Dear CSA members,
We had some lovely, if cool, workdays over the weekend, with warm patches of sunshine moving across the fields as clouds rearranged themselves in layered patterns across a pastel sky. The dew has been cold enough for me to wear my rubber boots the past several mornings. Those of you that know me well know that usually only a trip into town or a field full of thistles can get me to put shoes on in August!
We spent the weekend side-dressing the lake garden crops with additional fertilizer and turned on the irrigation to water it into the ground. Though it’s a common practice, I’ve never found the need to do much mid-season side-dressing, since our compost-fed soil has been generally healthy enough to carry plants through the entire season without adding extra nutrients part-way through. But in the areas of the lake garden that experienced erosion during the spring rains, we can see that plants are starting to run out of steam. It’s striking to compare, for example, the flat south end of the row of Delicata squash where the soil mostly stayed put this spring with the north end sloping down to the lake, where the topsoil hopped a ride on rivulets of rain water. On the south end, the plants are growing leaves as big as dinner plates and already have squashes that take both of my hands to span; on the north, the leaves look more like salad plates and the baby squashes are small and lumpy.
We hope the added nutrition will boost these plants through the rest of the season. Despite the challenges of growing down at the lake for the first time this season, we’re learning a ton about the soil, as well as insect and disease populations in that area, and this is helping us think about how to manage crops there more effectively in the future. I find that the first several years growing in a new spot is always a bit of a wade into the unknown. Soil tests can only tell me so much about a piece of ground—it’s by watching how plants respond to the changing conditions of several seasons on that particular patch of earth that I learn some fraction of what’s really going on inside the soil.
The cool nights have slowed plant growth quite a bit, so we’re hoping for a warm-up soon to kick the heat-loving vegetables into full production. Some of the tomatoes in your boxes may actually sweeten up a bit in the warmth of your kitchen, so I’d recommend leaving them on your countertops rather than sticking them into the cold fridge. I think that tomatoes actually lose some of their flavor when refrigerated so I tend to leave them out unless it’s very hot and they’re starting to get over-ripe.
We’re having pasta for lunch today—some carbs against the cold. I know that many of you are already making pesto to go with your pasta (or pizza, or sandwiches, or chicken, or anything that tastes good with a little extra garlic, basil, and cheese), but if you haven’t tried making pesto yet, it’s super-simple. All of the ingredients below can be adjusted to your personal tastes:
Ingredients: 1 ½ cups fresh basil leaves; 1/8 cup toasted walnuts or pine nuts, pulverized; 2 garlic cloves, minced or mashed; 1/4 cup olive oil; salt, to taste; 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, asiago, or romano cheese. Optional: ½ cup fresh parsley leaves.
The easiest way to make pesto is in a blender or food processor. Blend your basil (and parsley, if using) leaves with the cheese, nuts, garlic, and salt, adding enough oil so that everything forms a smooth paste. Taste and add more of anything that you desire more of. If you’re planning to use your pesto as a sandwich or pizza spread, you may want to leave it fairly thick. If you’re planning to use it as a pasta sauce, you might want to add more olive oil so that it becomes more sauce-like than spread-like. If you don’t use your pesto immediately, the surface will turn brown in the refrigerator. You can prevent this by pouring a thin layer of olive oil across the surface of the pesto to seal out air.
Here are two of my favorite quick, simple summer lunches that use veggies from this week’s shares:
Ingredients: Sweet Pepper; Olive oil; Sweet Onion; Tortilla or flatbread; Zucchini or summer squash; Fresh jalapeno or chile pepper or dried pepper flakes or taco seasoning
Optional: garlic, grated cheese, sour cream, cilantro, salsa, chopped tomato, etc.
Slice sweet pepper, onion, and zucchini into long 1/4 inch thick strips. Set aside. In a large sauté pan, heat oil on medium heat. If you are using fresh chiles or fresh garlic, mince them and add to the hot oil, stirring until they soften slightly and the oil becomes well flavored by the pepper or garlic. I often add taco seasoning, cumin, or chili powder at this stage too, and salt to taste. When your oil is flavored with this spicy goodness, add onions, sweet pepper, and zucchini strips. Stir or toss to coat with oil and spices and sauté until the veggies start to brown and caramelize.
In a separate pan, heat the tortilla or flatbread on low or medium-low heat. You can turn it once or twice to get both sides nice and hot. If using cheese, place grated cheese in a strip down the middle, then add your veggie strips on top of the cheese, fold the tortilla over everything and heat until cheese melts. Before eating, add diced tomato, cilantro, sour cream, whatever you like.
Tomato, Cucumber, and Feta Salad
Ingredients: Tomato; Chopped Fresh Basil; Cucumber; Feta Cheese. Optional: Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Salt.
Chop cucumber and tomato into bite-sized pieces. Mix together in bowl with crumbled feta cheese and basil. Eat plain or drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and salt to taste. Especially good if chilled a bit before eating.
Another popular summer salad involves mozzarella rather than feta cheese:
Ingredients: 3 tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices; 1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices; 20 to 30 leaves (about 1 bunch) fresh basil; Olive oil, for drizzling; Coarse salt and pepper. Optional: balsamic vinegar.
Layer alternating slices of tomatoes and mozzarella, adding a basil leaf between each, on a large, shallow platter. Drizzle the salad with extra-virgin olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
A nice variation on this is the caprese sandwich, which is essentially the above ingredients stuck between slices of fresh bread. Spread a little pesto on your bread slices before assembling for a garlicky kick.
Happy eating! Amy