Week #5 Food Prep Guide + RECIPE: Creamy Kohlrabi & Mushroom Bisque
If you are looking for the flavors of early summer, this week's box is for you! Kohlrabi, fennel, and scallions are new this week. I'm especially thrilled with this open-pollinated fennel, 'Selma Fino', from Adaptive Seeds. While most types will bolt at the first sign of heat, these are thriving despite all of the temperature and weather fluctuations we've had this year. I have them intercropped under the cherry tomatoes and not only is it growing well there, benefitting from the bit of extra shade from the tomato plants, but the aroma in that little section is just delightful...the licorice/anise scent of the fennel combined with that distinctive tomato plant smell is so appetizing.
I think that one of the most important ways to make the most of your box and the expense of locally grown produce is to practice "root to stem" cooking (the plant-based version of nose-to-tail). I find American kitchens to be somewhat wasteful in that regard. For example, it would be all too easy to dispose of the kohlrabi leaves and just eat the bulbous stem part, but the leaves are very sweet and flavorful and can be used as a substitute for collard greens or simply saved for your morning green smoothie. While the green part of the scallion is usually seen as more of a garnish, the entire thing is edible and quite delicious; the bulbs can be used as an onion or garlic replacement in your mirepoix, the scallions can be grilled whole, and the roots can be washed and stashed in the freezer for your next batch of stock. The fennel bulb is the prize but the fronds are a mild and sweet herb that could be used in salad dressings, in marinades for fish and chicken, or just chopped as a garnish. Viewed in this way, a lot of things can be treated as a two-in-one (or even three-in-one) crop.
Also, I am so excited that berry season is about to be here. First up will certainly be these beautiful mulberries. (Historically as soon as we have fruit to share in weekly boxes the sales jump significantly so I'm also getting myself mentally prepared for that.) We plan to have lots of fresh berries but will also preserve as much as we can in preparation for late season boxes this year and early spring boxes next year.
We recommend that you set aside 15-30 minutes to unload your produce and do some quick preparations to help your food last as long as possible. Please consider the following preparation tips to make the most of your purchase.
*Wash all produce before use and either scrub or remove the peels.*
*Pickle or freeze anything you don’t plan to cook in 3-5 days.*
Kohlrabi. Remove the leaves from the bulbous stem. The leaves are best used as a cooking green, so process it just like kale: remove the stems, briefly submerge in cold water to remove any residual soil and to refresh the leaves, blanch, drain, and either refrigerate or freeze. Just the same, the cooking liquid contains some nutrients and may be stored as a base for homemade chicken or vegetable stock. The bulb can be stored in a plastic zip-top bag lined with a paper towel in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator and typically maintains quality that way for several weeks.
Fennel. The fronds, or the greens, will wilt within the first few days, so we recommend that you remove them from the bulb and treat like other herbs: place in a mason jar or cup and add a few inches of clean water, just enough to cover the bottom couple of inches of the stems, then drape a plastic bag loosely over the top of the leaves, allowing some air to circulate and store in the fridge. If you won't use them within a few days, freeze chopped fennel fronds in ice cube trays topped with olive oil, hang to dry, or make some salad dressing. Like kohlrabi, when stored without the leaves, fennel bulbs have a long storage life in the refrigerator; store in a plastic zip-top bag lined with a paper towel in the crisper drawer - but we recommend that you use them as soon as you can so they have the strongest flavor. Fennel bulbs are an excellent seasonal replacement for celery both when cooked or when raw. Though they will lose some flavor, they can also be frozen by blanching and storing in airtight bags or containers.
Purple snow peas. Store unwashed in an open plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator and cook as soon as you can. The variety we grow, 'Beauregarde', has been bred to have increased levels of the antioxidant anthocyanin and therefore maintain its purple color after cooking. Before using, wash in very cold water and remove the stem and any fibrous strings. To stir fry, cut large pea pods in half on the bias. Quickly sauté pods over high heat. Add salt and a splash of water, then cover and continue to cook for 30 seconds. Serve immediately. To freeze, bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil, then boil the pods for about 90 seconds before immediately draining and shocking in an ice water bath for a few minutes. Freeze on a lined baking sheet for 30 minutes before transferring the pods to an airtight bag or container. They are also perfectly tasty when raw so feel free to snack on them in their natural state.
Garlic scapes. Much like a garlicky green bean, the flowering stalk of a garlic plant is a delicious farmer's market favorite. Store garlic scapes in a plastic bag lined with a paper towel in the fridge. Kept this way, they often store for over week. Before using, rinse under cold water and proceed with your recipe. They are extremely versatile; you can chop them and use as a replacement for garlic in any recipe, make pesto, or make dill pickles with them.
Red Russian kale. Red Russian is a very mild and sweet kale that can be used both as a salad green or as a cooking green. Remove thick, woody stems. Briefly submerge the greens in cold water to remove any residual soil and to refresh the leaves. We recommend blanching kale right away in preparation for cooking later. To do this, lower the greens into (optional: salted) boiling water for 30-60 seconds until their color becomes very bright and vibrant, then immediately plunge into an ice water bath. Gently lift the greens into a colander to drain excess water. The cooking liquid contains some nutrients and may be stored as a base for homemade chicken or vegetable stock. Refrigerate in a lidded container for up to 3 days or freeze. Substitute for raw greens in recipes or smoothies by using half as much as is called for (i.e. ½ cup blanched greens in lieu of 1 cup raw greens).
Summer crisp lettuce. Cut the root end away to make loose leaves. Briefly submerge the greens in cold water to remove any residual soil and to refresh the leaves. Gently lift the greens into a salad spinner to remove as much excess water as possible. If you don’t have a salad spinner (though we really do find a big difference in storage time when a salad spinner is used instead) you can also place the greens on a paper towel-lined cooling rack, then pat dry with more paper towels. Store in a lidded container lined with a layer of dry paper towel.
Creamy Kohlrabi & Mushroom Bisque
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 lb assorted mushrooms, sliced*
1/2 bunch garlic scapes, washed and dried, chopped
1 bunch scallions, washed and dried, light green and white parts only, chopped
2 kohlrabi, washed, peeled, and chopped
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 bay leaf
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper to taste
Optional: frozen blanched greens such as kale, kohlrabi leaves, beet greens, chard, or spinach Optional: fresh herbs for garnish such as chopped parsley and sliced dark green scallions
Heat a scant tablespoon of the oil on medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot i.e. a cast iron Dutch oven. If using fresh mushrooms, add the mushrooms with a pinch of salt and pepper and sauté until they are fully cooked and browned. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside. If using frozen pre-cooked mushrooms, skip ahead to the next step.
Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the remaining oil, scapes, light parts of the scallion, and another pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté the scapes and scallions for a few minutes until they are softened. Add the kohlrabi, mustard, bay leaf, and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and continue to cook until the kohlrabi is very tender. Cool for a few minutes before adding to a blender and pureeing; for best results, use a high-speed blender to ensure a smooth and creamy texture. Strain through a sieve into the same pot, add the mushrooms and optional blanched greens, and reheat. Check seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve and garnish with herbs if desired. Pairs well with sourdough croutons, lightly dressed salad mix, and a crisp white wine.
*To save time, we like to buy mushrooms in bulk and roast them all at once. To do this, we drizzle the cleaned and cut mushrooms with olive oil, toss with some smashed whole garlic cloves, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes or until they are fully cooked and a little bit crispy on the edges. Then we cool them and portion them in the freezer for a shortcut for soups, stir fries, and egg dishes. Local oyster and shiitake mushrooms are delicious but any mushrooms that fit into your grocery budget will work just fine!