Clockwise from top: Pile of Satsumas, caulflower, two heads of dark-leafed lettuce, baby bok choy, curly parsley, golden beets, grapefruit, chard, carrots and mizuna).
(Updated: I’ve been invited to join the “What’s in the Box” CSA round-up over at In Her Chucks. You can follow along here. Looking forward to more CSA inspiration and seeing what everyone else is getting in their share!)
If it is not completely obvious, I am a huge fan and very vocal proponent of the CSA system. Picking up my share every other week allows me to support local business, eat seasonally (despite what most of you think, there are seasons here) and save money on fresh produce. An added benefit is the challenge each week’s share brings to the table (pun intended). It is so easy to find a few dishes that you like to cook (and eat) and get stuck in a rut making them day in, day out. Basing a large portion of my diet on the veggies and fruits I get through the CSA does not allow for that type of complacency. I have to be ready to up my game, to learn how to cook with new ingredients, experiment with new flavors and be open to pushing my boundaries in the kitchen.
Golden beets, halved. So pretty.
It seems that this is the most intimidating part of subscribing to such a service for many people. Time and time again I have discussed my CSA subscription with interested friends and colleagues, and the conversation always come back to two basic doubts (i.e. fears) about taking the leap and enrolling for themselves: 1) throwing too many veggies away; and 2) learning to cook and eat new ingredients that are not existing favorites.
And roasted, so tasty.
The first concern is simply resolved by the possibility of bi-monthly subscriptions. Each share is considerable, and there is no way that I alone (or two of us) could go through it all in a week. Picking it up every other week gives us time to eat our way through the variety of produce we’ve received while still giving us time to enjoy non-CSA based meals. Because sometimes you want sushi or a burger, not something made of chard or Satsumas.
Quiche, step 1
Concern #2 is a matter of personal comfort in the kitchen. Experience breeds familiarity and confidence, and I can vouch that, with each share, I become more comfortable exploring in the kitchen. I can assure you, I did not start there. I am a scientist, through and through. I crave step-by-step protocols (recipes) and precise measurements. Until I started getting CSA shares in Paris, I had rarely strayed from a well-worn but limited list of three or four basic recipes that I felt could be made without too much fuss or risk of culinary disaster.
Quiche, step 2
That did not last long when I moved to a city known for dramatic seasonal shifts and the resulting, limited produce that went along them. There are only so many mashed potatoes I could eat, no matter how well they were made. It was a great way to learn to spread my wings in the kitchen, actually. I knew I would get some variation on potatoes, leeks, carrots and apples each week for several months. I could afford to try something new, outlandish or experimental. If it didn’t work, all I lost was that week’s ration of tubers.
Quiche, step 3
Turns out, cooking is fun! Learning to combine ingredients, finding that perfect balance between seasonings and freshness is a learned skill – and one that kept me entertained through many a long, cold winter’s night. Not only did I expand my basic recipe repertoire and taste all sorts of new vegetables, but (most importantly) I conquered my fear of the epicurean unknown. Digging deep into my weekly box to find some gnarled, dusty root no longer filled me with dread – now it was a challenge. One that I felt equipped to undertake.
Quiche, step 4
Enough playing around boosted my confidence such that I was able to shake the anxiety of cooking new things but, at heart, I am still a scientist and I remained attached to the idea of a recipe. To that end, I have developed several semi-recipes that I call templates. These are basic outlines for main dishes that allow me to feel that there is precedent and reliability to what I am cooking, but have enough freedom that I can substitute whatever ingredients I happen to have on hand that I feel might work together. Several of these templates have become my go-to dishes for using those excessive or unknown CSA veggies in way I can be confident will taste good.
Quiche, step 5
As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, this was a week for excessive greens. Endless salads would be made from two heads of lettuce, a deceptively small, but well-packed bag of spring mix as well as the narrow, spikey, peppery (think arugula) Japanese Mizuna greens. I am a big fan of roasted veggies in my salads, as well as a few well placed pieces of fruit – so the cauliflower, beets, carrots and Satsuma wedges have all found their way into our bowls (although not all at once). Exploring differing greens, vegetable and fruit salad combinations is one of my main ‘template’ experiments ongoing right now.
Quiche, step 6
That was a very long-winded way to introduce my template for quiche. There is an old one-liner out there stating that “real men don’t eat quiche.” Turns out, that if quiche-hating is what makes a man real, I’ll take a fake one any day. Quiches are a perfect template recipe in which the three key ingredients: cheese, vegetable and meat, can be mixed and matched almost endlessly in order to create a wide range of tastes maintaining only a crust and pie-shape in common.
Quiche, step 7
This week I took advantage of the chard, some leftover caramelized red onions that were languishing in the fridge (after a burger binge the night before), smoked ham and cheddar cheese to make an easy weeknight meal. I wilted the chard in a bit of oil, stirring in the onions and seasoning with salt and pepper (step 1). While those flavors were melding and cooling, I unrolled a premade (so easy!) crust into a pie pan and sprinkled the base with a thin layer of cheese (step 2). I have always heard this is necessary as to seal the base and to keep it from getting soggy from the egg mixture – it has not failed me yet, so I keep doing it.
Quiche, step 8
Then I layered the ingredients (step 3): sliced ham, greens/onions, cheese, repeat. Two or three layers of each, or until the crust is full (step 4). Then I make the ‘custard’. Easy-peasy, one cup of whole milk and three eggs (step 5), whipped together right in the measuring cup and poured over the entire layered gimish (step 6). I always use whole milk, as I have it in the house (my rant against skim milk can be saved for another time, I’m already 1000+ words about quiche!). If you want a richer end product, spluge for the half-and-half or cream. Add a last sprinkling of cheese (step 7) to the top of the whole thing and carefully place it in the oven, at 375F for 35-45 minutes.
Quiche, step 9 – eat it!
The quiche is done when the crust is golden brown (I always use a glass pan so I can check the bottom as well), and the eggs are set completely when I jiggle it (step 8). I take it out of the oven, let it set and cool for about 10 minutes and then DIG IN (step 8). I usually serve my quiche accompanied by a salad and/or some roasted potatoes. This night I made a salad of spring greens, feta, roasted golden beets, feta, Satsuma wedges, toasted pine nuts and balsamic vinaigrette. Quiche slices make great leftovers for brown-bag lunches in the following days, and they even freeze wonderfully for meals further down the road.
For me, cooking only became pleasurable when my confidence grew in the kitchen. I now take pride in mixing things up and creating flavors that taste great together that I would have never thought of before (that salad, who knew?). This is why I would never consider cancelling my CSA, despite endless citrus and salad greens. Each week is a new adventure and opportunity for me to explore and grow – and not just my pants size.