Friday, July 12, 2013

Are You Overwhelmed by Summer Vegetables Yet?

My CSA started a few weeks ago. I definitely frequent the many farmers' markets in my area, but a CSA farm (Community Supported Agriculture) is something special. Essentially, you become a shareholder in a farm, pre-purchasing in the winter whatever the harvest has to offer the following summer. My CSA provides a robust mix of organic fruit, vegetables, herbs, and flowers, starting in mid-June and continuing through mid-October. If I play my cards right, I have CSA produce in my freezer long past the last pick up. Some CSAs deliver, but we go to our farm to pick up. Even though that's sometimes a chore, I like the experience of seeing where my produce is grown.  

I'm going to admit, some weeks the amount of produce overwhelms even me. I've been participating in a CSA for thirteen years now, so I've had a lot of time to develop strategies for dealing with the weeks when I find myself staring blankly at, say, four or five overflowing grocery bags. I am sharing my ten best pieces of advice with you: 

1) Prioritize. If it's perishable, eat it first. Lettuces, herbs, and berries go down the hatch as soon as possible. But there's a limit to how many salads one family can eat.

2) Keep it simple! I've done the stuffed tomatoes, gratins, and cabbage rolls, but on the heavy harvest weeks you may start feeling resentful towards your food if you get too ambitious. 

3) Freeze where you can. Some items, like corn kernels or tomatoes, can go right in raw.  Many others need a fast blanch, but I queue them up and do them all sequentially in the same water. The freezer is your best friend on the high volume weeks. 

4) Items like cabbage, zucchini, hearty greens, carrots, green beans, onions, garlic, roots, and radishes will all last for a while in the fridge. Later in the week, I use these to make a slaw

5) Or a fritter

6) Or a sauté. A few days ago I sliced and softened four shallots in my cast iron skillet, threw in a cup of shelled peas, and gave them a three minute trip in the hot pan. I then added salt, pepper, a squirt of lemon, and chopped mint from the garden. Heavenly. This would work for green beans, snap peas, or zucchini. 

7) Hearty greens like chard always benefit from being cooked in a little bacon fat and garlic.

8) Roots and cauliflower are fantastic roasted. Of course, this is also the time of year when I often don't want my oven blasting away at 400 degrees. So when the grill is going, I toss these in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, wrap them in two layers of aluminum foil, and nestle the packet directly into the coals.

9) Tomatoes are a special beast. I try to eat as many as possible right away. Mostly in a simple caprese salad with mozzarella and basil. Or in a bread salad (more on that in future post). But there is at least one week a season when I am faced with somewhere north of 15 pounds. Then I spend the time slicing the tomatoes, crank on the oven, and roast them. Then I freeze them. Which then in turn makes the best marinara and soup ever come January. 

10) When in doubt, I make soup. I take anything that may be languishing in the fridge, like carrots, beets, or squash, and cook them with some broth and onion until soft. Then I puree the soup and stick it in the freezer. The soup I made this week included a large haul of summer squash, plus some potatoes. When I use it, I plan to add some milk and herbs.

Once I learned to embrace the glut, I found that I could reduce the amount of withering greens in the fridge and truly appreciate the brief growing season. 


  1. Which CSA do you belong to? It sounds as if you get a good combination of produce from it -- our last one seemed to consist primarily of kale.

  2. My CSA is Lindentree Farm in Lincoln. And it's awesome!