The quietness of an empty farm stand, with its “see you in the spring” hand-painted sign, can be a bit sobering in the dead of winter, especially for members of the numerous South Fork CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs. Rest assured, a glimmer of hope is here as Amber Waves Farm‘s 2024 CSA program registration begins this week. With “best value” vegetable box offerings running from Memorial Day to Thanksgiving, it certainly can be something to feel good about supporting and look forward to as you pass the slumbering planting fields out east.
In the meantime, wanting to cook with farm-fresh vegetables this time of year can seem daunting. The always-there-for-you choice? Supermarket broccoli.
“When we don’t have farm stand tomatoes, corn and eggplant, it’s one of the things available to us year-round,” says veteran cookbook author and East Hampton resident Susan Spungen.
Another appealing aspect of reaching for this vitamin C-packed cabbage family member is its price. “Generally, cooking with vegetables is much more budget-friendly than cooking with meat or fish,” explains Spungen, whose recent cookbook, Veg Forward, offers seasonal meal ideas where vegetables are the main focus. With a few pantry staples, Spungen’s recipe for fusilli with soft-cooked broccoli and olives checks off the reasonably priced box while still being full of complex flavor and texture.
“I was recently making this recipe for a television segment and was thinking, gosh, this looks so ordinary, but it doesn’t taste ordinary. It is so delicious, even cold,” says Spungen. The savoriness of the dish comes from the sauce base of garlic and anchovies cooked in olive oil. While some may have an aversion to the tiny saltwater fish, Spungen assures as they melt, they “just do their job in a way that anchovies do, give a boost of umami to the other flavors and not stand out on their own.” More unique complexity comes with the addition of oil-cured black olives. “They’re just soft and buttery, and they have a very particular flavor,” says Spungen. “They’re not as salty and briny as some other olives, and they’re super easy to pit because you just pull them apart.”
The pasta shape to soak up all these flavors is where Spungen’s recommendation is vital, opting for DeCecco’s fusilli corti bucati, a readily available albeit step up from the ‘played out corkscrew group,” most commonly found on supermarket shelves. “I was so specific about this recipe’s pasta shape because it goes particularly well with the sauce,” explains Spungen.
“Before the pandemic, I was using a lot of tubettini (a smaller version of tubetti), and I loved it, but then it kind of disappeared off the shelves,” she continues. “Then I discovered fusilli corti bucati (a short, smooth coil-shaped pasta made from a hollow tube, similar to bucatini, that clings wonderfully to sauces). “I find that the pasta companies sort of cycle pasta shapes in and out of availability,” notes Spungen. “Someone in my line of work, we pay attention to these things.”
That line of work she refers to includes photography and food styling, which, for Veg Forward, Spungen photographed all on an iPhone to keep it “authentically diaristic.” As the founding food editor at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia from its inception until 2003, Spungen’s approach to cooking seems familiar, yet inspiring, even with simple “make your rent” type recipes such as this. “I am sort of price conscious,” says the author, particularly about sourcing local ingredients. “My favorite fall farm stand is Halsey Farm on Deerfield Road in Water Mill because everything is so big there, and it’s also reasonably priced,” she continues.” Even if I must travel 10 miles, I try to get my money’s worth.”
Although thoughts of fall harvest yields seem even more miles away this time of year, Spungen’s recipes in Veg Forward can inspire and guide you through the winter months. “Just today, I was passing by Quail Hill Farm, and I was thinking, soon it will be time to go into the fields and see if there’s anything to glean,” Spungen enthusiastically notes. “As a CSA member, you can go there any time of year..and there are always a few fields the farmers don’t plow where you can get overwintered broccoli in the spring.”
While we wait for the thaw, IGA and King Kullen will do just fine. Just don’t forget the anchovies!
Fusilli with soft-cooked broccoli and olives
- 1 1/4 lbs broccoli crowns (about 2 heads), trimmed
- 1/2 lb fusilli, preferably fusilli corti bucati
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 6 anchovy filets, rinsed and chopped
- 16 oil-cured black olives, pitted and chopped
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- grated pecorino or parmesan (for serving)