Thursday, June 4, 2009

What’s in the Box?

My own personal Boxing Day (and probably that of many other CSA* shareholders) has arrived. And boy oh boy is this exciting. A foodie like me can hardly contain herself. The person who gives us information at the farm is usually somewhat apologetic that the first few boxes of produce are small, but, as you can see in the photo above, there is nothing to apologize for! I think it’s fair to say that this is the largest head of green leaf lettuce I have ever seen!

It’s always so much fun for me to dive into each box and speculate on meals for the following week (hmmm…I’m thinking salads.) I prepare (ie, clean, trim, wrap, etc.) some produce, like lettuce and spinach, right away, and leave others, such as those little purple spring onions and green garlic alone until I need them. Some things will stay fresh longer if you don’t bother them too much.

To wash salad greens, especially spinach, which can be sandy, I fill a sink with cold water and dump the greens in. I swish them around a little, then put them in a colander and gently rinse them. I then spin off as much of the remaining water as I can in a salad spinner, (I have the Oxo brand plunger-top model), wrap the leaves loosely in paper towel and put them in a zip-top plastic bag with as much air removed as possible. Most greens will keep in the refrigerator this way all week (some will last even longer).

Happily for me, the farm can usually let us know in advance what we are getting in the produce box, so I can prepare by making tentative menu plans (one of my favorite things to do) and making room in the refrigerator (something at which I am not so good). But what to eat first? It was quite tempting to attack the asparagus like a lion on a gazelle, but I know that will last a while in the refrigerator. (I stood the spears upright in a tall container with a little water in the bottom, like flowers in a vase, and draped a plastic bag over the top. I’ve heard that this is a good way to store asparagus, but this is the first time I’ve tried it.)

My previous experiences suggested I should eat the spinach first, since that is what seems to lose its luster most quickly. I like the Greek-style dish Spanakopita, a pie made of cooked spinach or other dark greens, flavored with herbs and onions, or whatever you like and topped with several layers of crispy phyllo dough. It seemed a dirty shame, however, to cook down this ultra-fresh and really tasty spinach, so I opted for a salad with the same flavors, a sort of deconstructed Spanakopita.

This seemed like a good time to try the Phyllo Croutons I saw Giada DeLaurentiis make on "Everyday Italian" on the Food Network and top my salad with them. They are basically strips of phyllo dough tossed with melted butter and parmesan cheese and baked until they become members of the illustrious brown and crunch food group. I had a ratty partial package of phyllo dough in the freezer that offered itself to the task. I didn’t slice the phyllo into pretty ribbons like Giada did, but just crumbled my dried out sheets into a bowl. As a result, my croutons don’t look like Giada’s (much the way I don’t look like Giada herself), but they are soooooo good. The leftovers keep well in a plastic bag, but I’ll warn you, you might just keep munching until there are no leftovers.

This salad recipe is a little loose in the details, but most of the time, you really don’t need to precisely measure salad ingredients. Add what you like and omit what you don’t. If you think the vinaigrette bears a striking resemblance to the one I used for the Chickpea and Olive Salad with Greek Flavors, you’re absolutely correct. It is quite tart, so, depending on your preferences, you might want to add a bit of sugar or honey. Just dip a leaf into the prepared vinaigrette, taste it, and adjust it as you wish.

Deconstructed Spanakopita Salad
This recipe can be easily multiplied to serve more than two.

prepared Phyllo Croutons from Everyday Italian on the Food Network
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
a pinch of salt and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
about 4 cups fresh spinach leaves, torn
a few thin slices of red onion, separated into slivers
¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
about 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

1. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Let stand while you prepare the other ingredients.

2. Place the spinach leaves in the bottom of a medium bowl. Arrange the onion, olives and feta on top of the spinach.

3. Add the olive oil to the vinegar mixture and whisk vigorously until well-combined. Pour the dressing evenly over the salad. Sprinkle each serving with some of the Phyllo Croutons. (Store leftover Phyllo Croutons in a plastic bag and add them to other salads, or float them on soups.)

Serves 2.

*Community Supported Agriculture

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