I’ve been doing a CSA (aka farm share) for several years now, first splitting with some friends, and then getting my own share. Mine’s through One Straw Farm, and I pick up at the 32nd Street/Waverly farmer’s market on Saturdays.
Because I’m picking up at a location where the farm sets up to sell, I get to pick what I take home each week. This means that I am never surprised by what I get, because I’ve chosen it! This does not mean that I never scratch my head wondering what to do with something. And if I’m going out of town, I can’t always get through everything quickly enough. There’s also the problem of the overabundance of certain things at particular times in the growing season – like greens in the spring. So over the last few years, I’ve developed some techniques and found some favorite recipes that make CSA season a bit more manageable, and I thought I’d share. Hopefully these will give you some ideas for the overabundance “problem.”
As far as the “what do I do with this vegetable, which I have never cooked before,” situation – if you don’t already have one, consider getting a vegetable-focused cookbook. I have and like Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which was recently updated and re-released. This book is a great resource when I’m at a loss for what to to with something I’ve brought home from the market, and it also has general information on the veggies themselves – basic varieties, how to store them and techniques for cooking them.
There are plenty of others out there; I don’t have it myself, but I know lots of people like Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. If you are in the market for this type of cookbook, don’t be overwhelmed by the enormity of the book – this is a case where you want something that seems enormous. You want the thousands of recipes, because you never know what you’re going to have, or what will seem good. I recommend flipping through these at the library or a bookstore to get a sense of the types of recipes they include and find one that seems appealing to you.
My other general recommendation is to keep a well-stocked pantry. Make sure you don’t run out of your preferred grains, pastas, canned beans, spices and sauces. Having the ingredients on hand to produce a basic vinaigrette and season veggies will take you far during CSA season. I also like to keep frozen shrimp on hand, and often have a block of tofu in the fridge as well. Both of these are quick-cooking and to me have a neutral flavor profile, which means I can throw them into almost anything.
Zucchini – I don’t go in for zucchini bread. Last summer I was addicted to this Zucchini Garlic Soup, which is a breeze to make and freezes beautifully. It even works with that zucchini you forgot about from last week, that’s looking kinda sad and limp now. No one will be the wiser. The summer before, I think it was this Spicy Zucchini Soup (I do recommend cutting back the bread on that, though). This one does not freeze as well, due to the bread. Still yummy though! You can also make these with other summer squashes, particularly the yellow crookneck kind.
Kale – I don’t know about your CSA, but mine seems to have an abundance of kale throughout the growing season. If I know I’m going to be out of town for part of the following week, I grab a bunch of kale and follow these procedures to tuck it away in the freezer for the winter. I usually package them up in increments of about two cups, and then I can pull them out and throw them into soup later in the year. Now that said, fresh kale is delicious. This kale salad was quick to put together and very delicious. I used feta in place of the ricotta salata. If you don’t quite like the looks of that salad, poke around online. You are bound to find a kale salad recipe that you like.
Herbs – It can sometimes be a challenge to use up a huge bundle of fresh herbs while they’re still in good shape. You can freeze herbs in oil (I usually do this in increments of about a teaspoon, with enough oil to cover). These are great to start off a saute. For basil, I like to make a basil puree, which is basically pesto without the pine nuts and parmesan. That also freezes well and is great to dip bread, to drizzle on pizza, add to pasta sauce, whatever you like. You can, obviously, also turn it into pesto very easily, assuming you actually want to shell out for pine nuts. I never do. Other options for fresh herbs include infusing booze, vinegar, or olive oil (which you should be sure to keep in the fridge to avoid growing bacteria – it’ll solidify but if you pull it out ahead of time or stick it in the microwave very briefly you’ll be set). The internet can assist with proportions and recipes for these ideas.
Pickled Anything – You can pickle almost anything, and you don’t need to worry about canning it. I actually prefer fridge pickles because they stay crisp longer. I have a few go-to recipes, including these zucchini pickles and these beer brine pickles. You can use those brines for almost any other kind of vegetable you can dream up, or you can search online for a recipe (if you find a recipe that calls for canning the pickles, just ignore that part. After you get everything in the jar, let it cool on the counter for a little while and stick it in the fridge). Pickles are great on salads, and they are also a fun thing to bring to a cookout. Pickle aficionados are everywhere and will immediately want to try yours.
CSA Lunch – Many of my CSA veggies, and other veggies I grab at the market, wind up in what I have come to think of as “CSA lunch.” This consists of a grain (usually quinoa), a bean (usually chickpeas) and a mishmash of veggies that have been lightly sauteed. Depending on my mood and my pantry, sometimes I add a seasoning mix into the saute, other times I’ll make up a sauce.