cheese, garlic, onions, and herbs. Pour mixture into pie crust. Layer tomato slices to fill up remainder of pie pan, sprinkling with salt and pepper to taste as you go.
Bake for about an hour, or until the cheesy stuff is nice and bubbly and the tomatoes are juicy and squishy, but not dehydrated or burned.
When it comes out of the oven, it will still be pretty watery. Let it sit for an hour at room temperature so it can set up, but it’ll probably taste just as good if you can’t wait that long.
Throw some extra fresh basil on top before eating to make it extra tasty.
Enjoy the remainder of glorious tomato season. Who knows? If the frost holds off maybe we’ll have a fire sale after all.
We’ve gotten a lot of requests around here for the Farm Party recipes. And what I think that really means is GIVE US THE BEET RECIPE! It is clear from this photo that a Farm Party dinner makes a guy happy. I posted the Kamut®recipe a few weeks ago, another favorite at the party. Now, let me give you the beet.
I will also tell you the story of how our beet salad came to be.
First we got a group of about six or seven EVST Grad and undergrad students and two Youth Harvest teens who have spent their summer up at the PEAS Farm. These folks have seeded, planted, harvested and weeded and weeded (and did I mention weeding?) to bring food to the Missoula Food Bank, their faithful CSA members, and all of our Mobile Market patrons at (mostly) senior affordable housing around town. Farm Party is a way for these students to team up and show the community what they’ve been up to. It’s a proud moment.
Tuesday before the party, the interns and Youth Harvesters harvested the beets and onions (and many other ingredients). Wednesday, the Farm to School staffers whisked the beets and onions to the Missoula County Public School’s Central Kitchen, where they have fancy machines like the robot coupe that chop and slice the veggies REALLY FAST.
Then, to the UM Catering kitchen, where they are roasted in the oven to perfection.
Then, to the First Presbyterian Church commercial kitchen where they are cooled overnight (because you don’t want to melt the cheese) lovingly combined by the PEAS Farm students and Youth Harvest teens the morning of the Farm Party with a simple dressing and delicious Lifeline Farms Feta-U-Beta.
So, without further ado, here’s the recipe!
Farm Party Beet Salad
4 medium sized beets (should be around 1.5 lbs or 4 cups cubed beets)
1/2 a medium Walla Walla onion
1/4 cup safflower oil (or any oil you enjoy, at home I would use olive, but Safflower is definitely more local, if more refined)
4 oz feta (we used Feta-U-Beta from Lifeline Farms to keep it local and organic — whoop whoop!)
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Wash the beets and remove tops if still attached (and feel free to use for another dish!). Peel and chop beets into bite sized pieces. Chop coarsely, about the same size as the beets.
Place beets and onions on a large cooking sheet (or two, best not to crowd the veggies). Cook until fork tender, approximately 20 – 30 minutes.
Let the beets and onions cool enough so that they won’t melt the cheese when you toss it all together.
While the beets are cooling, combine the crumbled cheese, safflower oil, and salt.
Once cooled, combine all ingredients together and serve!
August. It’s August. And not just the beginning — it’s mid August. Bittersweet: I think that is the word for this month. The slow letting go of lots of sun, swimming holes, and unstructured days. Deep breath.
But we don’t have to say goodbye to vegetables too soon — we are just hitting the peak. From now until mid to late September our gardens and farms will be plumping up, ripening and sweetening our vegetables for your tables. This summer has been relatively cool, so tomatoes and eggplants and peppers may be slow, but the rest of the high summer veggies are coming on strong.
So pack it in while you can, friends.
Here are 9 recipes that make the most out of our last month of summer.
Apparently, this is a thing. Popping up on restaurant menus all over the place. I didn’t know. But it sounds easy and amazing, so put it on your menu this week! Great for vegetarians and those looking to give the cauliflower main stage.
What a great way to use up veggies: grab a Le Petit crust, roll it out, and load on the veggies and herbs and a little tomato sauce or olive oil. Done and done. This one from Love and Lemons is a great mixture of seasonal veggies.
I’ve starting making a frittata over the weekend when I have a bit more time and serving it for breakfast (or dinner) throughout the week. I recently read a frittata recipe that, instead of listing what vegetables, just said “vegetables.” As in, as long as you have some veggies, cheese, and maybe a little cream or meat (totally optional, though I do argue bacon is always a good idea) along with eggs, you’ll be good to go.
