What's in the Basket? How to Cook Delicious Meals with Local Ingredients.

It's officially spring in South Carolina. The tulips faded to make room for rich Dutch iris blooms, and the peonies hang heavy with buds. Honestly, there's no better time to be a gardener than in spring, when there's so much promise and anticipation of what's to come.

Of course, it's also the season for lots of work to prepare the vegetable beds, but the rewards--like this first strawberry I found when weeding on Saturday--make it worth every bit of sweat and effort.

Isn't the first strawberry of the season always the sweetest?

Signs of spring are everywhere. Our local farmers' market opened early this year, offering a chance for farmers to expand their season, while benefitting the community in providing fresh, healthy food.

And then, there's our CSA.

Isn't it fabulous?

This is our first year participating in our local Community Supported Agriculture program through Hub City Farmers' Market. In a CSA, participants pre-purchase a share of produce, helping to cover some of the up-front costs of farming. It's tough for farmers to earn an income during the cold season, and the early cash-flow of CSA enrollments bridge the income gap in the off season. In exchange, CSA members receive a consistent supply of produce during harvest time. Members also share in the risk and rewards of food production. If there's a strawberry surplus, shareholders should plan to make jam or learn to preserve their abundance. If a crop fails, the farmer tries to make up the deficit from another crop. Shared risk and reward is the basis of the CSA Model.

Because we grow much of our own produce, I've hesitated to join the CSA in prior years. Now, though, as I'm becoming braver about preserving seasonal goodies, I thought this would be the perfect year to join. Plus, as a member of our farmers' market Board of Directors, I think it's important to support our farmers and to help our community understand how much joining a CSA can impact healthful eating.

Goodness know, we need to revamp our eating patterns here, which is one of the reasons we committed to the CSA. With all of the beautiful produce from the farmers, as well as our gardens, we're cutting out some of our bad habits--namely, eating out too often.

To keep us accountable, my goal each week is to show what we receive in our CSA basket, then to share a recipe or two of what we created from the goodies. One of the biggest obstacles in trying to eat more healthfully is a lack of information--many people don't know the best way to prepare Swiss chard or how to use bok choy, for instance. Our market manager, Devon, is doing a great job sharing recipes through the CSA newsletter and on the Hub City Farmers' Market YouTube channel. Now, I'm trying some extra recipes from my many "farm to table" cookbooks to prepare for our family, too. This first CSA meal, though--we improvised.

Our dinner from our first CSA share was pretty simple: garlic rosemary roast chicken, Parmesan Swiss chard, and risotto ai funghi. Our CSA offers a meat option, which I love. It's not easy to find pasture-raised chicken in our local Publix, that's for sure!

Garlic Rosemary Roasted Chicken

1 whole, local, free-ranged chicken, cleaned and patted dry
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. sea salt
2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped fine, plus 1 sprig for garnish
1/2 stick butter, melted

We used garlic harvested last year from our garden, along with rosemary from our herb garden. Non-local ingredients for the chicken included sea salt and melted butter.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while cleaning the chicken. Pat it dry.
  2. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt on the bottom of the baking dish, along with a pinch of finely chopped rosemary.
  3. Place the chicken breast-side up in the pan and baste it with melted butter.
  4. Mince garlic and spread it on the outside of the chicken. (We're garlic lovers in our house, so I went heavy-handed with the garlic. You might want a bit less.)
  5. Sprinkle remaining sea salt and rosemary over chicken and place a sprig of rosemary as a garnish on top.
  6. Insert meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, avoiding the bone.
  7. Place roasting pan in oven. Bake until thermometer shows 165 degrees, approximately 20 minutes per pound. (I always err on the side of caution with poultry and cook a bit longer.)
  8. Remove from oven and allow roast to rest. Cover with foil until you are ready to carve the chicken and serve.

Sautéed Rainbow Swiss Chard with Parmesan

1 lb. locally grown Rainbow Swiss Chard, washed, patted dry, and chopped into bite sized pieces
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

(The local ingredients in this dish are the chard from the CSA and the garlic from our garden.)

  1. In large skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil.
  2. Add garlic and brown, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add chard and salt to skillet and cook until slightly wilted, about 7 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  4. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over chard and allow to melt slightly, about two minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and serve.

(Isn't that pretty? I love the colors of Rainbow Swiss chard!)

Risotto ai Funghi

6 cups organic chicken broth, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 pounds fresh shiitake mushrooms, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 shallots, diced
1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
¾ cups dry white wine
freshly ground pepper to taste
sea salt to taste
3 tablespoons chopped chives
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

(The local ingredients in the risotto include the shiitakes, as well as the shallots and chives, from our garden.)

Note: Make sure to have all ingredients ready before you start. You need to stir continuously to avoid burning, so you don't want to hunt down ingredients in the midst of cooking.

  1. Warm the broth over medium-low heat in a saucepan.
  2. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook until soft, approximately 3 minutes. Remove mushrooms and liquid, and set aside in bowl.
  3. Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet, and add the shallots. Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add rice, stirring to coat it with the olive oil. When the rice is golden in color (about 2 minutes), add wine. Stir continuously until wine is absorbed. And ½ cup broth to the rice, stirring until broth is absorbed. Continue adding ½ cup broth at a time, stirring continuously, until liquid is absorbed and rice is al dente, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. Remove skillet from heat. Add mushrooms with liquid, butter, chives, and Parmesan, stirring well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve alone or as a side dish. Makes approximately 6 servings.

So, our local challenge is off to a decent start. It's obvious to me, though, that in order to REALLY embrace locally created meals, I need a backyard olive grove and vineyard. Could you imagine the brilliance of producing your own olive oil and wine?

Ooohhhh...maybe that's a new project for us.

Stay tuned for our next segment of "What's in the Basket?" CSA pick up day is tomorrow...I wonder what deliciousness awaits us??

Do you participate in a CSA or grow your own food? What is your favorite meal to prepare using local ingredients? I'd love to know!

Happy gardening--and eating!