Did I ever tell you that I am a CSA dropout?
It’s true – this avid cook, lover of good food, champion of feeding my children well – joined a CSA, hated pretty much every minute of it, and vowed to never do it again (whew – it felt good getting that off my chest).
For those of you who don’t know what a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is, here’s a description, courtesy of Local Harvest:
“A farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.”
I loved this idea. Buying fresh food directly from the person who grew it. Discovering new produce, and challenging myself in the kitchen. Supporting a local farmer.
It all sounded so perfect.
And then the season began. Mike would typically take Noah with him, and as the weeks wore on I would stand at the window, anxiously peering out and awaiting their return. Because that’s when the panic would ensue.
In came bags (lots of bags) – filled with all kinds of leafy greens, squashes, berries, stone fruits – that had to be dealt with IMMEDIATELY. Now you all know that I am hardly spontaneous in the kitchen. And that I like things neat and orderly. And how I (almost) never deviate from a recipe. Yet here I was each week, in a kitchen full of spoiling-as-we-speak produce that required sponteneity, messiness and (gulp) creativity.
Is it 5 0′clock yet?
Guys, it was my worst culinary nightmare – and needless to say, we did NOT sign up for the following year. Which was just as well, given the arrival of a lovely farmer’s market right in my village. I ultimately concluded that the market much better suited my style of cooking. I now had control over what I bought each week (depending on our schedule, not just what was in season). I could pick out just what I wanted, in the exact quantity I needed. Of course there was always the opportunity to try something new – IF I was in the mood (and with a little help from the farmer on how to prepare it).
I will admit, I felt a little guilty and somewhat of a failure – it seemed like I was surrounded by friends and neighbors who celebrated the arrival of CSA season, rejoicing in their kitchens overflowing with kale, zucchini and beets. Why couldn’t I be more like them?
And then I came across a fabulous article in the New York Times. The title, “Raw Panic” – perfectly summed up all that I had been feeling, and I knew then that I was not alone. I wish it had come out last year when I was elbow-deep in carrots, but I found it to be just as useful now.
Because truth be told, I often “overbuy” at the market each week anway. It’s so hard not to get carried away by the pretty colors, amazing smells and potential for beautiful, delicious meals. This is often met with a very different reality – that is, rotting produce that I didn’t use in time, or store properly. But now, armed with these great tips, I had some new tricks up my sleeve.
I especially loved the idea of roasting vegetables upon arrival, to up the flavor and increase their storage life. I had done this for years with mid-winter plum tomatoes but never thought to try it with peak, in-season produce. Brilliant. And of course, I had the chance to put this technique into play pretty much right away – with one-too-many pints of cherry tomatoes.
It became clear that they were going to spoil before I had a chance to use them, so I slow-roasted them with some olive oil, salt and pepper.
Not only was I able to store them in the fridge till they were ready to use, the flavor was incredible. Sweet and slightly chewy, they made the perfect addition to a simple dish of pasta, garlic, olive oil and basil.
I also tried it with these heirloom cherry tomatoes for a riff on Brooklyn Supper’s simple pizza recipe – delicious.
Will I dip a toe back into the CSA waters any time soon? Probably not. But as my eyes are often bigger than my kitchen when it comes to the farmer’s market, I’m sure I’ll be oven-roasting a veggie or two in the near future.
How about you? Do you also get overwhelmed by the bounty of produce that’s available this time of year? Or do you embrace it, whipping up lots of new and exciting recipes? Any great tips to share on how to manage an “excess” of fruits and veggies? Please let me know!
Oh – one more thing – in addition to the New York Times article, I am also grateful to Lindsey of Cafe Johnsonia, who wrote a great piece over at Design Mom on how to properly store and wash fruits and vegetables. It’s a keeper.
adapted from the New York Times
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until they are reduced in size by about a quarter. This will take anywhere from 4-6 hours, depending on the size of the tomatoes. You’ll know they are ready when they are shriveled up on the outside but still tender and juicy on the inside. Use immediately or store, covered in the fridge, for up to one week.
Pasta with Oven Roasted Tomatoes
adapted from the New York Times
1 pound penne (or any “short” pasta)
6 T. extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1 pint oven roasted cherry tomatoes
½ bunch parsley, chopped (can substitute with fresh basil when in season)
freshly grated parmesan, to taste
Bring a large pot of water to boil; prepare pasta according to directions.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium-size skillet. When hot (but not smoking), add garlic and saute, stirring frequently, till it just begins to color (about 2-4 minutes).
Drain pasta and return to pot – add the tomatoes and garlic-oil and stir gently, till well-coated. Add your fresh herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately in warmed pasta bowls, passing cheese separately.
This delicious recipe brought to you by Donuts, Dresses and Dirt