Fresh takes: Nine easy ways to make the most of CSA produce

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Korean Green Onion and Shrimp Pancakes and Field Greens with Red Chili Dressing

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Strawberry Mojito Sangria

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Roasted Radishes and Carrots with thyme

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Turkish Shepherd's Salad with sumac

Fennel, I’m sorry for failing you.

Using some of your leaves in my tuna salad was a good move, but I wouldn’t call that maximizing your potential. It’s too bad you showed up in my CSA bag on such a busy week.

CSA’s are fantastic, I decided after participating in one for the first time last summer, but also can be challenging in the cooking department. As this year’s CSA season kicks off, I’m sharing some of the recipes that helped me make the most of my weekly haul to help you make the most of yours.

A CSA, or community supported agriculture, membership gets you fresh produce from a local farm from spring until fall. What’s in the bag depends on what’s ready to pick that week.

For those of us on a budget, it’s important to make that produce stretch. Letting things rot or just using them as garnish instead of actual meal components is hard to justify when you can get more food for your money (note I said more, not better) from a mainstream grocery store. That’s easier done with some items than others; for example, you can’t just steam and eat green onions like you can green beans.

With some serious cookbook scouring and some of my own concocting, I had fun turning even offbeat or over-plentiful CSA veggies into a lot of good and totally doable dinners. Here are some of those recipes.

Fennel? Hopefully we'll meet again.

3 SOUPS

Radish Top Soup

With a big hunk of ham cornbread, this made a great, rustic meal. In a pretty bowl, it could pass for elegant. I went light on the butter but included the cream.

Servings: 4 to 6

6 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped onions or white leek portions

8 cups loosely packed radish leaves

2 cups diced, peeled potatoes

6 cups liquid (water, chicken stock or combination)

Salt

1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

Freshly ground pepper

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan, add onions or leeks, and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in radish tops, cover pan, and cook over low heat until wilted, 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook potatoes until soft in liquid along with 1 teaspoon salt. Combine with radish tops and cook, covered, for 5 minutes to mingle flavors. Puree finely in a food processor or food mill. Add heavy cream if desired and enrich with 2 tablespoons butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot. (To serve cold, omit butter enrichment.)

— Recipe from Marian Morash’s “The Victory Garden Cookbook,” Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1982

Spicy Okra Soup

It’s tricky to find okra recipes other than deep-fried — great in restaurants, not something I want to do at home. This pot of soup used up CSA okra, peppers, onions and tomatoes in one night.

Servings: Makes 2 quarts

1/2 pound okra

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

2 hot green chile peppers, or more to taste, minced

2 cups roughly chopped tomatoes

7 cups shellfish stock

1/2 cup raw rice

1 cup small lima beans

2 cups corn kernels

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Wash, dry and stem okra and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan; cook onions, celery and peppers until wilted, 5-10 minutes. Add okra; saute for 5 minutes, stirring until roping (the thin, slimy trail left on the spoon) diminishes. Add tomatoes and shellfish stock. Bring to a boil, stir in rice, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 10 minutes. Add lima beans. Simmer 10 minutes longer. Add corn and shrimp; heat through for approximately 5 minutes. Season to taste and serve.

— Recipe adapted from “The Victory Garden Cookbook”

Peasant Style Arugula Soup

Raw arugula alone makes a pretty pungent salad. I loved its peppery flavor in this super-easy soup.

Servings: 4 to 6

1 pound potatoes, chopped

1 pound leeks (white portion only), sliced

2 quarts chicken broth

2 cups arugula leaves

1 cup chopped ham or cooked chicken

Freshly ground pepper

In a saucepan, combine potatoes, leeks and broth. Simmer for 25 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add arugula, ham or chicken and pepper and cook 10 minutes longer. Serve with crusty French or Italian bread, toasted and topped with a drizzle of olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese.

Recipe adapted from “The Victory Garden Cookbook”

3 ENTREES

Oven-Roasted Tomato Salsa with Olives, Garlic and Anchovies

This simple recipe is a lot like an Italian puttanesca sauce. Just serve it over pasta, or add a chicken breast or fish to make a meatier meal.

4 tomatoes, cut in half and seeded

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup high-quality olive oil

2 anchovies, minced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed

1 tablespoon capers

1/4 cup imported black olives, pitted and chopped

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and then roast cut side up in a 250-degree oven for 2 hours. Heat olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the anchovies and the garlic cloves and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep for 10 minutes. Combine all ingredients.

