Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

My favorite CSA meal this week–Eggplant Parmesan

The cooler weather this summer had me craving some comfort food so I decided to make a healthy baked eggplant Parmesan with the globe eggplants I brought home from the farm. I lightened the dish by baking rather than frying the breaded eggplant slices. I served the eggplant Parmesan with spiralized raw zucchini noodles, which was a perfect summer way to enjoy the dish. YUM!

I didn’t use a recipe except for the sauce, which I am posting below.   But here is a quick how-to for the casserole:

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

1. Slice eggplant into 1/3”- ¼” slices. Dip in egg, then in whole-wheat breadcrumbs mixed with sea salt and pepper to taste (I used a mixture of whole wheat breadcrumbs and whole wheat panko).

2. Place breaded sliced eggplant on an oven safe baking rack sprayed well with coconut oil spray (the rack will allow air to get all around the slices and crisp the tops and bottoms at the same time). Place rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Spray tops of slices with more coconut oil spray.

3. Place in a 400-degree oven and bake until slices are crispy on the outside but soft on the inside, about 30 minutes (depending upon the thickness of your eggplant slices). Remove from oven.

4. Spray a casserole dish with coconut oil spray. Pour enough marinara sauce over the bottom of the casserole pan to a depth of about ¼”. Place cooked eggplant slices just slightly overlapping on top of the marinara. Cover well with marinara and then top with a mixture of grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.

5. Bake until bubbly, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Featured Item—Husk Cherries

Imagine thick vine-y bushes dotted with hundreds of small, parchment-like Chinese paper lanterns. Imagine peeling back the slightly translucent, vein-y papery husk of one of these lanterns to reveal plump berries that look like miniature orange tomatillos. Imagine, now, biting into that berry and discovering a sweet yet acidic, slightly floral burst of musky strawberry-pineapple goodness. If you can imagine such a unique range of images and flavors, you have successfully conjured the strange but wonderful husk cherry. But if such a combination seems outside of your imaginative prowess, do not despair, for we are fortunate enough to be able to sample these cherries now at the farm.

Husk cherries, also called ground cherries or Cape gooseberries, are from the Nightshade family, and are closely related to the tomatillo. They are called ground cherries because they fall from the vine when they are ripe, thus requiring that they be harvested from the ground. Besides falling from the vine, the husks turn yellowish-brown and the berry from green to yellowish-orange when they fully ripen. The best way to know you have good berries is to gather them from the ground, carefully lifting up the growing vines to get at the fallen fruit underneath. Gather cherries with a yellowish-brown husk that feel plump under the papery skin. Avoid cherries that are too brown or seem mushy or deflated (these are old and have started to dry out). Also, avoid eating unripe green husk cherries.

To store your husk cherries, keep them in their husks, uncovered and well ventilated, at cool temperatures (preferably around 50 degrees). They will last at least a couple of weeks. To freeze husk cherries, remove husks before freezing.

Husk cherries are low in calories, fat, and cholesterol and are a very good source of vitamin C. They also contain good amounts of niacin and vitamin A. Apparently, husk cherries are full of natural pectin, so they are great cooked and made into jams or marmalade, into pies and tarts (if you can get enough of them), or even into cooked salsa. I have also read that they are good cooked into muffins or quick breads. They can even be dried, like raisins. See below for a recipe for a Peach, Husk Cherry, and Mustard Compote served over pork tenderloin.

Don’t feel like cooking? Husk cherries are simply delicious raw. Try chopping raw husk cherries up into a relish or salsa, or add them to salads. Of course, you can simply eat them as is, which is truly a special treat.

But whatever you do, don’t skip out on trying these unusual but delectable treats, lest you be forced to conjure them up in your imagination, like the rest of us will, once their short season is over!

An Idea for Cucumbers–Lacto Fermented Cucumber Pickles

As I mentioned earlier this season, I have been experimenting with lacto fermentation. It is the oldest way of preserving foods in brine but also has terrific health benefits due to the high levels of probiotics that are a by product of the fermentation process. I have also found that this method of pickling foods is actually easier than quick pickling, which requires the extra step of heating a vinegar mixture.

This week I decided to try fermenting cucumbers. My family likes to eat the long thin “Stacker” style pickles on hamburgers so I chose to cut my long cucumbers in half, and then lengthwise in long, thin pieces that are easy to put on a burger. But the shape you ultimately choose does not matter…you can do thinly sliced coins or traditions wedges. However, the larger the pieces, the longer it will take to ferment them.

To lacto ferment pickles:

