Living through CSA Hell: Avoiding Delivery Hysteria

July 5, 2010 · 7 comments

Impromptu early summer dinner: Japanese turnips, scallions, roasted tofu, and in there somewhere is some sticky rice.

At the moment, it is impossible for me to be in actual CSA hell, because (surprisingly, since I live in sub/rural Connecticut) there are no CSAs in my vicinity. So instead, I’m living through vicarious CSA hell, which is even more hellish, because it makes me want to rap people on the knuckles.

Definition: Vicarious CSA hell is what happens when all of those right-minded folks I know and love, along with the ones I don’t, sign up for CSAs, fork over hefty sums of money for their shares, and then can’t figure out what to do with four pounds of sorrel that arrives over the course of a three week period. Or the bags of arugula that could feed The King Family, if they had been vegetarians. Or the crates of gigantic beets that begin to land towards the end of August, and show up regularly until the last frost. My favorite CSA story took place in Manhattan, when one of my best friends dutifully signed up for a share from a farm up in the Hudson Valley: she received pie every week for months, and there are only two in her household.

Don’t get me wrong: I love CSAs. If I didn’t have a garden in which I’m growing everything from radishes to tomatoes, La Ratte potatoes to four different kinds of basil, tatsoi and leeks and kale, cucumbers and zucchini and (in the fall) squash, I would most definitely join a CSA, even if I had to drive a distance to get there (which somehow defeats the whole local food idea). But what irks me is when people — well-meaning though they may be — have, as my malaproptic grandmother would have said, “eyes bigger than their brains.” In other words, after the first handful of sorrel has been melted and the first batch of arugula wilted and the first beets roasted, new CSA members often wind up scratching their heads and getting bored; ¬†they don’t have a clue what to do with the bounty that has landed on their doorstep, that doesn’t involve extreme repetition of the meatloaf again variety. Before they can figure out what’s next, the stuff starts to go bad, and it gets tossed into the compost bucket, assuming there is one. And then the next box shows up and the whole cycle is repeated.

Drives me crazy.

Americans are a big people (in more ways than one) and we almost always instinctively go for size and quantity before realizing that we’re not going to eat everything in front of us, and CSA members are not immune to this phenomenon. And even though there is, I’m guessing, only a very slender part of the Venn Diagram that includes people who are CSA members and people who shop in bulk at Sam’s Club, the basic sensibility can often be the same. Five years ago, I wrote a book called Big Food: Amazing Ways to Cook, Store, Freeze, and Serve Everything You Buy in Bulk, which was a furtive lesson in basic restaurant re-purposing applied to the home kitchen. What it didn’t do was cover the CSA, I-just-received-a-box-of-eighteen-onions conundrum which is what CSA members often find themselves facing. (A new edition of the book covering everything from ¬†herbs to vegetables is in the works; I’ll keep you posted.)

So what’s the answer? Should you eschew a CSA membership if it’s just you and a partner/wife/husband/room mate? Definitely not. What is necessary is planning, and forethought; if you think seasonally and you have a sense of what’s going to arrive every week or so, you should be fine. If you know you’re bound to be away for a few weeks or weekends during the summer, go in with a neighbor and agree to split the box so nothing goes to waste while either of you is gone.

In the meantime, here are some ideas for July arrivals:

Radishes

Set aside the greens if they’re tender and in good condition. Braise the radishes, chop up the greens and add them at the last minute. Serve hot, or cold, with rice, or on crusty whole grain toast.

Pickle them (see below), slice them, and put them on a Banh Mi (vegetarian or not).

If they’re French breakfast radishes, dip them in softened sweet butter, sprinkle with a drop of sea salt, and serve them as an amuse. Or a small snack while you’re reading the paper.

Roast them like new potatoes.

Slice them very thinly on a mandoline and serve them on the blackest black bread you can find, spread with some sweet butter and a pinch of salt.

Cucumbers

Pickle them and eat them like, well, pickles.

Make cold cucumber and dill soup and whatever you don’t eat, freeze, in small, single-serving containers.

Slice and toss them with a little rice vinegar, hot pepper, and a drop of sesame oil. Grill a piece of fish, or tofu, and have a nice hot weather dinner.

Dice and mix with a few smashed garlic cloves, a cup or so of plain yogurt (fat free or not, your choice), some minced fresh mint, and a splash of lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Quick tzatziki, great for a vegetable dip or for drizzling on lamb burgers.

Eggplant

Head to a Middle Eastern supermarket, find some good quality Lebanese tahini and make baba ghanouj, using Molly Katzen’s tried and true Moosewood recipe.

Slice, lightly salt, rinse, drain, dredge in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs, pan-fry, top with fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce, and make Eggplant Parmigiana. Forget the veal.

Cube, lightly salt, rinse, drain, saute with garlic, diced spring onion, olive oil, pitted black olives, cherry tomatoes, a splash of red wine vinegar, and chiffonaded basil. Cook down to a paste, or keep it on the thin side and toss with cold penne. (The paste will freeze well, or keep in the fridge for up to a week.)