The Farm Party is in a little over a week from now. If you haven’t been, it is a big old party up at the PEAS Farm celebrating this great community, and the harvest that abounds this time of year. We cook everyone a big meal, and host some live music (Shakewell and Local Yokel this year!). It’s really fun. This year, we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary, which means we’ll have cake and a photo booth and a few other fun things.
One of the longstanding traditions around this party (we’ve been doing the party for 14 years, so we’ve got some serious traditions going) is that Josh (PEAS Farm Director) and the PEAS Farm student crew make the food. They harvest it in the fields, truck it over the First Presbyterian Church’s commercial grade kitchen, and get to work. The party has gotten so big that UM Catering has now taken over cooking the burgers, so we can focus on what’s most important: the veggies.
This wonderful group makes six salads (green salad, cole slaw, carrot, cuke, roasted beet, and Kamut Brand Khorasan Wheat). It’s a treat for them to show Missoula what they’ve been up to all summer. All their harvesting, weeding, moving pipe, tractoring, educating, more weeding, seeding and re-seeding, and harvesting again, and sweating and sometimes freezing — it all adds up to a rich and new experience. So it is a special thing to be able to invite all of you up to the farm to see a little piece of it in action.
In the spirit of sharing, I asked Kali, an EVST grad student who is one of the group’s leaders this year, if she’d share a recipe. She did some calculating (these recipes are sized for making food for around 1,000) to make it for around 6 servings, and gave me this year’s version of the Kamut® Salad recipe. Grain salads are great because you can stick all sorts of things in them and they taste great with a little dressing. This year, the crew is adding peaches (that’s right!) to the savory salad. It’s a great way tie many seasonal ingredients into one dish. Eat it as a meal, or as a hearty side. To make this gluten free, sub rice.
1/4 cup safflower oil or olive oil
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
A few sprigs of basil
1-2 tsp raw honey
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup Kamut® berries, cooked and cooled (shorten the cooking time if you soak the berries overnight — see here for simple cooking instructions — mine cooked for almost 60 min)
3 – 5 kale leaves, stemmed and chopped
1/2 sweet onion, diced small
1-2 peaches, chopped
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
Prep all your ingredients.
Emulsify the dressing with an immersion blender.
Massage the chopped kale with a small amount of the dressing to tenderize it. Then combine all the ingredients in a bowl!
We hope you’ll make this, and come to the Farm Party on August 18th, 5:30 pm at the PEAS Farm to try ours! Come find me and we’ll compare recipes, will you?
It is that time of year when the vegetable stars align to give us an abundance of possibilities.
It is also the time of year when desperate gardeners start slipping zucchinis into unlocked cars. If you find yourself at either end of this situation, I’ve got a great recipe for you. It will take care of 4 – 6 zucchinis, and a few other things that are just coming into season right now.
Now, you can use a regular peeler for this recipe, but I would recommend either springing for a spiralizer (takes up a bit more space in your kitchen, so its a bit more of a commitment) or a julienne peeler. I recommend either the Swissmar or Kuhn peelers if you purchase online. The only place I could find that sold them locally was the Good Food Store.
In the summer, we eat a lot of zucchini pasta at my house. It is is my #1 defense against the zucchini apocalypse. And a great way to replace a grain with a vegetable. And trick my unsupsecting child and husband. They’ve figured it out by now, but I can blend pasta and z-pasta together and they are pretty darn happy.
This salad is so simple and so good. I am always surprised at how delicious raw zucchini and carrots taste with a bit of garlic,salt, and olive oil on them.
This is great on its own. You can add a few things to it if you are trying to purge your fridge. I added scallions to it cause I had such fresh, lovely ones today. I made it at the office, and decided it would be my lunch. I put some sliced turkey and ham on the side (and a plopped a little mayo on the side too, because I am a mayo freak). Great meal!
Other additions include mozzerella, tomatoes, chunks of bread. . . Sides of toast! I’m guessing a little spiralized kohlrabi wouldn’t be bad, either. Maybe olives? But I haven’t tried those yet.
Summer Squash Caprese Noodle Salad
adapted from Diane Sanfilippo’s book, Practical Paleo
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil (I’ve used dried in a pinch, just reduce by a 1/3rd (4 teaspoons)
1 clove garlic, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste (I used white pepper, but black pepper is great too)
around 5 cups spiralized or julienned zucchini or summer squash – I used 3 medium squash plus two of the patty pan
1 medium carrot, julienned, peeled or spiralized (when tomatoes come into season, you can use those instead)
1 scallion (optional)
I peeled my zucchini, the noodles just work better that way. But you certainly don’t have to. Spiralize or julienne peel your squashes. I spiralized mine, using the larger noodle setting. Set aside. If you want to get a bit of the water out of the zucchini beforehand, salt the zucchini noodles before you set them aside.
