August 17, 2011

How to Make Your CSA Share Dissappear in 2 Hours or Less*


You don't have to be a magician or host to hordes of hungry people. You don't even have to have a share of a CSA, but on Monday I came home from work with a pile of vegetables before I went to bed (early) they were nearly all gone. Well, not gone for good, just put to better use than they were just hanging out in the refrigerator. If you have produce piling up, or if you realize that last week's fennel is on top of fennel from the week before that, and you've got another fennel in your share this week, here are a few of the ways I make the most of this problem.

I arrive home at 5.30 or 6, hungry and toting a bag of produce. Cucumbers, onions, cauliflower, corn, basil, tomatoes, beans. I do my best to plan meals around what I get from the farm, but I have some of my share left over from last week and Ray will be gone most of this week, so I'd like to take care of it before I have any more vegetables languishing in the crisper. Don't even bother putting away this week's haul, just make dinner while devising a plan for lots of blanching, freezing and even a quick pickle.

Before you get to work, if you have the right ingredients, make these corn fritters. The sweet corn of summer is the absolute star of this meal, but the basil and cheese are perfect in their supporting roles. While I make the fritters, I steam the rest of the corn. We haven't gotten sick of corn yet, but whatever we don't eat for dinner will be cut off the cob and frozen. In the kitchen, I'm a pretty serious multi-tasker and as the corn and fritters cook, I cut cherry tomatoes, onions and cilantro. They are quickly tossed with lime juice, cumin, salt and pepper. I love salsa and the fresh variety is such a treat that I make it whenever the season permits.

By the way, when it comes to summer tomatoes, eat them fresh (alone or with anything else you please) until you are sick of them. If that time comes, please roast some of them slowly in the oven. When you savor their concentrated tomato flavor, you won't regret it. They take little effort and freeze beautifully.

After dinner, it's time to get serious. I started with a pound of green beans. Not a lot, but enough to tuck into the freezer for a winter dinner or two. While they blanch and cool, I cut up two heads of cauliflower. I love roasted cauliflower, but lately I've been distracted by the flashier summer vegetables. I don't want to keep it waiting any longer so I blanch the cauliflower and save it for stews and curries when the weather turns cool. If you are wondering about how to blanch and freeze vegetables, this website is very helpful.

Those three bulbs of fennel? Perfect for salads or slaws or for the fennel confit that I made, inspired by a recipe in Put Em Up, by Sherrie Brooks Vinton. The basil is whirred into a puree and another jar of pesto goes into the freezer. While the fennel finishes slowly cooking to a jam-ish consistency, I fill an empty quart jar with cucumbers, garlic and pickling spice. Hot water, vinegar, salt and sugar turn extra cucumbers into quick refrigerator pickles. All that's left are a couple of zucchini, onions and cucumbers looking lonely without the rest of the produce. They'll be used up soon enough.

You probably have your own tricks and techniques for making the most of summer vegetables. I hope you don't think me too crazy for sharing my kitchen whirlwind. I just want you to know that it doesn't take a lot of time to make sure you have some of the goodness of summer tucked away. I tend to do several preserving projects at once, but you could just as well do a few minutes here and there. Even if you make a feast and eat it all right away, I hope you can make time for this good food now.

*Doesn't include time for eating dinner, also doesn't include doing the dishes which your roommate, husband, girlfriend, partner or anyone else but you should take care of.

P.S. This post would be the perfect place for lots of photos. I love taking pictures of lovely food and lovely messes, but I was so busy getting it done that I didn't have a chance to get many pictures. And, though it is terribly sad, the earlier sunset makes good light in the evening harder to come by.

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