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.
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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Take a knife skills class. Once you know how to maintain and use your knives, chopping vegetables will seem like less of a chore. Eversharp, Cooks of Crocus Hill, Kitchen 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).
- 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.)
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.
4 oz unsalted butter (I like to use 2 oz butter+ 2 ounces olive oil)
4 oz white bread, cut into ½-inch squares
- Heat butter in a shallow, microwave safe dish, uncovered on high for 4 minutes. (Your microwave must have a turntable.)
- Stir bread cubes into dish to coat with butter. Cook, uncovered, on high for five more minutes.
- Stir again. Cook, uncovered, on high for 4 minutes.
- Let cool. Store in a tightly covered container.
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.
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
- Brush bread slices with olive oil, then arrange them around the perimeter of a microwave-safe platter.
- Cook, uncovered, on high for 4 minutes.
- 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.
- Cook, uncovered, on high for 45 seconds.
- Let cool slightly. Serve warm, alongside salad, or as an hors d’oeuvre.
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
- Preheat oven or toaster oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet or toaster oven tray with parchment paper.
- Scatter walnuts on baking sheet and toast for 14 to 16 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until walnuts are fragrant and lightly browned.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter and herbs. Remove from heat when butter begins to bubble.
- 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.
- Or, let cool completely, then store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Reheat in toaster oven before serving.