Back on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Shana and Michael showed up at the house bearing the Tantre Farms “Thanksgiving” share that we had ordered at the end of the season. The share came in one really big box and one smaller one (I enjoyed Deb and Richard’s email warning prior to pick-up saying that we would need a wagon, dolly or reasonably hefty type to get the share home. Michael managed in the last category). We laid it out across all of my counters and stood contemplating the haul, in equal parts overwhelmed and exhilarated. Even after dividing the share, there were going to be enough vegetables to keep us on our toes for many weeks to come.
There were a lot of leaves of various types, both tender (spinach and mustard greens) and robust (four, count them, four, varieties of Kale including cavola de nero that I still daydream about). There was broccoli and four colors of cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and potatoes, breakfast radishes and carrots, heaps of winter squash and the most daunting assortment of root vegetables that I have ever confronted.
I have to say, those root vegetables were not what you would call lovely, at least not on first impression. The beets, kohlrabi, turnips, celeriac and, my goodness, Spanish radishes, were, well, gnarly. A few years ago, I would have viewed these all with both dismay and disdain. Clearly they are vegetables from another planet. But I’ve become a much more eclectic vegetable eater lately, and I viewed this rather bizarre looking harvest as both challenge and opportunity.
I resolved that I would not let rot win and that I would make good use of every last vegetable. Even with Thanksgiving coming up, this was going to require some serious attention. I strategically stowed the loot in the fridge, the dry drawer and the cellar (I didn’t bury anything in sand as recommended by Tantre Farm. Maybe next year) and got down to work. I can’t remember where it all went (except into our bellies), although I did try to keep track. Here’s some of the uses to which I put all that food. Not a loser in the bunch:
- Broccoli with olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper and pine nuts (good by itself; good on pasta)
- Beet salad with feta and mint
- Chestnut soup with apples and celeriac (slightly sweet, creamy, and perfect for Thanksgiving, although it does somewhat resemble dirty dishwater)
- Broth with udon and spinach (perfect for recovering from Thanksgiving)
- Roasted cauliflower with olive oil and sea salt and a mustard vinaigrette
- Brussel sprouts braised with chestnuts, bacon and shallots
- Pasta with braised cauliflower, capers and bread crumbs
- Winter squash by itself, with butter and salt; winter squash in soup; winter squash some other ways I’ve forgotten
- Mustard greens in bread salad
- French breakfast radishes on buttered baguette, sprinkled with sea salt
- Two composted pumpkins (I had plans for those pumpkins, really I did. But so did the cycle of life).
- Roasted kohlrabi with olive oil and coarse salt. A personal triumph as more than one kohlrabi had been lobbed into the compost this past summer. And, you know, it’s not bad.
- Parsley on everything
- And, Saturday night, the last of the turnips in a gratin, creamy and rosy and the perfect accompaniment to some espresso-rubbed free range pork chops grilled in the snow by my enterprising husband.
It was all fun and mostly virtuous, but the taste memory that’s stayed with me was an adaptation of a recipe from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries for cheesy pie for a cold evening.
Slater makes his with just potatoes, but there were an awful lot of turnips to get through, so my version used half turnips and half Yukon Golds. This is more of a concept than a recipe, but the idea is to take a few onions and saute them in quite a bit of butter (about 4 tablespoons) on long, slow heat so that they start to melt and turn golden brown. At the same time, boil about 3 pounds of potatoes (or, like me, a combination of turnips and potatoes) until they are tender enough to mash with some warm milk and another 3 tablespoons of butter. While this is going on, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When the roots are mashed and the onions are done, butter a ten inch cast iron skillet. Spoon in about half of the mash, smooth it out and layer on the onions. Then take about half a pound of Stilton cheese and sprinkle it on top of the onions, along with a generous amount of black pepper. Smooth the rest of the potato-turnip mix on top and finish with a light blanket of Parmesan cheese. Pop the whole thing in the oven for 20-25 minutes until its slightly crusty and an appealing golden brown. We sauteed up some of that Cavolo de Nero with garlic and had it on the side — it provided a nice contrast to the creamy richness of the pie. We ate this on a night when the rain was drumming down outside and we were still getting used to the idea that it was dark at 5:30. It soothed and satisfied. (Note, also, that this is a pretty good dish for those of you trying to eat local as we head into the lean months. I don’t know any sources for Michigan stilton, but a Maytag Blue from Wisconsin doesn’t have too many miles on it, or if you really want to stick close to home, you could swap in some of the Rosewood raw milk cheddar that’s being sold over at Whole Foods. It won’t have quite the same tang, but it has a bit of a bite.)
So, I won, mostly. It’s seven weeks since the deluge and in the crisper drawer are three small radishes, two carrots and those intimidating Spanish radishes. I think we all have a date with Shana’s pickle recipe this week. The farm share monkey will be off my back, and although I worked so hard to get rid of it, I’ll be downright sad it’s gone.