Sunday, June 6, 2010

Strawberry Salad with Balsamic, Blue Cheese, and Tarragon

Words alone cannot express how excited I am to finally be a member of a CSA! I had always wanted to join but it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do when you’re single and living with roommates. Sure, I could have found a friend to share with me, but I think that 5-6 years ago, most of us (myself included) weren’t quite as into or aware of our food as we are today.

Matt and I frequently shopped at the farmers markets in Baltimore, and when I moved back to NYC two years ago, I was living alone so a full share was, again, not really the best option. I’m sure I could have easily used up each week’s share, but I was so busy with work and wedding planning that I wasn’t particularly focused on food. So now that Matt is here and life has calmed down, we are now the proud new owners of a CSA membership.

For those of you who aren’t too familiar with CSAs, here’s the quick and dirty explanation: For the duration of the growing season, you get a weekly delivery of produce (additional share of fruits, dairy, eggs, are also available from some CSAs) which you pick up at a designated locatin each week. You pay for the entire season up front – which means you shell out about $800 to get a weekly produce delivery from early June through the end of December. Yes, it’s a lot of money up front, but you never have to pay a penny again, and this lump sum allows the farmers to invest the money in their farms. Everyone wins. For more information on CSAs and all the CSAs in NYC, check out Just Food, a wonderful resource for anyone who cares about good food and where their food comes from.

So, back to my point. Our first delivery was this past Tuesday, and we got the following:

  •  Vegetable share
    •  1 head lettuce – red or green, I took red
    •  1 bunch leeks – 3 large, incredibly tender leeks
    •  1 bunch French tarragon – I now have more tarragon than I have eaten in my whole life
    •  1 bunch curly cress – This stuff is seriously peppery, I have no idea how I’m going to use all of it!
    •  1 small bag (about 1/2 lb) Jerusalem artichokes aka sunchokes
    •  1 quart strawberries – Most of them were medium size and very red and sweet
  •  Fruit share
    • 2 pints (aka 1 quart) Tristar strawberries – these were the tiniest, reddest, strawberries I have ever seen in my life and they were the tastiest ones too. I’ve had Tristars before but these were somehow better. Maybe because they were the first ones of the season and my mouth had been missing good berries since last summer? Anyhow, I popped one into my mouth on my walk home and I couldn’t stop; the only thing that got me to stop was the thought of the guilt I would have when I told Matt I ate them all. So I stopped.
    •  2 pounds rhubarb – a lot of it was very green, but all of it was tender.
I got an email on Monday with a list of the items in the vegetable share, which allowed me to do some meal planning for the week. I really love that I am now forced to work with a specific set of ingredients every week. Although I do love coming up with new dishes, sometimes I just don’t feel like thinking too hard about what to cook, so being given a brief list of items helps me focus and more easily plan our meals.

We actually ended up eating out on Tuesday night (we met up with some friends for Thai food, beers, and wings – not us, them), so we didn’t have any of our bounty until Wednesday night.

I’m normally not a salad for dinner kind of girl, but we had a big head of lettuce and so many strawberries, so I decided to make a strawberry salad. Optimally, I would have used young greens or baby spinach as the base, but we got that red lettuce as part of our weekly share so red lettuce it was. The strawberries from the vegetable share were amazing (way better than any supermarket berry, although the fruit share ones were even better, if you can believe it!), so I decided to make them part of the balsamic vinaigrette as well as a salad ingredient. I added a ton of tarragon leaves for a light herbal note – they’re very lightly anise-y – and their texture is delicate enough to eat as a salad leaf. I had actually never before eaten tarragon – it primarily shows up in French cuisine and I rarely, if ever, eat French food, as there’s not much there for me to eat, although I do eat my fair share of French baked goods – but I found that I really liked it in this salad. Strawberries and balsamic vinegar are a natural match, so the dressing contained both in addition to some really good olive oil. Finally, I added some nuts and cheese to make this a more substantial salad. I had contemplated using feta, but I still have blue cheese left over from the Brooklyn Brunch Experiment (?!?!?), so in it went, along with some toasted almonds.

The result? A really spring-y salad that was incredibly satisfying and full of amazing flavors and textures, ranging from the insanely sweet, yieliding berries to the creamy, pungent blue cheese, and the light, licorice-y tarragon.

I have a feeling I’m going to get more of the same next week, so you know what we’ll be eating for dinner next Tuesday!


Strawberry Salad with Balsamic, Blue Cheese, and Tarragon
serves 2

½ pint strawberries, preferably local and in season
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ head red lettuce (or any mixed greens or flavorful lettuce), about 4-5 cups of leaves
¼ cup fresh whole tarragon leaves
¼ cup toasted almonds
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese


Wash, dry, and hull the strawberries. Mash 2-3 berries in a small bowl and mix in the 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least a half hour and up to two hours.

Transfer the strawberry vinegar to a jar, add the mustard, a few pinches of salt and pepper, and the olive oil, and shake well to emulsify. Cut the remaining strawberries in half or into quarters (depending on their size) and set aside.

Wash and dry the lettuce and tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces. Add the lettuce, tarragon, and dressing to a bowl and toss well to coat the leaves. Distribute the lettuce between 2 plates and top each serving with half of the berries, almonds, and blue cheese.

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