CSA’s and Culinary Wizardry

Jessica Harlan by Jessica Harlan | May 13th, 2009 | No Comments
topic: Green Living, Healthy Eating

It was with much excitement and trepidation that I picked up my first CSA share this week. The pickup was at a local Quaker meeting house, and I thought I was in the wrong place until I spied the steady stream of people toting greens-filled tote bags. I headed in their direction to find a harried-looking farmer, dispensing bags of veggies from huge plastic tubs.

It’s early in the growing season yet, and the offerings reflected that: baby turnips, arugula, beets and carrots with their greens attached, lettuce, spring onions and baby rainbow chard. Plus, a bonus: a big sack of grits.

When I got home I immediately started leafing through my new copy of Local Flavors, a much-appreciated Mother’s Day present. I was anxious to come up with ways of preparing my bounty that would showcase their freshness and flavor, and that would also ensure that nothing went to waste.

On Monday I diced up the beets and roasted them in the oven, and rinsed the greens well so I could saute them with some minced shallot. I spread the beets and their greens, along with a generous sprinkling of crumbled goat cheese, on a pizza crust.

Planning to make a salad with the greens from my share, I was dismayed to find that the Romaine lettuce was covered with brown spots, although the leaves still seemed crisp and unwilted. It was only after looking up a dressing recipe that I came across a description of a Romaine variety called “Freckles” and realized that’s what I had. Sure enough, the lettuce was fresh as can be, with a bracingly bitter note that I toned down with a vinaigrette made of sweet balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

I was about to reach for the spring onions to add to the pizza, when my husband stopped me.

“Don’t use everything up at once,” he said. He was right. I found myself to be so nervous that I would NOT be able to use everything up before it went bad (my husband can tell you stories about over-exuberant trips to the farmers’ market that resulted in rotting veggies in the fridge), but the food was so fresh that I had some time before it would start to turn. Plus, since I was splitting the CSA subscription with a friend, it would be two weeks before I’d get to pick up my next share.

The next day I decided to make a soup in my slow cooker. I was picturing a hearty combination of beans, the Swiss chard, and some chunks of turkey sausage to make it a substantial meal. The previous night’s pizza dough-making experience had whetted my appetite for breadmaking; if I had time maybe I’d even bake some rolls for dinner.

My sister-in-law Rebecca recently turned me on to Rancho Gordo, an online supplier of dried heritage beans. Although ordering from the California company went against the local food esthetic of my CSA, Rebecca pointed out that dried beans have a lesser impact on the environment than canned beans, which are processed, have more packaging, and are heavier to transport.

So it was with Rancho Gordo’s black beans that I made my stew, cooking them for hours in vegetable broth before tossing in the chard and the sausage and cooking it a few hours more. The stew turned out great — the chard managed to retain a bit of its crispness, and the beans were creamy yet firm.

As for the rest of my produce, I see another salad made with “Freckles” in my future, and perhaps I’ll roast the carrots and the turnips along with a chicken. I’ve been wanting to try a pasta dish made with wilted arugula and toasted pine nuts, and my husband has already earmarked the grits for shrimp and grits on the weekend.

Receiving my CSA share has caused me to think differently about my meal planning and grocery shopping; instead of my usual method of flipping through cookbooks and food magazines, and making a list from there, it’s been interesting to start out with the ingredients and plan the week’s meals around them. Best of all, I found that my interest in cooking creatively was renewed; it became almost a game to figure out how to use the produce to its fullest advantage. It must be how pioneers functioned, looking in their fields and gardens for what was ripe, and deciding how best to put it together into a well-rounded meal.

I’m sure as the summer wears on, my shares will get bigger, but hopefully through savvy meal planning I’ll be able to not let a single precious thing go to waste.
Do you belong to a CSA? What was in your share this week, and how did you use it?

To find a CSA in your area, visit Local Harvest.

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