Seasonal Chef: What exactly is a CSA?


You’ve probably heard the term “CSA” bandied about at your local farmers market and wondered what it meant. A CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is a way for you to participate directly with a farm. You are buying into a relationship directly with your farmer, similar to what you do at the farmers market, but the arrangement is beneficial to both of you in so many ways.

CSA “shares” are typically every week (full share), or every other week of the season (half share). By purchasing your “share” in advance you are helping to support the farm’s cash flow. You benefit from getting their products as they are harvested and the knowledge that you are supporting the farm directly. (It’s a great feeling!) There is also a bit of the unknown in the whole process. The day you pick up your share is when you find out what you are getting. That said, you need to be open to figuring out what you are going to do with what you get. Don’t worry, it’s not like you are going to get something that is a complete mystery. Your farmer will let you know what is in the box that day, and of course you always have me to ask!

You’re probably wondering why I would have decided to do this, especially since I visit the markets every week. (My husband certainly was wondering!) As a personal chef and caterer I am pretty much planning ahead for what I am going to do. While I do go to the market and find things that inspire me to cook a particular dish, it’s rare that someone hands me ingredients and says “do something with this.” That was intriguing to me.

When I found out that Gaia’s Breath Farm was offering shares I jumped at the chance. I’ve done a lot of collaborating with Mark Santoro and his sister Tara for many of my demos, and had the opportunity to visit his farm in Jordanville late last summer with Larry. I’ve had a a great time getting to know them both and using their incredible produce and proteins. Since I am at many markets every week I decided that a “half-share,” made the most sense. So let’s talk about what I got last week:

Radishes, Thumbalina Carrots and Chiogga Beets

Red Russian Kale

Bok Choy

Red Leaf Lettuce

I also got garlic scapes, garlic and spring raab. I know what you’re thinking: oh my gosh … how on earth can I handle all of that produce? It does sound like a lot, but with a little organizing and planning I used all of it in several dishes through out the week.

More after the jump  

Let’s start with the kale first. Simply wash the leaves, strip off the tough stems and slice them thin. Then I sautéed the kale with a little olive oil, a couple of minced garlic cloves, salt and  pepper. Cook on low heat for about 5 minutes until the kale is tender, but not burnt. Remove from the pan and cool.

Larry wanted me to make turkey burgers this weekend, and instead of my typical spinach I decided to use half of the kale. In the same pan that I cooked the kale, I minced a couple of garlic scapes and sautéed them as well. After a quick check of my cabinet I found I was out of fresh breadcrumbs but did have some bulgar wheat. Hmmm, what if I used the bulgar instead of breadcrumbs? I made a couple of cups thinking I would use the balance of the bulgar and kale as another dish.  Everything needs to be cool when you put the burgers together so this is where your multi-tasking skills come in to play. While this does look like a lot going on, you will see with the recipe below it will all come together easily. Let me add two thoughts on the burgers:

First, this is one of my little nifty gadgets my mother got me years ago. It’s a Tupperware Burger Press. I’ve long since lost the pieces that hold the burgers and have just these parts left – not a problem – as this is all I need to make the most perfect patties!

Yes, of course you can make them by hand – but if you want nice even symmetrical burgers this is the way to go.

I decided to use Ancho Chili in the burgers as my main seasoning, so we topped the burgers with salsa as the condiment – with great success!

With the rest of my kale I simply mixed it in with a cup of cooked bulgar wheat and seasoned with a little olive oil, lemon juice and a zesty Lemon Pepper blend from Boxed Goodes, that I picked up at the John Jay Farm Market a few weeks ago. I used that as a side dish later in the week.

On another night I was grilling a couple of chicken breasts and wanted to try something different with my scapes. I found a box of  Kashi 7 Grain Pilaf in the cabinet and pulled together just a few other ingredients to add to it: cilantro and lime.

Following the instructions the pilaf took about 20 minutes. So while that was cooking I got the rest of the ingredients together and used Penzey’s Jerk Seasoning  on the chicken. The spicy jerk seasoning blended beautifully with the limey zip in the pilaf.

Now, what to do with my two nice heads of bok choy? Typically you see this ingredient chopped and used in Asian salads. I wondered what they might be like grilled? I’ve already used garlic scapes grilled, which renders them beautifully smoky and mild – so why not give it a try for the bok choy?

