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Supporting local farms, one recipe at a time

Cookbook offers advice on CSA food

Julia Shanks is coauthor of 'The Farmer's Kitchen,' a guide for consumers who buy food -- such as shallots (pictured), carrots, leeks, and kale -- from community-supported agriculture programs. Julia Shanks is coauthor of "The Farmer's Kitchen," a guide for consumers who buy food -- such as shallots (pictured), carrots, leeks, and kale -- from community-supported agriculture programs. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Omar Sacirbey
Globe Correspondent / June 8, 2011

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As former chefs and passionate supporters of locally grown food, Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal had lots of recipes for a cookbook.

So they wrote one. “The Farmer’s Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Enjoying Your CSA and Farmers’ Market Foods,’’ a book for consumers who get their food from markets and community-supported agriculture programs, or CSAs, has just come out. The 225 recipes are “vegetable-centric’’ and the authors offer advice on storage, canning, and other skills. Shanks, a Cambridge resident, consults to farms and restaurants. Grohsgal is the owner of Even’ Star Organic Farm in Lexington Park, Md. The duo want to address all the questions Grohsgal heard over the years from confounded CSA customers.

Some of the questions customers ask are: “Why isn’t this tomato red?’’ and “What do I do with all these greens?’’ Grohsgal and Shanks, who met while working as chefs at Washington’s Restaurant Nora, have been answering consumers with tasty recipes for years. But as the queries grew, they knew a book of imaginative and simple recipes for an abundance of vegetables and fruits was in order. “It’s daunting for consumers. They want to support local farmers, but they’re overwhelmed by all these new ingredients, and it discourages them from subscribing to a CSA,’’ says Shanks.

Estimates of how many CSA farms and farmers’ markets there are in Massachusetts vary. According to the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, there are 132 CSA farms and 236 farmers’ markets in the state, including 41 CSAs and 110 farmers’ markets within a 30-mile radius of Boston. Several CSA and market cookbooks already exist, including “Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Consumer Supported Agriculture,’’ written by Elizabeth Henderson and Robyn Van En, two New Englanders.

Shanks and Grohsgal say that what distinguishes their book is an emphasis on simplicity. They selected recipes with time-pressed people in mind, and followed a philosophy that a few excellent ingredients prepared well will always taste much better than a dish of many average ingredients. “It’s about letting the vegetable shine,’’ says Shanks. Recipes range from the unique (beet and goat cheese napoleon with buttered walnuts, blackberry-sage chutney, Chinese turnip cakes) to the familiar (pesto, carrots in butter, simmered new potatoes).

The authors acknowledge that eating seasonally is challenging in Northern states. Some advantages to cooler and shorter summers are good for greens, but less so for tomatoes and peppers, which do better in hot, muggy conditions.

The book includes recipes for tater tots and popcorn (basic and kettle), while others involve deep-frying. If you don’t have loose chamomile for the blackberry-sage chutney, just break open a teabag. And you have to appreciate that a Bloody Mary made it in (it contains celery). There are helpful definitions, produce descriptions, and technique explanations. For example, the authors note that small and medium cucumbers can be eaten with the skin, while large cucumbers tend to be sweetest when peeled.

The authors argue that having a respectful attitude toward the earth and eating what it gives you, when it gives it to you, is far more satisfying than produce grown far away, eaten in the middle of a New England summer.

Julia Shanks will cook recipes from the book tonight as guest chef at Evoo Restaurant, 350 Third St., Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-661-3866.

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at osacirbey@hotmail.com.