I started buying vegetables from a CSA two years ago, and set out with the best of intentions to blog the manner of consumption of each week's vegetable share. In year one, that lasted for about six weeks, with sporadic posts thereafter. In year two, I faded after only two weeks. You can observe, and then mock, my feeble output by searching the "CSA" label.
I'm back at it again this year, but with a new supplier. I signed up this season for a CSA with Little River Market Garden, a pocket-sized little farm on a residential lot near Miami's Little River. It's less than five miles away from my house, which somehow seemed more in keeping with the spirit of a CSA. It's nice to be able to pick up right from the farm, instead of a neighborhood drop-off point, to see the stuff growing right there, and to say hi every week to the person growing it (Hi Muriel!).
The season just started this week - yes, South Florida growing seasons are completely inverted, so we'll be getting summer vegetables like zucchini and tomatoes in December - and I picked up our first share from Little River last Saturday.
Black sapotes, green beans, breakfast radishes, a leafy green whose identity I've already forgotten, roselle leaves (a/k/a Jamaican sorrel a/k/a hibiscus), lemongrass, ripe and unripe papaya, two different kinds of zucchini, oregano, and purple long beans. Not a bad haul.
The thing that I both enjoy, and which drives me to distraction, about doing a CSA is the question that is posed every week: "What the heck am I going to do with this stuff?" Sometimes it's a vegetable I've never cooked before, like these long beans. Or it may be something I don't really get excited over. Zucchini, I'm looking at you.
Now, I don't kid myself - I'm a much better eater than I am a cook. So to the extent I can keep this going longer than two weeks, I'm not promising much in the way of culinary fireworks. But if I can keep it up, then these posts will at least provide a bit of a window into our wacky, upside-down growing season here in South Florida, and maybe even a tiny bit of inspiration too.
As for this week's take: the item that could simply not be ignored was the black sapote. That's because they were literally about to explode.
Like many tropical fruits, black sapotes aren't quite ripe until they look like they're ready to be thrown away. These managed to reach that point in the ten minutes it took us to get home from the farm. The green exterior was soft, mushy and ready to burst.
They're not much to look at inside, either, the flesh a dark chocolate color, pudding-like in texture, with a few almond-sized seeds. You can see how they get the nickname "chocolate pudding fruit." The flavor, too, is slightly reminiscent of chocolate, though that may be a result of the visual suggestion: it's mild, custardy, a little nutty, sweet and faintly spicy like a ripe persimmon (black sapote is a member of the persimmon family).
A couple seasons ago I made a black sapote ice cream, which wasn't terrible. Looking for a way to play up those spice notes, I decided to try a black sapote spice cake this time around.
I should note: I'm a fair to middling cook, but I'm not at all a baker. All the measuring and precision intimidates me; I like reading recipes but I don't particularly like following them. Since I couldn't find exactly the recipe I was looking for, I decided to take my usual approach: look at several recipes, including Ruhlman's Ratio app, and cobble together something that seemed to make sense from all of them. Here's what I came up with:
Black Sapote Spice Cake
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter
1 cup sapote pulp (2 sapotes)
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground clove
1 tsp ground allspice
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 tbsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl, then mix in remaining wet ingredients and spices. Sift flour and baking powder into wet ingredients and stir until all the flour is incorporated into the wet ingredients. Pour into greased and floured 4" x 8" baking pan and bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes.
Much to my surprise, it actually worked, mostly. I wound up with a nice, moist cake (a little too moist in the center - it remained a little oozy in the very middle, but I didn't want to over-bake the rest of it), with the mildly fruity, spicy flavor of the sapote and a nice overlay of baking spices. Frod Jr. even came back for seconds. If I had it to do over again, I'd seek a baker's advice as to how to fix the gooey center issue, and would probably up the spices some, but this was a success. It was even better with a scoop of pistachio ice cream on top.
The long beans and lemongrass were quickly dispatched as well. The beans were chopped to manageable lengths and quickly stir-fried with ginger, garlic, soy, sugar and some chile flakes. The lemongrass went into a marinade for some skirt steak, along with garlic, chiles, lime juice, and fish sauce, all served over some cellophane noodles (rice noodles would have been better but we didn't have any in the house) with a sprinkle of julienned mint and a scatter of peanuts.
Recipes? Recipes are for wimps.
I'd never seen anything quite like this striped, multi-hued, turban-shaped zucchini before, and it was a bit firmer and less watery than the typical long, cylindrical variety.
I ended up chopping them both into about 1/2-inch dice and giving them a quick sauté, along with the greens, which had a slightly bitter bite like mustard greens, to go into a risotto, finished with the fresh oregano and a generous grating of pecorino romano. What I usually dislike about zucchini is the watery, insipid texture. Here, chopping it into fairly fine dice, cooking only briefly, and then putting it into the risotto so the liquid could release into the rice helped overcome my zucchini prejudice. If you wanted to get real fancy, you could dice the zucchini to the size of the rice grains and give just a very quick sauté to mimic the texture of the rice.
And that leaves us with papaya and green beans, which are destined to become a nam sod (Thai papaya salad); the roselle leaves, which have a wonderful tart flavor like sorrel; and the radishes, which, if not consumed with butter and salt, will be roasted with some other root vegetables (carrots, beets) for a Thanksgiving side dish.
Happy Thanksgiving, all!