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It took me a while to find out what CSA meant and why people were so excited about it.  Eventually I found out it was ‘Community-supported agriculture’ referring simply to a partnership between (small-scale) growers and consumers  where by an exchange was made of cash or produce, for produce. I like it. Everything about it – seasonal, local, often organic and being woven into the fabric of a community. I smiled because I knew that I’d be hard-pressed to find anything like that in the Netherlands, till I read Gnoe’s Grassland – a Netherlands-based blog and discovered she received a weekly Groentenpakket (vegetable package). I smiled but that’s in her corner of the Netherlands, and not mine.

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After a while I put it out of my mind. At the start of the summer, daughter #2’s kindergarten class began a ‘planting’ project. Just before the summer holidays began,  they had a mini harvest of lettuce, radishes and herbs. The kids had the summer of their lives, playing outside daily from sunup to sundown, being dragged in only for dinner and essentials before they rushed out again, soaking up the heat. For the last couple of weeks they’ve been back at school and it was a beautiful sight that surrounded us on our first day back.

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Yellow zucchini blossoms, bunches of yellow, red and still green tomatoes, lettuce, sage, rosemary, thyme, chives and more, in row, after row, after row of edible goodness, fresh, organic and local. Now since daughter #2 and the gardener are best of friends, I asked her if she could help me get some of the fiori de zucca (Italian for zucchini blossoms). And she did. Only instead of just the flowers, I received an entire basket of vegetables, edible flowers and herbs. I was stunned.

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By the talent of the gardener, Gerrit. He had everything not only well organised but beautifully combined and displayed, like a florist with a mixed bouquet….or an artist with his aquarelle colours, vibrants greends against royal purples with yellows and oranges in between.

I was also blown away with the sheer variety of things, some of which I knew not what they were called. I can tell you that I spent all Friday, Saturday and Sunday finding out the names of the different things and making things with them, ont he spot – little time to think and preserve or wait. I had to do something with them and I did. Extremely happy with the gift…but a tad bit sad that it was to be the last. And with that, a renewed determination to  clear out my back patch with its ‘lords’ of mint! I have decided too that I can start my own CSA, sharing some of my 2011 tomatoes with neighbours and friends, as soon as they are planted…and harvested. And my greens. And of course, stalks of my fragrant herbs will accompany them too. And maybe some garlic scapes and chives. And lots of edible flowers too. But that’s  not till 2011. * Sigh*.

In the basket were

Edible flowers: Anise hyssop, zucchini blossoms, flowering sage, flowering mint, chamomile blooms,  and one plant I couldn’t id!

? I ‘m not sure: Black-eyed Susans

Herbs: Mint leaves, sage, celery leaves, chives, parsley, rosemary and thyme

Veggies: Carrots, a variety of tomatoes and some white carrot like roots with dill like leaves. Tell me if you know what it is (to the central left of the photo below. Thank you!)

IMG_1808I had a cooking fest of a weekend.

Anise hyssop syrup and powder

Thanks to Winnie Ab and her anise hyssop poached peaches, I recognised the flower after 24 hours. Following in her footsteps, I made a quick syrup using the blossoms and leaves, water, vanilla and some agave. As you can guess, the syrup was full of sweet, fragrant ‘liquorice’, thanks to the aniseed flavours in the hyssop leaves and blossoms. And while I’m not a big liquorice fan, I love fennel and other aniseed-flavoured ingredients/produce where the flavour is soft and muted, especially by cooking.When I was done with the syrup, I strained out the leaves, flowers and vanilla pods and combined them with caster sugar which I left to dry for a day, just like I Love Inns did.

I especially love the way the vanilla seeds first suspend themselves in the column of liquid, then slowly rise to the top. I guess I’m so used to seeing the seeds sink to the bottom that this was a nice surprise.

IMG_2311 {Please read more about anise hyssop at Winne Ab’s Healthy Green Kitchen.}

Using the latest addition to my kitchen family of electronics, my Krups coffee grinder, I blitzed the candied blooms, leaves and vanilla to make a sweet, aromatic powder. And then later on that afternoon (Saturday), we went out. As we drove past a playground, which we were headed for I noticed familiar lavender-coloured blossoms. On closer inspection, away from the slides and swings, I recognised the now familiar scent.

IMG_1872Oh, how gifts cause us to open our eyes…just a little wider and see promise all around.

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In the same ‘playground garden’, my black-eyed Susan’s said ‘Hi’. And I waved back ‘Hello’.

IMG_1894Sunday’s breakfast was fiori de zucca, stuffed with cheeses, dipped in a sparkling water batter and fried. To go with it, a tomato crudo, alas not with fresh salmon but with juicy sliced tomatoes, sherry vinegar marinated shallots, chopped parsley and drizzled with a basil oil.

