The Tyranny of the CSA Box

Every other Monday throughout the summer and fall while locally raised produce is spectacular and abundant, the Heavy Table will be exploring vegetarian cuisine, both in the kitchen and at local eateries.

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Oh sure, it all starts innocently enough, CSA season. First come the baby lettuces, as delicate as rose petals and as light as air. You’re ecstatic: so grateful for something, anything, green after the frozen dark of winter you could kiss your farmer for delivering that first box. Plus, this is your license to throw away that last delicata squash you’ve cellared since October. You couldn’t stand to eat yet one more squash, but felt too guilty to toss it.

Spring is a complete re-boot, like The A-Team or The Karate Kid. Wax on. You’re reformed, a new person. You fancy yourself as some kind of earth mother, wholesome and organic. Brenda Langton has nothing on you. You’re determined to eat as many vegetables as your farmer dishes out, week after week, box after box, even if your skin turns Kermit-the-Frog green. The baby greens do not even last a week, you’re so eager to eat salad.

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Next come the lacy pea shoots, tender greens, and curly garlic scapes. No one really knows what to do with these things, but you run a mean Google recipe search, so, you’re good. But, by the end of June, your CSA box has taken over your fridge, and your life. The crisper drawers are full — the vegetable one and the fruit one — and you’re stuffing bags of greens behind the milk and anywhere else they will fit.

You find yourself declining social invitations. “Thanks, but I’ve got lettuce.” You’ve done the math. In order to finish the seven heads of lettuce from this week’s box, not to mention the kale and chard (and God grant you the wisdom to know the difference), you need to polish off one head of lettuce per day. Face it, just one head of lettuce has been known to linger in your crisper drawer for a week. What, exactly, are you supposed to do with seven? You find yourself prioritizing your vegetables, a bizarre kind of kitchen triage. Lettuce and other highly perishables first; root vegetables last. Spinach fends for itself.

You’re eating so many greens, you’ve turned not Kermit green, but Oscar-the-Grouch green.

Don’t despair if find your CSA overwhelming; you are not alone. Brian DeVore, Communications Manager of the Land Stewardship Project, told the Heavy Table last year: “The number one reason people don’t rejoin a CSA is because they feel guilty about the food they wasted.”

So, what’s a person to do with all that produce?

  1. We present three recipes (below) for jazzing up salads: Croutons, Goat Cheese Croutons, and Thomas Keller’s Herbed Toasted Walnuts. And, if you use your microwave (yes, microwave!) and your toaster oven to prepare these recipes, you won’t even have to heat up your kitchen.
  2. Do as DeVore suggests: “Prepare yourself. Learn how to cook with the things that are in season. It can be a challenge.” He also suggests, “Learn how to store vegetables.” Dan Guenthner of Common Harvest Farm near Osceola, WI suggests, “Learn what can be frozen and what is very perishable.”
  3. Take stock of your CSA box the day you bring it home. Quantify how much produce you’ll have to eat per day and plan your menu around it. If you can’t eat it all, take what you can’t use to a friend or neighbor, or to the office.
  4. Take a week off. If you get behind on CSA, ask a friend to pick up your share for a week. They’ll be thrilled to have all of the beautiful produce and you can get caught up.
  5. Wash your lettuce and salad fixings (radishes, etc.) the night you bring your CSA home. After drying ours in the salad spinner, we store ours in Rubbermaid’s 14-cup Square Produce Saver. The vented container includes a tray that sits on the bottom to prevent your lettuce from sitting any any water that pools. They stack neatly in your refrigerator and are clear, so that you can see what’s in them.
  6. Take a knife skills class. Once you know how to maintain and use your knives, chopping vegetables will seem like less of a chore. EversharpCooks of Crocus HillKitchen Window, and Mississippi Market [PDF] all offer knife skills classes. When price shopping these classes, note that some come with a gift (the Cooks of Crocus Hill class, for instance, comes with a free Wüsthof paring knife).
  7. Be on the lookout for interesting recipes. If you are a cookbook lover, EatYourBooks.com is a great way to organize and search your cookbooks for recipes by ingredients. And don’t overlook your local library as a source of cookbooks. (Next month, The Heavy Table will be doing a round-up of newly released seasonal cookbooks.)

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Croutons (Adapted from Microwave Gourmet by Barbara Kafka)
Yields 4 ounces

This is a quick and easy way to use leftover bread, without much planning and without heating up your kitchen. You may need to adjust the timing to suit your particular microwave oven.

Ingredients
4 oz unsalted butter (I like to use 2 oz butter+ 2 ounces olive oil)
4 oz white bread, cut into ½-inch squares

Directions

  1. Heat butter in a shallow, microwave safe dish, uncovered on high for 4 minutes. (Your microwave must have a turntable.)
  2. Stir bread cubes into dish to coat with butter. Cook, uncovered, on high for five more minutes.
  3. Stir again. Cook, uncovered, on high for 4 minutes.
  4. Let cool. Store in a tightly covered container.

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Goat Cheese Croutons (Adapted from Microwave Gourmet by Barbara Kafka)
Yields 10 slices

These is more like cheesy bread than croutons, but it is another quick and easy way to liven up a salad.

Ingredients
10 slices French bread, cut ¼-inch thick on the diagonal
3 tbsp olive oil
5 oz goat cheese, sliced ¼-inch thick (10 slices)
Chives, finely chopped or freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Brush bread slices with olive oil, then arrange them around the perimeter of a microwave-safe platter.
  2. Cook, uncovered, on high for 4 minutes.
  3. Flip bread slices and place a slice of goat cheese on each slice of bread. Sprinkle with chopped chives or ground pepper, then brush with olive oil.
  4. Cook, uncovered, on high for 45 seconds.
  5. Let cool slightly. Serve warm, alongside salad, or as an hors d’oeuvre.

