Cleanin’ out my Cabinets: End of Summer CSA (feat. moussaka)

Kristi and I have talked about signing up for a CSA multiple times and never done it.  For those that don’t live in hipster-heavy communities, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  A membership consists of paying a flat fee for a delivery of fresh, locally grown vegetables (or meat), once a week.  The main reason we’ve never signed up is because our summers have been pretty busy the past few years and that is prime CSA season.  We thought we’d end up letting too many vegetables go bad or missing our pickup.

Last week our neighbors headed out of town and offered us their weekly CSA delivery in exchange for checking in on their cat occasionally.  Seemed like a good chance to see what CSAs are all about, so last Saturday I went to the farmers market in JP and picked up their share.  They have a half share, but it’s still a lotta stuff.

I still have no idea what that purple leafed vegetable is. I think it's purple kale, and my guess is I end up boiling it or sauteing it sometime soon

Cantaloupe, potatoes, corn, yellow onion, eggplant, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, celery root, beets, tomatillos, red bell pepper, lettuce, and purple leafy stuff.  We ate the cantaloupe with breakfast and Kristi boiled the beets for salads with the lettuce and tomatoes, but that left some things I needed to come up with a use for.

My friend Conor makes what he calls a “smoky salsa” by grilling tomatoes and hot peppers then pureeing them in a blender.  Sounded like a decent use for some of the vegetables, so I put two tomatoes, the four husked and rinsed tomatillos, a few cloves of garlic, two jalapenos, and the onion under the broiler for ten minutes.

I know it's best to keep the door open a bit to make sure the broiler stays on high, but I was losing some eyebrows in the process

After ten minutes or so, I had this:

I remember thinking, "should I take the seeds out or maybe not use both peppers?", then just saying, "nahhhh" and barreling ahead

I let that cool for a few minutes then everything went into the blender with some cilantro, lime juice, and salt.  After a good blending, I took a taste and, wowza, that was some spicy stuff.  Like, cough when you smell it spicy.  I decided to boil some of the corn and cut it off the cob to mix into the salsa and hopefully cool it off a little bit, leaving us with this:

It even looks spicy

The flavor of the salsa was great, but it had us chugging water and sniffling constantly.  I guess it was a testament to the tastiness of the salsa that we continued eating it despite being in obvious pain, especially for Kristi who doesn’t like spicy foods.  After a debilitating sneezing attack I had to give up and still have about a cup of it leftover in our fridge.

As for what to do with the other vegetables, I noticed that we had a package of ground turkey in the fridge so I decided to combine the turkey with whatever I was going to cook. Which is how I ended up settling on one of my favorite restaurant dishes that I had never cooked myself, moussaka.

I looked up a recipe online, got a sense of what I would need to do, and got started with the eggplant.

The CSA eggplants are the three front ones, the back one is the genetically modified grocery store variety

I peeled each eggplant and then sliced them lengthwise into pieces 1/4-1/2 inch thick.  After cutting each slice, they went onto paper towels with a little salt to drain for a while.  I don’t know why this is necessary, and I have definitely cooked eggplant before without doing it, but I think it helps flush out some of the moisture and bitter flavor.

I had another eggplant, but based on some unscientific eyeballing of the eggplant next to the baking dish, it looked like enough. Basically, this entire CSA experience made me realize I never use the right amount of stuff

The recipe I referenced online called for a bechamel-style cream sauce consisting of a stick of butter and a cup of whole milk to be poured over the whole dish.  I wasn’t trying to make this a healthy version of moussaka, despite the turkey for beef substitution, but it still seemed a little over the top.

On a slightly related note, I’ve never cooked celery root, but I’ve had celery root puree a few times in restaurants and remember it being very creamy and rich tasting.  Since a small celery root came with the CSA, I figured I’d give a shot at using it to replace the cream sauce.

Started cutting before I remembered my all important food blog. Important to me, that is

I did my best to cut away all of the brown outside and probably ended up wasting more of the white edible part than anyone who has prepared this more than once.  While a pot of half water/half skim milk heated on the stove, I peeled one of the potatoes.

I had plans for the remaining potatoes as well

After the pot of milk/water boiled over on two separate burners and required extensive scrubbing of the stovetop to avoid the smell of burning milk (which stinks), I cubed the potato and celery root and added them to the pot.