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Light, fresh and very colourful.

IMG_1903The cheeses I used were fresh mozarella, about a 100g, a touch of freshly grated pecorino and parmesan (about a tablespoon each), lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, a bit of fresh basil and we were ready. All I knew was the mixture had to be thick to stay contained in the blossoms once they were carefully opened and the pistils were removed. Some people add egg to the cheese mixture, others go with soft ricotta and still some use chevré. Its a case of ‘do what you like!’

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The batter was easy – I stirred together cold sparkling water and about a third of white flour to make a thickish batter. It frothed a lot……….but I stopped putting water when the batter was thick, thicker than my regular pancake mix!

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Minutes later, brekkie was served. We liked….very much! The melted cheese, crispy crust, delicate blossoms and very tasty tomatoes were a great start to our day! For a great how-to on stuffing zucchini blossoms, see ‘All Things Nice’ for an illustrated version.

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Salt-preserved sage

I knew I could make vinegar or pickle the leaves in oil but I wanted to try something else. When I typed ‘preserving sage’ in Google, I found one link that interested me: the Cooks Illustrated Bulletin Board. After scrolling through numerous suggestions on using the herb, I found the one that resonated – preserving the sage leaves in layers, alternate with kosher salt. I used some of my coarse sel de gris and roughly put it together in a container with a lid, shoved in the fridge. A few days later, the leaves have changed colour but the fragrance is potently ‘there’, plus I’ll also have the benefit of lightly flavoured salt to boot. Not that the salt will impart great sage flavours but….in my head its all good.

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20 cm Tomato Chorizo Mozzarella tart (updated 10th Sept 2010)

Ingredients

Regular pie crust dough  (not puff-pastry), I used frozen, store -bought!
8 slices processed mozzarella rounds
4 small fresh chorizo sausages, cut into rounds
1 pack bacon, pan-fried till crisp and then cut into chunks

Filling

1 shallot, finely chopped
100ml fresh milk
2 eggs
100g fresh mozarella, torn into largish chunks
Fresh chilli pepper, diced (to taste)

Topping

3 long tomatoes, cut into slices (not too thin or thick, less than a centimetre would be perfect!)
1/2 – 1 teaspoon of dried mixed herbs
Sprinkling of salt

Could you tell I was cleaning out? Cupboards, fridge and counter. I had loads of mozarella – the ‘processed type’ and fresh, some mini fresh chorizo and bacon which I was eager to be shot off – make room for more! I also had some ‘savoury’ pastry dough – not quite shortcrust but not puff either…and clearly, store-bought. I opted to go for a quiche style filling with eggs and milk, wanting some substance to the tart. The alternative? Just go with the cheese and tommies.


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I line my tart tin with the dough…stitching it together like a jigsaw. Then I prebaked it at 180 degrees C ’cause I wanted a firm case for the ingredients to follow. In went a ‘flower’ of processed mozzarella slices, followed by the chorizo. The filling had a couple of eggs, about 1/2 a cup of milk, some pickled shallots (leftovers from the tomato crudo), crispy fried bacon bits and fresh chilli, to cut through the cheese. No salt because I knew the chorizo and bacon would give up some of themselves for seasoning. This went into the prebaked shell, followed by fresh, torn mozzarella, and finally the ‘stars – slices of tomatoes. Over the top, I sprinkled some Greek mixed herbs, a combination of oregano, basil, thyme and parsley and then finished off with some salt.

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It went into the oven where I watched it like a hawk – hungry and expectant. When it was ready, I knew – The edges of the pastry were golden, the cheese had melted,toasted and bronzed in a glorious manner and the filling had itself taken on the firmness of creme caramel, perhaps a bit softer. The tomatoes, studded on the top had shrunk into their skins and taken on a whiff of the characteristic sun0dried tomato sweetness without its rubberiness.

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A slice through and it was perfect. Layered even. The processed mozzarella created a water proof layer, separating the filling and the pastry base. The filling was soft, creamy and smooth, peppered with the the subdued shallots, bacon and spicy chorizo. And the leftovers warmed up nicely too.

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A definite repeat. Especially as I have more tomatoes coming soon…………from the school garden. What I thought was going to be my last ‘CSA’ packet isn’t. I’ve been granted permission to avail myself of the low-hanging fruit….or it will go to waste.  IMG_2222 And you know me, I never pass up on a chance to pick my own food. Remember my blackberry forage? As we speak, I have 6 zucchini blossoms sitting on my counter, on their way to refrigeration….in preparation for either a tagliatelle dish or stuffed again. Tomorrow will tell.

Have a superb weekend and please share any ‘CSA’ adventures, experiments and experiences you’ve had. With ♥, and lots of it.

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