Combine dressing ingredients in a large bowl.
Peel the carrots right into the bowl with dressing.
If you opted to salt the squash, now’s the time to take a clean rag, towel, or paper towel and squeeze some of the water out into the sink. (I didn’t do this – I just don’t care enough about the slightly watery situation.)
Add the squash and toss with your hands. Grind a little fresh pepper on top. I added a few scallions here, too. Tastes great either way.
Eat right away, or stick in the fridge to let the flavors combine.
I’m having a few friends over for the fourth of July. The group has some diverse food restrictions, between my gluten allergy, a few vegetarians, a dairy allergy and a mess of kids. Plus, I want to show off my amazing River Road veggies. These limitations can actually be helpful, since the internet is infinite and time is short.
I’ve found a good solution. Inspired by Sarah Britton’s Best Lentil Salad, Ever, I’ll be making a beluga lentil salad along with my grilled tri-tip roast (mine’s from Jamie’s Naturally Raised Grassfed Beef — tri-tip roasts, as opposed to steaks, are amazing and somewhat hard to find. You can special order at a meat counter, or ask for them at the Farmers’ Market). A great source of protein, it’s also gluten free. It’s cold — who wants a hot dish on a day like today? And it has lots of room for vegetable additions — I love when recipes, like Sarah’s, include optional extras to add to a dish. I’m pretty sure that my 4 year old will even eat this, or at least she’ll negotiate to just “take four bites ’cause I’m four,” rather than flat out, tight-lipped refusal.
All you need is lentils + a good basic vinaigrette + roasted/grilled veggies to get an amazing salad.
Let’s start with roasted/grilled veggies
Who doesn’t love a roasted vegetable? You can roast almost any vegetable, save the greens, following these guidelines. Great roasting veggies are ripening up right about now — carrots, radishes, garlic scapes, zucchini, maybe even scallions. Plus, you can do almost the same thing (and I would argue it tastes even better) when you grill your veggies. If you want step by step grilling instructions, check out my grilled carrots post. I use a grill basket, but skewers are great, too.
Putting it all together
While you’re roasting or grilling your veggies, cook the lentils. (Or, make it a grain salad instead by cooking gluten free millet, rice, or quinoa, the latter of which has a complete protein — bonus for vegetarians! For a gluten-full grain salad, use kamut, farro, or macaroni. . . whatever floats your boat.) Cool the veggies and lentils (or grains) in the fridge until they are just slightly warm, then mix them together and add the vinaigrette. Save any delicate ingredients — like herbs, greens, or cheese — to add right before you serve. Serve cold!
Sarah Britton’s vinaigrette has a pretty long list of ingredients. If you’d rather try something basic, go with Nora Ephron’s 3-ingredient vinaigrette. I just finished reading the honest and laugh out loud funny Heartburn by Ephron for the third time. It is filled with good food, including this vinaigrette, which is so good it factors into her divorce negotiations. I’m guessing Ephron’s vinaigrette is what I will use for my lentil salad — I love cooking, but I love spending time with my friends more. Keep it simple, and leave time for wine on the back porch while the kids shriek their way in and out of the sprinkler.
Updates coming soon on how these plans turn out!
How did you eat your way through the fourth? Share your favorite recipes and suggestions below — think of this blog as a way to exchange recipes with your CSA friends and interweb neighbors!
This week, we have a bonus post from guest writer Ari LeVaux, writer of Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column that’s appeared in more than 50 newspapers in 25 states. Flash in the Pan also regularly appears in The Atlantic.com, Alternet, Slate, Civil Eats, and other online publications. Ari lives in Montana and New Mexico.
Taste chicory at the PEAS Farm with ARI LeVaux!
Ari will be offering tastings and recipes for chicory during PEAS Farm CSA pickup, Thursday 6/30 and Tuesday 7/5 between 4:30 – 6:30 pm. Anyone is welcome to join in the fun!
Here’s Ari. . .
