Serious Eats

Cooking with a Friend: Menu Planning with a CSA Box

Jennifer Maiser writes about locally and sustainably grown food. The Cooking with a Friend series chronicles her cooking and menu planning adventures with her neighbor, J.

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Instead of shopping at the farmers' market this week, J. and I let a CSA box be our guide. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and it is usually a subscription that you pay to a farmer on a monthly basis in order to get a box of the farm's freshest produce. We are lucky enough to have a "casual CSA" here in San Francisco—a favorite farm sells boxes for $25 each, and with a reservation you can pick up a box from a designated area in town on two nights a month. You can opt in and out of the box as you wish, only buying the box when you feel like it. This works perfectly for me, and is very successful for the farm—in fact, they are sold out and not taking new customers at the moment.

I picked up the box on Thursday night and then set about planning how we were going to use our mass amounts of vegetables (a friend once worked out her box to be approximately 16 pounds of produce). I posted the vegetable list in Talk and several readers helped me out with good ideas and advice.

Commenter AliceBlue worried about "losing SE cred" by admitting that she'd never heard of agretti or cardoons. Truthfully, I'd heard of them but never had them in my kitchen. I followed instructions for preparing cardoons from Vegetables from Amaranth to Zuchinni—a book I depend on often when trying a vegetable for the first time—and after boiling them, I cooled and sliced them, then tossed with a quick vinaigrette for a delicious side dish.

20090422quiche.jpgWe used the agretti in one of my favorite dishes: a cold lentil salad. We are experiencing a heat wave this week, and this salad as taught to me by my friend Stephanie, is a perfect warm weather dish. It's an easy salad made easier when you purchase pre-steamed lentils from the Trader Joe's refrigerator section. The salad only takes a couple minutes and involves making a vinaigrette (olive oil, shallots, mustard, champagne vinegar) and tossing it with the lentils and other ingredients of your choice (Kalamata olives, celery, herbs, agretti). It's healthy and super satisfying.

About a month ago, I was at Costco with a friend and picked up a package of two Fra' Mani meatloafs for $14. Fra' Mani is a artisan salumi company in the Bay Area that is headed by chef Paul Bertolli and uses humanely raised meats. We baked one of the meatloafs this week, and I think it tastes delicious. It is full of flavor, and reminds me a little more of meatballs in texture than the meatloaf I grew up eating. I can't wait until we make the next one. As I wrote this today, I ate a meatloaf sandwich with Fallot mustard, our homemade bread, and lettuce.

When you read the menu below, you'll see that it was heavy on vegetables and a bit light on meat. We had to work hard to make a dent in our veggie box, and will probably be using some of the ingredients in the weeks to come. We made a fantastic quiche with a large bunch of leeks and a bunch of chard, then used a variety of our CSA ingredients in the vegetable soup. The cost was our lowest yet, and I attribute that to the CSA box and the small amount of protein we bought this week.

It was a successful week. We're a couple days into the menu now, and every time I go to the fridge, I want to eat a little of everything.

Final Menu, Week 5

Cost: $21 each

About the author: About the author: Jennifer Maiser writes about locally and sustainably grown food. She is the founder and editor of the Eat Local Challenge website and writes at Life Begins at 30, her personal weblog.

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