Pots of milk boiling over are a breeding ground for the creation of new curse words. I don't know what I was saying or what I thought it meant, but it was definitely said aggressively

While that simmered for thirty minutes, and the eggplant continued draining, I started sauteing the ground turkey with four cloves of garlic and a chopped large onion.  Once the turkey had browned, I added about 6 ounces of red wine (3 buck chuck Shiraz, ‘course), a can of tomato sauce, dried parsley, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a secret ingredient to the pan.

The secret ingredient is a beef bouillion cube, clearly visible in the center of the pan. I wanted some beefy flavor and figured it would replace the salt i was going to add anyway

I stirred up the turkey and turned the heat down to let all of the ingredients simmer together for awhile.  The eggplant went into a large pan with olive oil to cook in multiple waves, about 5 minutes on each side to brown it a bit (didn’t take any pictures of that).

With all of that in progress, I turned my attention to the celery root which I strained after cooking for 30 minutes, then dumped into a blender.  For flavor I added a tablespoon of butter, some skim milk, salt and pepper.

The celery root looked identical to potato, just a little darker

While blending I added a little more milk until the consistency looked right for something replacing a cream sauce.

Rich and creamy, not grainy at all. Like a celery flavored cream sauce, really amazing stuff

At this point most of the eggplant was cooked and the turkey meat had been simmering for 20 minutes so I shut the heat off and let everything cool.  Once the pan was cool enough to touch, I stirred in a beaten egg which would help add some firmness and texture to the meat layer.

Kristi and Janet were in VT for a couple nights when I made this. I missed them beforehand, but it got even worse when no one was around to congratulate me on taking such an awesome pour shot

And with that, the moussaka was ready for construction, which I will use photos to explain instead of another thousand words.

Sliced taters. They went in raw since the whole thing had to cook together for an hour

This is why I hate following recipes. I blindly followed the advice in the one I saw to cut the eggplant thicker when my natural inclination would have been to cut it thin and layer it for full coverage. Which is what I wish I had done

The meat mixture and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. I was starting to get nervous about whether there was enough room for everything in the dish

Another layer of eggplant. That's right folks, I blew it, I didn't cook enough eggplant for full coverage on the top layer despite having an extra unused eggplant. I'm an awful person

Top layer of the celery root puree and some shredded pecorino romano. Lookin' dece, moussaka

The dish went into a 350F oven for one hour.  While that cooked, I attempted to clean up the ridiculous mess this meal created, and made a salad with the lettuce, beets, and tomatoes to tide me, Con, and Trish over.

Here's how much I like Annie's Goddess dressing: upon seeing a big bottle of it for the first time (usually only in small bottles) at Stop and Shop on Saturday I couldn't control a loud, "Ohhhhh, AWESOME!!!" from escaping my mouth and drawing confused looks from everyone in the Nature's Promise aisle

After an hour, the moussaka was ready to come out of the oven and rest for a few minutes so that it could set up a bit.

Added a sprinkle of nutmeg over the top after a couple minutes in the oven, turned out to be the right call

It looked pretty liquidy at first, so I was happy that a few minutes of resting time allowed it to firm up, which meant it could be cut and served like a lasagna.

I love all-in-one dishes like this. My fav thing is when a single bite of food has a bunch of different textures and ingredients

I thought it came out pretty good.  There were a lot of rich flavors but the cinnamon and nutmeg offered a nice contrast to the richness.  Replacing the bechamel with the celery root puree didn’t take anything away from the flavor and I thought it worked pretty well with the other flavors.  It was an encouraging sign when everyone got seconds.

On the other hand, there is a lot of stuff I would do differently next time.  Most important would be cutting the eggplant thinner so that each layer of eggplant actually consisted of multiple thinner layers.  As it was, some bites had lots of eggplant, while some had very little.  I would also peel the potatoes for the base layer since the skins were tough to cut through, and use shredded mozzarella under the puree instead of romano sprinkled on top.  Maybe use 93/7 beef instead of turkey next time too.

I’d like to stop posting on Fridays, but I will need to think up something to cook this weekend to change that trend.  Too many mid-week meals documented here.