Joining our fruit CSA was an easy decision for me. I’d tasted enough of the orchard’s fruit to know each piece was the best piece I’d ever experienced in my life. It wasn’t hard envisioning our family noshing our way through it all. Joining a vegetable CSA, though, took some courage. For those of you unfamiliar with why a veggie CSA used to make me shudder, here’s the deal: the farmers decide what goes into your box every week. You are at their mercy. No meal planning, no pre-selecting. I heard the stories of boxes filled with kale week after week for months on end. It grows really well here in the soggy Pacific Northwest. And while my husband and I like kale in certain dishes or as chips, I did not get particularly excited about dealing with it regularly. Besides, I have several varieties growing in my own garden. It grows well here! Also, I was hesitant to join a CSA that didn’t allow substitutions since I grow some of my own vegetables and was hopeful for an abundance of at least some of them. There are a few produce deliveries in Seattle that allow this and using one of them seemed preferable to grocery shopping. I tried one for a month and wasn’t thrilled with the quality of the produce nor the value. It quickly became obvious it wasn’t a true CSA. My garden wasn’t winning me over with its fruits, either. Adequate motivation in hand, I cancelled my account and emailed favorite vegetable farmers known to me from markets. We snuck in at their halfway point.
This was one of my best food decisions ever.
Each week we retrieved a huge box filled with incredible variety of produce. One week included a bunch of Chioggia beets, butternut squash, red Russian kale, a head of romaine lettuce, a bunch of bok choi, two heads of broccoli, a head of Romanesco cauliflower, parsnips, and a small head of cabbage. Another week we got a pound of tomatoes, half pound of cucumbers, a bunch of beets, a bunch of Pink Beauty radishes, one bunch of mustard greens, one beautiful red cabbage, five sweet peppers, two pounds Yellow Finn potatoes, a half pound of leeks and one little sprig green coriander. These are not boring boxes.
Now, if you don’t know how to cook or don’t have a juicer, consuming this amount of produce is an enormous challenge. I don’t care how much you like crudite and dip, you’re not going to get through it. This was the first year I was mentally ready. I can cook on the fly or fall back on various tried-and-true methods (like high heat roasting). Plus, the boys are more independent. I can spend a little more time in the kitchen, chopping vegetables, reading recipes and researching techniques. The farm made life easier by providing weekly recipes, too.
I considered us pretty veggie-centric prior, but we definitely amped up our vegetable intake. I often cooked for both lunch and dinner if we didn’t have leftovers on hand. We were exposed to a lot of produce I might not have purchased, like celeriac, parsnips, turnips and Romanesco. I made homemade pickles for the first time, turning me onto pickling for life. (Pickled garlic is amazing; so are grapes and fennel.) I could eat roasted parsnip chips like popcorn. Between this and the fruit, the variety of food in our house was amazing. Abundance.
Below is a favorite fall recipe recommended by our farmers. They adapted it from The Splendid Table recipe. Their changes, plus mine, make it more vegetable dense and less rich. This version is delicious without the extra added cup of cheese. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not fat phobic. I think vegetables should be served with some fat and salt. If a recipe recommends low-fat anything, I stop reading.
I’ve made this three times in the past few weeks. Each time I used different veggies, but from the same families. While they were all delicious, my favorite combination was with butternut squash, onion and red Russian kale.
Pasta with Roasted Squash and Greens
- 4-5 cups winter squash (1 medium butternut, 2 delicata or 2 acorn)- peeled, seeded and cut into bite-sized chunks. Delicata squash need not be peeled.
- 1 medium onion, cut into 1-inch chunks (leeks and shallots work well, too)
- 1 bunch of kale, chopped (~16 leaves, removed from their stems)
- 1/3 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves or 1 teaspoon dry basil
- 16 large fresh sage leaves, torn
- 3-5 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4+ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar, packed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup whole milk (or half-and-half)
- 1/2 cup parmesan (Grate fresh, if possible. It tastes better and doesn’t have stabilizers added to it. Microplanes make for quick grating and zesting.)
- 1 lb short pasta (rotini, penne, shells, orecchiette, bow-tie)
Preheat oven 450℉. Put two rimmed baking sheets or roasting pans in the oven as it heats. Toss together all the roasting ingredients (this includes everything except the milk, cheese and pasta) in a big bowl. Generously season with salt and pepper. (I use 1 tablespoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper prior to roasting. Once it’s assembled, I’ll add more as needed.)
Using potholders, carefully pull out the extremely hot pans. (This can’t be stressed enough. They are screaming hot at this point.) Carefully place the squash mixture on the pans. Spread it out evenly so it has space to caramelize. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the squash is tender. Stir at least once at the ten minute mark and rotate pans if cooking is uneven. Check again at the 20-minute mark. The kale can quickly move from crispy to burnt.
Cook your pasta in salted water. Drain once al dente. If your pasta is done prior to the vegetables, toss it with the milk and cheese while you wait.
Optional: Once the squash is tender, flip on the broiler to further caramelize the squash. Watch closely and turn the pieces often. Do not leave the food under the broiler unattended. My oven only allows for 1-2 minutes of this before the kale screams in fury. After making this multiple times, I skip this step because I am perfectly content with the recipe prior to it, but it does add a little more depth and pizazz if the squash has those beautiful, caramelized, crusty brown edges.
Scrape everything into a serving bowl. Add the hot pasta, milk and parmesan cheese. Toss to blend, tasting for salt and pepper. Serves 4-6 adults.