The most intimidating part of fresh produce is the ticking clock that starts once you bring it in the door. It gets gets louder with every opening of the fridge, counting down until the once-crisp vegetables become sad and limp.
Now that summer is upon us, there are visits to farmers markets, backyard harvests and the arrival of lush CSA boxes. It's no wonder, then, that the inbox at The Splendid Table fills up this time of year with cries for help and questions about how to make efficient use of the surplus.
It can seem overwhelming and unapproachable, so our goal is to eliminate the intimidation that comes with eating seasonally. We've purchased a share from a local CSA in Minnesota, and throughout the summer we'll use our rolodex of chefs and cookbook authors to bring you a series of tips and recipes to coincide with what's in our shipments.
For some introductory advice, I spoke with Tamar Adler, author of An Everlasting Meal, whose philosophy is to keep it simple and versatile. Her No. 1 recommendation: Cook all of the vegetables the day you get them. Then store everything in glass containers and keep them up front in the refrigerator. (This way, you can easily see what you have and what needs to be used up.)
The one-time bulk processing allows flexibility from meal to meal. The vegetables are ready to be added to whatever is cooked throughout the week -- a scramble one day; pasta the next.
In Adler's video, you see her roasting a week's worth of vegetables. She does them at 400 degrees, or 450 if the oven is full. Crowding the oven can slow down the cooking process; upping the heat rectifies this.
In her book, she writes:
All roasted vegetables are most delicious when they're completely, completely tender. Test the doneness of cauliflower and squash and root vegetables by tasting them. When you don't wonder but reach to eat another, they're done.
If the vegetables are browning but not cooking through, crowd them onto another part of the pan to allow them to steam a bit. For the opposite effect, spread out the ones that seem to be softening but not browning.
"It's all about working with what you have," she says, and suggests we chase less after specific recipes and instead manipulate what we have into something we would normally eat. If you like salads, throw different variations of vegetables into a salad. Same goes for pizza toppings, pasta, egg dishes and sandwiches.
One last recommendation: Adler says to try eating your vegetables at room temperature in the summer. If they're coming out of the fridge, let them warm up naturally; if they're still on the roasting pan, let them cool down.
Tamar Adler has cooked at Gabrielle Hamilton's Prune restaurant in New York and Chez Panisse in California. For a good way to use up your bounty, check out her recipe for End-of-the-Week Vegetable Curry.