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CSA Cooking: Butternut Squash Croutons

butternut squash cubes

Since a very young age, I’ve been a fiend for croutons. They weren’t something my mother kept in the house, but my maternal grandmother often had a box tucked into her kitchen cabinets. When we visited, my sister would head straight for the stash of chocolate mints in the bar, while I would quietly abscond with the croutons. I’d tuck myself into a corner with a book and my box of oily bread cubes and be perfectly content until discovered with the empty box.

In my early twenties, my favorite potluck trick was to bring a salad with homemade croutons. The salad could be entirely ordinary because no one was looking at the greens. They were focused on those craggy, garlicky cubes of deeply toasted bread.

roasted butternut cubes

My love for croutons remains, but in recent years I’ve found that I feel better when I don’t eat a lot of bready things. I know that there are many others of you who are in this same boat. Instead of giving up croutons entirely, I’ve taken to giving other food the crouton treatment.

A favorite for crouton transformation this time of year is the butternut squash. I peel, deseed, and chop the squash into cubes the size of regular six-sided dice. They are tossed with olive oil, minced garlic, salt, and pepper, laid out in a single layer and roasted until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.

While they don’t have the shattering crunch of a bread-based crouton, they are quite delicious in a salad of baby arugula, slivered red onion, and feta cheese.

Do you give anything other than bread the crouton treatment?

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CSA Cooking: Fermented Hot Sauce

finished hot sauce bottled

I made my first batch of fermented hot sauce in 2012. It was one of my very earliest fermentation projects and while technically the making of it was uneventful, the finished batch was so incredibly spicy that even one drop gave me immediate heart burn. At the time, I figured that homemade hot sauce just for me and moved along.

hot sauce ingredients

Then last fall, I was visiting Alana and had a chance to taste her hot sauce. It was bright, funky, spicy,  and made everything it touched just a bit better. I decided that I’d give making my own another try when next I had the chance.

chopped peppers and garlic

Well, that chance finally came earlier this month. My September Philly Foodworks share included a pound of hot peppers and a pound of sweet. Wanting to avoid my previous error and not make a sauce that would incinerate my digestive track, it appeared to be the perfect combination of ingredients.

chopped veg in jar

I took inspiration from a number of sources for my batch. I referenced Alana’s post, took a little inspiration from Well Preserved, and also made sure to see how Amanda over at Phickle does it. (By the way, all three of those bloggers have books coming out soon. Alana’s and Amanda’s books are hitting this month. Joel and Dana’s book will be out in the spring).

finished hot sauce mash above

After reading their various techniques and mixing it up with what I generally know about fermentation, I started my batch. I chose to make a brine (1 quart filtered water and 3 tablespoons fine sea salt) rather than directly salting so that I’d end up with a goodly amount of liquid for my final puree (I like a drippy sauce rather than a chunky one).

fermented hot sauce mash

I combined the peppers (sweet and hot), a full head of garlic (peeled, of course), and a big hunk of ginger in the bowl of my food processor and pulsed until I had a relatively uniform mash. I scraped it into a half gallon jar, added the brine, popped an airlock on top, tucked it into a corner, and forgot about it for a couple weeks.

hot sauce yield

I deemed the sauce finished when it had gone from bright green to olive drab, it was super tangy, and I found myself entirely happy to sip the liquid from a spoon. I divided the sauce into two batches, ran it through the blender, and was done. While different from the sauce that inspired it, it is still bright, tangy, and so, so good.

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CSA Cooking: A Trio of Salads and Dips

tomato salad

This month’s Philly Foodworks share arrived during an intensely busy week. My mom was in town, we were prepping for the family wedding, and soon after, I was on my way out of town. I did my best to make quick work of the most perishable things and these three little dishes were the results.

First up is this tomato mint salad. We typically pair tomatoes with basil, but they go awfully well with mint as too. This particular salad contained one large heirloom tomato, half a finely chopped white onion, and a generous fistful of torn mint. The dressing was a big pinch of kosher salt, four turns of the pepper grinder, and a few lashings of olive oil (about two tablespoons, if I had to guess). Add some homemade croutons and it would be a tasty panzanella.

corn salad

Next up is this quick corn salad. It consisted of six lightly cooked ears of corn (five minutes in a pot with an inch of simmering water). After a rinse of cold water, I hacked the kernels off the cob (saving them for stock), and combined them with half a minced red onion (you could also use the other half of the white one from the tomato salad above), and a couple handfuls of roughly chopped mustard greens.

The dressing was 2 tablespoons olive oil, 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar, a teaspoon of kosher salt, and a whole bunch of freshly ground black pepper.

eggplant dip

Last one is a roasted eggplant dip. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking dish with parchment. Cut a big eggplant in half, drizzle it with a little olive oil and throw five or six garlic cloves (still in their wrappers) in the pan as well. Roast the eggplant, cut side up, until it is brown (maybe 15 to 20 minutes). When the eggplant is tender, it is done.

