3 ways a “csa” farm share can expand your mind & revive your kitchen

Since late spring, I’ve been enjoying the food adventure that is my CSA (community-supported agriculture) weekly farm share: Picking up a pile of local, organic fruits and vegetables every Thursday, meeting some new neighbors and chatting about recipes, and then weekly, experimenting with how in the heck to cook some of these items I’ve never seen before! I’ve taken away three major lessons from my CSA summer:

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1. What Grows When:

Greens and roots apparently thrive in the crisp weather of the spring and fall, LOTS of eggplants, cucumbers and summer squash throughout summer, tomatoes more early in the summer and potatoes later, and super sweet pears actually come on the heels of apples.

2. What Fresh Really Looks and Tastes Like:

Who knew that locally grown carrots came with an outer ring of purple or yellow (they look like little art pieces in stews)? Or how bright greens and oranges could be in winter squash?! I’ve found I really love the leaves that top beets (much more than I like beets themselves), and that I still need some practice around making tasty dishes with the leaves from garlic, radishes, and turnips.

3. How to Get Quick & Creative in the Kitchen:

Whether I’m trying out arugula, mustard greens or tomatillos (new favorites!) for the first time, or eggplant and summer squash for the 8th time in a month, the fact that my veggies have to get eaten before I get a whole new batch the next week (and our tiny refrigerator simply won’t hold more than one share at a time) is a great motivating factor. I end up cooking veggies at least 4-5 times a week, which is great for our diet as well as my cooking repertoire, which I admit, was pretty dismal before this summer.

But after these few months, I know how to steam or sauté in a matter of minutes, and I’ve actually cut back on fancier spices for the basics that bring out the flavor of fresh veggies: oils and butters and vinegars, sea salt and crushed pepper, and maybe a garlicky hot sauce for some extra kick on hot summer nights. I use the blender or our $5 food processor from Rite Aid for blending some quick herbs for a fresh pesto, salsa or guacamole, and as the weather cools, I’m going back to the oven (which I abandoned all summer in fear of heat stroke) for quick baking of pumpkin and squash – and seeds with salt and thyme! – and potatoes for more hearty meals.

On this last point, someone from our CSA recently sent out these great “kid friendly” or “easy gourmet” tips for cooking with greens that I’d love to share:

Besides sauteing or steaming your greens (with a little olive oil, bit of white wine or cider–or balsamic–vinegar, garlic, onion, peppers, seasonings of choice) you might try steaming til they’ve wilted, stir in a couple tablespoons of mayo (I use homemade canola oil mayo or Haines safflower mayo), transfer to a baking dish, top with parmesan if you wish, cover with foil and bake at 325-350 for 25 minutes or so. If you’ve topped well with parmesan you can uncover the last 5 minutes, for a little browning.

If you want to get wild ( and do a Marcus Samuelsonn imitation) fold in a cup or so of cooked macaroni (and crumbled bacon plus additional shredded cheeses, ricotta, or whatever else your heart desires) and you will have “Mac n’ Greens”!

It’s amazing how much I’ve learned about food lately – I honestly never paid much attention to food growing up, and as a busy young professional I have most definitely relied more on restaurants than my own abilities in the kitchen. That is fast and furiously changing!

If you’d like to join a CSA or learn more about a community garden near you, read more at the U.S. Department of Agriculture or JustFood if you live in New York.

If global food justice is up your alley, here are a few links to check out as well:

World Food Program
Global Agriculture
Gardens for Health
One Acre Fund
Malo Traders
myAgro

Eat well and enjoy!

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