Rutabaga

If you happen to be Trick-or-Treating in Scotland anytime soon, you may be in for a surprise. Though the American advent of Jack-o-Lanterns has caught on in more recent years, many Scots will still display their own traditional vegetable carvings, the Tumshie Head. Being a more common vegetable in the austere northern regions of Britain, Germany, and Scandinavia, the Rutabaga has been displayed in the form of a carved head in order to ward off evil spirits in Scotland on Halloween for centuries. The earthen and drab hues of the over-sized roots lend a more sinister appearance than the bright orange colors of our Yankee pumpkins, and I imagine they do a better job scaring spirits and children alike.

Just because a vegetable is ubiquitous in cuisine doesn’t make it popular, and perhaps it is through disdain for the common rutabaga (or “swede” as it is called in Great Britain and Ireland) that it was deemed appropriate for the task of exorcising neighborhoods and homesteads of all kinds of demonic activities. In Western Europe, there is still a strong connotation of scarcity associated with rutabagas and turnips due to the scarcity of food during the Great War.

All of this begs the question, what is a rutabaga anyway and why is it so prolific in the cuisine of many northern climates? The answer to the first part is at once a bit confusing and yet quite simple. They belong to the grand family of vegetables that includes cabbage, broccoli, turnips, kale, Brussels sprouts, and even horseradish. They begin to show up in the taxonomic record as a subspecies of Brassica rapa (turnips) in the 18th century, most likely due to a hybridization between turnips and Brassica oleracea (cabbage). They now hold their own taxonomic classification as a distinct species, Brassica napobrassica. As for their etymology, the name stems from their Swedish name, rotabagge (literally, “root bag”). They are adapted to colder climates, not necessarily because they grow better their, but because they are a great storage crop. Rutabagas will store for six to eight months in the right conditions, and therefore are much more common in Nordic and Scottish dishes.

Preparation

When cooking rutabaga, think transitively. They will cook like almost any root vegetable in your repertoire, so either dice them and add them to roasted root medleys, or use them as an addendum to mashed potatoes for an added burst of flavor. Use them in a root vegetable gratin, or try spiralizing them or shaving them to make hashbrowns or latkes. They pair really well with grilled meat, but their powerful sweet and semi-bitter flavor will overpower delicate fish and shellfish. They are great in crock pot beef or lamb stews, and will bolster the chopped vegetables you throw into the pan with your roast chicken. If you want to be really adventurous, try mixing them in with your sauerkraut or kimchi and see what happens. I make a sauerkraut from pure rutabaga, and I think it’s wonderful, strong, and unique.

Storage Practice

When storing rutabagas, just keep them in your refrigerator. They will like the temperature, but because regular refrigeration units are so dry, they will not last as long as they would in a root cellar with a higher humidity. They should however, keep for at least a month in your home fridge, and if you have access to a root cellar, you’ll be set for the whole winter!

Guide to Leafy Greens

A healthy bed of spinach

A healthy bed of spinach

Cooking greens, those mainly from the brassica and amaranth families, either delights or confounds us. Some folk claim they’d eat collards, kale, or spinach, at every meal, and with equal or greater zeal, those from the opposing camp would sooner perish than have to eat--lo, even smell--a pot of stewed mustards or chard. For the dissenters, those who have lost hope in their abilities to cook with healthy vegetables, and those who are simply wary of working with greens for the first time, there are a few simple principles to follow that will give you myriad successes as you explore the culinary possibilities this chlorophyllic pantheon holds.

 

Cooking time: all greens have different cooking times, which is very important to identify. Many who have been repulsed by the smell of overcooked brassica greens are experiencing the release of sulphur through elongated heating. To avoid this, pay attention to the structure of the greens you’re dealing with. It’s rather intuitive, as delicate plants such as spinach and chard only need a brief amount of heating, whereas tougher leaves like collards need increased time to become tender.

Stem structure

The relative toughness of each green’s stem will determine how you process the greens. If the stem is very hard (think bok choy, collards, kale) it needs to be removed, chopped finely, and sauteed ahead of adding the leafy parts. 

Size of the leaves

Large leaves need to be cut into small pieces. Adding really large leaves to your cooking implement, whether it be a pot or a saute pan creates a lot of wasted space, and as the greens cook, they become increasingly more difficult to stir, as the will wrap around you spoon or tongs. Smaller pieces also ensures more surface area, and therefore shortened cooking times. You don’t want to end up with half your greens cooked, and the other half raw because it’s taking too long, and you aren’t able to redistribute them evenly as they wilt.