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Herbed Toasted Walnuts (adapted from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller)
Yields 3 cups

Ingredients (cut into thirds for use in toaster oven)
3 c raw walnut halves
1 oz unsalted butter
¾ tsp finely chopped rosemary
¾ tsp finely chopped oregano
¾ tsp finely chopped thyme
¾ tsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Pinch of ground fleur de sel or fine sea salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven or toaster oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet or toaster oven tray with parchment paper.
  2. Scatter walnuts on baking sheet and toast for 14 to 16 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until walnuts are fragrant and lightly browned.
  3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter and herbs. Remove from heat when butter begins to bubble.
  4. Pour the pour into a medium bowl and add the salt. Swirl to coat the sides of the bowl, then add the walnuts. Mix with a rubber spatula until walnuts are coated with butter.Transfer to cooling rack. Serve while still warm.
  5. Or, let cool completely, then store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Reheat in toaster oven before serving.

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About the Author

19 Comments

  1. I’ve been eagerly awaiting my first csa package which arrives on 6/15. Great ideas about what to do if you find yourself with too many veggies. I thought that I would use my juicer a bit more if I wind up with too much lettuce, for example.

  2. Jason Walker06/14/2010Reply

    We always have stir-fry to use up CSA leftovers, because you can stir-fry anything and it tastes great.

  3. hahahaha. I always try to warn newbies about the guilt. Last season I hit the ground running and felt that from here on out, every season would be a snap. This season I’m struggling with unenthusiasm for some reason. When in doubt I make a stir fry, curry, or fried rice. A lot of things can be thrown into those dishes. I added some spring greens to fried rice last week and it worked beautifully. I made pesto with the pea vines, which was a major failure.

  4. Another tip: 2 great CSA cookbooks that have a local slant are Asparagus to Zucchini, published in Madison, WI and the Featherstone Farm Cookbook (I’m anxious to try the cataloupe pie), from here in Minnesota. Both are geared to the products you’ll actually be getting in your CSA.

  5. Pesto, people, pesto.

    You can take down about 4 cups of greens into 1-2 delicious pesto-based meals.

  6. >>1. Heat butter in a shallow, microwave safe dish, uncovered on high for 4 minutes.

    4 minutes to melt butter? Is this a typo or am I just missing something?

    • Author

      Nope, not a typo, but adjust the microwave times as necessary as they are all a little different.

  7. Kind of like pesto but not…….is….Green Smoothies!! They are a great way to use up greens….google ‘Green Smoothies’ and enter a whole new world. They taste good (fruit added to improve the taste of the greens), fill you up (all the fiber is still there since it’s a blender drink) and HELP YOU LOSE WEIGHT AMAZINGLY AND SAFELY!!! And they give you a huge dose of all those great minerals and vitamins many of us are short on….
    Also of course, JUICE is a great idea….just remember to include some apples or other sweet stuff…celery, carrots, beets….to balance the bitterness if you’re using lots of strong greens.

  8. annmartina is right on. The MACSAC cookbook is GREAT for folks who’re just dipping their toe into veggie-heavy waters, but it’s also an outstanding resource for more experienced cooks.

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/0972121781/?tag=heavytable-20

  9. I second the vote for green smoothies. We drink them all the time and it was teh ONLY way we could get through mountains of spinach, lettuce and kale. the real key is banana. after one banana and some berries you don’t even taste the greens. people at work will look at you funny, but stand proud — you’re getting a ton of good for you stuff in there.

  10. Midwesterner06/15/2010Reply

    Holding my sides laughing — a fine start to my morning. How true that bit about lettuce. Looking forward to trying those green smoothies mentioned by other commenters, but will first need to find opaque beverage glasses to conceal the color.

  11. joe allen06/15/2010Reply

    Great picture of – I think – mustard greens. Anyway I cooked up a bunch wife got from farmer’s market last weekend. Make sure to trim off those tiny thread like shoots at the tips!! I didn’t, and it wasn’t fun eating my southern style greens that way. Otherwise they were tasty.

  12. Oh, I guess I wouldn’t try mustard greens in a smoothie though…
    And bananas don’t always agree with me so I have found apples to work quite well in Green Smoothies….make sure they are apples with some sweetness to them (not Granny Smith) —also, bright acidy fruits like peaches and mangoes are good too in the smoothies.

  13. I write a blog for Featherstone Farm called Cook Out of the Box. I post Tuesday through Saturday mornings. The blog includes recipes and meal ideas based on each week’s harvest. Even though the blog focuses on Featherstone’s produce, I think any CSA member in this area would find this blog useful and maybe even fun! Check it out. http://cookoutofthebox.blogspot.com/

  14. Jared Frandson02/08/2011Reply

    I’m not sure if this is sacrilege but the strategy that worked best for us was: Anything that it didn’t look like we were gonna eat that week we “put up” for later. I experimented with refrigerator pickling, which works great for certain veges and makes some fun products, but the fridge quickly filled with jars of brine and hot pickling is time-intensive. What about the unending chard and other greens and veges? Easy.

    Boil some water. Chop up greens or other veges. Drop in boiling water for 1 minute. Quickly drain or fish them out and pack in bags or freezer containers and freeze immediately. Forget about them for months. Find a bag in the bottom of the freezer accidentally in February. Toss the chard into a pasta dish and be amazed at how wonderful it is to taste a bit of spring!

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