Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Two Small Farms Newsletter #407

tomatillo photoAugust 1st 2007

Table of Contents:

1) In your box this week
2) Eat the Profits
3) August Events
4) Photos
5) Recipes
6) Which Farm?
7) Unsubscribe
8) Two Small Farms Contact Information

1) In your box this week: Tomatillos, Basil, Cebolla de Ribo Verde (little white onions), Serrano Peppers (spicy!), Romaine lettuce, Leeks, Romanesco OR Cauliflower, Strawberries OR Artichokes, Poblano Peppers OR Bell Peppers, Mystery

This week’s vegetable list: I try to have it updated by Monday night, sometimes by Mon. am

How to store this week’s bounty: all in the fridge as soon as you arrive home, except for the tomatillos and basil. The tomatillos can be stored at room temperature. When prepared they should be husked. This is an excellent job for a child who appears bored or a guest/spouse who needs to earn their keep. The basil: it shouldn’t get too cold so it won’t work in many parts of most fridges. It *may* keep in your vegetable drawer, or better yet the door of the fridge (which is often a tad warmer than the rest of the fridge.). Or on your counter. Or just make pesto within the first day: you’ll be fine!


2) Eating The Profit by Andy

The tomatillo is related to the tomato. Its fruits look like immature green tomatoes wrapped in a papery husk, and they’re used throughout Latin America to make salsa verde, or else fried, baked, used in soups, or sliced thin for salads or sandwiches. The cultivar of tomatillo in your box is called Toma Verde. Of the half-dozen or so garden varieties of tomatillo available, Toma Verde is perhaps the most widely cultivated here in the United States. The seed is easy to get, the plants are easy to grow, the harvest is generous, and the plump fruits have a pleasant sweet / tart flavor. Yet in spite of— or because of— Toma Verde’s impressive list of domestic virtues, Ramiro Campos told me it was an insipid excuse for a tomatillo.

Ramiro worked for me as the foreman on my farm. We had a long history together. When I was a foreman at Frogland Farm in Watsonville I hired Ramiro as a harvester. When I got a job with Riverside Farms in Aromas as harvest manager, he went with me. When Riverside Farm grew and I became a co-owner, Ramiro became our head foreman, responsible to oversee production across hundreds of acres. Before I got married I shared my house with Ramiro, his wife Amparo, his baby daughter, and his sister. For me, living with the Campos family was better than a trip to Mexico. I got a chance to learn Spanish in a family setting, and I got to eat home-cooked Mexican food like I’ve never tasted in restaurants. “Wait until you taste salsa verde made with the tomatillos de milpa that grow wild on our ranch in Jalisco,” Ramiro said. “You’ll never grow Toma Verde again!”

There’s a flat one-acre field with decent soil below my house. Ramiro proposed that we grow a garden on it with the foods he missed from Mexico, like tomatillos de milpa. If I donated the field to the project and the tractor to work the soil, he’d do the sowing and cultivating. Ramiro’s brother, Renato, could help with the harvesting, and if I loaned my pick-up to the cause, Renato’s wife, Chupina, would sell the crops in the town of Pajaro. We’d split the profits equally. “Pajaro is full Jaliscanos, right off the ranch,” he said. “They’ll line up for baskets of tomatillos de milpa like they’re buying bus tickets.”

I considered Ramiro’s idea carefully. All we had for water was a spring on the hillside that had been dug out by great-grandfather and lined with bricks. A little domestic pump brought the water up to the house, and we barely had enough flow from the spring to wash the dishes, bathe five people, and flush the toilet.

“It’s an interesting idea,” I said. “But we don’t have much water. If we raise a crop, but we can’t clean our clothes, and your baby’s dirty, then where’s the profit?”

“Someday you’ll visit us at our ranch in Jalisco, Andrés, and you’ll see how much we do without water. We’re thrifty. We can grow the tomatillos de milpa without irrigation.”

We walked to the fence and looked out across into the field that spread beneath us.

“See how the field is slightly dished?” Ramiro said, pointing. “This field catches the rain. A foot down the topsoil turns to adobe, and adobe holds the moisture for a long time. If we’re careful when we sow, then the crops will root into damp soil follow the moisture down as the water table recedes in the summer. We’ll keep the field clean, so we don’t lose any moisture to weeds. Without irrigation, a second crop of weeds won’t sprout, and we’ll get a harvest without much labor.”

I didn’t have much to lose.

