All is Not Gorgeous on Menu Monday
This Week’s Haul From Jimmy
What goes on our menus this Monday at the rest of the week comes (mostly) from two sources. First, we get our year-round CSA box from my wife’s employer, Tomato Mountain Organic Farm. Then, we supplement that with food from the Oak Park Farmer’s Market, focusing mostly on fruit–the things not in the CSA box. As you can see, some of it is gorgeous. We like all the farmers at the Oak Park market, but we especially like Jimmy and Becky Hardin and their Eau Claire, Michigan operation (fun fact, we recently learned that in Michigan, it’s pronounced Ah Clare, as in some old Charlie Chan movie, not Oh Claire as the similar named town in Wisconsin.) The Condiment Queen sells her Tomato Mountain products next to the Hardin’s Saturdays at the Market. So, she gives them a budget each week, and they give us an allotment. It helps that their fruit is stellar. From the CSA box came enough basil to keep Genova in pesto for the week; an assortment of “small fruit” tomatoes, eggplant and broccoli. It was gorgeous too. In its own way.
Broccoli came in the box. Lots of broccoli. One of the things that Tomato Mountain does great with their weekly boxes is give enough. We’ve seen CSAs over the years that tend to put a greater emphasis on variety than volume. Each week you’d get like one summer squash, one kohlrabi, one stalk of kale. It made for great vegetable soup but hard to make specific dishes. There was broccoli here. Just not gorgeous broccoli. Summer broccoli, that is broccoli a bit weathered in spots from the August sun. We were not gonna shock this broccoli in cold water to maintain its bright green because it was not starting very green. Lest you think that a problem, I turn to my valued guide, Tamar Adler. She notes that “keeping a vegetable from looking cooked when it is cooked, is not worth the fuss [emphasis in the original].” She supports her thesis with words from Fergus Henderson. Henderson, she says, tells his cooks that vegetables can be just as beautiful when they’re pale and faded. Nature is not persistently bright. Henderson says, it wears and ages. Of course, Tamar writes, the worn vegetables at Henderson’s St. John restaurant are delicious, not just a statement on the human condition.
What I imagine Fergus Henderson might eat today.
Having read this part of Everlasting Meal again last week as I put together my post on boiled things, I knew that I need not aspire to gorgeous when it came to my broccoli. Broccoli may be at its best at its least gorgeous. Like green beans, you can cook broccoli for so much longer than you feel safe and end of with something better than you expected. And like I do with green beans, I like to cook them in the best way.
I start with a sofrito. That is an onion or two sliced into half moons and started in a good pool of olive oil. As the onions start to sweat, I add about six cloves of garlic crushed. You do know that how you cut your garlic effects the dish. Minced or pressed garlic gives a much harsher, vivid impression to a dish, whereas bigger chunks, up to a whole clove, gently bath your recipe in garlic essence. Do you want it playing bass or treble? When you do vegetables the best way, the focus is foremost on the featured vegetable, but after that, it is all about the aligned mess of flavors, which is why I never chop my garlic too fine for my sofrito when I do suffocated vegetables. After the garlic comes a jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced. By adding it early it heats up the dish but leaves it palatable for most palates.
When the onions are soft and translucent–not brown–add the broccoli. There’s an order here. The stems go in before the tops as they take longer cooking. To prep broccoli I just lop off the most botton parts. I should shave the stems too. There is a point where edible and woody meet. You do not need to waste that part of the broccoli. I tend to be lazy here. My compromise is I’m willing to eat a few stems with a significant cellular wall still there. My advice. Peel. Two other points here on using your CSA broccoli. First, do not forget to use the leaves that show up on the broccoli plants. Tastes just like broccoli. Just put them in earlier, with the stems as they need that extra time. Second, the stuff that comes in your box that’s all floret, no stem, and there’s enough of that, put that aside to boil for a salad.
The stems and leaves are in with the sofrito. Last goes the tops. Depending on the size, I half or quarter the flower part of the broccoli. While the best way is to suffocate the broccoli in its juices, it needs a little help getting the juices to flow. I include several tomatoes from this week’s Tomato Mountain box and enough water to get the process going. After about 20 minutes if it seems like things are going too slow, you can always add more water. Cook low and slow with a loose lid. Yogurt or grated parm would finish nicely, or as I did for breakfast today, just side with some other local vegetables. Looks pretty gorgeous, no? What gorgeous things will be on your menu this week?