I Am In Love with This Cookbook

The CSA Cookbook: No-Waste Recipes for Cooking Your Way through a Community Supported Agriculture Box, Farmers’ Market, or Backyard Bounty, by Linda Ly, (Voyageur Press), 224 pages, release date 7 March, 2015

I love browsing cookbooks, but seldom buy them, partly because we already have shelves full of them, partly because while most have a few recipes I like, very few have a critical mass of such recipes that makes buying seem worthwhile. The CSA Cookbook is a definite “buy!”

You may or may not have CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where you live, and, if you do, you may or may not be a subscriber. The premise is simple: pay a set amount up front, then receive a mixed box of fresh produce every week throughout the growing season. Some cooperatives will even deliver the boxes direct to your door, rather than requiring that you go to a pick-up location.

We aren’t current subscribers to a CSA, but we have been in the past. The benefits are obvious: lots and lots of in-season produce grown locally to minimize its carbon footprint. The drawbacks? Well, it’s a lot of produce. Also, on any given week you may or may not be familiar with cooking the produce included in your box. Fennel? Romanesco? Pea Shoots?

Even if you don’t subscribe to a CSA, The CSA Cookbook will provide you with lots of ideas for using produce—not just bits of it, but whole plants. I love buying beautiful organic carrots with fluffy green tops, but those tops usually wind up in the compost. The same goes for the leaves around a head of cauliflower or broccoli. However, if you follow Linda Ly’s directions, you’ll find yourself turning unusual produce and unusual parts of produce into delicious meals.

Ly opens the book with a chapter of basics: recommended brands of olive oil and fish sauce, the best methods for storing particular fruits and vegetables—and an entire section on the possibilities of pesto. This is followed by chapters focusing on different groups of vegetables: Tomatoes and Peppers, Leafy Greens, Bulbs and Stems, and so on.

The CSA Cookbook doesn’t just offer the “usual suspects”: the maple carrots, citrus salads, and roasted lemon asparagus that seem ubiquitous in cookbooks. These recipes are genuinely original. How about Grilled Green Onions with Chile Lime Marinade? Sweet Potatoes with Mustard and Thyme? Pan-Fried Cucumbers in Honey Sesame Sauce? Fennel Frond and Ginger Pesto? Ly dreams up all sorts of brilliant combinations. She’ll also have you foraging for interesting new ingredients like nasturtium seeds and radish pods.

Ly’s writing style is clear and friendly. Reading her book is like kibitzing with a good friend on a weekend afternoon. The ideas keep coming and there’s ample room for play and variations. Ly is full of what I’d called “real-kitchen tips.” The kind of suggestions that comes from years of home cooking, rather than from working in a state-of-the-art restaurant.  For example, she advises us to “roast broccoli on the most battered and blackened pan in [the] kitchen, as the broccoli seems to caramelize better, producing beautiful bits of brown that are full of flavor.”

Almost every recipe is accompanied by a photo, which makes this book particularly fun for browsing. You can flip through the pages looking for a picture that catches your eye. Or you can use the index to find options for that farmers’ market impulse buy that you suddenly don’t know what to do with. This is a cookbook that will spend as much time open on the counter as it will on your shelves. Use it to broaden you palate and to make the most of each and every produce purchase.