Driving home from my Pilates class I always pass Port Chester Seafood, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts. I knew I was going to grill the bok choy and scapes and thought why not get a few fish and throw them on too? Grilled fish might seem a little daunting, but again, it’s all about having the right gadgets to help you along. If you don’t have have a fish grill basket you can get one at just about any kitchen store or on-line. Just load in the (seasoned) fish of your choice and place on the grill. As you can see, I used whole fish, but you can easily use a filet. My only suggestion would be to keep the skin on the filet, and cook on the skin-side. That will keep it together and in one piece. Depending on the type of fish you get, you might not want to flip the filet on the grill. Check with your fishmonger when you make your purchase.

The fish I used was Orata, also known as Sea Bream or Dorada. Perfect for the grill. It has very few tiny bones, always a plus when dealing with a whole fish. Once the whole fish is grilled you remove the head and gently pull away the top skin. Slide your knife across the top edge of the fish to loosen the filet then use a spatula to gently flip it out. Carefully pull the back bone away and the bottom half will lift right out.

This dinner was also a great success, and relatively easy to put together. After a seasoning of olive oil, salt and pepper on my bok choy and scapes I grilled them for just a few minutes next to the fish. Once they got a little char on both sides I removed them to a pan and covered loosely with foil. I chopped up the scapes and tossed both with a little olive oil and balsamic. In particular I used a really tasty balsamic called Lemon Vincotto. I use it on many things as a finishing touch. You can buy it on-line, or pick it up at a specialty store. I get mine at Tarry Market. Just before serving I gave it all a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, another pinch of salt and pepper and topped with some fresh basil from my garden. Yum!

Let me quickly add a note about the carrots. These are “Thumbalina” carrots. They are just about the tastiest little carrots you will ever eat and they take no time at all to cook. I simply cook them just as I do beets: starting in cold water over medium high heat, with a little salt and sugar. (This is a small bunch, so I only used a half teaspoon of each in about 3-4 cups of water.) Once they are fork tender, and not mushy, pull them out and peel. These took me about 10 minutes, tops. The skins will rub away simply with a paper towel.

I still had beets, radishes and spring raab left from the box. Beets I talked about last week, and radishes a few months ago. For the spring raab, that is on the menu tonight. I’m going to be doing a simple sauté with a bit of garlic. I’ll have a few pictures of that next week.

While I do realize this was a long post for you this week, I hope I was able to show you that with a little planning and organizing you can take your share and work it into several dishes during the week. The key is to get it all home and spend an hour or so cleaning and packaging your greens and veggies. Once washed and air dried a bit, I wrap things loosely in paper towels and then in a produce bag. This will keep your things fresh as you use them during the week.

Buon Appetito!


Bella Cucina Maria’s Turkey Burgers
Makes about 5 patties

2 garlic scapes, chopped fine in a mini-prep
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cup tightly backed kale, medium chopped
1 lb ground turkey
½ – 1 teaspoon of Penzey’s Ground Ancho Chili
Kosher Salt
Ground black pepper
¼ cup grated asiago cheese
1/3 cup cooked bulgar wheat
1 egg, OR 2 egg whites, beaten slightly
Salsa, optional

In a small sauté pan add 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced scapes with a pinch of salt and pepper and sweat for about 2 minutes. Remove to a small bowl to cool.

In the same pan add another 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the kale with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for about 2-3 minutes to soften. Remove to another bowl to cool.

In a large mixing bowl add the turkey and sprinkle 1 teaspoon each of salt, pepper and ancho chili over the meat. (If you want a little less spice use ½ teaspoon of chili.) Add the cheese, bulgar, egg, and cooled scape and kale. Mix well and form into patties.

The mix will be a little soft, so pop them into the freezer to firm up. Place on a well-oiled grill or non-stick sauté pan and cook about 4-5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Serve with your favorite salsa as a topping, with lettuce and tomato. (We’re both partial to Green Mountain, medium hot.)


Limey 7-Grain Pilaf
Makes 4 servings

1 cup of Kashi 7-grain pilaf
3 tablespoons of finely sliced garlic scapes, about 2 whole
Juice and zest of one nice juicy lime
1½ tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
Kosher Salt
Ground black pepper
3 tablespoons of chopped cilantro

Cook the pilaf according to the box directions. Meanwhile, place the sliced scapes, lime zest, juice, olive oil and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper in the bottom of a medium bowl and whisk to combine. When the pilaf is done (it should be al dente) add it to the bowl and mix well.  Taste for seasoning and add a little more salt, pepper and olive oil if needed. Just before serving mix in the cilantro. 





Maria Reina is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Port Chester, NY. In her free time she loves hanging out at local Farmers Markets in Westchester County doing cooking demos with seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog you can follow her  on Facebook and Twitter.


About Author

Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She's an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmer's markets, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog, which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on Facebook (Bella Cucina Maria), Twitter (Bellacucinam), Instagram (Bellacucinam) and Pinterest (Bellacucinam).

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