At an airport salad bar in Rome, recently, I filled a plate with leaves. It was a basic cafeteria salad bar, one that in the U.S. would probably be dominated by a large bin of iceberg lettuce laced with carrot shavings. But instead of lettuce, the leaves were chopped escarole and radicchio. Dressed with oil and vinegar, they were crisp and watery. And they were bitter, a taste I have been coming to appreciate.
By this point in my travels I was well aware that the Italians are ahead of the curve when it comes to eating chicory, the family of bitter-leafed plants that also includes endive and dandelion. At various stores and markets along the way, I had picked up several seed packets of different chicories, like the stately, thick-stemmed Catalogna that looks like a dandelion on steroids, or the Rossa di Treviso, a leafy radicchio shaped more like romaine than the typical tight radicchio head. These and several other equally interesting varieties would become the basis, when I returned home, of the chicory project.
The chicory project, which also includes Italian chicories ordered from GourmetSeeds.com, is now fully underway at an area farm. We are investigating which varieties do well in our climate, while playing with different ways of serving it that might appeal to the locals.
This last part is kind of a tall order, as we are programmed to reject bitterness from an early age. Newborns will scowl at the taste, and for good reason: most toxic substances are bitter. Our default status, thus, is to avoid them all until we learn otherwise. Like, say, when we learn about beer, or mixed drinks that contain bitters. Or coffee. Or chocolate. Or something charred on the grill.
The American palate is catching on to the dark flavor of bitter. Dark chocolate is increasingly popular. Dark roasted coffee is all the rage. But how dark is too dark? Everyone has their own comfort zone. I personally think dark roasted coffee tastes burnt, and so I always order the lightest roast. Similarly, I don’t like my food blackened on the grill.
Many bitter flavors from plants come from the presence of glucosinolates, and other plant defense compounds, that are toxic to insects and worms and other hungry critters. But at the levels we humans consume, these molecules are not dangerous, and are showing promise in actually preventing a variety of diseases.
Meanwhile, fiber. One hundred grams of escarole only contains 17 calories, but has nearly 10 percent of your daily fiber requirement. The bitter leaves tend to be stacked with other nutrients as well, like folate, and various antioxidants, and readily accessible forms of minerals.
There are ways to remove, hide and blend away the bitterness of chicory. You can soak the leaves in ice water, balance the bitterness with fruit or a sweet dressing, or combine it with other bitter foods, like mustard, to create a smooth continuum of bitter flavors. You can braise chicory leaves in butter or melt the stems into a fatty sauce. But the best way to deal with these and other bitter foods is to embrace them, head on, and celebrate them for what they are.
I don’t know anyone with more of a chicory habit than my wife. And those tight burgundy radicchio heads, dreadlocked frisse and grand Batavian leafed escarole aren’t cheap. Which, admittedly, is a big part of my interest in the chicory project.
Like the Italians, she equates a strong bouquet of bitterness with complex flavor, while mild lettuces no longer hold her interest. She has two primary ways of using chicory. They are both exceedingly simple, and instructive to those bitter-curious who may be interested in embarking on this path.
One method is to use leaves like tongs, to grab and encase food en-route to one’s mouth. The food that is grabbed could be anything. A bit of crumbled hamburger patty, some onions, tomato and mustard, and a radicchio burger bite is ready to go down the hatch. A leaf-grab of ratatouille, or a bitter leaf-bite of some other salad. Some people bring their own plates to potluck dinners. My baby, she brings heads of radicchio.
The other way she eats chicory is via what I call the “chip and salsa” technique. She makes a salad dressing of two parts olive oil to one part vinegar, with the vinegar portion split equally between cider vinegar, balsamic and white balsamic. Then she adds soy sauce to taste.
She then dips prepped leaves into the dressing like a chip into salsa, and chomps them down. How the leaves are prepped depends on the type of chicory, her mood, and how much time she has. The only requirement is that they be cleaned.
Freshly gathered dandelion greens are eaten whole, two or three at a time, and folded in half, with the fold dunked in the dressing. This shape holds the dressing for the potentially messy journey to your mouth. With radicchio, my wife will sometimes cut the head into wedges, which also hold dressing very well too, having oozed between the leafy layers.
One enjoyable combination of both of these methods is to wrap a thick chunk of bacon or other meat in the leaf, and then dip in dressing.
If she has the time, my chicarista’s all-time favorite way of eating chicory is in a big salad tossed with this dressing:
In a blender (or other processor) whizz ½ cup olive oil with a few cloves of garlic, and ¼ teaspoon salt. When smooth, blend in the juice and some zest of a lemon or lime and a tablespoon of white vinegar. Adjust salt and vinegar to taste.
