Every week, I or one of my roommates picks up our CSA (community-supported agriculture) share in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. I love the romantic idea of fresh fruits and vegetables all summer long. I love knowing that our investment in a local farmer’s work supports the local economy and grows the possibilities for locally sourced food.
I love all of those romantic notions. I do. But belonging to a CSA is not all happy peaches. A CSA can actually become one of the most guilt-ridden parts of a busy life.
I sigh when I see my swiss chard wilting in the bottom of the refrigerator just a day after I brought it home. I worry about what I’m going to do with three bunches of beets. Using up a bulk of vegetables takes planning and follow-through. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned about trying to cook through everything (and avoiding the guilt) this summer.
Create a Basic Storage System
Do a little research on the produce you receive each week. Look up the best way to store each fruit and vegetable. A few basic rules: The more fruits and vegetables you store together, the quicker they will go bad. For soft veggies and herbs, don’t rinse until right before use. The Kitchn has an amazing list of how to store every single fruit and vegetable.
Make a Plan
You don’t need to do a ton of formal planning, but think about what foods would work well with different dishes. Have a ton of extra rice and some frozen chicken? Make a stir fry with any greens, peppers or onions in your share. Decide which veggies would make great sides and which you’d like to eat fresh in a salad. If you have roommates who are willing to cook with you, strategize a meal plan together. I always think about the grains I have — couscous, rice and barley — and plan out meals based on combinations of those grains and whatever veggies arrive in the share.
Eat the Spoilers Quickly
Make an effort to eat up the most perishable items first. Sauté greens (including beet and radish tops) and mix into pastas or eat plain. Make salads with the lettuce. Puree basil into a quick pesto and use quickly on pasta or save in freezer bags. Got peaches and blueberries? Snack on them as you walk home from CSA, when you get in the door, and at all other times. Snack on fresh fruit continually. There are worse problems in life than too much fresh fruit.
Bring Whole Vegetables to Work
When I don’t feel like I have enough time to whip up something amazing for lunch each day, I’ll bring a container full of lettuce and a few whole vegetables (peppers, corn, cucumbers and tomatoes) and prepare a big salad at work. I keep crumbled goat cheese and dressing ingredients in the fridge and use my lunch break to make a huge and fresh salad. A recent favorite addition has been a whole corn on the cob. I saw off the fresh and sweet kernels with a knife and toss them on top of the salad.
Make a Quiche
You can toss any vegetable into a quiche. This has been my go-to trick of the summer for getting rid of extra vegetables. Not only is it easy to stuff a quiche full of summer squash and onions, the cheese-and-egg mixture makes the perfect on-the-go breakfast. Every morning, I heat up a slice and eat it on the way to work. At the beginning of the summer, our CSA gave us a run of rhubarb, so I made two of these English quiches. I continued to modify this recipe all summer based on the veggies I had. Any cheese will work, so use up those extra bits of goat cheese and parmesan.
Share with your friends
I have found that a bag of produce is a surprising and lovable hostess gift. A bottle of wine is great, but handing over a bag of fresh corn on the cob or a sack of apricots is a treat. Share the bounty.
Freeze as Much as You Can
Prep vegetables for freezing using this guide from the University of Minnesota. Every vegetable can be prepared differently for maximum freshness. I like to cook up large batches of squash and pumpkin and freeze so they’re ready for early-fall baking.
Try your hand at quick-pickling and preserving. Jams and jellies are a great place for beginners to start. Almost any vegetable can be pickled. Pick up the “bible” of canning, the Ball Blue Book and start whipping up okra pickles and pickled zucchini.
An even easier tactic than canning is also a bit intoxicating. Alcohol is a great preserver. Soak flavorful fruits and vegetables in your clear alcohol of choice for delicious tinctures. The grand-prize-winner of the summer was beet gin (chopped beets soaked in gin), which is delicious mixed with ginger beer. Jalapeno flavored drinks are huge right now. Make your own jalapeno tequila or vodka by soaking a few peppers for a week.
Another recipe to try is traditional brandied fruits. As you receive fruit in your CSA basket, save your favorite pieces and cover in sugar and brandy. As the fruit soaks up the alcohol, it gains a rich flavor and turns syrupy. Spoon the mixture over ice cream or bake into pound cake.
These tips should get you making the most of your CSA basket. Have any tricks or tips on dealing with eight pounds of zucchini? Let us know in the comments below.