Slice, lightly salt, rinse, drain, saute with garlic, a bit of minced ginger, a splash of tamari, a drizzle of sesame oil, and some minced Thai basil.

Fennel

Slice and grill until lightly caramelized. Toss while hot with a pinch of cayenne, a few orange sections, and slices of red onion.

Reserve fronds, mince, and smash together with garlic cloves, hot red pepper, sea salt, and lemon zest. Massage into a pork shoulder, roast on the grill, and eat it on toast at room temperature, drizzled with good extra virgin olive oil. .

Stuff whole trout or branzino with fronds and thin slices. Drizzle with olive oil and sea salt, and roast on grill, or broil.

Arugula (this should be round 2)

Toss with lemon juice and eat like salad.

Toss with hot pasta, crumbled sausage, roasted cherry tomatoes, garlic, and Pecorino Toscano.

Wilt underneath a piece of hot, grilled fish (or chicken, or pork, or lamb).

Chop, blend together with softened goat cheese, spread on toast.

Fold into an omelette.

Toss on pizza dough, top with Prosciutto di Parma and a grating of Fontina Val D’aosta, bake, slice into squares, and eat at room temperature

Beets

Boil, peel, mince, cook down, toss with risotto and fold together with sheep’s milk cheese like a mild Manchego.

Roast, peel, slice into thirds and top each with softened goat cheese, tarragon, black pepper, and olive oil.

Pickle them.

Roast, peel, slice into wedges and toss with sliced red onion, orange sections, hot red pepper, and tarragon.

Any questions? Fire away. In the meantime, enjoy the bounty; it’s just beginning.

Pickled Radishes

This very simple recipe is adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s wonderful one for Daikon and Carrot Pickle. You could easily add carrots to this version (if they’re fresh, they’ll likely sweeten the radishes), but if you’d rather not, then keep it basic.

1 pound radishes, greens removed, radishes sliced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

1/2 cup lukewarm water

1. Place the radishes in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Combine well using your hands for about 2 minutes, and squeeze out the water from the radishes. Drain and rinse in a colander, and press the water out of them.

2. Move the radishes to another bowl (or a jar, if you’re planning on storing them in the fridge). In another bowl, combine the rest of the sugar, the vinegar, and the water, and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Pour this mixture over the radishes, and let sit for one hour. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight jar for up to one month in the fridge.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Laura Haggarty July 6, 2010 at 7:59 am

And if you get eggs from your CSA, which will no doubt have loads of them during the spring and summer, you can make Sponge Cake and Angel Food Cake! I have two great recipes for them here, which will use up a dozen egg yolks and whites, respectively:

http://www.pathfindersfarm.com/Recipes.html

2 Robin Asbell July 6, 2010 at 9:51 am

Right on Elissa! And by the way, if you don’t need a CSA box, don’t get one. It’s supporting the farm, I suppose, but so wasteful. There is nothing wrong with supporting your local farmers market.
Then you can just over-buy and need a great pickled radish recipe. But at least you aren’t letting 20 pounds of cabbage rot.

Of course, I am jealous because life as a food writer means I must cook whatever I get an assignment on, be it hearty chili on a hot summer day or melon recipes in January, so responding to the organic flow of the farm doesn’t work in my kitchen.

3 Cathy July 6, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Wonderful ideas! For an abundance of carrots, I like Zanne’s way of quick-pickling them; I add a dried hot pepper, with her blessing, and almost always have a jar in the fridge.

4 Deborah Madison July 6, 2010 at 7:48 pm

A good and timely piece, and I love your suggestions! So much so I wish I had a CSA box crammed full of cucumbers and radishes. And four pounds of sorrel? How wonderful would that be! And they can
freeze the puree if all else fails.

5 Kelly Red July 8, 2010 at 3:18 pm

My hubby and I plow our way through a CSA box meant for a family of four! It took us one badly managed year to learn and follow your hints but we are now superb planners. The only thing I hate is early in the season we always get a GIGANTIC bag of generically named “braising greens”. They are usually so bitter and horrid we’ve begun to suspect they are really just weeds LOL. I know I know I’m sure there is a fabulous recipe for them and we are dunderheads but I still say BLAH to the braising greens. I’ll take sorrel anyday, yum.

6 Cara Mae July 10, 2010 at 8:30 pm

I love this post, because (among other things) you point out American attitudes/cultural practices that don’t always get checked at the door when people attempt to take part in what can widely referred to as ‘the environmental movement’. Not planning ahead for one’s food is one of those practices – and I struggle with it myself!
But I’m curious about your thoughts on another front – I am currently conducting an experiment about the cost of sustainable vs conventional food, and posting about it at http://www.bouquetofspoons.com – I’m thinking about incorporating a CSA component. What is your take on the cost of CSA vs farmers market?

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