Cooking from a CSA, Part 8: Freezing Basil

It’s been a while since I blogged about the CSA. It’s been incredibly hot here in Wisconsin this July, making me not want to cook in my un-air-conditioned kitchen. With that, plus the fact that I’m on the half share and not getting nearly as many vegetables and making a lot of repeat dishes, my kitchen has been boring.

But no more! I actually scored a CSA bonanza this week. When I went to pick up my share, I didn’t grab my basil out of the box. Apparently no one did. And there was an extra box down there, so I walked away with two CSA shares and entire box of basil. (I did try to contact other CSA members to see whose share I had, but no luck.)

I had a ton of cauliflower and two boxes of tomatoes, both of which have already gone to good use in Cauliflower and Parmesan Cake and Tomato and Corn Pie. These two dishes (from Smitten Kitchen) are two of my absolute favorites, but both taste best in season–especially the Tomato Pie. In fact, last year, I tried to make it with store-bought tomatoes after tomato season ended, and it just didn’t have the same oomph that makes it so wonderful during the season.

Both those dishes used a healthy dose of basil, but even after I gave away bunches to coworkers, my carpool buddy, and even my landlord, I still had 10 giant bunches of basil left. What to do? I froze it.

It’s super-easy to freeze basil. I rinsed it thorough in a colander, spun it in my salad spinner to remove the water, and laid it on a dish towel in a single layer. Then I rolled up the dish towel to gently wring out the last of the water, unrolled it, and put the basil in a freezer bag in a single layer. I sucked all the air out the bag with a straw, and threw it in the freezer. The basil won’t have the same leafy texture that fresh basil has, but it has a bit more flavor and body than dried basil, so it works great for cooking.

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Cooking from a CSA, Part Six: What do I do with all these scraps and extras?

Let’s go back to the end of last week. You might remember that I was feeling a little discouraged because I didn’t get through all the vegetables and ended up throwing some stuff out. This week I again had the same problem—I just couldn’t get through everything, especially since I didn’t cook that much over Memorial Day weekend. I hate wasting food, and I’m throwing out a ton of ends and outer leaves that would be great for something like composting or juicing or making stock. So I sat back and looked at my options.

Composting is out, because I don’t have any use for compost or space to do it on the scale I require for the amount of scrap veggies I’m producing. I could keep scraps and take them out to my parents’ to compost there, but it seems kind of pointless, personally. If I did have a yard, or even a patio/balcony garden, this would be a great option.

I seriously considered buying a juicer this week. I must have read about thirty different juicer reviews and talked to a half dozen people about their juicers this week. I love fresh juice, and I actually did a modified juice/raw diet for about a week earlier this year—not really as a weight loss plan, but because I just felt lousy after all the junk I ate over the holidays, and it was a good way to cut myself off from the bad habits completely, give my system (which was feeling overtaxed) a break, and think carefully about everything I was eating. It helped me get my eating habits back on track. But I’m not considering it as a lifestyle change, and I normally like to eat my fruits and vegetables instead of drink them. Also, I would end up spending a lot of money on fruits and veggies to make ideal juice combos—I don’t get many fruits in my CSA box and I don’t like many straight vegetable juices. Plus, a quality juicer is pretty expensive and there are other items I’d rather buy (a nice digital camera springs immediately to mind!). So, a juicer an option I might consider in the future, but I’ve ruled it out for now.

So, for now, I’ve settled on making vegetable stock as the best option for my CSA leftovers and scraps. I actually started this week by throwing a bunch of my leftovers (mostly lettuce, radishes and other salad goodies) into a freezer-proof tupperware container and throwing it in the freezer. As the week goes on, I’ll add more scraps—and I should have great stock-making scraps this week, since I just received carrots, leeks, green garlic, and plenty of other great vegetables. It’s important to note that I’m only saving stuff that is still fresh and has been cleaned to the bin. No past-their-prime veggies—as Vegan Yum Yum points out here, that’s probably why many commercial veggie stocks taste so bland. Expect an update when I make the first batch.

Cooking from a CSA, Part 5: Three-Greens Pasta

My favorite meal this week was born of necessity. I was one day away from the next CSA delivery and had a pile of vegetables left to use. One of the easiest ways to reduce a mass of greens is to cook it, so I cleaned three bunches of greens, added some turnips and veggie sausage, and tossed it with some pasta. Quick, easy, and really delicious. The variety of greens adds a lot of subtle flavor, and the veggies sausage (Yves Italian variety, I believe) added some nice spice.

Three-Greens Pasta

  • 1 lb pasta
  • 1 bunch spinach (washed, stems removed, sliced in 1-in. ribbons)
  • 1 bunch arugula (washed, stems removed, sliced in 1-in. ribbons)
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard (washed, stems removed, sliced in 1-in. ribbons)
  • 1 bunch turnips, scrubbed and cut into quarters
  • 2 links vegetarian sausage, sliced
  • 1 tbl. minced garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper, oregano, thyme (to taste)
  1. Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta as directed, but add the spinach and arugula for the last 2 minutes of cooking. Just pile it right on top of the pasta and water, and swirl it with a spoon. Then, drain the contents of the pot in a colander and put in a large serving bowl.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the veggie sausage and turnips, and sauté for about five minutes, until contents start to lightly brown.
  3. Add chard, garlic and seasoning to the pan, and stir. Cook about 5 minutes, until chard is slightly wilted but still has some body. Remove from heat.
  4. Add sautéed ingredients to the pasta mixture, and stir. Serve immediately.