Michelin Guide Website: Making the Most of Your CSA
From the Michelin Guide Website by Lani Furbank.
“When the first juicy, sweet tomatoes of the season begin to roll in, it feels like you could eat nothing but Caprese salads for the rest of your life. Then, in a few months, you find yourself drowning in them, along with squash, eggplants, peppers, okra and the other abundant gifts of the late summer harvest.
It’s a familiar story for some members of community-supported agriculture, and a common fear for those who haven’t yet signed up for a farm share of their own. Not so for chef Rob Weland of Garrison, who has mastered the art of “putting up” with an influx of fruits and vegetables. He gets much of the produce for his restaurant from a certified naturally-grown farm in nearby Dickerson, Maryland, called One Acre Farm that only sells through a CSA program. Each week, One Acre’s customers enjoy a share of the farm’s harvest in exchange for a flat yearly fee, paid in installments or up front.
The farm owner, Mike Protas, says a CSA is the best way for a farmer to distribute their produce, support their operation in stable manner, and build community. But, most importantly, he values the opportunity to educate customers. “I think that’s the most important thing, so people have a better appreciation for what farming entails and why it’s so important to the local economy,” he says. “I could never be able to explain that trying to sell somebody tomatoes at a farmers market.”
Protas understands the hesitation from some customers and suggests signing up for a share with a buddy if you’re worried about making your way through so much produce. “You’re committing half the amount of money you thought you were going to commit to,” he says. “You don’t have to feel stressed that every week you’re getting another box of produce in.”
Protas also tries to be mindful of his customers as he sends out shares each week. “What I’ve learned in the past is the biggest way to turn a CSA member off from doing it again is inundating them with produce,” he says. Instead, he delivers the produce in moderation and gives people the option of receiving a bulk share of certain items when there’s a bumper crop.
Weland receives his produce from One Acre Farm after they’ve made their weekly CSA deliveries, and he is never shy about having a few extra squash or eggplants. “We’re trying to help him with his leftovers, so we’re not being picky about what we’re taking,” Weland says. “I happen to love pickling and preserving.”
This year, he decided to host a dinner series to help home cooks make the most of their CSA shares without getting overwhelmed. Each month, he prepares a four-course menu showcasing unique preparations of summer fruits and vegetables and shares a few recipes with guests. August is all about heirloom tomatoes.
Weland shared some of his favorite ways to tackle a mountain of produce and stretch the season’s bounty into the fall and winter.
Get the Juices Flowing
You can run just about anything through a juicer, but then you have to figure out what to do with it. Weland loves juicing sweet corn for a pasta sauce made with corn juice, saffron corn cob stock and butter.
The juice from greens, especially peppery arugula, makes the perfect base for cold sauces when blended with extra-virgin olive oil. You can also get creative behind the bar with a variety of juices and syrups for cocktails. “You just have to tweak the classics,” Weland suggests. “Don’t be afraid of interchanging similar flavors.” Try adding ice cubes made from juice to prevent a cocktail from becoming a watered-down version of its former self over time.
Extracting tomato water is a simple way to use the trimmings left over from a recipe. Simply hang them in cheesecloth overnight and you’ll wake up to a pool of clear, flavorful liquid that’s perfect for gazpacho. Garrison serves a green gazpacho with almonds and cucumber, as well as a classic heirloom tomato version spiced up with a mustard ice cream.
While he typically doesn’t recommend freezing as a method for storing produce, Weland says it’s not a bad idea to freeze juices, like tomato water, to use in the future.
In a Pickle
Sometimes, simple is best. “One of my favorites is just salt and water,” Weland says. “Just brining things and keeping them in their most natural state, they actually intensify [over time]. They ferment a little bit.”
He’ll pickle anything from ramps to peppers to baby Japanese eggplants. “I’ve never really had any big failures with pickles. I think almost anything can either be brined or put into vinegar,” he says.
“Basically the ratios are the same, but the aromatics are what make it special,” he says. “Usually when things grow together and ripen together, they taste good together.”
This method of preserving is a great way to stretch the harvest. “I think I confuse our guests sometimes because I’m using all these things from May in September. I’m kind of working one step behind,” he says.
Canning was common practice for Weland when he was cooking at the late Poste, but he doesn’t have quite as much of an excess with his smaller gardens at Garrison. Corn and tomatoes were the usual suspects. “It depends on what you have,” he says. “You don’t want to waste, so you want to figure out something you can do with it and maybe pull it out on a cold winter day. That’s when it tastes the best.”
Safety is of the utmost concern when canning vegetables for long-term storage, so follow recipes and pay close attention to sterilization and processing procedures. Weland recommends resources like Canning & Preserving with Ashley English and Putting Food By by Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg, and Beatrice Vaughan.
Have a Jam Session
Making fresh jams and jellies is one of the great joys of summer. Weland prefers to stick to the fundamentals when making fruit preserves. “I like it very rustic and simple,” he says. When he finds himself with a big batch of berries, raspberry jam and blueberry compote are common favorites, as well as a fig and bay leaf jam made with honey.
Check out Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber and The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves by Linda Ziedrich for inspiration and recipes.
Let It Dry
Drying or dehydrating is perhaps the simplest way to extend the shelf life of fresh produce. You can do it with a basic dehydrator or a regular oven turned to the lowest temperature. Sometimes you can even rely on residual heat for something small like herbs. Just put them in an oven that’s still warm from previous use and leave them overnight.
At Garrison, Weland always dries herb stems in addition to the leaves. Let them dry in the dehydrator or oven (on parchment paper or a silicone baking mat) until they crumble when touched. Then let them cool before pulverizing in a coffee grinder and storing in glass jars. “I think it tastes just as good,” he says. “You really can’t tell the difference as long as it’s not woody.”
Weland also likes to get creative with drying—he’s in the habit of putting baby beets in a dehydrator until they resemble raisins.
There’s nothing wrong with classic tomato sauce, but greens are also perfect for sauces like pesto, which can be way more interesting than the garden variety basil version. Weland recommends experimenting with the tops of produce like radishes or beets and blending those with a complementary herb to create a unique pesto. “One of my favorite things is using a little bit of radish tops and lots and lots of tarragon, and just simply blending that with extra-virgin olive oil,” he says. “It’s bright—it’s subtle.” This particular pesto is a great addition to white fish or burrata.
Using vegetable tops that are usually thrown away is also part of Weland’s zero-waste philosophy in the kitchen at Garrison. “We have clear garbage bags,” he says. “We never want things going in the garbage.””
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