In which I’ll clatter on about my new CSA, and then finally give you a recipe for some tasty vegetables
I finally signed up for a CSA, my first one since I lived in Northampton, MA back in 2009. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and is basically a weekly subscription to fresh produce and other products, sourced directly from local farms. I got my first box last Friday, and now that I have it, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long.
When I lived in Western Massachusetts, I shared a CSA with a friend, and we would get together a few times a week to cook. It was so much fun figuring out what to make with our fresh and sometimes unfamiliar bounty. It makes me nostalgic to think of cooking with friends, something I rarely do these days. Sort of like meeting up with girlfriends to get dressed and put on makeup before going out, which often took hours and was the highlight of the night.
Though I’ve been a frequenter of farmers markets, I haven’t had a CSA since leaving the Pioneer Valley. I tried out a subscription to an ugly food box last year, made up of produce that supposedly doesn’t meet grocery store standards, but I eventually cancelled it because I was disappointed by the quality. Everything in the box was organic, but it was sourced from monoculture style farms, and not remotely seasonal. It was hard for me to get excited about cooking with tomatoes in February and acorn squash in May.
I’ve always been aware intuitively of the superior quality, freshness, and flavor of produce straight from the farm, and I’ve known about some of the social and environmental benefits (good for the local farming community, cuts down on fossil fuel emissions from long-distance shipping). What I didn’t understand until recently, though, are the implications that small-scale poly-culture farming has for the long-term health of our soil.
I just finished reading Kiss the Ground: How the Food You Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body & Ultimately Save Our World by Josh Tickell. I think the title pretty much sums it up. Throughout the book, the author investigates the theory that by weaning off of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and tilling in favor of organic methods and thoughtful use of cover crops, farmers can actually sequester carbon back into the soil. In other words, the right kind of farming could undo some of the damage we’ve done to the Earth’s biosphere. Tickell visits farmers and soil experts all over the world, exposing the dire threat that “conventional” farming practices pose to our global food supply, and showing examples of prosperous farms employing what he refers to as regenerative agriculture.
As someone with deep climate change anxiety who is also obsessed with food, I’m fascinated and inspired by the idea that what I choose to eat could have so much power. So I decided to put my money where my mouth is, and sign up for a CSA.
The long-term impact of regenerative agriculture aside, small farms are facing immediate threats as Corona virus shuts down restaurants and affects vulnerable workers. Showing financial support in the form of a CSA is one way of bolstering farms in this difficult time.
Getting a weekly delivery of produce has also (literally) lifted some of the burden of grocery shopping, which has been difficult for all of us.
I signed up for a produce box with Local Roots, but I may add on some meat or dairy eventually. The first week, I received carrots, sweet potatoes, baby arugula, trumpet mushrooms, a giant turnip, a long green radish, mutzu apples, and Asian pears. Everything was so flavorful! And I’ve got big plans for the maitakes that came in this week’s box…
Of the many delicious things I cooked with the produce, one that stands out is this Roasted Root Vegetables with Goat Cheese and Pickled Onions, which is a version of a roasted sweet potato dish from Yotam Ottolenghi- not least because it’s one of the prettiest things I’ve cooked in a while. I swapped out a few ingredients from the recipe based on what I had, and served it alongside this phenomenal lentil dish (also from Ottolenghi) and a green salad. Actually I’ve been on a bit of an Ottolenghi kick this week, and I’ve also started following his cohort Noor Murad on Instagram, and have been getting huge inspiration from her. I love their style of food- beautiful, tasty, and healthy.
Roasted Root Vegetables with Goat Cheese and Pickled Onions
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi
This dish is all about balance- sweetness from the roasted root vegetables, sharp tanginess from the pickled onions, a hint of spice from the chili flakes, freshness from cilantro, and crunch from toasted hazelnuts.
2 or 3 pounds of root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, turnips, or parsnips (I used a combination of sweet potatoes and turnips. I bet butternut or delicata squash would also be great.)
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
Red pepper flakes
About a quarter cup of crumbled fresh goat cheese (chevre)
1 red onion
Juice and zest of 2 limes, separated
3 tbsp cider vinegar
¼ cup hazelnuts (or use almonds, as suggested in the original recipe)
1 bunch cilantro
A few hours (or a few days) before you want to eat, make the pickled onions: thinly slice the red onion and put in a glass jar with the lime juice, vinegar, and some salt. If the liquid does not cover the onions, add some water. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use (this makes more than you’ll need for the dish- you could make a smaller amount, but I like having pickled onions in the fridge so I made extra).
Preheat the oven to 425°F
Peel the root vegetables and cut them into 1 inch cubes. Toss on a baking sheet with 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper flakes. Roast for 25 minutes, tossing halfway through.
In the meantime, finely chop the cilantro. Mix in a bowl with olive oil and lime zest, and set aside.
Toast the hazelnuts in a pan on the stove over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, watching closely so they don’t burn (this is my Achilles Heel of cooking- I always burn nuts). Remove from heat and coarsely chop.
To Assemble: Place roasted vegetables on a platter. Scatter over some pickled onion, followed by the goat cheese. Scatter bits of the cilantro mixture, and finally the toasted nuts.