Let the roasted halves cool until you are able to handle them. Scoop out the flesh and put it in a bowl or container. Squeeze the garlic out of their peels and add them to the eggplant. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil, the juice of one lemon, and a pinch of salt. For a chunky dip, mash it with a fork. For something smoother, zap it with an immersion blender (that’s what I did).

salad trio dinner

We actually ate all three of these dishes together with Joy’s chicken ricotta meatballs for dinner, but any one would make a nice addition to a meal.

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CSA Cooking: Single Quart Fermented Dilly Beans

Philly Food Works September share

Last Thursday, the nice folks from Philly Foodworks dropped off my September share of goodies. The box contained a little bag of spring mix, 12 ounces of perfect green beans, one hefty eggplant, a tiny watermelon, both hot and sweet peppers, half a dozen ears of corn, a bundle of sweet corn, one giant heirloom tomato, six multigrain bagels from Metropolitan, and a bottle of sweet and spicy hot sauce.

bean close-up

Despite the utter chaos of the weekend (a family wedding, loads of visiting cousins, my mom in town, and my mother-in-law’s on-going health issues), I managed to cook, process, and preserve a goodly amount of the bounty in the box and I can feel how my future self is already appreciative.

12 ounces green beans

I combined the sweet and hot peppers with a head of garlic, some ginger, and a salt brine and it’s on the countertop turning into hot sauce as I type. I made a trio of easy salads with the corn, spring mix, eggplant, and tomato.

My mom and I split the watermelon, each taking a half and digging in with spoons (though I did save the rind for pickling). And with three people in the apartment, the bagels certainly didn’t last long.

beans in a jar

That leaves us with the hot sauce, swiss chard and the beans. I’ve been dribbling the hot sauce on scrambled eggs. The chard leaves are destined for a pot of soup, while the stems will make more of these pickles. And the beans are also on their way to becoming pickles. One of my favorite pickles, in fact.

beans in a jar side

I hinted at these pickles last fall when I gave away a short stack of preserving books. The bones of the recipe comes from the wonderful book Fermented Vegetables, though I’ve scaled it down (as I so often do). It ends up being an easy, adaptable pickle that stays super crisp, is effervescently tart, and just happen to have all those gut-friendly bacteria swimming about.

Make as big or as small a batch as you want. Just make them! And look for the hot sauce recipe next week!

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CSA Cooking: Roasted Tomatillo and Banana Pepper Salsa

August Philly Foodworks box

My August Philly Foodworks box landed last Thursday. It contained a big bunch of beets, one naughty eggplant, a nice head of lettuce, a jewel melon, a couple red onions, 12 ounces of sweet banana peppers, a pound of tomatillos, a pint of cherry tomatoes, and a few gorgeous heirloom tomatoes.

peppers tomatillos

I first turned my attention to the peppers and tomatillos. My summer thus far has been entirely bereft of fresh salsa and I felt that it was time to change that.

veg after roasting

I have found that you can make consistently delicious salsas without a recipe by throwing a combination of peppers, tomatillos or tomatoes, onion, and garlic into a baking pan, roasting them at high heat (400 to 450 degrees F works pretty well) until you get some nice char and then throwing it all in a blender with some salt and lime juice.

roasted veg in blender

This version was 12 ounces of banana peppers, a pound tomatillos, five cloves of garlic, the juice of one lime, and a very generous pinch of kosher salt. Had there been some cilantro in the crisper drawer, I would have thrown that in, but sadly there was none. Once roasted, I did let everything cool down until handleable, so that I could pluck the heat-loosened skins off the peppers.

roasted and pureed veg

Once pureed, this salsa is an amazing meal starter. Sure, you can dip chips in it and call it done. However, you could also plunk a couple pounds of chicken thighs in a saucepan, cover them with the salsa, braise them until tender, and shred them with forks. You could also use it as an enchilada sauce. Or make yourself a veggie-laden quesadilla and smother them with your tomatillo salsa. So many options!

one pint of salsa

Oh, and just to make it clear, this salsa isn’t designed to be canned in a boiling water bath canner. My batch made a single pint jar, which we’ll use up around here in no time. If you want to make a shelf stable tomatillo salsa, there are recipes in both my cookbooks!

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July Philly Foodworks CSA Share

July Philly Foodworks Share

The nice folks from Philly Foodworks dropped off another lovely box of produce for me last week. I’ve cooked and processed my way through most of it now and will be sharing those details over the next couple weeks. But as a little sneak preview, here’s what came in this box and what I’ve done (or am planning) to do with it.

  • A head of cabbage (it’s become a batch of sauerkraut streaked with fennel fronds)
  • A bundle of rainbow carrots (these, I’m afraid, met a bitter end. I put them in the oven to roast and then got distracted. Incinerated)
  • A bag of mixed beans (pickles)
  • A bundle of Chioggia beets (more pickles)
  • A quart of cherries (they’ve become part of a batch of peach cherry jam)
  • A head of escarole (soup)
  • 1 sweet onion (a relish I’ll be telling you about soon)
  • 3 green bell peppers (also in the relish)
  • A jar of garlic and rosemary fermented carrots (I’ve been eating these with my lunch)
  • A tub of Mediterranean sesame dip (delicious on everything from crackers to cucumber rounds)
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