So by now, your Community Supported Agriculture share has started generating produce. And if you planted spring crops in your garden, you might be harvesting some food. (Unless you’re mrmoonpie, who was WAY AHEAD of all of us, because he is too cool.) And the farmers’ markets are starting to fill out with actual farm produce, rather than jars of last year’s preserved produce.
If you’ve jumped as enthusiastically into the fresh-and-local food as we have in the Bridge house, this probably means that you’re shoving stuff into your fridge when you don’t quite know what to do with it. So far we’ve gotten an enormous bunch of kale, a large bunch of spinach, more asparagus than we know what to do with, and strawberries coming out of our ears, plus a couple of bunches of spring onions, and that’s JUST from the CSA. Here are some tips on how to enjoy what’s in season in these couple of weeks now, as well as preserving it for later. Post your suggestions in the comments, or let us know what else you’ve got that you don’t know what to do with.
Kale is a great excuse to eat bacon. I know, bacon needs no excuse, but if you’ve been dialing back on the bacon consumption for health reasons, kale is a good reason to stick a few slices into your diet this week. The vitamins in dark, leafy greens like kale and spinach are most accessible to your body when consumed with a little fat, which is why kale and bacon are such traditional partners. If you don’t eat bacon, don’t worry- butter or olive oil will also do just fine.
Cut the stems out of your kale and blanch it for a couple of minutes in boiling, salted water, and then rinse it thoroughly in cold water. This takes some of the bitterness out. Then, fry up a couple of slices of bacon (just a couple), and cook your kale in the drippings. If you’ve got spinach, you can add it after the kale has started to cook down a bit- this is a great way to stretch spinach, since it has this annoying tendency to cook down to NOTHING.
If you’ve got too much kale to enjoy all at once this way, after you blanch it and cool it, you can squeeze out as much water as possible, and freeze it (get as much air out of the freezer bag as possible to prevent freezer burn. You can thaw it out and cook it later, or throw it in a soup over the winter.
Asparagus is extremely flexible. You can grill it, roast it, saute it, or blanch it and eat it with vinaigrette. My personal favorite thing to do with asparagus is a trick from Mark Bittman: blanch the asparagus, cool it, and then toss it with some arugula or baby spinach in olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. Line up some prosciutto slices on your work surface so that they overlap into a sheet, and then roll it up around some of the asparagus and greens. Slice it into bite-size pieces. Seriously, go watch the video, it’s easier than it sounds. You can even blanch the asparagus in advance- put it in an airtight container and it’ll keep for several days.
To preserve asparagus, you can pickle it or can it, but easiest is probably just to freeze it- blanch it, wrap it tightly in plastic, and stick it in your freezer. It’ll last a couple of months this way.
Wasting strawberries is a moral failing. Strawberry season lasts what, 3 weeks? And once you’ve had a perfectly ripe strawberry, picked right off the vine when it’s red, the ones you find at the grocery store are never the same. So even if you come home with too many of them, find a way to eat them all. Consuming them fresh is easy- plain, with sugar, with whipped cream, on ice cream, in lemonade, etc.
Preserving them is a little trickier, but it can be done. To properly freeze a whole berry, you need dry ice, since it will freeze them fast enough that ice crystals don’t damage the structure of the flesh. That’s a giant hassle. So I suggest preparing them in ways where the cellular structure doesn’t matter. Cut them up, sprinkle them with sugar, let them macerate (get soft and yield juice) for a while, and then put the whole bit into a freezer-safe container until February, when what you want is something that reminds you of warm weather. Defrost the sauce and eat it on ice cream. Instant cure for the winter blues. You can also use this in smoothies. Homemade ice cream is also a good choice, and the Post’s foodblogger Kim O’Donnel posted a recipe for strawberry frozen yogurt that’s more like sorbet, if you want to avoid the caloric value of ice cream. And I haven’t even gotten into canning yet, mostly because strawberries don’t last long enough in our house for me to experiment with canning them soaked in booze.