CSA Cooking: fennel, garlic, and basil

12 07 2010

It’s been a long time and the summer is halfway over already.  And guess what, I was right about something.  Blogging the CSA every week is hard.  But don’t think that the season is halfway over.  On the contrary, it’s hardly begun.  The CSA runs from early May through Thanksgiving.  So far the take each week has been small but once August hits we will hear the call of all-you-can-pick tomatoes.

I do have some other things to post from the last two months of farm fresh vegetables, but I also have a trip to Trinidad to post about.  Oh yeah, the food is still good.

So this week at the farm what greeted me was potatoes, carrots, lettuce, fennel (bulb, stalk, and leaves), garlic, basil, parsley, and cucumbers.  My thoughts immediately went to the fennel.  It’s the kind of thing you need to plan the whole meal around, you know?  It doesn’t really go with everything.  I thought of lamb, and Karen mentioned that we had some lamb shanks in the freezer.  It was on epicurious that we saw this recipe:

Braised lamb shanks recipe

Okay, there’s fennel seeds listed there, but not exactly what I’ve got.  That’s okay, we put it in anyway.  We didn’t have any star anise, but that tastes like fennel so I cubed up the bulb and sauteed it with the onion, and I chopped the stalk and put it in with the celery.  I was even planning on using the leaves as garnish.  Oh yeah, I’m getting my Top Chef on.  We also used the carrots and garlic from the CSA in the braise.  The reviews for the recipe said that it goes great with polenta, so I decided to make some as well.  I’ve never made polenta before, so this was a very big adventure for me.

We did, however, make some substitutions in the recipe.  It calls for 3 cups of port, which you are to reduce down to 2/3 cup.  I had some red wine and I poured out whatever was left in the bottle, which was about a cup and a half.  I reduced it down, don’t ask how much.  Then it calls for a quart of beef stock and a quart of chicken stock, and you are to reduce this down to a cooking liquid of 3 cups.  You know what?  I really don’t have that kind of time, so I put in a quart of chicken stock and brought it to a boil but didn’t reduce it at all.  So there.

Once that was braising in the oven I thought of the polenta.  I saw this recipe on the Food Network’s website and it seemed like a good, basic recipe.  But it made way too much, so I cut it in half.  Well, I cut almost everything in half.  I cut the water, cornmeal, cream, and parmesan in half.  But I had a moment of weakness, a moment where I had one too many things in my head and something fell out.  I didn’t halve the salt.  “What’s the worry?  It’s only an extra teaspoon.  Of salt.”  What are you going to do, start over?  All over a little too much salt?  Whatever.

So the polenta was barely edible; the addition of the cream helped a bit, but wow.  I ate my entire portion anyway.  I had to, since we forced the kids to eat theirs.

That was when Karen upstaged me.  She came home from work and asked me what vegetable we were having with dinner.  I hadn’t thought of that.  So she made a sauteed ratatouille with zucchini from the CSA and eggplant from our garden.  It was the highlight of the meal.

So the vegetables were good and the lamb was delicious, as were the carrots, onions, and everything else in the braise.  And I’m sure there was some sort of nutritional value or something in the polenta.  But in all it was a success.  And later in the week we did finish off everything else from the farm.