Ramiro’s uncle came back from a Christmas visit to Jalisco, bringing tomatillo de milpa seeds from plants he found growing wild in the huerta. Ramiro plowed the field in the second week of February, and hilled up in blank rows to soak up more rain. He planted trays with tomatillo seed in my little greenhouse. As the weather permitted, he cultivated the field with the tractor, destroying the weeds that had sprouted and loosening the soil.

When the soil was warm in the spring, Ramiro called on his brother, Renato, to come and help him. Then the two of them transplanted out the young tomatillo de milpa plants.

The tomatillos de milpa grew like weeds throughout the spring, even though our last rain fell on the first of April. By June, the field was a galaxy of yellow stars, as the tomatillos showed off their five petaled blossoms. The green papery husks appeared next, and slowly, through June and into July, tiny, nascent tomatillos gradually swelled within them into little round fruits.”

“Compared to los tomatillos de milpa, the Toma Verde are insipid,” Ramiro promised.

“The proof is in the salsa,” I said.

Ramiro filled the crown of a cowboy with tomatillos de milpa. The fruits were small than Toma Verde, hardly larger than a marble, and firm. Each tomatillo was wrapped in a sticky, papery husk. Some of the fruits were purple, others green or yellow.

“It looks like a lot of work to prepare them,” I said.

“You’ll see,” Ramiro said, holding out the hat for me to inspect. “The small size of the tomatillos de milpa doesn’t come at the cost of flavor. All that’s missing is the taste of muddy irrigation water, so the salsa verde will be rich, just like it is on the ranch.”

We built a fire in the yard and laid a comal on the coals. When the comal was hot, we peeled away their papery wrappers and spread the tiny tomatillos de milpa across it. We toasted them until the skins split with the heat. Amparo laid cebollas de rabo verde, or “green-tailed onions” around the edge of the fire to roast. She threw a handful of serrano peppers on the comal. When everything was ready she got out her mano y molcajete, or mortar and pestle. She mashed the roasted onions and tomatillos together with salt and a little flame blistered serrano chile, and served up an autentico salsita verde del rancho, to complement the beans and potatoes in a brace of perfect taquitos.

“Riquíssimo!” I said. “The tastiest! And the profit?”

Ramiro and Renato harvested the tomatillos de milpa. They loaded up the pick-up, and drove with Chupina down to the corner of Porter Drive and San Juan Road in Pajaro. An excited crowd of amas de casa crowded around the pick-up truck and admired the baskets of tiny tomatillos— “Qué lindo! Just like the tomatillos from mi tierra!”

But the housewives didn’t want to pay any more for tomatillos de milpa than they’d pay for regular Toma Verde tomatillos down the street at the frutería. “Un peso! Un peso,” they cried, thrusting single dollar bills in Chupina’s face..

It’s one thing to sell tomatillos for a dollar a basket if you can fill the basket with five plump, sweet/tart Toma Verde fruits, but it’s entirely different if it takes fifty tiny, sweeter/tarter tomatillos de milpa. The cost per hour for labor to harvest remains the same, no matter the size of the fruit. For tomatillo de milpa to be as profitable as Toma Verde, they’d have to cost ten dollars a basket.

Ramiro paid Renato out of pocket to help pick the tomatillos de milpa, but the harvest costs weren’t covered costs by the sales. On top of that, he paid Chupina for the time she spent trying to sell the tomatillos de milpa on the street corner. He was cross, but I was happy. “We’ve both profited equally,” I said.

Ramiro shot me a questioning glance.

“Now I know how good food on the ranch can be. And now you understand why I’m always worried about the cost of labor all the time. I have to! Amas de casa are the center of our universe, and they’re thrifty.”

“Amparo isn’t thrifty enough,” he said.

That was true. One of the problems between Ramiro and Amparo was her credit account at Joyeria Don Roberto. I changed the subject. “On the ranch in Jalisco, where money is scarce, picking wild tomatillos de milpa in the huerta is a necessity born of poverty, but up here, where there’s more money, eating like a campesino is a luxury!”

I could afford to make light of the situation. Ramiro was eating crow, and I was enjoying home-cooked Mexican food.

Or maybe Ramiro gets the last laugh. When their daughter reached school age, Ramiro and Amparo returned to Jalisco so she could get a proper Mexican education. Ramiro bought a ranch with the money he earned in California, and now he raises goats and makes cheese. His offer to host me when I travel to Jalisco still stands, and one day I’d like to make the trip. But no matter how novel Jalisco will seem to me, some things will be familiar— like the tomatillos. Every spring in the field below my house Ramiro’s wild tomatillos de milpa sprout like weeds among my herb beds, whether we work the soil, or not. It’s my business if I choose to grow Toma Verde, but Ramiro might say it’s my own damn fault if I choose to eat them.

copyright 2007 Andy Griffin

2 Tomatillos Photo: of the larger, more common 'toma verde' and the smaller, purple, wild tomatillo de milpa

Wild Tomatillo Plant photo:
they are still growing in Andy's yard between a few rosemary bushes!