Method of cooking

All greens can be stewed, and if that’s all you wish to do, so be it. By following all the previous principles, you will be sure to have evenly cooked, delicious greens that are not mushy, and retain many of their healthy vitamins and minerals. But sturdier greens can be cooked at high heat for an added crispy/crunchy character. While spinach should be cooked very briefly in some kind of fat and potentially even some good stock, the tougher brassica greens (collards, kale, brussels sprout leaves) can be cooked so that they become golden brown around the edges, elevating their flavor by adding sweet and toasted notes. The same principle can be applied when cooking with Brussels sprouts and flower sprouts. If you have really big leaves, they can even be grilled over charcoal, propane, or wood!

Storage Practice

Greens will wilt readily when they are exposed to the air as they lose moisture. It is easy to confuse this process as a result of being exposed to heat, but the quality of greens depreciates fast even in the refrigerator. Make sure they are mostly dry before storing in ziploc bags or large plastic tupperware with the lid cracked. They may benefit from a damp paper towel being introduced to either method of storage, as this will aid in the preventing the moisture loss. Be sure that they do not sit in a puddle of water.

Sunchokes, Baby Brussel Sprouts, Rain, and More Rain

The rain won't seem to let up on the farm. As with most of what nature throws our way, something likes it and something hates it. Our back field of vibrant cover crop is thriving in the warm and wet weather we have been having.
Week of 11-9-15
What's in the CSA this week:

Supersize Shares - Murasaki Sweet Potatoes, sunchokes, celtuce, head lettuce, kale, chardcelery, and cilantro

Full Shares - Murasaki Sweet Potatoes, sunchokesceltuce, head lettuce, chard, celery, and cilantro

Individual Shares - Murasaki Sweet Potatoes, sunchokes, head lettuce, chardand cilantro

Learn More About How to Become a Member
Sunchokes are a crop that is just beginning to get the attention it deserves. Not sure what to make of them (or with them), check out Chef Geoff's blog!
Baby Brussels are beginning to sprout! We are excited to start cooking and selling one of our favorite crops within the next week or two. 
Have a great week!

Brett
piedmontbiofarm@gmail.com
piedmontbiofarm.com
facebook.com/piedmontbiofarm
540-454-2289

Sunchokes

Helianthus tuberosus

Helianthus tuberosus

The Corps of Discovery Expedition set out in May of 1804 with 7 tons of food packed into the hull of their 55-foot, custom-built keelboat designed to navigate the waters of the Missouri River. Led by Meriwhether Lewis and William Clark, the legendary group consisted of 31 additional men, and had been charged by then president Thomas Jefferson with exploring the vast expanse of land he had just purchased from France. They were tasked with charting the new territory, and were required to report back on every interaction with new species of plants and animals, and tribes of Native Americans they met with along the way. This meant sending back samples to Jefferson so that he could report to congress on the merits of the new territory he had acquired and explain why he had just used a great deal of US debt to buy land that some considered to have little or no use.

The group would be gone for over two years, which meant that whatever they had brought to sustain them needed to be non-perishable, and that at some point it would run out. For the first part of the journey, their diet would consist mainly of salted meat, grain, dried beans, dried soup stock, sugar, lard, and whiskey, relying heavily on hunting wild game to augment their finite supply of food. While this menu sounds like a nice provision for a bachelor party or NFL tailgate, it is not the most stimulating or healthy diet, especially considering the strenuous nature of the trip. There were many points in the river that were much too shallow for the boat, and required the men to take mammoth, overland trips for many miles, dragging the massive structure with them. The amount of calories required were unfathomable, and it is recorded in Lewis’ journal that the men would individually eat up to nine pounds of meat in a day.

Since they were moving through territory that was controlled completely by relatively unknown Native American tribes, they had included some more experienced translators in their party, including Toussaint Charbonneau who, because of his proclivity as a Frenchman for river travel and trapping, knew the waters and subsequently the nature and languages of some of the people they were to meet. More importantly, he brought along his wife, a teenage Shoshone woman named Sacagawea who, in addition to acting as a translator, helped them find wild fruits, nuts, and vegetables to offset the protein heavy diet of the crew. One particular delight she introduced to them along the way was a species of sunflower with an edible root cultivated by the tribes in the area. She called them “earth apples” and they became quite welcome respite for the men, who boiled or fried them like potatoes.