There are all kinds of interesting recipes out there for braised radicchio, wilted escarole, endive torte, and many others. Enthusiasts of cooked chicory praise how it mellows the flavor, and how it adds to sauces. But after adapting my palate to the crisp texture of the raw stuff, I have no interest in soggy chicory. And I don’t want to mellow the flavor anyway, because I’m into bitter. I’ve acquired the taste, and I can go there by myself without training wheels. I’m a chicory grown up.
This week we have a guest blog from Molly Bradford – a grubshed winter share member at River Road Farm and a master food preserver. This woman knows how to keep eating locally all winter long. She also is the co-owner of GatherBoard, one of the makers of MissoulaEvents.net and Missoula Indoor Ads. She is a connector of people, products and ideas and a self-taught marketer who finds inspiration where art and business intersect. In her spare time, Molly is an avid yet amateur gardener, cook, skier, and hunter. Oh, yeah… add: busy mom and wife.
This summer is my first CSA. For those of you who know me, this might seem unbelievable.
The fact is, I’ve had a winter share, or Grubshed, at Garden City Harvest’s River Road Farm since our oldest was an infant. However, this summer is indeed my first weekly summer CSA. As with our Grubshed, we share our share with another family. Both this sharing of shares, and the amount of food preservation I’ve learned over the past 9-years has made this a fairly fun summer CSA.
I’ll admit it, though, there have been times this summer where I have been intimidated by the amount of food I was getting on my “on” weeks. And sometimes I’ve shared my share of the share with a neighbor or used it as an excuse to invite friends for dinner. Mostly we’ve had more mornings of the best green smoothies ever, my kids (now 2 and 9) have eaten more vegetables both hidden and obvious than ever before, and my toddler’s garden variety identification and vocabulary are certainly voracious.
By looking at my Summer Share with Grubshed glasses, things quickly became less intimidating and more manageable. Last week Genevieve shared about soup, stew, bone broth, aromatics, and mirepoix. She must have had Grubshed lenses in her onion glasses when she told you about cooking up a bunch of mirepoix, letting it cool to room temp and freezing in ice cube trays for later. This is where you and I are going – preserving summer’s share for winter. Get out your vacuum sealers, clear some space in your freezer and start your stove top. What follows are the most common things I do to freeze summer.
In most cases I find a recipe I like, and then I start substituting with items from my CSA or Grubshed that seem similar, sound good, or just have to get used up STAT.
I really like blanching. It’s not nearly as time or resource consuming as canning. And it tends to start happening when the days are a bit cooler and shorter, so having a pot of boiling water going for a while doesn’t seem oppressive. Don’t get me wrong, this mama likes to can and pickle like a mad-woman. But sometimes I prefer a quicker option for food preservation with what I have on hand.
The basic concept of blanching is to plunge fresh vegetables into boiling water, scalding them for a short period of time, then shock them in a bath of ice water until cool. It stops enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture. The length of time is key – under-blanching doesn’t stop the enzyme. Over-blanching causes loss of color, flavor and texture. A simple internet search for “vegetable blanching chart” will bring up many great sites from home food preservation to extension services. (NOTE: as I’ve learned about putting up mass quantities of food for winter, I always read two or three sites through to determine consistency of message and technique before I begin. And to make sure I have all the equipment on hand.)
Before you begin, make sure you have at least a few big bags of cubed ice – you’re going to need it. (Thankfully this can be attained at nearly any hour from a gas station.) Also, some sort of blanching set up is preferred to scooping veggies from boiling water with a slotted spoon or wire basket spoon. For water blanching I do large batches with my pasta insert in my stock pot. For steam blanching I go with smaller batches with a metal colander balanced over my stock pot.
Here are the basics:
Chop stuff up into manageable pieces. (Corn is the exception, I keep it on the cob.) I normally err on the side of mid-chunky, assuming I’ll be cooking them into stew, soup, potpie, pizza topping, pureeing, quiche, etc… later in winter.
Get water boiling. Follow the blanching chart from above. Blanch. Ice bath. Spin dry in a salad spinner or roll in an absorbent towel (wet veggies = freezer burn).
After they are dry enough, I like to seal my veggies with the vacuum sealer in 2 to 4-serving sized pouches. Too small, waste of plastic. Too big, won’t use them after I thaw them, what a waste.
