From the Land: PFM&PCCSA newsletter 12/14

From the Land 12/14

announcements

Now's the time to sign up for the Prescott College Community Supported Agriculture spring share! Contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for the contract or with any questions. Please get your contracts in ASAP – all contracts are due by December 31 (but I know how December goes – get them in while you’re thinking of it!)

veg of the week

fennel: Foeniculum vulgare

Fennel is a crunchy, slightly sweet, licorice-tasting plant that is used as a vegetable and an herb, with both culinary and medicinal uses. Fennel originated in the Mediterranean, though it is now grown in many parts of the world and is most commonly associated with Italian cuisine. It grows so prevalently in some parts of the US and Australia that it is considered an invasive species. It is cultivated for its leaves, stalks, fruits (often mistaken as seeds), and – in the case of Florence fennel, like what we’re getting this week – the bulb. It is known for its unique anise or licorice taste, due to presence of anethole (which is also present in higher quantity in anise and star anise).

Fennel contains a unique combination of phytonutrients that give it strong antioxidant activity. Anethole – that which causes the anise or licorice flavor – has been shown to reduce inflammation, help prevent cancer, and protect the liver from toxic chemical injury. Fennel is also an excellent source of vitamin C (immune strength), fiber (healthy cholesterol levels), folate (healthy heart), and potassium (lowers high blood pressure).

The leaves, bulb, stalk, and fruits (“seeds”) are all edible. The bulb and stalks are excellent sauteed with onions or braised with scallops, sliced as a sandwich topping, sliced thin and topped with plain yogurt and mint leaves, or sauteed and served with salmon. The leaves and fruits can be used fresh or dried to keep on your spice rack!

Food Rule #30
by Annie Teegarden
 
Looking through Michael Pollan’s food rules, I stopped on #30: “Eat well-grown food from healthy soil.”  One of the benefits of being part of a CSA is that we know our food is grown by people who care about food and their soil. But anyone who gardens knows it’s sometimes not easy to keep Arizona soil healthy.
 
When I first moved to Arizona from the midwest, I could not believe that food would grow here.  “It’s the desert!” I would say, but after a while I realized that the soil doesn’t need to be beautiful and black to produce delicious food.  Typically, healthy soil has a good layer of organic matter on top, plenty of living organisms, a little moisture, and a loamy texture.  If this was a natural ecosystem, healthy soil would also have a permanent root system, but since we are talking about agriculture, we know that there will only be plants in this plot of land for part of the year during the growing season. So how do farmers keep their soil healthy?
 
There are many practices farmers use to keep up the health of their soil.  On a conventional farm, fertilizers (especially synthetic nitrogen) are put into the soil on a regular basis, because the plants continually take what they need for optimal growth, leaving the soil needing to be replenished. On a small scale and on organic farms, manure and compost are great ways farmers can help improve soil fertility.  In general, cow and horse manure is rich with nitrogen and phosphorous, which are the two of the most essential nutrients.  Compost is also high in nutrients. Of course, the quality of the compost and manure depends on what is either in the compost, or what the animal was eating.  If those primary sources are high in nutrients, then the final product will also be high in nutrients.
If you know that your soil is lacking in nitrogen, another good way to keep up high nutrients is rotating crops with intermittent years of cover crops that are legumes.  Legumes are nitrogen fixers, which means that they will produce their own nitrogen if nitrogen is limited in the soil.  (If the soil is already high in nitrogen, the plant will not fix any of its own and take all it needs from the soil.)  Planting a crop of legumes, like alfalfa, for a few years, then tilling it into the soil to let it decompose, is a great way to keep your soil healthy and nitrogen-rich.
 
Our PCCSA and farmers market farmers use many of these methods to keep their soil healthy and produce the highest quality food. Whipstone and Crooked Sky Farms are both Certified Naturally Grown, which means they don’t use any synthetic fertilizers (or insecticides, herbicides, or fungicides, for that matter) on their soil. They use crop rotation, compost, manure, and cover crops to keep their soil – and therefore our food – healthy. Chino Valley Farms uses only organic inputs in their greenhouse, and crop rotation in their fields to maximize their produce. Rabbit Run, while not certified organic or naturally grown, is committed to ecologically responsible growing methods, which means using no synthetic fertilizers or chemical pesticides, applying compost and implementing crop rotation, cover cropping, and fallow season.  As they sum up on their blog: “Our main pest and weed control is done by building soil health. Healthy, living soils mean strong plants that have increased disease and pest susceptibility.” All of our farmers work hard to keep their soil healthy, producing the highest quality produce for us to enjoy throughout the year! Beautiful.
 
recipes
 
orange, fennel and avocado salad
adapted from epicurious.com
 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 navel orange
  • 1 fennel bulb, stalks cut off and saved for later
  • 1 firm-ripe avocado

Whisk together vinegar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until salt is dissolved, then add oil, whisking until combined well.

