Megan Gray is back with another post for Thinking Inside the Box. She’s a member of the TapRoot Farm CSA.
It finally it seems that we have suddenly landed in the middle of summer, and the long sunny days have meant my that my weekly veggie box is bursting with peas, carrots, potatoes, zucchinis, greens, greens, and more greens, and other in-season treasures. So how to make the most of this abundance?
I’m a meal planner, a menu-maker. Every week I sit down with my cookbooks and plan the week’s meals, scoring satisfaction when I find varied recipes that utilize the same grocery items (points for ingredient efficiency!), and seeking to make my week deliciously diverse. I am a food nerd and cooking is my therapy; I seek to try new tastes and techniques but also crave the soul-satisfaction of stand-by comfort foods. When I started getting my weekly veggie box I got excited about the added challenge to my weekly meal planning – it’s like being on one of those cooking shows where they give you three ingredients and you have to come up with something exciting! After awhile, though, I realized that in order for Community Shared Agriculture to work for me, it couldn’t always be an adventure: it had to fit into my everyday life. So now when I open my box I approach it with an eye that looks for ways to include new veggies into old favourites and seeks to find something new. I’ll give you a couple of examples.
Pesto has long been a favourite of mine. Simple, impressive, delicious, and so many things to do with it: drizzle over grilled vegetables or fish, use as a pasta sauce, mix into scrambled eggs, or spread it on pizza or sandwiches. I’d always make pesto when basil was in season and easy to get in big bunches. An abundance of kale in my veggie box one week got me thinking, could kale pesto also be delicious? Just as basic formulas in mathematics seem to work, perhaps pesto is a reliable formula too: a handful of greens, plus olive oil, nuts (I like walnuts – similar taste to pine nuts but cheaper), garlic, and parmesan, equals delicious. And it was. With kale, with spinach, with garlic scapes (omit the extra garlic here, unless you’re fending off vampires), and any other green variable that I’ve tried. When my box contains more greens than I can sauté or steam in a week, I make pesto in batches big enough to freeze. I fill my ice cube trays and pop them in the freezer; the individual cubes are quick to thaw when I need a fast meal (pesto pasta and a side salad celebrating the week’s bounty is a fifteen minute meal that’s fit for a bistro). And it never disappoints.
Another staple in my repertoire has become couscous and chickpea salad. A great side for any Indian style meat, fish, or tofu dish, or a great lunch on its own, it’s another formula that I can depend on no matter what’s fresh. The basic formula is couscous, chickpeas, and a dressing of garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, and pepper. Add to that whatever combination of vegetables you choose: lately it’s been zucchini, cucumber, fennel, green and yellow beans, snow peas, sugar snaps, broccoli, kohlrabi, shredded carrots – the variety is limited only by what’s available, and using the vegetables raw or lightly blanched means making the most of their fresh flavour as it’s meant to be. And because the combination differs each week, my taste buds don’t get bored.
I’m always excited to find something new I haven’t tried before, such as last week’s callaloo, a leafy green less substantial than kale but heartier than spinach. But I was equally as excited to try it as it’s traditionally prepared (sautéed with spices a la Jamaican cuisine) as I was to find a place for it in my favourite comfort food – pasta (sautéed and mixed with ricotta, lemon juice, pepper, herbs, and penne). Yum.
Community Shared Agriculture works for me because it hasn’t meant a big change in my food lifestyle, but also satisfies allows me to experiment and explore. It’s a fit – which makes supporting local agriculture an easy – and tasty – thing to do.