Veggies I like to water blanch and freeze:
Corn on the cob
Beans – like string, wax, green
Greens – hearty types like kale, chard, collards
Peas – in edible pods
I’m not sure if this is even a real term… basically, it’s the same technique Genevieve used with the mirepoix. (After a quick internet search for “butter blanching,” I could not find anything of the sort. I learned this term and technique from an old foodie friend, Chef Boy Ari.)
The goal is the same as water blanching: stop the enzymatic process of breaking down the food so it will last longer – and preserve some color and texture in the process – but with butter! (I’m sure you could substitute an oil of your choice that stands up to sauteing – canola, olive, coconut.)
Here are the basics: chop up the stuff you want to butter blanch into bite sized pieces. Melt some butter in a pan until the foaming subsides. Add in some onion and saute at least until translucent — I like a deeper flavor and go for golden and starting to caramelize. Add in the things you want to preserve. Saute until al dente – not mushy, a little under cooked.
Transfer to a parchment lined cookie sheet to cool more quickly.
Then freeze in one of these options:
ice cube trays – pop frozen cubes in a ziplock – suck the air out before finishing sealing;
little reusable plastic baggies – suck the air out before sealing; make tiny vacuum sealed pouches;
I like to freeze on the cookie sheet – break or cut into cubes – put in ziplock – suck air out.
When you’re ready to make soup or quiche or pizza or stew, pull out a few cubes, let stand on the counter to thaw or throw in the pan to thaw, and go! No chopping and sauteing needed.
Foods I like to butter blanch:
Morel mushrooms with onion, garlic and sage
Mushroom mixes w/ herbs, onion, garlic
Mixed bell peppers
Mirepoix Caramelized onions
Shredded potatoes (potato pancakes- yum!)
One of the easiest and most satisfying things to do with excessive greens is make pesto or a pesto alternative. The basic pesto recipe calls for basil, olive oil, salt & pepper, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese.
The substitution possibilities here are endless. Want a smear for sandwiches, substitute butter for oil. Looking for more of a spicy, green herb type sauce, think chimichurri. Not sure about pine nuts? Try toasted walnuts, pecans or cashews. Allergic to nuts? Go with seeds like sunflower or pumpkin, or skip it. Same for cheese – Parm, Asiago, and Romano are the Italian trio but any hard cheese will do. Experiment with oils, herbs, seasonings.
My mother-in-law recommended adding a little lemon juice and grated lemon peel to classic pesto to preserve the green color and fresh flavor. Since I like to freeze mine in blocks, this was an especially great step.
Just tonight our toddler and I picked the leaves from 2-huge basil bushes from our Grubshed. Right now the leaves are plumping in a bath of cold water over night. Tomorrow, after I dry the leaves, we’ll make pesto. We have about 8-cups of leaves, so I expect to have about 10-cups of pesto when it’s all said and done.
For large batches I go with tried and true recipes like the one I linked to above, plus the aforementioned lemon addition. After it’s done I’ll line a brownie pan with parchment in both directions and pour in all the pesto. Set it in the freezer overnight with another sheet pressed on top. The next day, pull out the parchment sling or flip over the pan. If you let it sit a moment the oil on the sides will loosen up and it slides out. Moving quickly, cut this big slab into small cubes – about 2” by 2” by the height of your slab. Put all the cubes in a ziplock freezer bag, seal 90% of the way, suck out the air and finish sealing. Making pasta, pizza, soup, quiche, sandwiches, dip, etc… pull out a cube per 2-servings. Yum.
SALSAS, SLAWS & KRAUT
Have just a few too many tomatoes, tomatillos and jimmy nardello peppers? Or what about that third head of cabbage, those huge carrots and another round of brightly colored cauliflower? Bottom line on salsa: it can be with tomatoes, tomatillos, fruits, beans, corn, onion, garlic, cilantro, peppers sweet and spicy, citrus, zucchini, cucumber, etc… And slaw is great with cabbage, kale, chard, leeks, shredded carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers sweet and spicy, citrus, apples, pear, onion, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, cucumber, etc…
Wait just a second – most of the items on both lists are the same – how can that be? It’s all in the sauce. Find a recipe you like, get the basics of the seasonings/sauce down, and then completely mix it up with the fruits and veggies. But for me, the finale is the sauerkraut, or in my case, it’s more of a süβkraut – a sweet apple cider braised cabbage. This time of year I make a huge batch from this recipe my mom gave me a decade ago. I expand it enough to accommodate 3-5 heads of cabbage, and I use green and purple for color.
