The Locavore's Dilemma
What to do with the kale, turnips, and parsley that overwhelm your CSA bin.
"Sauté it with garlic, brown it, shrivel it, maybe turn it into fried rice."
"Parsley is a staple. You should be using it by the handful daily anyway. It can go on top of anything. Just use it."
A bag full of parsley was currently rotting in my green bin, but I refused to be chastened. "Butternut squash."
"I like to grate butternut squash, cook it with olive oil and garlic, and toss it with pasta."
"Kiwi," I said, trying to catch him off guard. We'd been getting them by the bagful for almost a month, and my counter was covered in furry brown balls. "Is there any way to eat them other than just as a fruit?"
He thought for a moment. "Not that I know of. And I don't even think they're that good."
I came away from our conversation convinced that my kitchen was suffering from a lack of sesame oil and buoyed by a newfound zest for collards. But helpful as our conversation had been, there was still one person I needed to reach.
For CSA devotees, talking to Deborah Madison—founder of San Francisco's iconic vegetarian restaurant Greens and author of nine cookbooks—is the equivalent of getting a personal phone call from Barack Obama. "I do find that kale sits in my refrigerator longer than other things," she confessed when I called her. "And I sometimes forget what to do with turnips." But Madison's love of fresh produce could not be suppressed. Kale, she said, goes well with the "softness and neutrality" of black-eyed peas. Radish greens' peppery bite is reminiscent of arugula, and they can be braised along with their roots or mashed into butter. She praised butternut squash as being "very utilitarian" but then paused. "I hate to say so," she said, as if she had admitted to having a favorite child. "There are so many other great squashes out there."
I realized my problem was not that I had lost my creativity but, rather, that I was trying too hard, as evidenced by my attraction to any recipe containing the word gratin. Rather than covering my vegetables in béchamel sauce, I should be making recipes that complemented and highlighted their natural flavors.
Several hours later, I received a new box, containing kale, lettuce, butternut squash, and still more turnips. Previously, this would have filled me with dread, but I felt a sense of renewed optimism. Perhaps I would turn those turnips into soup. Maybe the squash could find its way into ravioli. The green garlic radiated possibility; the stir-fry mix exuded hope. And for those vegetables whose natural flavors still required an additional punch, I could fall back on a piece of advice from Mark Bittman: "A little bacon can go a long way."