Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Use Your Booty: Show Your CSA Box Who's Boss

What a well-fed and inspiring summer I've been having! I've been getting produce from my CSA for nearly three months now. I have made some gorgeous meals, like this dish of seared gnocchi and pea tendrils. I have also made some rather pedestrian dishes: sautéed kale anyone?

In the last few weeks I've also been dealing with a lot of stress about how to use all these vegetables. I'm really busy these days. I have a number of great clients who keep me busy during the week and then on weekends, I'm a baked goods vendor at my local farmers' market.

No matter how tired I am though, the idea of wasting any of this gorgeous produce is really distasteful to me. So here are a number of tips I've developed to help me get through the remainder of my CSA's growing season with a relatively clear conscience (at least with respect to wasting food!).

Make your CSA part of your weekly routine: Make a date with yourself to do your pickup and put things away when you get home. When my pickup's been a rushed affair I enjoy it less and am more likely to put things away in a slapdash manner.

Pack your booty up properly: To me, there's litte that's more depressing than pulling out a bag of produce only to find it's wilted, soggy, slimy, etc. I have made the process packaging my produce part of my CSA pickup experience. This really saves time when I'm searching for dinner ingredients. When I get home from the farm, everything gets wrapped up in a way that makes things easier for me later:
  • Bunches of greens are loosened up (if there's a rubber band holding a bunch together I cut it off) and wrapped in a dish towel and then bagged in an open plastic bag (like in that picture there, see?). This also makes the greens take up less space.
  • Any non-edible parts of the vegetable are cut off - for instance carrots tops are tossed directly into the compost bin.
  • I put similar items together: scallions and herbs go into one bag, carrots join beets and turnips in one bag, lettuces are all bagged up together.
Put together a recipe box: It's handy to have a collection of meal ideas to use as inspiration for your cooking. You don't need to be working directly from recipes; I use a list of go-to meals (frittata, tart, pasta with vegetables) in combination with recipes I pick up on the internet and in magazines. I use my computer to keep track of my meal ideas, but a binder or notepad might be just fine.

Make a meal plan: Make meal planning part of your CSA pickup process. Use your collection of recipes to put together a list of what you're making in the next few days. It doesn't have to be super detailed, but I find it very comforting to know that I'm planning on a frittata, a tart, a pasta dish, sides for a grilled chicken, etc. I also use this meal planning time to note any holes in my pantry so that I can pick up additional vegetables and ingredients at the farmers' market or supermarket.

Cook down your greens ASAP: We've gotten pie after pile of greens this summer, so I've made pan after pan of sautéed greens.
Greens with garlic, greens with ginger, greens with chilies, greens with spices, etc. Cooked greens can go into pasta, a frittata, on a sandwich, on bruschetta. Cooking greens down is easy and it can be done ahead of time. Plus cooked greens take way less space in the fridge than raw greens.

Soup is your best friend: I agree that when it's 90 degrees outside, the last thing you want is a hot, steaming bowl of soup.
There are some nice chilled soups you can try (like lettuce soup, gazpacho or vichyssoise). I also make soups and put them into the freezer for use on colder summer nights or in the fall. Soups are great sponges for a 1/4 cup of this and a handful of that.

The freezer is your other best friend: Don't get me wrong, pickling and canning are great, but on a hot day, and when you're in a hurry, there is nothing simpler than throwing something into a Ziploc and then into the freezer. Most vegetables do need to be cooked prior to freezing, so I'll usually blanch or sauté my vegetables and then put them into LABELED and DATED Ziploc bags and squeeze all the air out. Tomatoes don't need to be pre-cooked: I core them and throw them right into bags. When they thaw later, the skins will slip right off. Most important: keep a list of what you've put into the freezer so you don't forget what's in there.

Don't take it if you don't want it: CSAs are a great way to try new things, but if you know you aren't going to use those tomatoes or that Swiss chard don't bring it home. Most CSAs give their uncollected produce to shelters or soup kitchens, so the produce won't go to waste. That said, if a vegetable is new to you, try it at least once before you give up on it.

What are your tips for managing your CSA share? I'd love to hear from you.

This Summer, I am chronicling my first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) experience. My CSA share is from Arrowhead Farm, a farm based in Newburyport, MA. Each week, I am posting about what was in my share and what I'm doing with it. By way of full disclosure, I won my share through a raffle and am not paying for it. However, Arrowhead did not know I was entered in the raffle, and I received no special consideration because of this blog. I paid for my livestock share. A full set of all the photos I've taken of this share is here.


Weight Loss Tips said...

I keep reading about CSA boxes? What are these?

Sunday Cook said...

Sorry! I forget that not everyone knows what a CSA is.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. CSA buyers, purchase a "share" of a farm's produce for the growing season. Some farms offer shares that include meat and/or fruit too. Usually, you pick up your share on a weekly basis. Shares tend to be sized to provide enough produce for a family of four. Most CSA programs offer full or half shares.

A CSA box is a week's share pick up.

Catherine Lanser said...

This is a great post and a great blog, I'm looking forward to reading more. I'm working through a CSA box this year too, although it's my third summer. I finally got around to writing about it!

Catherine Lanser

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