Wednesday, August 2, 2017

August 3, 2017: This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Onions

Cooking with this Week's Box!

Yes, it is really the month of August which means we are in the peak of summer vegetables and cooking!  The tomatoes are starting to ripen and while the picking is a little slim this week, I’m sure we’ll have more next week.  Pull out all those recipes and ideas you’ve been saving for fresh tomato season…it’s time!

This week we are very focused on onions around here.  It’s a race against Mother Nature to get them out of the field.  Nonetheless, we’re thankful for all we have and have really been enjoying the sweet onions packed in this week’s box.  My recommendation for this week is to give the recipe for pizza in the newsletter a try.  This recipe for “A Pizza in the Roman Way” (see recipe below) is very simple.  You will need to set aside time to patiently wait for the dough to rise and the onions to slowly stew….but it will be worth the wait.  The weekend is perhaps a good time to prepare this recipe.  Take your time and enjoy the process.  When the pizza is done, take a seat on the patio with a glass of wine, a rosé or light red perhaps, and enjoy the simplicity of this dish.  Serve it with this simple Carrot Salad with Balsamic Dressing, some shaved salami and some salty olives on the side.

We’re coming towards the end of green bean season, so I wanted to try this recipe for French Potato and Green Bean Salad recently highlighted in a column at  It will make excellent use of the tender, fresh potatoes and the green beans in this week’s box.  It calls for both parsley and basil, so you’ll need to make a trip to your herb garden to get those.  I think this salad will go nicely with a simple grilled steak, perhaps a rib-eye or a sirloin sliced thinly.  There are some tasty variations other people shared in the comments below the recipe, so I’d encourage you to read those to see if any of their ideas strike your fancy.

Lets talk about the Egyptian Spinach since this is a vegetable most of you may not be familiar with.  We don’t grow this crop every year, but thought we’d give it a try this year because it’s one of my favorite greens!  Unfortunately we lost our first crop to the rains a few weeks ago and the second planting had a bit of a thin stand.  We only have enough for boxes going to the Twin Cities this week.  My apologies to our Madison and Local members…we’ll try again next year.  For those of you who do receive this green, I’d encourage you to make one of my favorite soups that we featured in our newsletter in 2013.  This Egyptian Spinach Soup is a traditional way to use this green.  It takes a bit of time to make, but it’s not hard and the result is worth it. 

One of our members posted this recipe for Julia Child’s Tian de Courgettes au Riz…a fancy name for Zucchini Tian or, in Midwestern terms…a zucchini casserole.  This calls for a little more zucchini than is in this week’s box, so you may need to cut the recipe back a bit…or I’m going to try making up the difference with grated broccoli stem.  This dish is rich enough to be a main dish or could serve as a side dish as well.

Ok, I don’t normally advocate frying cauliflower, but I’ve been intrigued by this recipe for General Tso’s Cauliflower and want to give it a try. The recipe doesn’t call for it, but I’m going to stir-fry the green bell peppers and some of the broccoli florets on the side and add it to the cauliflower…because I think it needs some green vegetables too!  Serve this over rice and dinner is set.

So we’re left with just a little bit of broccoli and a lonely jalapeño…but don’t worry. I’ve been saving this week’s jalapeño to make Jalapeño-Garlic Cream Cheese!  I had jalapeño cream cheese at Gotham Bagels in Madison last year and have to admit, it’s kind of addicting.  It’s easy to make, just fold finely minced garlic and jalapeño into softened cream cheese and season with a bit of salt and black pepper. I’ll enjoy this on morning bagels or English muffins.  And the broccoli….it’s going into a frittata along with some feta cheese and fresh herbs….first for breakfast with leftovers serving as lunch the next day!

Well, I was hoping the next cucumbers would be ready this week, but we’re going to have to wait until next week.  I still have some recipes set aside that I want to try before the season is done.  In addition to tomatoes, we should be picking edamame and hopefully (fingers crossed) we’ll have some sweet corn within the next few weeks!  Have a great week and wish us luck as we finish our onion harvest! –Chef Andrea

Vegetable Feature:  Onions

Sweet Spanish Onions
In this week’s main newsletter article, Richard walks you through what it takes to produce an onion.  Onions are a staple ingredient that, in my opinion, you can never have too much of in your kitchen!  Onions are used as the base of cooking all around the world and are revered for their role as an “aromatic”.  In French cooking, they are part of traditional mirepoix, a blend of diced carrots, celery and onion that is an important base for making stock and soups.  In Spanish cuisine, onions are included in their version of “mirepoix” which is called sofrito and includes tomatoes, onions and garlic.  In culinary school I had a chef instructor, Chef Chang, who was a master chef in China.  One of our first lessons about Chinese cuisine was how important it is to start each dish with garlic, onion, ginger….I suppose this is kind of like the Chinese “mirepoix.” 

While onions are often in the background providing the supporting role, they can also be found as a main, more prominent ingredient.  For example, there is a traditional dish from the Provence region of France called pissaladiére.  It is a tart of sorts featuring caramelized onion, olives, garlic and anchovies.  Of course there is French Onion soup, a delicious brothy soup that requires copious amounts of onions.  Pipperade is a mixture of onions, peppers and tomatoes that originated in the Basque region of Spain.  It may be eaten as a main item or used as a condiment.  I suppose in America we would boast French Onion Dip and Onion Rings?  Lets move on.

