This week, because we literally had our hands full with eggplant, the challenge to creatively utilize this purple bounty continues. We walked away from the farm with not only a sizable Rosa Bianca, but also a few Long Purples (depicted above) and a Casper, which is a small, white eggplant with a very sweet flavor. None of the recipes in the weekly CSA newsletter called for such a massive amount of eggplant in one dish. And since eggplant loses its texture and firmness with each passing day, we needed to use them all up quickly.
Our saving grace was a French dish called ratatouille, originally a poor farmer’s solution to excess summer produce. Ironically, the original recipe didn’t include eggplant, but today, ratatouille is almost unrecognizable without it . Zucchini, tomatoes, green and red bell peppers, onions, and garlic were used to make the first manifestations of this dish, and luckily for us, we had all these ingredients in stock as well.
There are a variety of ways to make ratatouille but all agree on one thing: the ingredients are cooked in stages, then combined and left to stew. Slow cooking allows the flavors to interact, and the final product makes a unique contribution to any dinner table (as well as fantastic leftovers!).
Eggplant are practically coming out of our ears at the farm. A minor miscalculation resulted in way too many transplants this year, and recently the CSA members have been receiving more eggplant than they ever bargained for. Well, the prolific production has finally caught up to us, and we’re now faced with the same challenge as the members: what to do with so much eggplant!
Luckily, though, the weekly CSA newsletter contains several recipes. Our eyes immediately gravitated to the rolled eggplant tapas, an appetizer served in Spain. Not only did it seem like a great way to use our eggplant, but it also called for tomatoes and basil (both of which are bountiful at the farm as well). And since we both love goat cheese, how could we resist?
The variety of eggplant we had on hand is called Rosa Bianca, which you can see in the photo above. Its flavor is milder than the darker variety you’re probably used to, but it’s also sweeter and, in our opinions, tastier. We’ve been told these eggplant don’t do well at the farmers’ market because people are hesitant to cook with a lighter colored eggplant. Well, they’re missing out.
On our way back home from blackberry picking at San Patricio Berry Farm in the cool, green mountains near Ruidoso, we came across a farm store on the side of the road. At first, we were just interested in the freshly pressed (and apparently widely known) cherry cider advertised on the outside, but after trying a few pints and deciding to take home a gallon, we spotted some other delicious goodies just a few feet away.
Peaches, apples, plums, and cherries were among the several fruits available, but we had our eyes (and our appetites) set on the nearby corn. Grown in Artesia, NM (less than 200 miles away) this corn is made possible by a unique water source known as an artesian aquifer–the same one that feeds Roswell, of extraterrestrial fame.
We decided to highlight the subtle but refreshing flavor of the corn and accent it with a splash of heat from the many, many chiles we’ve gotten from the farm lately. It all came together in a wholesome and inviting corn chowder.
With how well the chiles are doing, we’ve got a constant supply of these red and green beauties in our refrigerator. It’s a good thing we love peppers and appreciate the subtle heat, because we’ve been putting chiles in just about everything we can think of (except for our morning cereal).
Our dilemma isn’t new. Latin Americans have been finding creative ways to eat their chiles for thousands of years. One of the classic ways to eat a chile is to stuff it. “Chiles rellenos,” Spanish for “stuffed chiles,” is a localized twist on what many people are familiar with as stuffed bell peppers. The biggest difference between the two is the method of preparation and, of course, the resulting flavor. We adapted a Mexican recipe that uses poblano chiles and substituted with our distinctly New Mexican Joe E. Parkers instead.
Here in New Mexico, green chiles are a staple. Their deep, dark, and smoky aroma, when roasting over an open flame, is unlike any other you’ve experienced.
On the farm, they’re just about the most successful crop we’ve had so far. In the past, there have been problems with blossom end rot, but this season the farmer decided to give the peppers another chance. To his surprise (and much to our delight), the Joe E. Parker variety we planted took off in full swing.
In order to preserve the recent bounty of these slightly hot chiles, roasting is the way to go because they can be frozen immediately afterwards. The red ones are usually dried and ground into chile powder, but we particularly enjoy the full smoky flavor that roasting produces. Since we don’t have a grill, we turned to our gas stove as a makeshift roaster, and it worked like a charm.
With the recent planting of winter squash came yet another wave of weeds, this time the ubiquitous amaranth, also known as redroot pigweed. As we were pulling up the younger plants to prevent them from crowding out the germinating squash, we remembered that in some cultures (e.g. Jamaica) this invasive weed is actually savored as a leafy green, much like spinach or chard.
Instead of tossing all of the pigweed in the compost pile, we saved a bunch in a glass of water, put it in a refrigerator, and then wrapped the roots in wet paper towels for the drive home.
We prepared it simply so that the distinct flavors of the amaranth could shine through. It reminded us of spinach, but the texture was superior and the color was an especially vibrant shade of green. There was a freshness to it that spinach can’t rival, and a tenderness that was afforded by harvesting these plants at less than eight inches tall (anything bigger gets tough and bitter, so be quick because this stuff grows fast!).
Depending on your individual taste, you may or may not detect some bitterness. One of us could, while the other chomped happily away, without noticing at all. If you’re one of those people whose taste buds are blissfully oblivious to the bitterness, this is a wonderful year round substitute for spinach.
What better way to celebrate our last harvest of Swiss chard than by using the colorful stems to make a hearty pasta dish? The flavors found in this recipe aren’t your typical American variety. They’re reminiscent of northern European fare, weaving together smoky sausage with tangy apple cider vinegar and sweet yet earthy caraway seeds.
After finishing this meal, we knew that we had come up with a dish that could serve as a main course, without leaving any stomachs unsatisfied. This is definitely not a lunch meal. It’s best enjoyed at the dinner table, perhaps with a cold glass of beer, a side of brussel sprouts, and a hungry group of friends.