Notes on Storing and Using Produce
The variety of fresh herbs this week provides you with a chance to add layers of flavors to a dish and brighten the flavor. Most herbs are best used fresh for the brightest flavor, but many can be dried successfully for winter time use. To dry herbs, gather into a small bundle and tie at base with a long string. Hang upside down in a warm, airy place until completely dry. Once dried, gently strip the leaves and store in a glass jar. Dried herbs will last up to 6 months if stored in a well-sealed jar away from direct heat and sunlight. Dried herbs can be more intensely flavored than fresh so if you are substituting dry from fresh herbs, use a 1 to 3 ratio (1 teaspoon of dried for 1 tablespoon of fresh).
Fresh mint goes well with fruit salads, cucumbers, yogurt dressing, grilled lamb, lentils, fresh peas and pilafs. Mint will also add a refreshing cool flavor to many summertime drinks, such as lemonade, ice tea, mint juleps and mojitos. Dried mint makes a wonderful cup of tea in the winter or it can be used to infuse cream based desserts.
Marjoram is part of the mint family, which gives it a slightly minty flavor. Others compare the herb to oregano but milder in flavor. Marjoram is present in many Mediterranean cuisines and was even used by early Greeks in funeral rights to symbolize their loved ones’ happiness both in life and beyond. The herb goes well with ground meats, poultry dishes, stuffing, and tomato sauce. Marjoram’s flavor can be delicate so it is best added towards the end of cooking so its essence does not dissipate.
Another member of the mint family, thyme is the herb of French cuisine. This highly aromatic herb is integral to many soups, sauces, stocks, and the traditional bouquet garni. To remove the fresh leaves from the stem, gently run your fingertips down, towards the thicker part of the stem. Whole stems can be added to soups or sauces and removed before serving.
Sweet onions tend to be lower in sulfur and higher in water content, giving them a mild flavor and perfect for eating fresh in salads and on sandwiches. These onions do not have a long storage life and will last best if stored in a cool dark spot. If the outside layers start to soften, peel and store in the refrigerator.
Fun Jen Chinese cabbage is an open pollinated variety of Chinese cabbage with semi-loose conical leaves that are slightly crunchy and a mild cabbage flavor. For a refresher on this vegetable, see the notes from June 18th. Last week at the Hamilton Farmer’s Market, one woman told Leon she is very excited to find this vegetable since it is her favorite item for soup. Treat the stalks and leaves separately since they cook at different rates. The cabbage would make a great addition to a wonton or eggroll filling for appetizers or wonton soup.
Native to Northern Europe, turnips are common to British cuisine but also have a strong place in French food. The white-fleshed turnip has a white skin and purple-tinged top. If they arrive attached, remove the green leaves and store separately. Turnips are best stored in a plastic bag in the crisper bin. Turnips need to be peeled before using. As part of not spraying, many root vegetables are susceptible to root maggot. The turnips in your share show signs of this but don’t fear… the vegetable is still good. Just peel and cut around the brown spots that are on the outside of the vegetable. Turnips can be boiled, steamed, roasted, or sautéed with good results. Once boiled or steamed, turnips can be mashed or pureed. Turnips pair well with blue cheese, thyme, potatoes, garlic, butter, and cream.
Fresh Herb Butter (makes ½ cup)
Flavored butters, also known as compound butters, can be used to finish soups, melt over grilled meats or tossed with your favorite cooked vegetable or potato. Once frozen the butter log can be sliced into thin disks straight from the freezer. If wrapped well, it should store for up to 6 months in the freezer. This recipe is courtesy of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison, a well known chef and great supporter of local food.
¼ pound butter
2 tablespoons chopped thyme
3 tablespoons chopped marjoram
1 shallot, finely diced
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
Start with butter at room temperature, add the ingredients and mix them with a spoon or a paddle attachment on a mixer. The butter can be stored fresh in a crock or set on sheet of wax paper, rolled into a cylinder, and frozen until firm.
Mashed Turnips (4-6 servings)
Baking turnips can intensify their sweetness and flavor. This is a southern recipe inspired by The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, two well known southern chefs. The amounts can be cut in half for smaller portions.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 pounds white turnips, peeled and sliced into ½” rounds
½ teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt the butter in a large baking dish by setting in the oven until melted. Put the sliced turnips in the baking dish and toss with melted butter, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Lay a piece of parchment paper directly on top of the turnips and wrap the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil. Bake in a preheated oven until tender, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven, and use a fork or potato masher to mash the turnips coarsely. Taste for seasoning and serve warm.