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Finding Our Inner Farmer: How Our CSA Changed the Way We Eat

June 2, 2010

Mike and I have not been on vacation…no, our blog has been idle for the past few weeks, because every spare moment we have had has been spent preparing for and planting a small urban garden. We have jumped on the bandwagon, so to speak, with others who are interested in eating healthy, organic foods. I have been particularly interested in planting a garden because my grandparents and some of my aunts and uncles owned farms when I was growing up. I have fond memories of spending summers on those farms, picking berries from the garden and pouring fresh cream from the morning’s milking over the top. If farming is in my blood, how hard could it possibly be? We were ready to give it a try.

We joined the Harmony Valley CSA (community supported agriculture) in 2008. Since that time, we have enjoyed such late spring/early summer delights as pea vines, garlic scapes, ramps, green garlic and stinging nettles. As the season continues, more recognizable vegetables are included such as tomatoes, peppers, carrots and corn. We’re always surprised with what’s in the box and try to incorporate the vegetables in our weekly menu. Luckily, Harmony Valley supplies a newsletter with interesting recipes for the vegetables in the box. This year, however, we decided that we would increase our consumption of fresh vegetables by planting a garden of our own. It is not as easy as it sounds.

We live in Madison, and although we have a large backyard, we also have a large Golden Retriever. Consequently, we had to plan the garden in a far corner next to our raspberry patch in a space that we hope will not be too accessible to Ipo, our 10 month old Golden. The corner was overgrown with wood violets, weeds, and day lilies and the first thing we had to do was contact Diggers’ Hotline. After DH surveyed and marked the area, we cleared a small 6 feet by 6 feet plot. It wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be. The existing plants had to be pulled, and then we had to cultivate the plot by breaking up the soil with shovels and hoes. Ideally, we should have used a cultivator, but both Mike and I thought the area was small enough that we could do it by hand. We were wrong. It was grueling work, particularly in 90+ degree temperatures.

Once the ground was broken, we added a small amount of fertilizer and, finally we covered the area with compost that we had been ‘making’ for the past year. Apparently we aren’t the most gifted composters in the world, because our compost was full of sticks that hadn’t completely broken down. Nonetheless, we spread the rich, black, full-of-sticks compost on the plot (we removed the sticks to the best of our ability). At last, we ready to plant our vegetables.

We purchased heirloom tomatoes from Paoli’s Local Market (Ken and Sherri Ruegsegger owners and farmers) as well as eggplant and green peppers. We also purchased cauliflower and onion sets from a local supplier. Harmony Valley provided us with 9 different herbs, so those went into the garden as well. When we finished planting, we watered the garden and felt like we had accomplished some major feat. Now all we had to do, was weed the garden, water the garden, tend to the new plants and come August we’ll have some mighty fine vegetables to enjoy.

As long as we were on an organic roll, Mike and I decided that we would make some of the very creative recipes that are included in the Harmony Valley CSA newsletter. The first one we tried (and by ‘we’, I mean ‘I’) was nettle pasta (recipe below). I remembered my paternal grandmother making pasta on a hot Saturday afternoon; carefully measuring the egg yolks, the flour, the butter and then kneading the dough for what seemed like hours. Finally, she would roll out the dough into a large oval let it ‘rest’ for an hour or so. When it was ‘rested’ grandma would begin to cut very narrow strips which she hung over the kitchen chairs to dry. Her pasta was the best I ever tasted.

In honor of grandma, I carefully measured out the flour, egg yolks and oil. But because I was making ‘nettle’ pasta, I also had to prepare and clean the nettles. The process starts by donning on rubber gloves—the nettles sting, so it’s best to take every precaution—and filling the sink with cold water. I emptied the nettles into the sink and began to rub the leaves loosening any dirt that might be clinging to them. I then blanched the nettles in boiling water for about 90 seconds, put them into the blender along with some butter and pureed them. I added the nettles to the flour mixture and began to mix the concoction. I found that I was not quite strong enough to do so by hand. I poured the whole thing into my food processor, and began to pulse the mixture. After about a minute or so, the ingredients were blended and I turned the bright green dough onto a floured board and began to knead. I formed the dough into a large oval, covered and let it rest for an hour (or 3—I was also helping Mike dig in the garden. The dough ‘rested’ while I worked). When the dough was sufficiently rested—and I was not—I rolled it out into an oval about a quarter of an inch and began cutting thin strips.

Mike and I decided the nettle pasta would be very good with garlic shrimp. I began to prepare the shrimp and put a pot of water on to boil the pasta. The pasta cooked quickly—about 5 minutes. The shrimp were prepared with garlic, butter, and sun dried tomatoes. I placed the pasta on each plate, topped the pasta with the shrimp and a little parmesan cheese and we were ready to eat—it was about 9:30 pm and we were very tired. We enjoyed the dinner with a bottle of Prairie Fume that was light enough to blend with both the nettle pasta and the garlic shrimp. The dinner was delicious. And I have a whole new appreciation for food and for all those fine folks who produce it. Thank you.

As the summer progresses, we will write other blogs on the ‘urban farmer’ experience.
NETTLE PASTA RECIPE (from Harmony Valley Newsletter)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (4 oz) all purpose flour (I used unbleached)
  • 1 1/3 cup (8 oz) semolina flour or use all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 7 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • ½ tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup nettle puree (see below)

Making the dough with a stand mixer:

Mix the flour and salt using the dough attachment on a stand mixer. While mixing on low speed, add the eggs and nettle puree. Slowly pour the oil until incorporated. Mix the dough on low speed until it comes together and forms a ball, about 3 minutes. Mix on medium speed for 5 minutes. Turn out onto a floured surface and shape the dough into a disk. Wrap and let rest for an hour. Roll the pasta out ¼ inch thick and cut into desired shape.

Making the dough by hand:

Make a well with the flour; add salt, oil, eggs, and nettle puree to the well and mix together slowly. Once everything is mixed together, knead for about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a disk. Wrap and let rest for an hour. Roll he pasta out ¼ inch thick and cut into desired shape.


When cooking fresh pasta make sure to cook in a generous amount of salted, boiling water. Serve the nettle pasta with a cream based sauce and your favorite vegetables. Nettle pasta is also great drizzled with olive oil and fresh parmesan.

Nettle Puree

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch nettles (about 4 oz)
  • 2 T butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Wash the nettles using rubber gloves. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the nettles and blanche until bright green about 1 ½ minutes. Strain into a colander and run cold water over to cool. Squeeze the excess water from the nettles. Puree the nettles with butter in a blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 3, 2010 3:47 am

    Yeah, it’s good, very useful, thanks 🙂

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