Thursday, October 11, 2012

Farm Fresh and Fantastic: How to Stay On Top Of, and Genuinely Enjoy, Your CSA Box

Continuing the guest blog posts in the #RecipeForHappiness series, Erina Malarkey, who Allrecipes met at the 2012 BlogHer Food conference, and who writes the popular blog, Shut Up & Cook, has contributed this post describing her passion for CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm boxes brimming with vegetables and fruit. Born and raised on the East Coast, she describes herself as “a shameless foodie by night and by day, who loves nothing more than an epic meal shared with good company over many hours.” When not whipping up culinary delights in her Seattle kitchen she can be found horseback riding, running with her mastiff or pitbull, or single-handedly reviving JetBlue stock with frequent trips to Boston.

In today’s virtual and fast-paced world, where life often happens behind a computer screen and with the mere click of a button, there is something deeply rewarding about supporting local farmers. Perhaps this is why CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) have become so popular, allowing folks like me to get involved with and champion a nearby farm, all the while enjoying weekly bundles of seasonal organic fruits and vegetables.

While there is no better “Recipe for Happiness” than a delicious dinner made with the freshest ingredients available, for many cooks the great satisfaction they get upon picking up their weekly boxes is tempered by a near equal trepidation about how they will possibly get through it all. With CSA boxes often boasting ingredients people haven’t had much experience with (Ever heard of kohlrabi?) or brimming with seemingly endless quantities of greens (Get ready to love kale!), it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

After multiple years of being a CSA advocate, here are my three tricks to help make your season successful and enjoyable:

1. Do all your prep work right away. Depending on your CSA, you may have a box of fruits and vegetables that are entirely cleaned, prepared, and ready to go, or you may get potatoes fresh out of the ground with bits of dirt still clinging to them. If you’re in the latter camp, I recommend doing all your prep and cleaning as soon as you get your box. Yes, it will take a bit of time to wash and spin the lettuce, trim the carrot tops, and rinse the peppers, but having it all done will make it much easier to prepare a delicious dinner on a Monday night when time is short and hunger levels are high.

Recipe Idea: Kale Salad with Caesar Dressing and New Potatoes
Kale is prolific in many CSA boxes and further accentuated by the fact that people tend to love it or hate it. This recipe is particularly appealing as the kale is somewhat buoyed by serving as a Caesar dressing delivery system, but does provide an undeniably lovely contrast to the new potatoes, and thanks to its robust stature holds up beautifully until the next day, making it a perfect make-ahead salad for a dog days of summer picnic, or BBQ side. You may also browse Allrecipes' selection of kale recipes or watch a video to find more ideas for using this super-healthy, versatile green.

A hearty bowl of Kale Salad with Caesar Dressing and New Potatoes (Photo by Erina Malarkey)
2. Be realistic. Some people who participate in a CSA are fastidious about using every part of each item, even to sautéing beet or radish greens as dishes in and of themselves. Be honest with yourself about what level of ingenuity you’re committing to. If just using beets or radishes is going to take work, chop off the tops right away to make room in your fridge, and make the ingredients seem more accessible. (Your compost will thank you for the kick-start addition.) Additionally, if you have a collection of vegetables that you aren’t sure how to combine together, take advantage of this Digital Age we live in and search an online resource, such as Sometimes a seemingly random search of unlikely pairings can result in an unexpected feast.

Recipe Idea: Vegetarian Carbonara with Summer Greens
I am admittedly not the most regimented person when it comes to using every last leaf, but this dish triumphantly uses all the chard, spinach, and radishes in a CSA box with much aplomb. It is surprisingly delicious, light, and yet satisfying, and it’s on the table in less than 30 minutes! And if this idea doesn't suit you, look here for more inspiration.

Vegetarian Carbonara with Summer Greens (Photo by Erina Malarkey)
3. Think about the shelf life of each item. When I receive my CSA box, after cleaning and prepping everything, I evaluate how long different items will last, and then stash them in my fridge accordingly. Mixed greens need to be eaten fairly quickly, while turnips are a bit more forgiving. Herbs turn fast, but with some simple drying tricks, can easily be stored for months. If you stack your ingredients based on what will fade the fastest, and use them accordingly, you’ll maximize time with your entire bounty, while enjoying the ingredients first best eaten fresh from the field.

Recipe Idea: Baked Tomatoes Stuffed with Curried Quinoa
These are a spectacular vegan side or main dish, yet it's hearty and flavorful enough to satisfy the most voracious of carnivores. The tomatoes can be easily made ahead, and are a lovely addition to a dinner of grilled fish and salad.

Baked Tomatoes Stuffed with Curried Quinoa (Photo by Erina Malarkey)
With some simple planning, and general tips and tricks, CSA boxes can be a lot of fun, while also dramatically expanding your culinary repertoire. Plus, the satisfaction that comes from knowing you are supporting sustainable, organic farming, coupled with triumph of making a spectacular feast from the bounty is hard to beat.


Great ideas-I love my CSA!
Thanks for the recipes-I have the greens to make the carbonara this weekend.

Terrific post, Erina! These are wonderful tips. I love your Kale Salad with Caesar dressing! There's a lot to love in a CSA box. Definitely make me happy!

Being from Toronto my food choices used to be very limited by what grocery stores and supermarkets had to offer. After years of consuming mostly tasteless produce I love getting now my weekly box with a CSA share of fresh organic veggies and fruits here in the city. Apart from garden and field produce I usually get some fresh eggs as well as some cheese from local farmers. There’s some meat available, too. It saves me time and effort needed for grocery shopping, it gets me delicious, seasonal and locally produced food, and my family enjoys simple and healthy dishes according to recipes that arrive in the box, too. Thanks for yours!

For some reason it's not letting me reply to each comment, so I'll just respond here!

Kirsten - How did the carbonara turn out? Always love to have a fellow CSA fan in the bunch.

Hannah - The Kale Salad is a favorite, even amongst the most ardent of kale haters. I highly recommend.

Lorne - What's the great farmer's market in Toronto...Kensington? I've been a few times and love it. So glad that you've found a CSA to spice things up. And yes, there really is nothing better than the farm fresh eggs. Once you've had them you can never go back!