Samples made their way back to Monticello, and eventually the popularity of the vegetable spread to Europe. The Italians referred to it simply as girasole (sunflower), which was then bastardized by the English, who referred to them as Jerusalem Artichokes. Today we simply call them Sunchokes, because they are neither an artichoke, nor are they endemic to Jerusalem. They are similar in texture to the potato, but have a much more complex, deep, nutty flavor. They can be roasted, sliced thin and fried, eaten raw, pickled, or confited. They compliment both meat and seafood dishes because of their strength in flavor and minerality, respectively. The most simple way to prepare them is by pan frying them in a cast iron skillet and finishing them in the oven.

Roasted Sunchokes

One pound sunchokes, cut into evenly sized pieces

Animal fat or vegetable oil

Butter

Chopped herbs (anything you want, we like parsley and tarragon)

Salt and Pepper

Set your oven to 425. Get a cast iron pan on your stove relatively hot, and add the fat/oil and sunchokes to the pan. If you pat the sunchokes down with a paper towel before frying they will caramelize better due to the lack of evaporating moisture. Let them sit without moving them until you notice they are browning. At this point, give them either one toss or a good stir, and continue to let them sit, untouched. We are often too eager to flip our food around, which discourages even, deep caramelization. The starch exposed to heat will ultimately turn to sugar if you take the time, making it an increasingly delicious vegetable. Once the sunchokes are evenly cooked, place them in the oven, checking them every ten minute or so to see if they have become tender. You can eat them when they are easily pierced with a fork or knive, but I like to eat them when they have become super-soft. In this state they are sweet, savory, and chewy. Take the pan out, put in back on the stove, and add a good amount of butter, herbs, and salt to taste. This is the ultimate side-dish for a drizzly evening.

Sunchoke Soup

Using the principles discussed above, we can make a soup from essentially the same recipe. All you need to add is:

Good chicken or vegetable stock

More butter

½ cup cream

Cut the sunchokes into smaller, thinner pieces. This will increase the surface area caramelized during the frying process, making your soup all the more flavorful when blended. Fry everything until very, very brown. Pour into a blender with enough stock to cover, adding cream and butter to finish. Blend until smooth, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with a garnish of herbs, adding more cream if your heart desires.

Storing Sunchokes

These guys should go in the fridge, as they will not keep like other root crops on your kitchen counter. They should be eaten fairly quickly; most growers will leave them in the ground and harvest according to what they want to eat. The longer they stay in the ground exposed to the cold, the better their flavor becomes. Compare your sunchokes from November to the ones you get in January!

Spinach, Halloween at the Market, and Winter Greens

Locally grown, there's no place like home! The Biofarm represented the Emerald City and the Yellow Brick Road at the Durham Farmers' Market for Halloween.
Week of 11-3-15
What's in the CSA this week:

Supersize Shares - Carola potatoes, winter squash, head lettuce, spinach, braising greens, celery, beets, radishes, and jalapenos

Full Shares - Carola potatoes, head lettuce, spinach, braising greens, celery, beets, radishes, and jalapenos

Individual Shares - Carola potatoes, head lettuce, spinachcelery, beets, and jalapenos.

Learn More About How to Become a Member
Spinach! It's a Biofarm staple that we harvest from fall through spring. We brought our first spinach to market last Saturday and the CSA will be getting it starting this week. Check out Chef Geoff's blog for his thoughts on how to make the most of this popular green.
Another tunnel planted for the winter! Lettuce, pac choi, celtuce, herbs and green onions, mustards, baby kale, and salad mix are all happily on their way.
Have a great week!

Brett
piedmontbiofarm@gmail.com
piedmontbiofarm.com
facebook.com/piedmontbiofarm
540-454-2289

Spinach

When I first started working on the farm, I was on the fence about spinach. My perception was that spinach, as an ingredient didn’t possess much to get excited about. In my experience working in restaurants, spinach nearly always skulked about in a state of bland rawness, banished to the mundane role of salad green, often accompanied by an uninspired sprinkling of goat cheese. As a diner, if you were really lucky, you might be able to slap on a piece of grilled, dried-out salmon or chicken breast for an exorbitant upcharge. As fairly green, idealistic cook working the cold line at a crumbling restaurant, you start to question your sanity as you mindlessly build plate after plate of what ultimately amounts to expensive rabbit food. 

Many restaurants have no choice in the matter. In order to elevate spinach, you have to apply heat to it, greatly reducing its volume as most of its watery bulk evaporates into nothingness. If a chef wants to support local farms by featuring their produce on your menu, the price tag makes the situation even more dire, as it is hard to justify paying top dollar for something that nearly vanishes when you cook it. This invariably leads line cooks to develop a fatalistic attitude about the potential for spinach becoming anything more than crude, leafy filler, its banishment determined by the austere economic realities of running a bistro.

