Every year, right around this time, Jenny and I have the same conversation. We will have just finished dinner, and the kids will have disappeared upstairs to take baths or be mad because we are forcing them to take baths even though just they took baths last night, and Jenny will turn to me and say, “I think I could be a vegetarian.” And I am right there with her. Because (a) I like vegetables*, and (b) when this conversation takes place, we are inevitably transitioning from the gray of winter to the technicolor of prime produce season, when the carrots taste like carrots and the beets are like dessert and the kids can easily snack their way through a pint of snap peas, sitting in a bowl on the counter, in the course of a single afternoon.
It’s kind of crazy how a giant box of fresh produce — from the farmer’s market, a CSA or, if we were better people, from our backyard — in the refrigerator can reset your magnetic north (chicken, must have chicken, what can we do with chicken, remember to defrost chicken) when it comes to family dinner and just, in general, get the inspiration juices flowing again. The other day, as I was sitting at my desk, Jenny texted me a photo of some sick-a#s produce, along with a challenge: “What’s for dinner?” Not to go all Alice Waters on you here, but I let the green stuff be my guide. The truth is, you could throw any of this stuff in a bowl with a light dressing, some salt and pepper, and it would taste good. Apart from the roasting of the beets, nothing we did took longer than 15 minutes, start to finish — and the beets, if I’d been smart enough to plan ahead, could easily have been prepared the day before. Which is what I will do next time, because they were the best thing on the plate by far.
“The beets were the star,” Jenny said.
“Phoebe, what’d you think?” I asked.
“Yeah, good,” she said. “Can I have Oreos on my sundae?”
It was after this meal, as we were cleaning up, that Jenny turned to me and said she thought she could be a vegetarian. Will we ever do it? Who knows. It’s possible. That’s a conversation that, for now, gets derailed by Abby’s love of bacon… and Phoebe’s attachment to cheeseburgers… and that also might ultimately be contingent on fish also being in the mix, given our attachments. But what would definitely help speed our conversion along is if I inherited a fertile plot of land in, say, Northern California that would supply us with fresh produce all year round, or at the very least, if this CSA deal could be extended, ad infinitum, until I am old and sick to death of beets. Short of that, we’ll have to see. — Andy
*Except for zucchini.
This is the photo Jenny emailed me: A sampling of our idiot-proof raw materials — tiny Napoli carrots, dragon radishes, kohlrabi, Oregon giant snow peas, super sugar snap peas, red ace beets, and an herb called winter savory. And this is what we ended up having for dinner…
Artic char (or salmon would obviously work, too): Season filet char generously with salt and pepper. In large skillet, add 1 tablespoon rice bran oil (now available at Trader Joe’s; or just use olive oil) and, over medium-high heat, cook fish, flesh side down, for 7-8 minutes, until nicely browned.
Beet salad: Preheat oven to 450°F. Trim stem and rinse beets, wrap in tin foil, and roast for 45-50 minutes. Peel and cut into small cubes. Toss while still warm with a vinaigrette made from olive oil, rice wine vinegar, sea salt, pepper, and dash of Sriracha. Top with large dollop of plain greek yogurt, a handful of pistachios, and some herbs. (We used an aromatic herb called savory, which I’d never had before, but which called my name from the bottom of our CSA box. We only needed a little. It was strong. But good!)
Stir-fried peas: I used both sugar snap peas and snow peas. Trim the ends, and sautee in olive oil over medium heat, for 2 minutes. Toss in bowl with 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger, 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot, juice from half of a lime, salt and pepper.
Jenny apologizes for the strangely-lit photo of our dinner. It was too late to go with natural light and without natural light, she would like you to know that she is lost.