  1. Decide how many jars you would like to put up and then boil the jars to disinfect them. (wide mouth jars work best) Allow to dry and cool.
  2. Now make the brine. You will need a little less than a cup of brine per quart jar. Mix ¾ tablespoon fine sea salt per cup of water and stir until salt dissolves.
  3. Place a sprig of dill and about 1/8 teaspoon peppercorns in each jar. If you have access to organic grape or horseradish leaves, include a couple. These leaves help keep the cucumbers crisp. Now place cucumber pieces tightly in the jars, trimming to about ½” to the top of the jar if needed. Pour brine over cucumbers. They should be completely covered. If they rise out of the brine due to floating, use a small plate, a very clean baby food jar or other similar sized object to weight all the cucumbers under the brine. Any food that does not get submerged in the brine will not ferment and is susceptible to mold.
  4. Place jars on a baking tray and cover with a clean towel. Place in your basement or another dark area. Each day taste your pickles (but be sure to use a clean fork to do so…do not put your hands in the pickles or you risk contaminating your pickles with bad bacteria). The pickles will taste vinegary over time, the brine will become cloudy, and you may develop some effervescence. This is all normal and is a product of fermentation.   If you see any mold develop on the top of your brine, scrape it off (unless you are very sensitive to mold and then I would throw it out…..keep in mind this has not happened to me and I have made at least 8 batches by now). Fermentation occurs more quickly in higher temperatures. This summer I have found that my thin pickles are sufficiently acidic after 3-4 days.
  5. Once your pickles (not just the brine) have the acidity you are looking for, screw on clean tops and place the jars in the refrigerator. Refrigeration slows the fermentation process but does not completely stop it.

Before embarking on your first lacto fermentation project, I highly recommend reading up on technique and food safety issues. Here are a few good places to start (click here) and (click here)



This is a delicious, vegan, low sugar, non-dairy, gluten-free tart that makes use of current, local, in-season fruit, including those delectable husk cherries and raspberries we are now picking at the farm.

If you want to keep the dessert totally dairy free, try serving it with a dollop of cashew cream, which is a dairy free “cream” made of soaked cashews (click here for recipe). You could also serve it with dairy-free coconut ice cream. Otherwise, top it with lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


Peach, Husk Cherry, and Raspberry Pie with Gluten-Free Almond-Oat Crust


– 3/4 cup organic old fashioned oats

– 3/4 cup blanched slivered almonds

– 2 tablespoons maple syrup

– 1/8 teaspoon sea salt

– 2-3 tablespoons organic palm shortening, as needed

– 2 large medium ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced

– 1 cup husk cherries, husked and rinsed

– 1/2 cup fresh raspberries

– 2 tablespoons organic palm sugar


1. Spray a 9” inch tart pan with removable bottom with coconut spray.

In a blender, food processor, or clean coffee grinder (whichever you have that will work best to break down the small amount of oats and almonds to a flour), blend oats and almonds to a flour but stop before the almonds gum up into almond butter. It is fine if they have a wee bit of texture to them. Transfer mixture to a bowl. With a fork blend in salt and maple syrup until well blended. Add in 2 tablespoons of shortening and mash in well with fork until shortening is evenly distributed. Press mixture together with fingers. If it holds together well do not add any more shortening. If it seems dry, add up to another tablespoon of shortening until mixture comes together. Press dough evenly into bottom and partially up sides (about 3/4 way) of tart pan. Chill for 1-2 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 350℉. Remove chilled dough from refrigerator and prick bottoms and sides with a fork. Place in oven and bake for 10-12 minutes or until set and edges are just beginning to brown. Remove from oven.

3. Arrange sliced peaches on bottom of tart. Sprinkle evenly with husk cherries and then with palm sugar. Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven (it works best to put an un-rimmed baking sheet under it to help transfer it without disrupting the crust). Sprinkle with just-rinsed raspberries and return to oven. Bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, or until peaches have released some juices and husk cherries are puffed with a few beginning to burst. You do not want too much juice in the tart or else the finished tart will be too wet and make the crust soggy.

4. Remove tart from oven and allow to cool on a rack for about 30 minutes. Juices should thicken slightly. Remove tart sides and place tart on a serving plate.


After making the tart above, I still had some husk cherries and peaches left over so I came up with this compote to serve with grilled pork tenderloin. I rubbed the tenderloin with Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper and grilled it on indirect heat. I served it sliced with the warm compote on the side. Delicious.

Peach, Husk Cherry, and Mustard Compote                              Makes about 1 cup


– 2 medium ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into small cubes

– 1 cup husk cherries, husked and rinsed

– 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard

– 2 tablespoons organic cider vinegar

– 1/4 cup water


Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil on medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until husk cherries break down completely and peaches are very soft. Using a potato masher, coarsely mash the peaches. Cook some more, stirring occasionally, until mixture becomes thick. Season to taste with a tiny bit of salt and pepper. Serve warm.


I often mix this sauce with a bit of store-bought marinara. This completely fools my family and anyone I serve it to as they think the whole thing comes from a jar.

The veggies in this sauce not only increase its nutritional value, but also result in a less acidic marinara, which my husband, a chronic heartburn sufferer, loves.

Crockpot Marinara with Hidden Veggies


– 1 large onion, minced

– half large zucchini or summer squash, shredded

– 1 large carrot, shredded

– 1 celery rib, small diced

– 1 tablespoon olive oil

– 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

– 3 28 oz can crushed tomatoes w/ puree, or 10 cups fresh

– 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

-2 teaspoons sugar


In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, zucchini, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are soft and have given up a lot of moisture. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Turn vegetables out into crockpot insert.

Add crushed tomatoes, Italian seasoning, and sugar to vegetables in crockpot insert. Cook on low for 4-6 hours or on high for 2-3 hours. Remove insert and allow to cool somewhat. Carefully puree in batches in blender (be careful because mixture will be hot. Be sure to remove steam escape cover on blender but cover with a folded paper towel or a dish cloth while pureeing to avoid splatters). Sauce can be chilled and reheated for later use, or frozen.

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