Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Porkin' up a CSA

I freakin' love CSAs. Seriously. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and these local ventures provide exactly what I want to make my meals: fresh, inspiring, sustainable, and delicious treats. They're pretty simple--the farmer offers shares of that year's crop up front and it's a win-win for the seller and buyer. The farmer gets resources at the beginning of the year to help with costs for the upcoming harvest and the customer gets all of the wonderful qualities I listed above, and the added benefit of cheaper prices than it would often cost to buy the same quantities at the farmer's market. I know some people might think that these are absurdly expensive (because, come on, how can something organic in a box NOT be?) but they're really affordable... I'd dare say they're even cheap.

I'll give you an example: a local CSA offers 5 months of produce for a single person household at $375 per share. That's (usually more than) a week's worth of fresh vegetables for less than $19. If you're not already spending that much on vegetables, you're not eating enough vegetables. And this particular organization offers work exchanges for low income shares, as well as nutritional cooking classes based on that week's produce. But the best part of CSAs? You never know what will be in your box. You open it up and there are usually the staples (onions, potatoes, etc.), but then there could be tomatillos, turnips, chillies--whatever's in season. A friend in Brooklyn just got kohlrabi and collard greens this week and asked me this morning what in the world she could possibly do with them. Needless to say, the dissertation took a hit for the rest of day, but I found some really interesting south Indian recipes ideas for the cabbage-like veggie.

The heavens parted the day I found out we had a local pork CSA called The Piggery. We'd been lucky enough to have The Piggery's charcuterie at our weekly Farmer's Market, but the CSA introduced the idea of buying a 'whole hog,' 'half hog' or 'quarter hog' share. You read that right. So, every week (or every other week, based on your share), you open your box with the same anticipation as you would your box of produce--sometimes it's pate and chops, sometimes it's sausages, bacon and lard.

What's not to love about these local schemes? They tell you more about where your food comes from, they build sustainable communities, they cut down on economic risk, and, frankly, they stand to make cooking fun for people who just can't be bothered to see the delight involved in making your own food.

I'll admit that I've had a tenuous relationship with pork since an ill-fated incident in Trumansburg a few months back. See, I lovelovelove pork belly (the kind euphemism for what is nothing more than pork fat). Bacon is the most commonly known derivative, but pork belly has been commonly used in Chinese dishes and, more recently, has started appearing in 4oz. portions, slow roasted in some sort of delicious glaze, on some of the most high-end menus around the country. My favorite was served up in Gramercy Tavern, with a close second at Blue Hill Farm.

But one night it went very wrong in Trumansburg [note: I'm not going to name the restaurant, because I think it was prepared impeccably and I refuse to spread bad press about such a consummate delight]. Because I broke the one and only rule about eating pork fat: a little goes a long way. I gorged and then suffered nausea for roughly two weeks.

Since then, I've tried to rekindle my love of the fat by making dishes that organize themselves specifically around that one rule:

Mushroom and Spinach (Porky) Pasta

5-6 strips of bacon
4 cloves of garlic
1 red onion
1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
splash of dry white wine
8 medium sized mushrooms, chopped in large pieces
pasta (bow-tie works nicely)
8 oz of spinach
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup milk

fresh grated parmesan (to taste)
salt and pepper (to taste)

Start off by frying the strips of bacon in large skillet. While it's cooking, start the pasta in a pot of salted, boiling water. Once the bacon is done, set the strips aside. In the remaining bacon fat (yes!), saute the onions, garlic and red pepper flakes until the onions are translucent. Add mushrooms and white wine and saute until the wine reduces. Next, add the broth, milk, salt and pepper, and some parmesan. Continue stirring so that the cheese doesn't congeal. Add handfuls of spinach, making sure to patiently stir it into the mixture slowly. Toss the pasta in this mixture and serve warm. Serves 4.

1 comment:

Raj Ajinkya said...

Loved this article too.I can already taste the pasta.But lets make it when you come here.Love.