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Health & Wellness

From Farm to Table: Here’s How

BU chef creates tasty dishes tonight from weekly CSA share


It’s a bit like poker, but instead of cards, Sabrina Pashtan is dealt a box of vegetables, and instead of hoping for a royal flush, she’s hoping, with the help of BU executive chef Adam Pagan, to cook up the tastiest meal possible. It’s called, appropriately, Improv CSA, and it happens again at the GSU Link tonight at 5 p.m.

At a recent improv, Dining Services sustainability coordinator Pashtan, who created the cooking class to teach people how to use some less familiar CSA vegetables—like tomatillos, butternut squash, or zucchini—and Pagan used veggies provided by Ward’s Berry Farm in Sharon, Mass., which sells the shares at BU’s weekly Thursday Farmers Market at the GSU Plaza. While a group of curious students gathered, Pagan chopped, sautéed, and explained that he hoped to bring out all the great flavors of that week’s harvest. A giant soup pot was surrounded by dishes holding spices, condiments, and julienned vegetables.

Pagan, who trained at Johnson & Wales University and was an executive chef at the Boston Convention Center, explained how to best tackle a butternut squash (use a peeler to remove the skin, scoop out the seeds, and dice its tangerine orange flesh).

“Whatever you’re cooking, you’re building layer by layer,” he said, as he stirred his preprepared butternut squash and potato soup. He also made clear that he’s not a big fan of boiling water, “dumping in vegetables,” and calling it a soup. “You can really taste the difference,” he said. Pagan likes to add roasted sweet corn, sliced from the cob, to the pureed mixture for an unexpected crunch. Judging from the students’ response, the recipe was a hit: nearly everyone scraped the sides of the paper cups filled with soup samples, relishing the last bite of creamy soup with a light cinnamon finish.

Executive Chef Adam Pagan, Boston University BU Dining Services Improv CSA class, improvised cooking, farm share CSA community supported agriculture

Roasted corn sliced from the cob adds crunch to Pagan’s butternut squash and potato soup.

Elizabeth Kerian (CAS’15) was sold. “I make my own butternut squash soup,” she said. “I’m going to take the corn idea.”

Meanwhile, a skillet with a mix of 75 percent canola oil and 25 percent olive oil heated on a burner as Pagan moved to pan-seared chicken. He likes using the juice of fresh lemons to marinate his chicken, letting it soak at least a couple of hours. “Fresh is always the best way to go,” he said.

Chicken wasn’t part of the CSA share, Pashtan said, but she encouraged budding cooks to buy sustainably raised and organic poultry at grocers like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.

Pagan placed a chicken breast in the hot oil and a sharp sizzle ripped through the air. “The minute it hits the pan, you want to hear that sound,” he said, explaining that no sound means the meat is sweating instead of searing.

Next, Pagan prepared an apple and broccoli slaw. Transferring thinly sliced broccoli and apples to another heated pan, he sautéed them for one minute—being careful not to overcook the apples so they wouldn’t lose their crunch—and added a splash of apple cider vinegar, golden raisins, sugar, salt, and pepper. The result, passed around again in sample cups, was a sweet and crunchy concoction with a sauerkraut-like kick.

Pan-seared chicken atop a bed of apple and broccoli slaw, drizzled with tomatillo pepper sauce, Boston University BU Dining Services Improv CSA class, improvised cooking, farm share CSA community supported agriculture

Pan-seared chicken atop a bed of apple and broccoli slaw, drizzled with tomatillo pepper sauce.

Then Pagan picked up what looked like a paper lantern encasing a light mint-colored ball. The tomatillo, he said, is a great ingredient that’s underused, easy to prepare (just peal the husk), and simple to cook by boiling whole or sautéing with onions and garlic. He added this to roasted and pureed red peppers, tossed in chopped cilantro, and splashed some lime juice into the mix. Think margaritas and tortilla chips on the back porch.

Pagan placed a bed of slaw on a white plate, perched a seared chicken breast atop the pile, and drizzled tomatillo sauce temptingly over the entire dish. “You put that in front of someone, and I think you’ll impress them,” he said.

No one disagreed.

Dining Services will host another Improv CSA tonight, Thursday, October 18, at 5 p.m. at the George Sherman Union Link, first floor, 775 Comm Ave. The event is free and open to the public.

Check out executive chef Adam Pagan’s recipes here.

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Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
Leslie Friday

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