This blog is about real food. The kind we stir up with the fresh produce we receive each week from Freshness Farms, lovingly tend in our backyard gardens, and seek out at the local farmers’ market. It’s about steering clear of the packaged and shrink-wrapped stuff we all have a bit of (yes, all of us), tucked into the dark recesses of the freezer and cupboard. Dastardly stuff that all too eagerly beckons—like a sultry siren perched on the rocky shores in a Greek tragedy—at our most vulnerable moments, when time and energy are in short supply and the troops are ready to eat. Let’s face it, these are not often the real food moments we proudly boast about on Facebook. As I said, this blog is about real food. Mostly real. After all we’re human, and humans succumb to sirens, now and then.
It might seem at odds with our message to turn to a factory-packed jar. Hypocritical even. And to suggest that said jar is the answer to turning out real food on a consistent basis? Utter blasphemy. But what if that one jar rendered home-cooked food within reach of ordinary frenzied and overextended adults, in households everywhere? Folks desperately hoping to pull together something (anything) edible at the end of a long, stressful day. We’ve all been there. More than we like to admit. If a package here and there can help get mostly real food on the table, and save us from complete meltdown, then I say, rip it open.
A jar of pasta sauce and a tub of salsa are two of our favorite helpers on difficult days. Sauté a load of mushrooms or leafy greens with garlic, and stir in the first bottle—with a sprinkling of the finest Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs—and you’ve got a respectable, kind-of-homemade pasta sauce in less than five minutes. If you feel a bit more ambitious, roll the vegetables up with soft ricotta and tangy goat cheese spread across cooked lasagna noodles, then bath them in the contents of the ready jar. You might never bother with these tasty pasta rolls if mixing up the marinara was required too (click on the blue, highlighted words for this week’s recipes).
On nights when you’ve got a hankering for Mexican food, a container of salsa ably doctors up black beans for the quickest (and tastiest) taco filling around. No one will guess your sneaky secret as they tuck into the saucy nuggets. Add fresh cilantro, tomatoes, lettuce and cheese. Dinner is ready before the table setters have even begun to fold the napkins.
One rule always applies: make sure the jars you select contain only real ingredients—for marinara, that’s tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, olive oil and such. For salsa—tomatoes, cilantro, onions, garlic and lime juice. The ingredients should be recognizable as food—items produced on a farm (local, organic, if possible), not substances created in a factory or laboratory, that require a google search to explain.
A jar in the cupboard can be the perfect sous chef in times of need. Open the door and see who’s ready to help out tonight.
Dandelion greens are packed with nutrients—more than most greens on the farm—though they’re not often among diners’ favorites, with their distinctly bitter edge. If you haven’t developed a taste for these healthy leaves, try mixing them with milder greens to mellow out the overall flavor. Another trick that many cooks swear by is to boil the greens first, then sauté them in olive oil. You might also try pairing them with mild or creamy components such as potatoes, white beans, cheeses and eggs. Or aromatic ingredients that stand up to their flavor like onions, garlic and aged cheeses (such as Parmesan).
Grey zucchini shines with a short stint in a roasting hot oven. Cut the delicate flesh into uniform pieces, coat lightly with oil and salt, and place on a baking sheet. Roast at 375 degrees until tender and browned in spots—about 25 minutes. Toss with pasta, lemon juice and zest, and Parmesan cheese; fold into rice with chopped fresh herbs; or tuck into a tortilla with our favorite black beans.