After braising all afternoon, we put some in a separate put to enjoy with delicious sausages — the recipe calls for Knockwurst. The rest I put in sterilized jars and give a 15-min water bath. Your mouth will say Danke all winter long.
By thinking ahead just a bit, trial and error, and a little bit of reckless abandon corralled with a recipe here and there for good measure, managing the weekly CSA and/or a Grubshed are not just doable, they are edible all winter long. Freezing tomatoes, braiding onions, packing root vegetables in damp sawdust… I’ll get to that another time. For now – pick a few things that taste so much better now than they do in January and prepare them for a revival in winter. Then share.
Stews and soups are a flexible dish, and a great place to start to play with ingredients. Start with your fridge: what’s in there? For me last night around 9 pm, it was onions, carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower, and some stew meat. Stew time!
I got out the slow cooker and got to chopping.
I modified this recipe for my stew. I didn’t have celery or frozen peas. But when do I ever have every single ingredient? I used the called for carrots (more than what the author suggested), a big ol’ onion, extra garlic (cause I love it, and so does my 3 year old), and mushrooms.
I also added some cauliflower and roasted tomatoes to make up for the lack of celery and peas. All this I chopped the night before.
This morning, I browned a bit of stew meat (Oxbow stew meat is on sale at the Good Food Store right now, $1 off — perfect!)
After browning the meat, I added it and the herbs (I used fresh parsley and everything else was dried), broth and tomato paste. I used chicken broth instead of beef — it’s what I had in the fridge and I needed to get rid of it. And set it on low, cooking it for 10 hours.
When we cracked open the slow cooker at dinner time, the meat was tender and veggies perfectly soft but not falling apart. Yum!
Soups and stews are some of the most versatile things on the planet — they beg you to SUBSTITUTE and play! That sweet stew of mine, as long as I had the stew meat, I could have put almost any veggie in there. Potatoes, kale, broccoli, winter squash. . . So many of these vegetables soak up flavor and will withstand being slow cooked.
Soup is even more versatile. Here is a great universal recipe for how to make soup from almost any vegetable. The lesson here: as long as you like the vegetable, you can make soup from it. If you are cooking a soup on the stove, then the main consideration is cook time, and adding the vegetables at the right time so they cook long enough to release their flavors and short enough to not be squishy.
Aromatics are key in making soup — and easily grown here in Montana and stored for the winter. Onions and garlic in your basement. Parsley dried and stored in an airtight container. Carrots in your fridge. These are the base to almost any soup or stew. Saute your aromatics first, until they are fragrant, then add the broth.
You can saute this and freeze it in ice cube trays to start most any soup easily, and you can feel French while you are at it — you’ve made a Mirepoix! Then, you’ve got your base ready to (as my 3 year old would say) rock and roll.
A note on kale: is a wonderful soup ingredient. It gets milder in flavor, and holds up well. And, of course, is full of nutrients. Plus — kale the cooler nights add a sweetness to kale.
Two Words: Bone Broth
Bone broth is one of the easiest, cheapest healthy things you can make. Yes, this is your grandmother’s stock — it is really good for you. Read more about some of the health benefits here. It is true, chicken soup is a healing food. No, I’m not going to tell you it will make your bones stronger, but it does have a lot of good stuff for your gut and your body in it.
Use your vegetable scraps and left over bones. I have a bone bag in my freezer — the fact that it says “bone bag” on it in florescent duct tape grosses my husband out. Or maybe it is the fact that there’s a bag of bones, literally, in our freezer.
In any case, I put chicken carcasses in there, pork chop bones, whatever scraps I can come by. In the winter, every other weekend I fire up the slow cooker and make broth. I add some carrots and celery if I have it, or scraps of veggies — especially aromatic ones, to give it some flavor. Definitely some garlic. And a little apple cider vinegar. This recipe is a great base. I don’t cook my broth more than 24 hours as this recipe suggests you might, the vegetables can get pretty bitter if you keep cooking them — I usually stick to between 12 and 24. 24 is great because I do it at night when I have a few calm moments, and don’t have to mess with it until the next night, after our 3 year old is asleep, and I have another calm moment.
I hope you will share a few tips and tricks you have for your soups and stews. Next week, we will have guest blogger Molly Bradford to tell you about how she puts up her winter share. Until then, eat well!
