Fresh Food Triage and the Art of Unpacking a CSA Share
Like a lot of people who live way up North, I spend seven months of the year longing for summer. When it finally comes, our family calendar gets so full it’s impossible to do everything fun, let alone everything responsible. On our farm, the gift as well as the curse of the summer solstice is abundance.
During the first part of summer, you better believe that abundance comes in a dark, leafy form.
Leafy greens are one of the most nutritious things you can put in your mouth. They are good for your eyes and your circulation, and they contain cancer-fighting carotenoids. Many people who eat greens on the regular say they develop cravings for them when they’re not around. But they’re bulky, and that can present some challenges in the kitchen.
Before these greens can become supper, they must be turned into palatable meals by a skilled person with a cutting board and a sharp knife. Let us be honest—cooking is work. You may enjoy it. You may dread it. But it is a job to be done. For all the troubles processed food has caused in the standard American diet, there is a reason it was hailed as a great timesaver for home cooks.
If the responsibility falls to you as it does to me to unpack the green or red or purple or orange avalanche of whatever is currently in season, I can tell you there’s a mild sort of art to getting it all in the door. Here are some of the ways we perform fresh food triage at our house.
1. Chop the tops
If you don’t have time for the rest of this, the single easiest thing you can do to prolong the freshness of fresh vegetables is whack the tops off.
Some people make carrot top pesto out of their carrot tops, vegetable stock out of their peelings, blend radish leaves into soups, and throw turnip greens into a braise. Other people compost all of it. Either way, any root or stalk you put into the fridge with the leaves still attached is going to be bulkier than it had to be. Also, the poor thing is going to continue to try to send energy up to the leaves, which has always been its job. So save your radish tops if you want, but don’t let them drain the freshness from the radishes.
2. Well begun is half done
Half-prepping vegetables as soon as you bring them home is helpful for two reasons. First, all this fresh food has to fit in the fridge. If you’re graced with anything else to eat besides a CSA box bursting with very fresh vegetables, a few techniques will help to shoehorn it all in. Second, I’ve been at this long enough to know that if I wait until my family and I are actually hungry, the likelihood is low that we’re going to pass up the quesadilla in favor of waiting for something more nutritious to be cooked.
If possible, block off a little time on the day you pick up your CSA share to do a little round of processing. Here’s how it goes at our house: screen door slams, I set down the box and haul out a cutting board, a sharp knife, and a colander, plug in the food processor, put on a pot of water, get out some prep containers, and get right to it.
3. Big glass bowls
Glass tupperware is fine for holding leftovers, but when I’m going through any amount of bulky greens, I find big glass salad bowls to be an enormous boost. Plates work fine in place of lids. This also makes them stackable if you have a tall bottom shelf. First I’ll swish the leaves under the tap, shake them off a bit, chop off the stalks, and tear or chop the leaves into the kind of size I think will be most useful for cooking or salads.
It’s imperative that I can see through these containers. If I can’t see what’s in there, it’s going to get forgotten.
Once they’ve been cooked, dark, leafy greens shrink down to a fraction of their fresh size. We love to incorporate blanched greens into egg dishes like frittatas, grain dishes like farro with wilted greens, and creamy vegetable dips. Having a few tubs of blanched greens on hand throughout the week means we’re far more likely to toss them into whatever is happening for dinner.
While blanching ordinarily means dropping vegetables into a big pot of boiling, salted water, I prefer to skimp on the water unless I know I’m going to reuse it later in the form of vegetable stock—otherwise too many nutrients are leached out into the cooking liquid and lost. Instead, I swish the greens under the tap, chop them up pretty roughly, and then throw them into a big covered pot on a hot burner. Then I set a timer for one or two minutes. When it goes off, I grab a hunk of hot greens with some tongs and plunge them into a large pot of cold water to stop them cooking. When they’re cool to the touch, I squeeze them out into a tight little ball, and squirrel them into the fridge in glass containers or ziploc bags.
During the summer months, we use our food processor and blender not just a lot, but a whole lot. Greens-based sauces like scallion marinade, ginger carrot dressing, chilled soups like gazpacho, and green smoothies are all excellent ways to up your fresh vegetable intake without feeling like you’re subsisting on yard clippings. Eating vegetables that have been coated, seasoned, and dressed up with other vegetables is one way to stare down the RDA recommendation of eating at least 2 cups of raw, leafy greens per day with a shrug.
While some greens are cooking down in the aforementioned process of blanching, I like to whip up a marinade or salad dressing by pureeing some vegetables in the blender. According to the nutrition writer Jo Robinson, green onions have 100 more phytonutrients than other onions. And I’ll give you one guess—which part of the plant is more nutritious, green or white?
At our house, we like to up our consumption of green onions by pureeing them as a marinade for grilled vegetables and pasture-raised meats. A little vinegar and a little oil and salt will help tenderize what you’re grilling as well as help the blender to macerate the onions.