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Expanding Your Palate: Exciting CSA Ingredient Pairings

June 26, 2024

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Expanding Your Palate: Exciting CSA Ingredient Pairings

Embracing the Transition to Autumn

If you’re like me, you spend the summer chasing all the fun you can fit into those long days – trips to the beach, communing with nature in the woods, or floating in whatever body of water you can access. And once the end of the season rolls around, there’s the inevitable turning inward as we prepare for fall, stepping back to catch our breath and replenish our energy before cooler weather and less daylight mark autumn’s true beginning.

This post-season reset gives me a chance to catch my breath – and to refocus on home cooking. When hot weather comes around, I revert to a diet of mostly fruit, cheese boards, and grilled cheese sandwiches with in-season tomatoes. But in the mid-Atlantic where I live, that summer-into-fall transition is the most exciting time of year at the farmers market. Shiny eggplants, voluptuous heirloom tomatoes, and peaches sit side by side with kabocha squash, sweet potatoes, and cabbage. This year, a warm start to the official fall season is extending that overlap even further.

Unlocking the Potential of CSA Ingredients

So when my veggie CSA dropped off a box that included big red slicing tomatoes, bunches of Swiss chard and broccoli rabe, and the only okra harvest we’d get all season, I knew I had the foundation for a week of healthy, plant-based meals for my partner and me. What grows together goes together, as the saying goes. I did a quick rummage in the pantry for spices, pulling out turmeric, cumin, and a few bulbs of homegrown hardneck garlic, using this excellent recipe as my guide.

I chopped onions, tomatoes, poblano peppers, and okra, bloomed the spices in grass-fed ghee, and set the ingredients to simmer. My hope was that the acid in the tomatoes and the er, mucilaginous quality of the okra would cancel each other out, giving the stew body and flavor but leaving the okra pods tender and the texture pleasantly stew-like. While the tomatoes simmered away on the stove, I set to work on its accompaniments – a batch of short-grain sweet brown rice in the Instant Pot, and the greens I stemmed, chopped, and blanched, then squeezed dry and chopped some more before adding to a pan of fragrant garlic and olive oil to finish.

The result was a bright, pleasantly thick stew with tender veggies and a lot of flavor from the spices and aromatics. Alongside the rice and greens, I couldn’t think of a more ideal seasonal, plant-based meal. And if I’d swapped out the ghee for olive or coconut oil, it would be vegan – a rare thing indeed in this cheesemonger’s kitchen.

Cider as the Perfect Pairing

But what to pair with the tangy acidity and heady spices of this dish? I wanted a cider with a nice fizz, something to cleanse the palate after the okra and garlic, but not something so dry and light it would vanish under the stew’s big flavors. Kurant Cider’s Bees, an off-dry cider spiked with a touch of local honey, was the match. It’s got enough flavor and brightness of its own to compete with the stew’s tomato-y acidity, plus a floral quality – do I detect a hint of jasmine? – that complements the spices so well. Plus, this Pennsylvania cider’s got the bubbles to stand up to rich textures.

While it’s a tad on the sweet side for me to consider it a go-to universal pairing, Bees’ lightness and well-balanced flavor might just make it my go-to for other veggie-based dishes as summer finally really cedes to fall. I can imagine sipping it with this foolproof Smitten Kitchen butternut squash and chickpea salad recipe with red onion, or serving it with a flaky caramelized onion-fromage blanc tart. Or maybe with a pork roast stewed with big chunks of Mutsu apple. After all, autumn is nothing if not cider season.

Unlocking the Art of Wine Pairing with CSA Veggies

But cider isn’t the only beverage that can elevate the flavors of your CSA haul. As the Texas Real Food guide to pairing wine with CSA veggies points out, the art of food and wine pairing is a sophisticated dance of flavors and aromas, where the freshness of the produce can be enhanced by a well-chosen bottle.

The essence of food and wine pairing lies in the delicate balance of the dish’s components – its fat content, acidity, sweetness, and flavor profile. Vegetarian meals abundant with offerings from a CSA share present unique and exciting pairing opportunities. Whether you’re savoring the earthy sweetness of roasted root vegetables or the bright notes of a crisp summer salad, there’s a wine to complement every nuance of your vegetable-centric dish.

In the quest to pair wine with CSA veggies, grasping the basics of wine – from varietals and their characteristics to the influence of terroir and the subtleties of wine tasting – is crucial. This knowledge forms the foundation for creating harmonious food and wine pairings. Each wine varietal possesses distinct characteristics that influence its flavor profile. For instance, Sauvignon Blanc is known for its herbal notes, whereas Chardonnay can range from apple and citrus flavors to rich, oaky blends. Red wines like Merlot provide soft, fruity notes, while Cabernet Sauvignon has a fuller body with hints of dark fruits and tannins.

But it’s not just about reds with meats and whites with fish anymore – it’s about discovering how the subtle, earthy-sweet bridges built by sautéed shallots can bind with the understated elegance of a white wine, or how a stout, tannic natural wine can stand up to the robust umami of charred veggies. The right pairing elevates a meal from mere sustenance to a memorable gastronomic experience.

Practical Approaches to Perfecting Wine and Veggie Pairings

For wine lovers beginning to develop their expertise, starting with at-home tastings is an advantageous approach. They should consider keeping a tasting journal, detailing the variety of wine tested, sensory notes, the CSA veggies paired with, and personal ratings and preferences. Exploring different wines with seasonal CSA veggies allows for direct experience with how wine taste can complement or contrast food flavors.

Attending professionally-hosted wine tasting events that often feature a range of styles and vintages can also provide valuable insights and foster a deeper understanding of wine. Interactions with sommeliers and other wine lovers can offer guidance, and discussing impressions with fellow enthusiasts can help retain knowledge.

When it comes to combining CSA vegetables with wine, the guidelines are flexible. One must keep in mind the key factors – fat, acidity, body, and flavor profiles – of both the wine and the dishes prepared. In CSA vegetable shares, the freshness and seasonal quality of the produce enhance the dining experience when aptly paired with wine. Whether it’s an orange Vitovska with roasted veggies or a Sauvignon Blanc with a crisp salad, the potential for enjoyment is boundless.

So, the next time your CSA box arrives overflowing with seasonal bounty, don’t be afraid to experiment. Embrace the creative challenge of finding the perfect wine or cider pairing to elevate your veggie-centric meals. With a foundational understanding and a willingness to explore, the experience of matching drinks with CSA ingredients is not only accessible but a truly enjoyable endeavor for all.

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Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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