Makes 4-5 cups

— Recipe from Christopher Kimball’s “The Classic Cookbook,” Little, Brown and Company Inc., 2002

Weeknight New Potato “Nachos”

As delicious as they are, potatoes as a side dish to meat get tiresome after a few weeks. This turned them into a fast meal using things I already had in the pantry and fridge.

Start to finish: 40 minutes (10 active)

Servings: 4

1 bag new potatoes (about 1.5 to 2 pounds)

2 4.5-ounce cans chicken

1 14-ounce can corn

1 14-ounce can black beans

Shredded cheddar cheese to taste

Salsa to taste

Fresh cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Halve potatoes, or quarter them if they are larger. Spread potatoes on greased baking sheet, lightly coat them with cooking spray and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Roast 30 minutes or until soft, turning once or twice during cooking. Place hot potatoes on individual plates and top with remaining ingredients.

Korean Green Onion and Shrimp Pancakes

These pancakes and the accompanying salad use an entire bunch of green onions. A bagful of early-season Kansas field greens — too gamey for average dressing — met their match with this spicy one.

Servings: 4 to 6

Pancakes:

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups cold water

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)* or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, cut into 1/3-inch pieces

1 medium onion, halved, very thinly sliced

8 green onions (white and pale green parts only), cut into 3- to 4-inch-long matchstick-size strips

1 medium carrot, peeled, cut into 3-to 4-inch-long matchstick-size strips

Sauce:

1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil

1 teaspoon gochugaru or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

For pancakes: 
Whisk eggs in medium bowl to blend. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups cold water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, gochugaru and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Add flour; whisk until smooth. Mix in shrimp, all onions and carrot. Let batter stand 1 hour at room temperature.

For sauce: 
Whisk soy sauce, 2 tablespoons water, lemon juice, sesame oil and gochugaru in medium bowl; divide among 4 to 6 small dipping bowls.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in each of two 10-inch-diameter nonstick skillets over medium heat. Add 1 cup pancake batter to each, spreading to edges of skillet. Cook until edges are firm and bottom is golden brown, about 4 minutes. Using spatula, turn pancakes over. Cook until second side is golden brown and shrimp is cooked through, about 4 more minutes (center will be soft). Increase heat to high and cook until bottom is deep brown, about 1 minute longer per side. Slide pancakes out onto cutting board. Repeat with remaining oil and batter, forming 2 more pancakes. Cut pancakes into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature with dipping sauce.

*Also known as Korean crushed red pepper; available at Korean markets.

Field Greens with Red Chili Dressing

Servings: 4 to 6

4 green onions (white and pale green parts only), chopped

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

1 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

1 garlic clove, peeled

1/2 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

12 cups mixed baby greens

Puree first eight ingredients in blender until very smooth, 20 to 30 seconds. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Place greens in large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Divide salad among plates and serve.

— Recipes from July 2009 issue of Bon Appétit, as listed at epicurious.com)

3 SIDES

Strawberry Mojito Sangria

I had a bottle of rosé in the fridge that wasn’t really good enough to enjoy on its own, plenty of mint in the backyard and a handful of overripe CSA strawberries languishing in the bottom of the carton. This made them disappear faster than I’d like to admit.

Start to finish: 5 minutes

Servings: 1

3 small or 2 medium local strawberries, the mushier the better

3 large fresh mint leaves

1 lime wedge

1 1/2 ounces tonic water

Rosé wine

Fresh mint sprig to garnish

In a wine glass, muddle strawberries and mint. Squeeze in lime. Add tonic water. Add three to four ice cubes. Fill to top of glass with rosé wine. Garnish with mint sprig and lime twist.

Roasted Radishes and Carrots

This turns radishes from sometimes-bitter raw salad topper into savory warm side dish. The recipe also would work with turnips.

Start to finish: 25 minutes (5 active)

Servings: 4

1 bunch small to medium radishes, about 12

12 baby carrots

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lemon half

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the radishes and carrots on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper. Roast until tender yet firm in the center, about 20 minutes. Squeeze with a little lemon juice and serve.

— Recipe from foodnetwork.com, courtesy Melissa d'Arabian

Turkish Shepherd’s Salad

At summer’s end when you have more tomatoes and cucumbers than you know what to do with, make this. Eat it as a side, or stuff it in pitas with lentils or chicken for lunch.

Servings: 4

2 large tomatoes, diced

1/2 large cucumber, diced

1 Anaheim pepper, diced

1/2 medium onion, sliced

1 tablespoon sumac (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place all vegetables in a medium-sized salad bowl. Add sumac, salt, pepper and mint. Toss. Drizzle with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Chill until ready to serve.

— Recipe adapted from giverecipe.com and english.turkishcookbook.com.

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