Cut peel, including all white pith, from orange. Halve orange lengthwise, then cut crosswise into thin slices. Halve fennel bulb lengthwise, then cut crosswise into very thin slices. Halve, pit, and peel avocado, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Toss orange, fennel, and avocado with dressing to combine.

couscous with fennel, chickpeas and chard
adapted from nytimes.com
 
  • 1/2 pound (1 1/8 cups) chickpeas, soaked in 1 quart water for four to six hours (or overnight)
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, stemmed, leaves washed and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, white part only, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 medium or 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed (save fronds), cored and chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, ground
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, ground
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, ground
  • 1 tablespoon harissa (more to taste; substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper if harissa is unavailable), plus additional for serving
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste dissolved in 1/2 cup water
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 1/3 cups couscous

Drain the chickpeas and transfer to a large pot. Add 1 1/2 quarts water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer one hour while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Tear the chard leaves off the stems. Wash the stems and dice. Wash the leaves thoroughly and chop coarsely. Set aside. Chop the fennel fronds, and set aside.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy casserole, Dutch oven or, if you have one, in the bottom of a couscousier. Add the onion, leek, fennel and a generous pinch of salt, and cook, stirring, until tender, five to eight minutes. Add the chard stems, and stir together for a couple of minutes until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and ground spices, and stir together for 30 seconds to a minute until the garlic is fragrant. Add the harissa or cayenne and the dissolved tomato paste, and stir together for another minute or two. Add the chickpeas with their cooking liquid, plus another cup of water if you think there should be more liquid in the pot. Stir together, and bring back to a simmer. Add salt, cover and simmer 30 minutes to an hour until the chickpeas are thoroughly tender and the broth fragrant.

Stir in the chard greens and chopped fennel fronds. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until the greens are very tender and fragrant. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt, garlic or harissa as desired.

Reconstitute and steam the couscous. Serve in wide bowls, top with the stew and serve.

Yield: Serves four generously.

Advance preparation: The dish can be made through step 4 up to three days ahead and refrigerated. Bring back to a simmer, and proceed as directed. The couscous can be reconstituted up to a day ahead, then steamed before serving. The stew keeps well in the refrigerator for three or four days.

potato-crusted catfish with fennel vinaigrette and spaghetti squash
adapted from foodnetwork.com

FOR THE SPAGHETTI SQUASH: 

  • 1 spaghetti squash, about 3 pounds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons minced chives
  • 3 tablespoons minced red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

FOR THE FENNEL VINAIGRETTE:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 bulb fennel, diced
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped assorted soft fresh herbs, such as basil, chives, cilantro, oregano, parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE CATFISH:

  • 4 (5-ounce) catfish fillets
  • 2 teaspoons creole seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
  • 1 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place the squash halves, cut side down, in the bottom of a roasting pan. Add olive oil and enough water to cover the bottom of the pan and cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the squash is tender. Allow to cool slightly and then run a fork through the squash flesh to release the squash in strands. Toss the squash with the butter, salt and pepper, to taste, the minced chives, red pepper, and garlic. Cover to keep warm and set aside.

While the squash is cooking, prepare the Fennel Vinaigrette. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the fennel and saute until tender, about 6 minutes. Add the red onion, garlic, and fennel seed and cook, stirring, until onion is soft and garlic is fragrant, 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and wine and cook until the wine has evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the red wine vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Transfer to a nonreactive bowl and allow to cool to room temperature while you prepare the catfish.

Season the fillets on both sides with the creole seasoning. Rub the flesh side of each fillet with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the mustard. Squeeze the grated potatoes with your hands to release any liquid and then divide the grated potatoes between the 4 fillets, pressing onto the flesh side on top of the mustard coating.

Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F.

Heat 1/2 cup of the vegetable oil in each of 2 large nonstick skillets over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, carefully add the fillets, potato side down, being careful to keep the potatoes on the fish. Cook until the potatoes are crispy and golden, about 4 minutes. Transfer to the oven and cook until the catfish is cooked through, about 10 minutes. (Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your fillets.) Remove from the oven. Spoon some of the spaghetti squash onto the center of 4 plates, and serve the fillets over the spaghetti squash. Divide the Fennel Vinaigrette among the tops of the fillets, about 1/3 cup each. Serve immediately.

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