3) Events

Strawberry U-Picks Summer Saturdays

Come pick your own berries at High Ground Organics, Saturdays 10 am to 1 pm, for the rest of July and August. $1.20/lb. Check in at the Redman House Farmstand first to pick up your empty flat(s). From Hwy 1, take Riverside Drive (Hwy 129) exit. Go west off the exit (toward the ocean). Turn right at the stop sign at Lee Rd. Pass the Chevron stations and turn into the farmstand parking area.

August 25th: Tomato Upick at Mariquita Farm in Hollister in the morning: 9am to 2pm. We know we’ll have plenty of tomatoes by then. We will also have Padron Peppers at this Tomato Upick Day!


4) Photos:


Serrano Chiles: (I’ll have a photo of our current serranos on the Chile recipe page by Tuesday afternoon)

White and Purple Sweet Bell Peppers: (I’ll have a photo of our current white and purple bells on the sweet pepper recipe page by Tuesday afternoon)


Romanesco (can be cooked like any cauliflower!)


5) Recipes from Doranne, Angela U., Eve, and Julia

Tomatillo Salsa Recipe adapted from about.com
Julia's note: you can first cook the onion and tomatillos in a small amount of water, then proceed with the recipe, and include the water when blending.

1/4 cup Onion: (any color); chopped
1/4 cup Fresh Cilantro; chopped
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/2 lb husked Tomatillos; Cut Into Halves
1 fresh serrano chile, seeded

Place all ingredients in food processor workbowl fitted with steel blade or in blender container, cover, and process until well blended.
Makes about 1 1/4 cups sauce.

Vegetable & Chickpea Curry

1 tablespoon olive or other cooking oil
1 cup chopped onion or leek
1 cup (1/4-inch-thick) slices carrot
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
1 Serrano chile, seeded and minced
3 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 cups cubed peeled potato
1 cup coarsely chopped sweet (bell or other) pepper
1 cup cauliflower or romanesco, cut or broken up into florets
teaspoon salt
teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (14 ounces) vegetable broth
3 cups fresh baby spinach or other cooking greens
1 cup light coconut milk
6 lemon wedges

Heat oil in large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and carrot, cover and cook 5 minutes or until tender. Add curry powder, brown sugar, ginger, cloves and chile. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Place onion mixture in 5-quart electric slow cooker. Stir in chickpeas, potato, sweet peppers, the cauliflower/romanesco, salt, pepper, ground red pepper, tomatoes and broth. Cover and cook on high 6 hours or until vegetables are tender. Add spinach and coconut milk, stir until spinach wilts. Serve with lemon wedges. Makes 6 servings.

submitted by Doranne H:

Hi , the following recipe is from Orangette
I've also roasted the cauliflower in bigger pieces for about an hour. It's simple but if you haven't tried roasted cauliflower you are missing out. Be sure to let it brown.

Caramelized Cauliflower
Adapted from Jim Dixon

1 head of cauliflower, white or green
Olive oil
Fine sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the head of cauliflower on a cutting board, and slice it top-down into ¼-inch slices, some of which will crumble. Toss cauliflower in a large bowl with plenty of olive oil and a bit of salt, spread it in a single layer on a heavy sheet pan (or two, if one looks crowded), and roast until golden brown and caramelized, turning bits and slices once or twice, about 25 minutes. Devour.


What Angela U. will do with this week's box:

For this week's box: The basil will go into pesto in the freezer. The tomatillos and onions (and maybe leeks) will go into some variation on chile verde. The serranos will be seeded and chopped and then frozen in ice cube trays with a little water and one pepper per cube for Indian food some time later. Romaine is my girls' favorite lettuce so it will make a couple salads if it is a large head - (Sorry, Lena, my girls like olive oil and balsamic best.)

Strawberries go in shortcake if I have time ahead, or a fool (sliced and slightly sweetened and then barely folded into whipped cream) or with chocolate fondue (Heat 2/3-3/4 cup of cream just til steaming and add 12oz chocolate - chips will do, gourmet if you have it on hand... Let the chocolate sit in the hot cream for a few minutes to soften, whisk smooth and add a splash of spirit or vanilla if you like. Dunk berries and anything else you fancy. Yummy!)

