A few years ago a friend joined our local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group and couldn’t stop talking about it. Every Wednesday she’d get a big green canvas tote on her doorstep, filled to the top with fresh, in-season vegetables. “It’s like Christmas every week,” she said. I was skeptical that vegetables could be as exciting as Christmas, but I was trying to get more vegetables and variety in my diet, so I decided to give it a trial run. When my own green canvas tote showed up on my doorstep, it actually was a little like Christmas. I was abnormally excited. The vegetables inside were sun-warmed, slightly dirty and mostly mishapen. This, my friends, is what real food looks like. I was charmed and smitten by the very back-to-basics-ness of it all, even though I admit I had to use Google to identify what turned out to be shishito peppers and watermelon radishes.
I knew what to do with the tomatoes, corn and mini watermelon, but I didn’t know what to do with things like fava beans, shishito peppers, radishes and purslane. I hadn’t eaten a radish since I was a kid! By chance, I ran across two cookbooks that same week that are now my constant companions : The French Market Cookbook by Clotilde Dusoulier and The Gardener and the Grill by Karen Adler, Judith Fertig. The French Market Cookbook taught me that the French go to the market nearly every single day and they buy what’s fresh that day. They figure out what to do with them once they’re home – it’s a whole different way to approach cooking and eating. I followed the author’s advice and dispatched the radishes by slicing them thinly and eating them on crusty bread with good butter. I also learned that fava beans are a revelation when served with small chunks of salty Parmesan cheese. The shishito peppers got a splash of olive oil and dash of sea salt, then went under the broiler for a few minutes. They tasted like popcorn! I also learned that a fresh, tangy pesto makes almost every vegetable totally addictive, even if it’s unidentifiable.
Even if you do grow some of your own vegetables, CSAs are a great way to discover new favorites. Of course, we freeze dried a big batch of grilled shishitos and they’re just as good three months later as they were when they were fresh. Freeze drying the extras from a CSA bag is part of the fun and a big part of the cost savings of eating local and in season.
If you want to know what’s in season where you are, the Epicurious website has a fun, interactive What’s In Season map. Just click your state for a list of what fruits and vegetables are ready in your area.