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Sustenance, CSA Cooking, a Weekly Dish – June 6, 2018

One of the best, simple things you can do to make a small practical change is to try a CSA (Community Sustained Agriculture) at least for one season. It may seem a little out of reach for budgeting but there are aspects that make it pay off in the long run—really fresh, healthful food means better long term health; focus on your weekly food planning; learning to waste less food. If able to incorporate the weekly pickup into your routine, rewards will follow. This post may be preaching to the choir for seasoned CSA folks but for those readers who have not tried this food resource I am sharing the benefits for my family. Our CSA is Pleasant Hill Produce in Frederick County, MD.

A caveat of using a CSA for weekly fresh fruit and vegetables is that you will get the most out of it by blending the bounty with a bit of what is in your pantry and supplemental groceries. Some weeks you supplement a little more, some a little less. The advantage of the CSA investment includes, but is not limited to:

Receiving a base of food for the week helps with planning and being a flexible cook.

Some items will be old favorites which you can use for tried and true meals. Some items will be new to you and present the opportunity for new delights.

Overall, having a surprise set of foods to plan around helps me hone my food economy skills. First round of scraps become vegetable broth, second round and whatever remains after the broth making go into the compost.

Pulling together a meal often means that I go to my pantry and check for a pasta, potatoes or rice. If something is working for one or two side dishes I check the fridge & freezer for a protein and go from there.

This week I was so distracted by the euphoria of seeing another box of fresh, prefect strawberries I forgot to photograph the whole bag of loot. But I did manage to come up with something new. A vegan lasagna using the kale and spinach from the CSA along with a superlative cauliflower sauce, zucchini, vegan mozzarella (happened to have in the fridge waiting for the right moment), lots of dried Italian seasoning, more basil and parsley, and the leftover half box of lasagna noodles. It is baked in a fairly shallow pan.

Vegan lasagna with traditional pasta, thin sliced zucchini; chopped and sautéed kale spinach onions; cauliflower sauce, vegan mozzarella, Italian seasoning, basil, parsel salt and pepper to taste.
Vegan lasagna with traditional pasta (1/2 lb., cooked al dente), thin sliced zucchini (raw); chopped and sautéed kale spinach onions; cauliflower sauce, vegan mozzarella, Italian seasoning, basil, parsley, salt and pepper to taste.
Assemble in layers, ending with a coating of sauce. This batch is fairly thin, 3 layers of pasta and 2 veggie layers with the vegan moz rough cut and spread around. Bake at 350° for about 45 min. I’s done when the the inside is a bit bubbly and the top is showing a little crunch.
This turned out to be a really delicious dish and the key feature is the cauliflower sauce. I base my sauce on Ann Hodgman’s  Vegan Food for the Rest of Us: Recipes Even You Will Love. Here’s what I do: You need a deep sauce pot (3 – 4 qt) with a lid that will keep the steam in for all of the cooking time. Chop an onion and simmer in a couple of tablespoons (or more) olive oil for a few minutes, it just needs to get translucent. Cut up a head of cauliflower, just to floret size. I use all but the very end of the stem and I adjust the water in the end, after cooking, to get the thickness I want. Add florets to the onions with a bit of water to get some steam going. Cover and steam for five – ten minutes. Then add about 1-1/2 cups water, bring up to a boil then turn down, cover and lower to a simmer. check in 20 minutes. The cauliflower should be fork tender. Remove from heat and ideally use and immersion blender to turn this into something almost magical. And salt and pepper as you like it. This is flavorful on its own or the base for anything a white sauce is good for. It also freezes beautifully.

A few follow up dishes from last week

Using my trusty rice cooker and the 2 steamer baskets…
I made jasmine rice using some leftover veggie broth for liquid, steamed chopped kale and chard and some large outside leaves leftover from making coleslaw.
Resulting in a basic side dish with lots of garlic, some rice vinegar and herbs. Starting with 3 rice cooker cups of rice, a big handful of kale and the bunch of chard from the CSA, and some onions resulted in about 6-7 cups of a fabulous, high nutrient side dish.
Some became cabbage rolls.
Some topped and baked with pork chops instead of stuffing.
Or topped with roasted salmon, really nice with the rice vinegar flavoring.