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Brewer Burns

Thursday, June 16, 2005

First CSA Share and Spinach Pie-- June 13, 2005

So what is a CSA share you ask? Well, I will tell you. A CSA share is basically an agreement by which you (the average consumer who does not have a farm in his or her back yard) share in the crop of a local farmer by pre-paying (usually in late winter or early spring) a sum of money ($400.00) for a box of fresh produce once a week throughout the farmer's market season. In my case, I get a box of fresh produce each week from Tolstoy Farms, a cooperative organic farm located just outside of Davenport, Washington, which is about an hour from Spokane (or maybe 45 miles.) The advantage of the agreement is that you get farm fresh organically grown produce starting in June through mid October (or is it September?) Fabulous. The disadvantage (or perhaps not a disadvantage depending on how you look at it) is that when you buy a CSA share you must adhere to the maxim of "caveat emptor" because you are, in effect, agreeing to support the farm whether or not any actual produce is produced. In other words, if they have a bad year so do you. But, I think the advantages far outweigh the risks.

Last weekend was the first week that we got to pick up our box of produce. In it we found: three bunches of spinach, mature not baby, a pound of rhubarb, a bunch of mustard greens, a head of butter lettuce, a bunch of radishes, and a bunch of oregano. I was extremely, ecstatically excited about all of this. To give you an idea, we put off leaving for my husband's brother's graduation party until early Saturday morning instead of Friday night so that we could pick up our CSA share at 8:00 a.m. So what to do with all of this farm fresh exquisite produce? Well, the first thing I did was make Greek Spinach Pie.

I got the recipe from the Tolstoy Farm's newsletter. I couldn't think of anything else that would use up that much spinach all at one time and that the newsletter written by the farmers themselves would be a good source for a recipe using the produce they've grown. I'm pretty sure the author of the recipe was attempting to imitate spanokopita without buying filo dough or using very many ingredients. First you make a crust involving a one to three ratio of water to flour, some chopped oregano and a couple tablespoons vegetable oil. I was a little sceptical of this at first since there was no butter in the recipe, or egg, and in my experience this can make a very dry, hard crust but I figured, what the hell, may as well follow the recipe and see if it works. After mixing all of the ingredients together you then knead the dough for a couple of minutes and then separate it into three balls of equal size. You then roll out the first dough ball so that it is big enough to overlap the sides of an 8x12 pan. I confess that mine did not overlap the sides but I later learned that the dough is stretchier than I thought it was and that my dough balls were a bit uneven in size so that my subsequent two dough balls were bigger. Note to self: work on making dough balls of the same size. Either that or have Stephen spot me when it comes to making dough balls (men being better with that whole visual thing.)

Once the first dough ball is rolled and/or manually stretched to its proper size you set it in the bottom of the pan, allowing the dough to overlap the sides. I greased the pan first, but this was not called for in the recipe. I just thought that it couldn't hurt to increase my chances of getting the food out of the pan later. Then you put half of the filling on top of the dough. The filling consists of: a pound of chopped spinach, tough stems removed, chopped shallot, chopped parsley, and chopped oregano. I know, still no butter or cheese in sight. Then you roll out the second dough ball so that it will both cover the filling and overlap the sides of the pan. Then you put the rest of the filling on top, and top that with the last dough ball rolled out to overlap the sides of the pan. Then you fold all three crusts together and bake in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Now, I have to tell you that the absence of butter in the recipe worried me. Did I mention that I salted and peppered both layers of filling? Do that, it's a must. I also worried a little when I could hardly get all of the filling to fit into the pan because the spinach had so much loft (spinning term: it means that it was fluffy.) But after 45 minutes I took the spinach pie out of the oven and the spinach had achieved the perfect compaction in the pan. The crust, as I expected, was a little dry and a little hard but not at all inedible. It was quite nice actually. And the pie, all in all, was quite good, particularly because I could still taste the fresh spinach taste even though it had been cooked. I have a fear of overcooked, mushy spinach. It reminds me of all the times my mother tried to make me eat canned, reheated on the stove spinach when I was little and it makes me gag. So, the spinach pie did pass the gag test.

Now, it was good the first night but the next night was much, much better. First of all, the flavors in the filling really had time to meld together and permeate each other and the crust, and we decided to put cheese on top. Yes, cheese. Why would we take this glorious low fat, low calorie meal and add saturated fat and calories? Because we love cheese. Stephen shredded a little sharp cheddar on top before reheating his in the microwave and I put some ricotta on top after reheating mine. Fabulous. I'm happy to say that we ate the spinach pie for three nights in a row and now, thankfully, it is gone. Because really, how many nights in a row can one eat spinach pie?


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