A strange dichotomy has taken root within me lately. It has been nearly a year and a half since I moved to New York, a city I love without rival and have dreamed of living in since the first time I read Catcher in The Rye. Yet, despite the fact that I now call this urban capital home, my values are shifting in a decidedly rural direction. I live in the city that never sleeps, but I generally don’t stay up much past sunset and wake with the crack of dawn; outside my front door is nothing but concrete for miles in each direction, but I yammer on about needing to go to the park just so I can dig my toes into the grass; this city grants me access to any ingredient in the world, but I still dream of having a garden of my own to grow fresh, unadulterated produce.
My shifting values don’t imply that I’m leaving New York any time soon – I still am in love with this city and all its diversity and opportunity – but they do increasingly require that I make a special effort to integrate my fantasy of living off in the mountains with the reality of city life. To that end, I’m making a habit of early weekend morning trips to Prospect Park, where I can let my dog off leash to chase squirrels with abandon as I relax to the soundtrack of chirp-inflected silence. Critically, I also try to get my food from local farms (and ranches, and fisheries) as much as possible.*
Farmer’s markets are a good way begin sourcing food locally, but recently I decided to deepen my commitment by joining a CSA. A CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture, is basically a co-op that you can buy into wherein you become a shareholder in a farm (or community of farms) for a season. You generally pay up front, helping to finance the farm, and collect dividends weekly or biweekly as the produce is harvested.** The benefits to this sort of arrangement are many. With our CSA, we get a weekly delivery of vegetables (sometimes so many that we have to preserve some for future use), the assortment of which is more diverse than can be found in most grocery stores. The vegetables are incredibly fresh, bright in color and crisp in texture. And, top top it all off, our CSA saves us money. Though the $750 charge up front is a hard pill to swallow, spread out over the 25 weeks we’ll be receiving a produce box from now until November, it has actually cut our produce bill down to only $30 a week.
Interesting as this all is (to me, and only me, right?), I know you all really just want to know about that tasty frittata from the picture I teased you with up at the top. Okay, fair enough. That particular dish came together the night I brought my first CSA box home. In the basket, along with mountains of fresh greens and rhubarb, was a bundle of beautiful purple asparagus and a few green stalks they were calling “walking Egyptian onion”. I rummaged around the freezer to find some bacon, and called the boyfriend to pick up some eggs and Gruyère cheese on his way home from work. Served alongside some salad (with radishes also from our CSA), the frittata made a quick and satisfying dinner. I’m giving you this recipe on a Friday so that you can dazzle your guests (or hung-over roommates) with it for brunch this weekend.
*I’m sure some of this sounds super bourgeois, but my intentions are serious and humble. Locally sourced ingredients will have been pulled from the ground more recently, meaning that they’ve lost fewer of their nutrients on the way to my plate. The mustard greens I buy in the spring from a farmer in New Jersey will be fresher than those I buy in the winter from a farmer in Chile, so they’ll taste better, too.
**Or isn’t harvested – if the farm fails that season due to drought or flood, you take a loss on your investment.
Asparagus, Bacon, and Gruyère Frittata
Frittatas are extremely versatile. Feel free to substitute whatever looks good at your farmer’s market or grocery store. Swap out the asparagus for spinach, fresh or frozen peas, kale, or basil, and toss in some peppers or tomatoes if you like. The spring onions can be exchanged for yellow onions, shallots, or thinly sliced leeks. I love asparagus and Gruyère together, but Parmesan, feta, or even cheddar would work equally well. Have fun getting creative and let me know how you make your frittata in the comments!
4 slices bacon, cut into roughly 1/3″ pieces
2 tbsp butter
2 spring onions or 1 shallot, thinly sliced
large handful asparagus, trimmed then sliced into 1/2″ pieces
1/4 cup water
5 eggs, beaten and seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper
2 oz Gruyère cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 350°
Render the bacon: Heat a nonstick pan over high heat until water dropped on the surface of water evaporates on contact. Fry the bacon until crisp, 2-3 minutes. Pour off the excess fat (you can reserve it for a later use like I do) and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel.
Cook the vegetables: Place the pan back on medium high heat and add the butter and onions. Saute for 2 minutes or so until the onions are translucent and a bit brown around the edges. Add the asparagus and the water, then bring the water to a simmer to blanch the asparagus. When most of the water has cooked off, add the bacon back to the pan.
Add the eggs and bake: Pour the beaten eggs over the vegetables and bacon, then scatter the grated cheese over-top the eggs. You want to set about 70% of the eggs here, so occasionally tuck your spoon under the bottom of the eggs and tilt the pan, letting the uncooked eggs run to the bottom of the pan. After about 3 minutes, move the pan to the oven. Cook for 5 minutes.
Serve: Carefully (that pan is hot!) remove the pan from the oven. The eggs should be thoroughly opaque and a little puffier than you last saw them. Allow the pan to cool for one to two minutes to finish setting the eggs. Run a spatula around and under the eggs to release the frittata from the pan, then slide the frittata onto a large plate. Slice into wedges and serve.