My attitude has changed a lot since I made the switch from line cook to farmer, the most pronounced being my flexibility in regard to the ingredients we grow and my relative enthusiasm for cooking them. This is not to say that I wasn’t a passionate devotee to vegetable cookery; if anything, I wanted to become a farmer in order to further improve my understanding of vegetables and how to prepare them by being immersed in every stage of their growth. It has made me realize how vastly different the prerogatives of a restaurant are in comparison to a farm, even though the success of one is essential to the existence of the other.

Restaurants have the advantage of bending time and geography to their will. When asparagus is “in season”, what that really means is that it is growing somewhere in the world, and can be delivered to your door in less than 24 hours with a single phone call. It can become a central ingredient on a menu item for months, or if you grow tired of it, you can move on to the next flavor of the month. Time and geography are a constant here, and when you plant something, not only do you have to wait for it, you are committed to it. So you open your mind and acquiesce that you will be dealing with spinach for the entirety of winter. The future of food is recognizing that we cannot simply exercise choice at every turn, manifesting ingredients as we see fit. When we concede that selection dictated by the seasons is a blessing and not a curse, it allows us to approach cuisine with a more determined creativity as we are encouraged by nature to come up with many different preparations of the same ingredient.

Needless to say, I am very excited about growing tons of spinach this winter, so here is my favorite preparation of this delicious, iron-rich vegetable.

Espinaca con Garbanzos

This is a super tasty, traditional spanish dish. I don’t claim to have an authentic recipe here, but who does? All you need to make it VIP is smoked paprika, almonds, and homemade bread crumbs.

at least 6 oz. spinach, washed and dried

one cup dried chickpeas

chicken or vegetable stock

one onion, diced

6 garlic cloves, minced

zest and juice from one lemon

one cup stale bread

¼ cup almond slivers

one teaspoon smoked paprika

salt and pepper

olive oil

one tablespoon sherry vinegar (if you don’t have this, use apple cider vinegar, but if you can find it, it’s totally worth it)

You’ll need to start this dish by soaking the chickpeas overnight with just enough water to cover them. When you want to start cooking, simply drain into a colander and rinse off the foam that forms when legumes are soaked in water. Cook them in enough stock to cover them, keeping them at a low simmer and adding more liquid during the cooking process if need be. They should be tender within 30 minutes. At this point, set them aside and focus on making the delicious topping.

Get a pan hot and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add bread crumbs and almonds, toasting them until they are golden-brown and aromatic. Finish by adding paprika and lemon zest, and pour onto a baking sheet lined with paper towels to cool. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Using the same pan, add an equal amount of olive oil, and begin sauteing the onion and garlic, just until it begins to brown. When it has caramelized nicely, add all the spinach, immediately followed by the vinegar and lemon juice. This should allow you to wilt the greens very quickly, after which you should incorporate the cooked chickpeas. Stir everything together, just until the whole dish is warm and the spinach is fully wilted, about one minute. Finish by seasoning to your taste with salt and pepper and by sprinkling the almond/bread/paprika mixture all over it.

Storing Spinach

Spinach should stay good for at least a week, especially because ours is freshly harvested. If you have the ability to, take them out of the bag and put them in a tupperware lined with a paper towel. Don’t wash it until you plan on using it immediately. You’ll only diminish its half-life by washing it and putting it back in the cooler. Moisture is the enemy. Also abstain from storing in the back corners of your fridge, as these tend to be the coldest parts and can potentially leave you with frozen greens.

Broccoli, Greenhouse Progress, and Pepper Death

Fall turning into winter is both beautiful and ominous on the farm. Once the first frost hits, the rainbow of summer blurs into brown and green. The season of many crops ends suddenly and we are left with haunting views of dying pepper plants and their last fruit.
Week of 10-26-15
What's in the CSA this week:

Supersize Shares - Covington sweet potatoes, green sweet peppers, Indian eggplant, broccoli, head lettuce, bok choi, radishes, and baby turnips.

Full Shares - Covington sweet potatoes, green sweet peppers, Indian eggplant, broccoli, head lettuce, bok choi, and baby turnips.

Individual Shares - Covington sweet potatoes, green sweet peppers, Indian eggplant, head lettuce, and braising greens.