UPDATE: I just got a question about making vegetarian stews, and how to best do them in a slow cooker — great question. I had to research, and found that sauteing the base (onions, garlic, potatoes, etc.) and then adding it all to the slow cooker is the key. Here are two recipes that sound delicious — one for the stove top and one for the slow cooker. Both sound hearty and delish.
Some weeks ago I wrote Takeaways from a Tomato Tutorial, based off Northside garden mentor Sarah Johnson’s advice she gave fellow gardeners in her tomato tutorial workshop. That post was all about supporting, pruning, fertilizing, and watering your tomatoes throughout the season. But now, our days are getting shorter and the mornings and evenings are getting cooler. These bittersweet seasonal changes are well and good for a bit o’ fall gardening, but what do they mean for our garden tomatoes?
In season harvesting and storage
Tomatoes are best picked at their peak of ripeness when the color has reached its fullest hue. But tomatoes that have a tendency to crack – such as cherry tomatoes – can be picked when just slightly underripe.
Once picked, tomatoes should be stored on a counter or shelf out of direct sunlight. If you wash them after picking them, make sure to dry them before you leave them on the counter. Tomatoes typically last 3-5 days on the counter. They can also be stored in the refrigerator so they keep a little longer. (Storing them in the fridge doesn’t do them any favors in the flavor department, so ideally you store them on the counter and use them or process them before they need to go in the fridge.)
Extending the growing season
Did you know that the other week we actually had a frost advisory in place for Missoula valley? Yes, it’s true. It seems the frost missed us that time, but it goes to show that it’s time to start paying attention to night time temps. My favorite place to check the weather is the National Weather Service. They usually give pretty detailed frost warnings(and fire, wind, rain and heat, too! They have a whole discussion each week on the weather patters, if you want to get nerdy with it).
When frost is expected you better get those tomato plants covered up because their foliage is especially sensitive to frost damage. When the foliage is damaged or dead it can’t photosynthesize as well or at all, and your tomatoes won’t ripen. And we certainly don’t want that to happen!
You can use an old blanket or sheets to cover your tomato plants, but be sure to remove them in the morning so the plants can see the light of day. A more expensive option is to use row cover which is air permeable and allows light and moisture to pass through, so the cover can stay on your plants all day. If you store the row cover properly over winter and keep it dry, it should last you for several years.
Tip: It’s best if your cover doesn’t touch any tomato foliage, as that foliage will still be in danger of getting frost damage. Try building a non-permanent frame, such as from PVC pipe, around your tomato plants that your cover can be draped over. But don’t worry – any cover is better than no cover!
Extending your tomato harvest
When the end of the season is in sight, days are still hot but nights are cooling…
Once the end of the tomato season is in sight, water your plant a little less. Alternatively (or in addition), you can use a shovel to sever the roots about a foot out from the plant on three sides. The added stress will trigger the plant into more fruit production.
Additionally, pick off any tomato blossoms. They have very little chance of turning into tomatoes and without them the plant can give more energy to ripening the tomatoes that are more fully developed.
When day time temps start cooling…
Tomatoes stop ripening when day time temps consistently fall below 60 degrees. Once temperatures are consistently 60 degrees and threatening to fall below, start pulling off any tomatoes that have about 50% redness or more. The green tomatoes still on the plant will then have a better chance of ripening.
When the season is all but ended…
Once it is so cool that there is no chance of further ripening, you can do one of two things:
Pick all your green tomatoes. Then store them in a basement or garage where it is dark and cool (but no danger of freezing exists). Now is the perfect time to make fried green tomatoes! Or, if you want to ripen your green tomatoes, put then on a sunny windowsill when you are ready to ripen them. Rotate the tomato over time so one side doesn’t ripen so quickly. Alternatively, ripen the tomato in a brown paper bag on the counter. If you want the tomato to ripen more quickly, throw a banana in there too. The banana emits an ethylene gas that will cause the fruit to ripen faster.
Pull the plant up by its roots. Shake it – go ahead, shake it like a Polaroid picture – to get all that dirt off so you can store it in a cool place in your house and allow the remaining tomatoes to ripen on the vine.
Follow these steps, and you just may be able to serve up fresh tomatoes from your garden at Thanksgiving dinner! Or, if you have an excessive amount of tomatoes, you can freeze them whole or cook them into a delicious sauce or salsa before freezing them. Frozen tomatoes keep well for up to a year. You can also try your hand at canning tomatoes so they’ll keep even longer. After all, who gets sick of garden tomatoes?