The arrival of spring has brought the start of the Community Supported Agriculture Co-op that Amanda and I joined with two other couples. If you do not know what that is, I will briefly explain. Farmers and consumers get together, the consumers pay a fee to join and in return the farmers commit to supply a weekly share of what they produce. That was all I knew when I signed up and my curiosity was enough to commit. So for a little over $20 every three weeks I will get an unknown quantity and variety of local produce, sounds way better than the $50 sack of disappointment I regularly get at Giant Eagle.
For more useful information you can go here: http://www.nwpagrowers.com/
Most people’s reaction to me doing this have fallen into two categories. Both negative. The first is: “That’s expensive. I don’t spend twenty dollars a week on vegetables.” The second is “What are you going to do when you get, like, 20 pounds of cabbage?. What if you don’t know what to do with what you get or you don’t like it?” I guess there has been a third category when I talk excitedly about my mystery vegetable shipment and I get nothing in response from a reluctant listener and the conversation ends or the subject is changed. Not everyone has been pessimistic but I feel that my overall perception of negativity is justified when it seems like there is only about ten local subscribers to the CSA. Why are more people not doing this?
I’m not going to discuss the first category of naysayery because I have no idea where to start. Either you are not eating enough fresh vegetables or you are getting some pretty sweet deals because where I shop, veggies are expensive. The second category is actually the main reason why I signed up with the CSA so I will be focusing on that. I would much rather have my menu and recipes driven by what is available to me rather than what my current desire is. Rather than saying “I am hungry for X, I must go get A, B, and C”, I want to say “I have A, B, and C. What can I do with it?” That is how classic French cooking styles even came about. They took what meager scraps were available to them and rendered them edible. OK, my situation is a little different than making the most out of anything that you can get your hands on but I feel the spirit is the same.
So, what do you do when your share is full of things that you never heard of? Well, in addition to the food there is an added benefit of community when you join a CSA. There is a newsletter with helpful tips and actual people with intimate knowledge of what you are getting from week to week. Or, you can set out on your own, use your own knowledge or turn to Google.
Among other things, included in my first share was a bag of arugula, a bag of spelt flour, and fresh oregano. I immediately knew what I was going to make. Jamie Oliver’s “Scrummy Warm Arugula Salad” and spelt flour pizza. The salad I have been making for years since the recipe was published in Happy Days With the Naked Chef but I rarely find arugula and make it with other greens. For the pizza, quick Google search turned up this recipe for Spelt Pizza Dough and I was all set.
The salad in its simplest form is fried bacon and caramelized onions tossed, while still warm, with greens, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese. The arugula adds a nice peppery bite to go with the sweeter savory flavors of the other ingredients that is lost if you just settle with leaf lettuce or romaine. To top the pizza, some on-hand vegetables were stir fried and placed over store bought cheese and a simple homemade sauce. All told, a quick and easy meal and a new pizza crust recipe which Amanda proclaimed to be the best she ever had. I’d say that’s a good start, I am excited to see what’s next!