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Summertime (e)Scapes

Invite the neighbors over and fire up the grill to turn this week's farmers' market finds into a delectable cruciferous treat. Plus, tips for getting your money's worth at your farmers' market or CSA.

Recipe: Charred Cauliflower with Brown Butter Scape Sauce

by Lynley Jones

The Mostly Plants Adventure Continues

Purple cauliflower and romanesco from my CSA in early July

All this summer, I'm using my finds from the farmers' market and my own CSA (see below) to create recipes calling for mostly plants, a term I'm borrowing from Michael Pollan. (You can read more about all of this in last week's post.) If you've ever come home from the farmers market (or even the grocery store) wondering what you're going to do with everything, this series should give you lots of new ideas to cook with more fruits, veggies, grains, beans, nuts, and other plant-astic treats all summer long!

FARMERS' MARKETS

The Montclair Farmers' Market in New Jersey on a recent Saturday.

If you're anything like me, you are no stranger to farmers' markets. They are a fun place to wander around, run into neighbors, and make new discoveries. Sometimes there's live music or food trucks, or merchants selling spices or cheese or jams and jellies. Sometimes there are clipboard-bearing activists looking for signatures, or rescued pets looking for homes.

But one of the best things about any farmers' market is the farmers. They are usually knowledgeable about the food they grow, and know how to cook and serve it, since they're probably eating a lot of it at home. They can answer questions and give advice, and in my experience, they enjoy talking about the literal fruits of their labors.

You should also be aware that, every once in awhile, farmers might include some produce from other farms in their offerings at the market. They may be members of farm networks, so that they have access to produce from other farms that perhaps didn't grow well on their own farm this season. Occasionally, farmers may sell produce that traveled a great distance to get to your local farmers' market. In my experience, farmers are generally honest about this. You might ask them if everything they offer was grown on their own farm, or where different things come from. If it's important to you to only buy local, you'll know.

COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE (CSA)

Veggie bins ready for pickup at my CSA. At MCFC, each vegetable share receives one bin like this every two weeks. The contents of the bin changes at each delivery as the season progresses.

Farming is a tough and risky business. Beyond the blood, sweat and tears, farmers invest an enormous amount of money in each spring's planting, in the hopes that a late-spring frost or early autumn hail, or a broken-down piece of equipment, or an e-coli scare from halfway across the country, won't suddenly render an entire crop unsaleable. In a good year, if all goes well, farmers recoup their upfront investment little by little, all season long, by selling to a reliable customer base. But if something goes wrong, it can mean disaster.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a relatively new idea that supports local farms while benefiting us consumers. When you join one, you pay upfront for your share of the season's fresh, local produce. Then, you receive a box or bag every week or two with your share of the farm's freshly-harvested produce. Depending on the CSA, shares might include fruits, vegetables, honey, eggs, meat, maple syrup or even medicinal herbs. Given that the produce is local, and often organic or nearly so, it often works out to be a financially good deal for the consumer as well as the farmer. Everybody wins!

Cauliflower from my CSA in late June. This is the cauliflower I cooked and photographed for the Charred Cauliflower with Brown Butter Scape Sauce recipe on this page.

The CSA I belong to is called the Montclair Community Food Co-op (MCFC). I have a fruit share and a vegetable share, and deliveries are every two weeks from June through November. All the produce at MCFC is grown within about 150 miles of our town, and is either organic or "IPM" which stands for Integrated Pest Management (this means means organic-style farming practices are used but the farm hasn't gone through the expensive and time-consuming process of obtaining organic certification). 

A full fruit + vegetable share costs $645 at my CSA, paid in full before the season begins. That feels like a pretty big check to write upfront, but it works out to about $27 per week, and in exchange we get so many veggies we have to work hard to eat them all before the next delivery (although it's delicious and good-for-you work). Purchasing the same organic/IPM produce at my local Whole Foods (or anywhere else) would easily cost twice that much, so it's definitely a great deal for my family. (Later in the series, I'll provide some tips for "surviving" your CSA deliveries.) Of course, there's always a chance that we could end up with a paltry share, if a weather anomaly or some other catastrophe strikes the farm. But in the 3 years I've been doing this, it hasn't happened. 

Suckling piglets on Wrong Direction Farm (photo from their website at www.wrongdirectionfarm.com)

My CSA has also developed a relationship with a meat and egg farmer called Wrong Direction Farm, through which we can purchase pasture-raised chicken and pork, eggs from pastured hens and grass-fed beef. It's all responsibly farmed, and available at prices below comparable products at the store. We also often have access to extra seasonal goodies like maple syrup by the gallon, tomatoes by the crate, or apples by the peck, at steeply discounted additional cost.

If you live anywhere near a reasonably-sized metropolitan area, you probably have CSAs near you. I'm sure, as with everything else in life, there are good ones and not-so-good ones (although I've honestly only ever heard about the good ones), so you may want to ask around before you choose one. If you want to truly commit to eating mostly plants, especially those that are local and seasonal, a good CSA can be an extremely cost effective way to do it.

Cauliflower Dreamin'

My cauliflower, cut up and ready for oil.

One of the most delicious things to do with cauliflower is to embrace all your lazy summertime tendencies and barely do anything to it. Really.

Here's how it works:

You just cut it up, slather it with olive oil, generously sprinkle it with coarse salt and pepper, and sear it on a hot grill until it develops a beautiful brown char. Then you move it to a cooler spot on the grill and let it hang out there awhile longer while you sip a cold delicious beverage and chat with your neighbors. After a while, you take it off the grill and eat it. That's it.

I have to admit there was a time I did not love cauliflower. That time is over. This is so good I've been known to pick up the pieces I drop on the ground and pop them into my mouth rather than waste a single bite. Even a bit of driveway grit can't take away from the simple, delicious pleasure of this gorgeously charred treat.

Brown Butter Scape Sauce

Garlic scapes from my CSA in late June.

If you want to go a step beyond the simply satisfying charred cauliflower I just described, eat it with a dollop of Brown Butter Scape Sauce. Garlic scapes are one of those somewhat unusual things we sometimes discover at the farmers' market. They're the flowering stalk of the garlic plant, removed in early summer to encourage the remaining garlic bulb to develop that intense flavor we know and love.

Garlic scapes taste like garlic, but not quite as strong, and they last for weeks. I just put them loose in my veggie drawer or in any vacant spot in my fridge, and they are often still going strong a month later (although the flavor will begin to mellow after a couple weeks).

This recipe calls for removing the flowering end of the scapes (the part that looks a bit like an oddly-shaped tulip bud), but they're totally edible as well. Their flavor is much milder than the rest of the scape; they're great in salads or chopped and sprinkled onto anything that would benefit from a mild crunch.


Recipe

Charred Cauliflower with Brown Butter Scape Sauce

Delicious charred cauliflower takes one more step to amazing flavor with this sauce made from garlic scapes, one of summer's best flavoring powerhouses.