With the Cauliflower/Romanesco I would make a pasta with mustard sauce from Tassajara (recipe below). I will hope for poblano peppers to put either in a "Pastel de Maiz" from a freind's recipe or to stuff and broil - a take-off from a local restaurant.

Mustard butter pasta with broccoli from The Tassajara Recipe Book

Note - I don't tend to follow recipes too closely - I use them more for inspiration. The following is pretty much straight from the book.

5/8 cup butter, softened (or part olive oil)
4 Tblsp dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic
2 Tblsp parsley, well minced
2 Tblsp chives, finely sliced or green onion, minced
Salt and Pepper
1 Tblsp oil
2 cups broccoli, cut into small flowerettes (or cauliflower or romanseco!)
3/4 pound pasta

Blend butter and mustard. Set aside.Slice garlic and pound it with a mortar with a healthy pinch of salt. When the garlic is pulpy add the parley and chives (or onions) and pound a bit more to release the flaovrs. Blend this mixture into the mustard mixture with a few twists of black pepper.

Bring a large amount of water to a boil with the tablespoon of oil and a spoonful of salt. Add the pasta to the boiling water. If you are using fresh pasta, add the broccoli at the same time. If using dried pasta, add the broccoli for the last couple minutes of cooking. As soon as the pasta and broccoli are done, drain and put them in a 12" skillet allowing a bit of the cooking water to dribble in. Add the mustard mixture and, over moderate heat, toss the mixture until everything is evenly coated. Keep the heat low enough that the butter doesn't bubble or fry as that would change the flavor. Adjust salt and pepper to your taste and serve.

Pastel de maiz - this is a recipe I was taught "by feel" from a friend from Guadalajara.

10 ears of corn, cut from the cob and processed briefly in a food processor. You want it chopped but not pureed. (You can use frozen corn but you'll need to add some milk or cream to get the right consistency.)
5 eggs, beaten
~1 1/2 cups flour
~1/2 cup melted butter
salt, to taste
cheese, grated (monterey jack, pepper jack, cheddar...)
peppers, seeded and sliced thinly (she always used poblanos)

Mix everything but cheese and peppers in a large bowl. Add a bit of millk if the mixture seems dry. You are going for a slightly-firmer-than-custard-like finished product something like quiche filling. Pour about half of the mixture into a well greased baking dish and then add a layer of cheese and peppers . Repeat layers. Bake at 350 until nearly set in the middle and beginning to brown on top. Cover with foil if it seems to be browning too fast. Time will depend on the depth of your dish. You can also make 2-3 smaller pasteles which would need less baking time. My friend always serves this with chicken mole.

Stuffed Poblanos - -similar to a dish served at Pajaro Street Grill in Salinas

Make a mixture of ~ 2 parts grated sharp cheddar cheese, ~1 part raisins, coarsely chopped and `1 part slivered almonds. Cut generous caps off the stem end of poblano peppers, remove core, seeds and ribs, leaving peppers whole. Fill peppers with the cheese mixture and reattach "lids" with toothpicks. Broil or grill, turning to char all sides. Makes a great light dinner with a salad and maybe some rice. (If you cook them under a broiler, line the pan with foil for easier clean-up.)


Submitted by Eve Lynch, San Francisco:

the following recipe is from Gourmet Magazine. I made it using leftover brown basmati rice and a lemon instead of an orange. It is refreshing and delicious. It may just be my new favorite way to use fennel. You have to try it!! To make it using leftover rice, use 3 cups of cooked rice, and toast the fennel seeds anyway, and add them to the rest of the ingredients. Very quick and easy. -Eve

FENNEL RICE SALAD (in case you still have your fennel bulb in your kitchen!)
The tang of citrus and the refreshing flavor of fennel give this side dish a lightness that other rice preparations just can't match.

1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 3/4 cups water
1 cup basmati rice
1 large navel orange
1 teaspoon white-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium fennel bulb with fronds
2 large scallions, thinly sliced

Toast fennel seeds in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until fragrant and a shade darker, about 2 minutes. Add water and 3/4 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Add rice and return to a boil, then cook, covered, over low heat until water is absorbed and rice is tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Spread rice in a shallow baking pan and cool quickly by chilling, uncovered, 5 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, grate zest from orange into a large serving bowl and squeeze in juice (about 1/3 cup). Whisk in vinegar, oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Chop 2 tablespoons fronds from fennel, then discard stalks. Quarter bulb lengthwise and thinly slice crosswise.

