A Plethora of Produce
Although I’ve been tempted to subscribe to a Community Supported Agriculture program, I have resisted, knowing that dealing with mounds of produce each week would be a challenge, especially since my husband has a limited tolerance for vegetables. And, we are often at our house in the Anderson Valley and would miss deliveries.
But I do receive occasional e-mails from Mariquita Farm in Watsonville, a two-hour drive south of San Francisco, announcing pickup places in the city for pre-ordered vegetables and fruits. The amounts tend to be large for two people—I once bought ten pounds of cauliflower—and the prices gentle.
A recent notice was too good to pass up. Strawberries by the flat, orange honeydew melons, basil (one order was twelve bunches), and Padrón peppers by the pound.
One Thursday my husband and I drove to Piccino restaurant to pick up our produce. Julia Wiley from Mariquita Farm stood among flats of berries stacked on the sidewalk. Large bags of basil bulged from the back of her truck. We collected our order, which we were splitting with friends: Two flats of strawberries, six melons, and twelve bunches of basil.
When we got home I started to think about ways to use my bounty.
When I owned a bakery a flat of strawberries was a modest amount. As I eyed twelve baskets overflowing with ripe fruit sitting on the kitchen counter, my perspective was different. They needed to be eaten fairly quickly. Several breakfasts started with sliced strawberries, sometimes with a drizzle of cream or a dollop of yogurt. I took some to my mother. A double batch of strawberries preserved in syrup with black pepper and basil (instead of mint) leaves, from a recipe in Christine Ferber’s Mes Confitures, finished off the flat.
The bocce-ball-size melons, with yellow skins and pale orange flesh, had just the right amount of sweetness. I considered pairing them with prosciutto for appetizers, but we ate them all for breakfasts, sometimes paired with the strawberries.
The basil was the biggest challenge. The bunches were huge. I put our share in an ice bucket of water, covered them with a plastic bag, and stashed them in a cool spot in the kitchen.
A batch of basil panna cotta consumed two packed cups of leaves. Unfortunately, the recipe (from a national food magazine) did not work. I tried again, altering the recipe. This time it was delicious. We took it to some friends for dinner and served it topped with some of the strawberries, sliced and tossed with a little sugar and a splash of Meletti Amaro, an idea I borrowed from a recent dessert of zuppa inglese at Cotogna. The savory notes of saffron and caramel in the liqueur echoed the basil’s herbal taste. Since the panna cotta was so delightful, I followed that theme and made basil ice cream, slightly altering the vanilla ice cream recipe in Chocolate Obsession.
Basil pasta followed, made like spinach pasta but with blanched basil instead. We had pappardelle tossed with fresh tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, and a shower of parmesan one night for dinner. Lunch a few days later was basil fettucini dressed in a similar fashion.
Slivered leaves topped a few caprese salads, more seasoned fresh green beans, and even more added zip to a salad of sliced sausages, tomatoes and red onion. Then I made some basil sugar syrup that will moisten my next génoise cake. More than a week later, I still have some left. Maybe it’s time for pesto.
It’s a good thing I forgot to order the Padrón peppers.