Onions may be included in a wide variety of ways in our day to day eating and cooking.  Raw onions are delicious on sandwiches and salads and play an important role in fresh salsa and sauces.  One of the important keys to an enjoyable dining experience with raw onions is to slice them very thinly.  I repeat…slice them thinly.  You want to get the flavor of the onion with each bite, but you don’t want that to be the flavor that dominates each bite.  If the piece of onion is too thick, that’s all you taste and it can throw off the balance.  I love thinly sliced onions on grilled burgers, Italian sandwiches with salami, added to a Greek salad along with tomatoes, olives, and romaine lettuce, or simply served with slices of oranges drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper for a super simple winter salad. 

Thinly sliced onions are important when cooking onions too.  There are several ways to cook onions.  You can sweat them which means you cook them at a moderately low temperature with the intention of gently cooking the onion to soften the texture, but you don’t want them to brown or get any color.  As you are cooking onions in this manner, you’ll notice the steam rolling off the pan.  This is the moisture coming out of (or sweating if you will) the onions.  If you patiently continue this process, you can caramelize an onion.  Basically you will sweat most of the water out of the onion which will concentrate the natural sugars left behind.  When you do this, the onions will significantly decrease in volume and will turn to a golden brown color and be sweet and delicious.  Onions are also delicious when roasted, grilled, and fried.  In general, onions are more mild in flavor when cooked.  The sulfur compounds in onions are what make an onion pungent and what causes us to cry while cutting them.  When you cut into an onion and release these compounds they dissipate into the air. 

Store onions in a cool dry place and out of direct sunlight.  We store onions in our cold cooler at a temperature in the mid 30’s and low humidity.  The humidity in most home refrigerators is too high to match our storage environment, so it’s best to store your onions out of the refrigerator.  You may not have the “perfect” environment, but do your best and just keep an eye on your onions.  If you notice them starting to sprout or form a bad spot…use them! 

We hope you will embrace the diversity we have to enjoy as we eat onions throughout the season.  If you don’t use them all throughout the course of your weekly cooking and you accumulate a large pile of onions, take the opportunity to try making something that requires a larger volume such as French Onion soup or an onion marmalade. You can also chop your onions however you are most likely to use them in the future and put them in a freezer bag in your freezer. Pull them out and use them throughout the winter!

We still have red & yellow storage onions, shallots and red Cipollini onions remaining to deliver.  Watch for these selections later in the season and, as you prepare them, take a moment to appreciate the special place each onion variety holds in our seasonal eating adventure.

 Lazy Cucumber and Onion Pickle

Yield:  About 3 cups “These need about three hours for their cure and will stay fresh in the fridge for about a week.” 

¾ pound cucumbers, unpeeled
1 sweet onion
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp sugar
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
½ tsp celery seeds
¼ tsp ground turmeric
  1. Slice the cucumbers thinly crosswise, or at an angle if they are very slender. Slice the onion into thin rounds.
  2. Put ½ tsp salt, a few twists from the peppermill, and the sugar in a bowl large enough to hold the vegetables.  Add the vinegar and 1 cup water and stir to dissolve the sugar and salt.  Add the cucumbers, onion, mustard seeds, celery seeds, and turmeric.  Press on the vegetables to immerse them in the liquid.  (A plate set over the vegetables can help.)  Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

This recipe was borrowed from Deborah Madison’s cookbook entitled Vegetable Literacy.  You may eat these as a salad or as a condiment with sandwiches or wraps.  We’ll be picking our second crop of cucumbers by the end of the week, so if you don’t have any cucumbers available this week hold on to this recipe for next week!

A Pizza in the Roman Way

Yield: One pizza, 8-9 ½ inches: There will be enough for two to four, depending on appetite and what else you have for the meal.

“In the pizzeria where I used often to eat when I spent a winter in Rome 25 years ago, by far the best pizza was spread only with onions stewed in olive oil and seasoned with oregano.  The Romans themselves claim this as the only true pizza, and dismiss the tomato and mozzarella verison of Naples as a fanciful upstart.” —Elizabeth David from her cookbook, Elizabeth David on Vegetables

For a 8 ½ to 9 ½ inch pizza, the ingredients for the dough are:
1 generous cup plain unbleached bread flour
1 tsp of salt
¼ oz fresh yeast 
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
4-5 Tbsp milk
1 whole egg

For the filling you will need:
1 ½ pounds of onion cut into fine rings
Olive Oil

  1. Make sure the flour is at room temperature and mix in the salt.
  2. Mix the yeast to a cream with 2 Tbsp tepid milk.  Break the egg into the center of the flour. Pour in the creamed yeast and 2 Tbsp of olive oil.  Mix to a light soft dough.  If too dry, add the rest of the milk and another tablespoon of oil.  Form into a ball.  Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise.  Allow 2 hours.
  3. While the dough is rising, stew the onions slowly, slowly, in fruity olive oil until quite soft and yellow.  Season with salt and a good sprinkling of fresh oregano.
  4. When the dough is ready, that is when it has just about tripled in volume and is light and puffy, break it down, shape it into a ball, and pat it out into an 8 ½ inch disk on a perfectly flat, oiled fireproof baking stone or baking sheet.
  5. Spread the warm onions on the dough, leaving a little uncovered around the outer edge.  Scatter a little more oregano and a little more olive oil over the filling and let rise for 15 to 20 minutes before putting it into the center of the oven to bake.  Temperature should be fairly hot, 425°F, and the pizza will take 20 to 25 minutes to bake.

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