Stir fennel bulb and fronds into vinaigrette along with cooled rice, scallions, and salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 4 servings

Gourmet August 2007

Soft Polenta with Leeks

3 tablespoons butter
3 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
2 1/4 cups (or more) water
2 cups canned chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 cup polenta*

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

*Sold at Italian markets, natural foods stores and some supermarkets. If unavailable, substitute 1 cup regular yellow cornmeal, and cook leek-cornmeal mixture for about 15 minutes rather than 35 minutes.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks; stir to coat. Cover and cook until leeks soften, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add 2 1/4 cups water, broth and bay leaf. Bring to boil. Gradually whisk in polenta. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until mixture is thick and creamy, stirring often and thinning with more water if necessary, about 35 minutes.

Remove pan from heat. Discard bay leaf. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter and Parmesan cheese. Season polenta to taste with salt and pepper. Divide polenta among plates.

Serves 4.

Bon Appétit February 1999

Leek Noodles
adapted from Ten Minute Cuisine by Green & Moine

In a wok, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 2 shredded leeks and 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves. Add cooked noodles of any shape (about 1 pound when uncooked) and stir-fry until heated through. Season with salt and pepper.

The Victory Garden Cookbook, Marian Morash

Slice or dice cauliflower, or cut into 1/4-1/2-inch flowerets. Melt a combination of butter and oil (or either one) and toss cauliflower in it until coated. Cover pan, reduce heat to low, and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with herbs and additional butter, if desired, and serve.

With Garlic & Oil: Add a garlic clove when tossing the cauliflower in oil.

With Tomatoes: To larger flowerets, add your favorite tomato sauce or peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes combined with fresh herbs such as basil. Cover and simmer as above until flowerets are barely tender.

In Vinegar: Saute in oil with garlic, add some red or white wine vinegar, then cover and cook until cauliflower is tender.

With Peppers: Toss the cauliflower in butter or oil with strips of red and green pepper. Cover, and cook until tender.

With Olives: Add black olives or large green olives stuffed with pimiento.

With Cream: Toss cauliflower in butter and coat with heavy cream. Cover pan and cook until cauliflower is tender. Uncover, and reduce cream so it just coats the cauliflower. Sprinkle with lemon juice; season with salt and pepper.

With Nuts: Saute cauliflower in butter, cover pan, and braise until barely tender. Uncover, add toasted almonds, walnuts, or pistachio nuts, saute over high heat for 1 minute.

With Capers or Anchovies: After sauteing in butter or oil, toss in capers or anchovies and cook for 1 minute before serving.

Tomatillo Chicken Soup
Adapted from Splendid Soups

1 chicken cut into 8 pieces
1 lb tomatillos coarsely chopped (husked first!)
1 onion finely chopped
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
2 jalapenos seeded and chopped
3 c chicken broth
2 T chopped cilantro

salt and pepper and then brown the chicken in a pan 8-10 minutes a side. Adjust the fat and lightly saute the onions and garlic. Add broth, tomatillos, jalapenos and chicken to pan. When chicken is done (~15 minutes) remove to cool. Skim any fat (I use a stick blender) and puree what is in the pan. The recipe calls for straining it, but I prefer it more 'peasant' and don't. Shred the chicken meat and return to the pan with the cilantro. Adjust salt/pepper (add cayenne if you need it) to taste and you have a great soup (I'll sometimes add a little lime juice to taste as well). Serve with sour cream and/or

shredded cheese.

Recipe Links:

Cauliflower and Romanesco can both be prepared in any ‘cauliflower’ recipe
Peppers (not spicy)
Salad Dressings


6) Which Farm?

From High Ground: Lettuce, Leeks, Cauliflower, Romanesco, Berries, Arichokes, Flowers
From Mariquita: Peppers, Onions, Basil, Mystery, Serrano Peppers, Tomatillos


7) Unsubscribe/Subscribe From/To This Newsletter

Two Small Farms Blog

BLOG ADVANTAGES: I can change mistakes after I post them. I don’t have to subscribe/unsubscribe folks. Old newsletters easily accessed. Links! (I send this newsletter out as plain text so more folks with differently-abled computer systems can easily read it.) You can sign up for email updates to the Two Small Farms Blog on the main blog page:

8) Two Small Farms Contact Information

Two Small Farms
Mariquita Farm/High Ground Organics
Organically Grown Vegetables
P.O. Box 2065
Watsonville, CA 95077


Doug said...

oh man, I can't tell you how Excited I was picking up this weeks bag. at 11:30 I hopped on my bike, and I was the first to the site. My early arrival was rewarded with the stocked trade box.. mmmmm

I will happily devour Senor Campos inispid Tomatillos any day of the week.

I wish it were August every month :)

chardgirl said...

Doug: We'll have tomatillos for upicking on August 25th!