Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

CSA Pasta Salad

I hit the food jackpot this week because my friend—who belongs to a wonderful local CSA with a long waiting list—went out of town and I got to pick up her vegetable booty. My care package contained peas, mizuna, dill, beets, lettuces, fennel, and escarole. We’ve been steadily eating our way through the seasonal bonanza, and lucky for us, this is some of the best CSA veggies I’ve ever  had. This may sound snooty but just because something is labeled “CSA” (Community Supported Agriculture), doesn’t mean it’s necessarily superior to your supermarket roughage. The concept is wonderful—support local farming, get all of your fruits and vegetables in a bundle, challenge yourself to prepare 5 lbs of bok choy before it takes up all the real estate in your fridge— but just because you picked up a parcel of produce from a farm doesn’t mean they were grown with care. It doesn’t mean they were even grown there at all! I was asked to do a share with a lovely neighbor who gets a weekly CSA from a large farm that has a carnival type atmosphere (there’s a petting zoo with a sad donkey keeping company with an equally morbid goose and some depressed looking rabbits, as well as a dilapidated hay stack pyramid …two farm/carnie gimmicks that always make me suspicious). My neighbor gave me a sample of her package so I could taste the goods and see what I thought. The asparagus looked way too uniform and squeaky clean to have been grown in any real soil, they also took on a strange smell within a day or two. The lettuce and carrots had no flavor. I don’t know how or where the stuff was grown but there was clearly no love involved. No thanks. I might as well buy my vegetables from Shop Rite.

But the magical CSA from this week was the real deal. With the young farmer chatting with all his customers, his vegetables displayed in tubs inside a tiny barn, an old scale swinging overhead to measure your portion of peas. Bliss. What do you think about CSAs? Do you belong to one?

As I mentioned, I’ve been putting the CSA goods in pretty much everything, and last night I used the peas, dill, and mizuna in a pasta dish for dinner. My favorite way to eat pasta in the summer is to add a handful of greens right on top of the bowl of whatever I’ve made–rigatoni with chopped fresh heirloom tomatoes, basil and buffalo mozzarella; spaghetti with chiles and clams; farro penne with sausage, fennel and goat cheese. Before serving I drizzle a little vinaigrette over the greens or just some good olive oil and vinegar, and then toss it all together so the warm pasta just barely wilts the lettuce or arugula or whathaveyou. It makes the pasta feel more healthful and fresh and the greens more hearty. This works really well with a warm grain or rice dish as well. But last night’s pea pasta was especially delicious, here’s what I did:

-Cook 1 lb of your favorite pasta, I used rotini. Drain when still al dente because you are going to cook it a bit more with the peas, reserve 1 cup of cooking water before draining.

-Roughly chop one package of bacon and cook it over medium-high heat in a large skillet until very crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate covered in a paper towel and then drain all but about 1-2 tsp of bacon fat from the pan.

-To the bacon fat add a small splash of olive oil and 1 small, chopped yellow onion. Saute the onion until soft, about 8 minutes. Add a big bowl of peas, leaving some peas in the pods to add crunch (this is the equivalent of about 2 pounds fresh peas in their pods, before they’re shelled; cut the ones in the pods into thirds so they warm up at the same time as the peas), to the onions and saute briefly (they don’t even have to cook, you just want them warmed up, about 30 seconds). Add either the juice from half a lemon or a big splash of white wine, deglaze the pan, scraping all the bacon-y bits with the onions and peas, another 30 seconds.

Add the pasta to the skillet with the peas and onions (probably not all of it, maybe 3/4 of what you cooked, reserve the rest), as well as a big splash of the pasta cooking water, 1 cup of grated parmesan, and a bunch of snipped dill (or whatever herb you like). Toss everything in the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and add more lemon or parmesan if you’d like.

-Serve pasta in a big bowl and place several handfuls of fresh arugula, mizuna or baby lettuce of your choice to the top (just not something like romaine). Drizzle some vinaigrette on top of the greens, if  you like, or oil and vinegar. Combine pasta with greens. Enjoy!


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