Months after being inspired by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, my friend P and I have finally gone ahead and joined a local community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. We’re both regular farmers’-market-goers, but this takes eating organically and locally to a whole new level: we are now essentially shareholders in the Tierra Miguel Farm near San Diego, receiving our dividends in the form of regular deliveries of seasonal organic produce assortments. We’re starting cautiously, sharing a box every other week until the end of the year, but if we like it, we can sign up for a longer period or more frequent (weekly) deliveries. As awesome as I think CSAs are, I definitely have some reservations about giving up this much control over my shopping, menu planning, and cooking. For a die-hard planner like me, this is difficult. I’m at the mercy of whatever the box happens to contain—and while one of the perks of living in California is that our CSA continues all year round, as winter approaches our boxes are bound to contain some of the less glamorous, harder-to-love members of the veggie world. The coolest yet most terrifying aspect of the whole enterprise is that I’ll be confronted with a series of foods I haven’t cooked with before, and perhaps haven’t historically liked very much (beets, kale, cabbage, I’m looking at you). Of course, if I remember to write about them, these new challenges could be interesting fodder for this site and quite entertaining for those of you following along at home. Watch a recovering picky eater sample new foods! Watch new recipes tested or even improvised! Watch me learn important lessons about the joy of spontaneity! It’ll be like a cross between Iron Chef and an ABC Afterschool Special!
The plan is that P will pick up our CSA delivery every other Wednesday, divvy up the goods, and bring my share to work on Thursday. This first week, I received a bit more than half of the box’s contents, since P and her husband are about to leave town for a weeklong vacation. I was excited when P presented me with the bag of veggies, but as I surveyed it all, I realized that I’m going to have to make some adjustments to my normal cooking schedule. Usually, by Thursday I’m winding down my week of cooking. I don’t go grocery shopping until Saturday morning, and I don’t cook for real again until Sunday night—the weekend is when we go out to eat, or coast along on leftovers, or assemble simple meals like sandwiches. Originally, I’d thought it would be helpful to get the CSA box on Thursday, because then I can know what’s in it before I plan next week’s menu (this usually happens on Friday). The problem with this is that produce is perishable, particularly in the non-peak season when half of it is greens. I hadn’t counted on the fact that I might have to deal with some of the box’s contents immediately before they spoiled—that they wouldn’t wait around to patiently submit to the structure of my menu. I see a lot of experimental weekend cooking in my future.
My share of this week’s box contained:
6 stalks pink chard
1 head cabbage
1 small head Romaine lettuce
1 bunch arugula
various small (Roma, pear, cherry) red tomatoes
2 light-green summer squash
1 yellow onion
1 head garlic
Here’s how I strategized: The chard looked a bit weary from its travels, and I was interested to try it (I’m not sure I’ve ever deliberately tasted it before), so I shelved my original dinner plans and, after reading what all the cooking blogs had to say about chard, I improvised an onion and chard frittata—sauteed the onion in some olive oil until limp and browned, added the sliced chard leaves and cooked until wilted, then added this mixture to a large bowl containing 5 beaten eggs, ½ cup grated Parmesan, and salt and pepper. Heated a little more olive oil in the frying pan, poured in the frittata mixture, and cooked over low heat until set and browned on the bottom, flipped it over, and browned the other side. It was pretty tasty—a bit thinner than I’d expected, like a big fritter. The chard tasted fine to me; we’re not in love yet, but I’d accept another date. (Next time maybe I’ll save the stems—I’m intrigued by the uses for them that Jack Bishop lists in Vegetables Every Day. Apparently you can bake them into tasty gratins with cream, cheese, and breadcrumbs. But then, what wouldn’t make a tasty gratin with cream, cheese, and breadcrumbs? If I had to eat a shoe, I might cook it that way.)
I made a salad from the arugula, following a recipe from Vegetables Every Day (which I can see is going to be my bible in this enterprise, since it includes recipes for every vegetable you can think of, organized alphabetically by vegetable). I tore up the leaves, added some tomato wedges (I could have used the little CSA tomatoes, but I already had an extra heirloom aging on the counter), sprinkled with salt and pepper, and drizzled with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. It was good, but very assertive. I think I prefer arugula in a supporting role, rather than as the main ingredient.
So that dispatches the onion, chard, and arugula. I’ve just been munching on the tomatoes as snacks, and the garlic, potatoes, carrots, and squash should keep well into next week. I’m crossing my fingers that the lettuce and basil do, too. I might try freezing the oregano. That just leaves the cabbage. I really hate cabbage—or, in the interest of being fair, I should say that I’ve disliked it in all forms in which I’ve tried it so far. But the CSA newsletter has a not-bad-looking recipe for coleslaw made without mayonnaise (I really hate mayonnaise), and A likes coleslaw, and I will try at least one bite. So I’m making that on Sunday. Wish me luck! I promise to tell you all about it.