I’m loving all the beautiful vegetables I’m getting from Lancaster Farm Fresh, my community supported agriculture program. I know I’ve mentioned this before, and if I appear to be gushing, I guess I am. This afternoon’s take included some really beautiful fresh fava beans, bull’s blood beets, four huge heirloom tomatoes and some miniature white cucumbers, which I’ve never seen before. They taste amazing – sweet and mild.
My first instinct was to artfully arrange all of my beauties in a wooden bowl for photographing, which as you can see, I did. My second instinct was to tabulate everything I brought in from the garden this week – several zucchini, several more squash, tomatoes, jalapeños, and banana peppers. If you’re wondering how I’m going to use all these disparate ingredients throughout the week, so that nothing goes to waste, so am I. So tonight I’ll take an hour to sit down and figure it out. I touched on menu planning in this post, but I wanted to share a little more about how a little organization can help summer produce end up on the table instead of in the compost bin.
- Start by making a list of the ingredients you have on hand from your CSA or garden.
- Make a list of the meals (Monday lunch, Monday dinner, Tuesday dinner, etc) you plan to cook.
- For each meal, choose a fresh vegetable that will be the focus of the meal and find a recipe that features it. You can add other vegetables if it the recipe calls for it or it just makes sense – vegetable soup is an awesome way to use lots of produce – but in general, don’t try to fit the entire contents of your CSA basket into a single meal. Looking for recipes that combine too many specific ingredients can be frustrating and a real time waster.
- Develop resources for seasonal cooking. Alicia Sokol organizes the recipes on her blog, Weekly Greens, by ingredient, and the Veggie Table has a page for looking up recipes by season. There are countless cookbooks featuring seasonal or farm-to-table food that can be an inspiration. I love Richard Ruben’s Farmer’s Market Cookbook, Andrea Reusing’s Cooking in the Moment, and Martha Holmberg’s Fine Cooking In Season.
- Use Pinterest to organize seasonal recipes. My picks are pinned here and here.
- Look for recipes on your CSA’s web site – many provide recipes that use the ingredients they provide to customers each week.
- If you don’t have enough of a single ingredient to make an entire dish, consider including it in a salad. A pint of tart cherries won’t make a pie, but they work nicely on a salad with sliced pork tenderloin, for example.
- Account for each’s day’s schedule, considering nights you know you have to work late, take the kids to soccer practice, go to a community meeting, or hit the gym. Be realistic and choose meals that you can squeeze in without a lot of fuss. I like salads for this.
- Use the weekend to pre make meals for weeknights you know it won’t be possible to cook. Make a huge pot of vegetable soup that can be reheated, or grill chicken or steak for topping salads.
- Plan to eat out. It sounds counterintuitive, but planning to eat out a couple of times a week makes cooking feel like less of a chore. and I’m less tempted to chuck plans for a home cooked meal at the last minute.
- Try to think past dinner. Include veggies in school or work lunches, and offer them as snacks. Add veggies to omelets or frittatas at breakfast, or slice up fruit from your CSA share and add to to yogurt and oatmeal.
- If you can’t eat it, preserve it. It’s July, so as usual I’m drowning in more zucchini than I can sneak into meals right now, so I’ll be slicing, blanching, and freezing some and putting it away for winter. Preserving doesn’t have to be complicated – it can be as simple as chopping and freezing greens or making a single jar of refrigerator jam, without the hassle of adding pectin and sealing jars.
- Properly store produce so it doesn’t go bad before you can cook it. The Vegetarian Times and the Kitchn have easy to follow guides for this. Fresh-from-the-garden produce lasts a lot longer than the stuff you buy at the grocery store, assuming it’s stored correctly.