So, the summer time bounty is upon us. The rhubarb has already piled up in my refrigerator and my CSA box contained one zucchini — obviously a sign (omen?) of the many squashes to come. In the next week, I will surely be making both Honey Strawberry Freezer Jam and Rhubarb Applesauce in an attempt to save some of the overflow for winter. If you were to identify the hard part about eating locally and seasonally, it is the sheer amount of produce that you get in a short period of time. It has to be both eaten and dealt with. And I say “dealt with” seriously … because you will not use it up by eating alone. I read this great article the other day and there are a lot of tips for using up CSA produce — many that I would reiterate. But here are a few more things that I have found to be helpful.
Your sheet pan is your best friend. When anything — strawberries, blueberries, rhubarb, peppers, etc. — comes in too quickly and you have too much to use up, wash it and make a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan (leaving berries whole and cutting others up into chunks). Stick it in the freezer and freeze until it is solid. I have forgotten about trays and left them in there for days without issue. Remove the frozen items from the sheet pan and transfer into containers or freezer bags. I aim to have a few huge bags of every type of berry by the end of the summer. We use them all year long for smoothies, yogurt, ice cream, and other desserts. And the great thing about the single layer technique is that they don’t stick together, so you can store them in big containers and still pull out just what you need when you need it. You’d be amazed at how wonderful a batch of strawberry ice cream tastes in February.
If your sheet pan is your best friend, your freezer is your lover. I tried to do a few summers without a deep freeze and it was difficult. Investing $200 in a small chest freezer was a fantastic decision. Aside from the produce that you can keep on hand, if you buy your meats through local farms, they are almost always frozen and you can keep a nice stockpile in the freezer.
For everyone’s benefit, I won’t continue with the metaphors. But suffice it to say that canning jars are also important. I still don’t do much canning. I know. I know. I need to do that and just haven’t. So, obviously if you are canning, you are ten steps ahead of me and don’t really need to read this article, now do you? But I do make jams and freezer jams are still my favorite. I just like the uncooked taste of fruit freezer jams. So, another CSA tip is to make a lot of jam. We just used up our last jar of strawberry jam from last summer. I never, ever have to buy it at the store.
Another big helper is your food processor. Even if you don’t feel like making pesto, you can take tons of basil or spinach (or beet greens), wash them, throw them in the processor with a bit of olive oil or water and puree it down to the size of a microchip. I then put little dollops onto my old friend the sheet pan, freeze it, and then throw it in ziploc bags for almost anything (great in soups or pasta). Your kids will think they are cookies, so you can either warn them — or not. The spinach puree is also great in Spinach-Laced Brownies. The other big thing I use the food processor for is shredding zucchini and yellow squash. There is no doubt you will be up to your eyeballs in them and I shred up a whole bunch and freeze that in smallish containers. It’s is great to throw in soups or pasta to up the vegetable count or you can use it all year long in things like Chocolate Zucchini Cake.
I will definitely reiterate the idea of eating things raw. Whenever I get radishes or kohlrabi, or even turnips for that matter, I always slice up a plate to have on the bar while I’m cooking dinner. Sprinkle with a little coarse salt and everyone will snack on them and they will disappear before you know it.
As for greens, I generally don’t wash all my lettuces when I first walk in the door. I find that to be annoying and I don’t think they really last much longer than when stored in bags and washed as needed. The greens I get through my farm share are generally so fresh that they definitely will last all week. And maybe it’s my husband’s Italian roots, but we have salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette every night, so using up lettuce is never a problem. With greens that are good cooked (spinach, chard, etc.), I usually just rinse them and saute them with tons of garlic and olive oil. My kids love them like this, but they are also great thrown in pasta or soups too.
There are always a few stinkers that nobody wants. In my family, only my son and I eat beets. I love them shredded raw with an orange vinaigrette for a quick lunch, but even non-beet lovers may like them roasted. As for Curly Endive, I’m still trying to work out something for that. Not a big fan. My go to recipe for a languishing pile of turnips is Homemade Chicken Stock, which is tremendous to keep on hand in the freezer.
And winding our way back to the purpose of this post, you can never go wrong to invest in an ice cream maker. I make every type of fruit ice cream that exists and am rarely disappointed. It’s great for overripe fruit that needs to be used up. Here’s a new recipe for Minted Strawberry Ice Cream with Coconut Milk. It’s completely dairy free and not overly sweetened. It is definitely getting added to my go-to list. Good luck with your summer produce!
On update: I just thought of one other tip that seems like a no-brainer. Save your relatively clean produce bags and bread bags from the grocery store. Instant free and reused storage!
Minted Strawberry Ice Cream with Coconut Milk
Makes about 2 quarts
2 cans coconut milk (15 ounces each, I used regular, but you could use light or one of each)
4-6 sprigs of mint
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup honey
Pinch of salt
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 T sugar
2 T chopped fresh mint
Juice of 1/2 lime
1. Bring coconut milk to a simmer in a medium, heavy saucepan and add mint sprigs. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Remove mint sprigs and discard. Bring coconut milk back to a simmer.
2. Whisk together egg yolks and honey with pinch of salt until well combined.
3. Add 1/4 cup of hot coconut milk to egg mixture and quickly whisk it in to temper the egg yolks (which prevents curdling). Whisk in an additional 1/4 cup of coconut milk and repeat two or three times until egg mixture is hot. Add egg mixture back to remaining hot coconut milk in saucepan and whisk or stir constantly over medium low heat until slightly thickened, about 5-7 minutes. Do not boil! Remove from heat and immediately pour into a bowl or dish.
4. Add vanilla extract to custard mixture. Chill in an ice bath until cooled down. (To do that: use a much larger bowl or dish and fill with ice water. Set smaller bowl with coconut milk custard in the ice bath being careful not to get any water into the custard. Here’s a picture for reference.) Store cooled custard in the refrigerator for at least an hour, or until you are ready to make the ice cream.
5. Meanwhile, combine sliced strawberries, chopped mint, and lime juice. Let sit for at least 15-20 minutes, or until juices form.
6. Combine strawberry mixture with custard mixture. Pour into ice cream maker and churn for about 20-25 minutes, or according to manufacturer’s directions. Remove from ice cream maker and store in freezer. Allow it to soften a bit before serving.