Learn More About How to Become a Member
Broccoli has headed up on the farm! We had struggles with this crop this year. So, it is even more of a reward to finally taste our efforts. Check out Chef Geoff's blog for his musings and approaches to this staple.
Our tunnels are almost there. The one on the right is 95% complete and ready to plant, and the one on the left is about 80% complete and should catch up by the end of this week or the beginning of next.
Have a great week!

Brett
piedmontbiofarm@gmail.com
piedmontbiofarm.com
facebook.com/piedmontbiofarm
540-454-2289

Broccoli

As a nation we are grappling with the fact that the quality of our food has become inversely related to its affordability. The miracle of the massive, post-World War II growth in agricultural production has resulted in increased expectations from the consumer that food will be readily available and it will be relatively inexpensive. Now have a broken system where our government foots the bill for large-scale vegetable and meat producers operating within an economy of scale that makes the price small farms are charging for their thoughtfully raised products seem rather steep.

Of course, growers don’t want this to be the case, and we consistently take steps to improve our efficiency, creating systems that will allow us to market a more accessible product while making a decent living in the process. While we take steps toward a leaner approach, the consumer must also make concessions if we are to reach our mutual desire to create a cleaner planet, and make access to responsibly grown produce more affordable. Paying more for good food, grown right must become an intentional decision, and one that carries the incentive of lowering food costs over time by theoretically increase their demand.

The consumer can also take a smarter approach to how they process their own food. It is not uncommon to waste a good amount of the food we’re buying when preparing a meal, not because we want to, but because we haven’t found a better use for certain vegetable by-products. Developing methods to use on what we perceive as waste will not only cut costs, but also create a more diverse repertoire you have at your disposal in the kitchen. Saving onion and carrot skins for vegetable stock, eating the greens of root vegetables like radishes, and my all-time favorite, broccoli stems, are good examples that bring more “lean” to your cuisine.

Speaking of broccoli stems, here is an awesome recipe for a vegetable confit, a process usually associated with meat. It gently cooks and tenderizes the stem, while infusing it with amazing flavor and allowing you to preserve it in your fridge for use at a later date.

Broccoli Confit

As many broccoli stems as you want to eat

One small, heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron

One head of garlic, cloves separated and crushed

One bunch each, thyme, rosemary, oregano

Dried chili flakes (optional)

Whole spices like star anise, allspice, clove, black peppercorn, all in small amounts

Enough fat (either animal or vegetable) to fully cover the stems in the skillet

Start by removing the florets and setting them aside for another use. Peel all the fibrous, inedible skin from the stem. Place the stems whole with some salt in a bowl and mix, leaving for about 30 minutes. Pat dry after the time has elapsed and add to the skillet with all the garlic, herbs, spices, and chili flakes. Pour fat over the stems until they are just covered and turn on a low burner. Once the stems begin to release little bubbles, turn off the heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Remove the stems, and drain the oil, reserving it for another use. At this point, you can thinly slice the stems and add them to salads or meat dishes as a garnish. The are awesome grilled whole, and they take a nice sear in the pan really well. For a whole broccoli meal, cut them into chunks, fry them until they are evenly browned, and serve them with this broccoli floret puree:

Broccoli Pesto

All the florets leftover from the confit recipe

One pot of salted, boiling water

One bowl of ice water

½ cup oil leftover from confit recipe

Blender

Blanch the florets in the boiling water until they just become tender and then transfer them to the ice water bath. This will cook them just enough so that they can be blended, but also preserves their color and nutrition content by not overcooking them. Take out about one cup of the blanching water and let it cool. You can add this in small increments to the blender to help puree the broccoli. Place florets in blender with the oil and begin to blend. If it doesn’t blend well, add small amount of the leftover blanching liquid, just to get it going. You should end up with a bright green puree to serve with your fried broccoli stems. If this doesn’t totally satiate you, you can add it to some fresh pasta for a super-filling meal. Add some bacon or ham if you want to go completely nuts. Speaking of nuts, that would also be good, come to think of it. And cheese. I love cooking.

Storing Broccoli

Broccoli needs to be kept really dry, because there are so many air pockets between all its little florets. After washing it, make sure you let it drain well, and then put it in a ziploc bag with a dry towel in it to encourage even more moisture to be pulled out. Don’t seal the bag completely, as the broccoli will appreciate good airflow. It should keep in the crisper drawer for a three or four days before it starts to lose its firmness. In a perfect world, you should really be prepping and eating your broccoli as soon as possible, but it’s not always that simple. Replacing the paper towel every day will prolong its life.