(Could I resist that headline? No, no I could not.)
We are members of our local CSA--that's Community Supported Agriculture, aka when you pay a farmer in the winter/spring and get shares of the veg/fruit/etc. that he or she grows over the course of the season. Our local CSA is awesome, and has a fantastic farmer at the helm of the food. There's also a separate fruit share--POUNDS AND POUNDS OF PEACHES PEOPLE!--eggs, chicken, the whole nine yards.
Anyway, one of the blessings and the curses of belonging to a CSA is figuring out how to cook and eat truly seasonally. And because we are in New Jersey, and not like Portland or the Bay area where temperate climate means year round growing seasons, almost, our season runs from June through November.
And it also means a shit-ton of greens at the beginning and end of the seasons. (Did I mention the BUCKETS of Jersey tomatoes in August? Oh wait, I did not, because it's not nice to make people jealous on purpose.)
I love me a good salad, but I am also lazy and fickle when it comes to planning my dinner. And, dude, keeping up with things like a CSA is not my strong suit, I am the first to admit. So JBB and I have figured out a few ways to manage our CSA share, especially when the CSA share consists of like 6 bunches of different kinds of lettuce. The first principle is one that food writer Tamar Adler helped popularize recently with her book, An Everlasting Meal (not only is that an affiliate link, but I went to college with her. Different years though.), and that is to prep and process food when you get it. That way when you go to make a meal, everything is ready for you. 25 minutes one day gets you set for the rest of the week, and takes making a salad from a pain in the ass production to a quick solution for a meal.
Once a week, when we get the CSA pick up, we "process" the greens and wash them all at once, and store them, ready to go, in the fridge.
Here we take a page from Alton Brown's book (show, really), and put Science to Work! We always try to wash the fragile greens like lettuce and arugula and the like right away, since they're leaves, they wilt, and when they get gross they stink.
Fill a sink with cold water, tear the leaves off the core of the head of lettuce (don't cut! Cut edges brown), and throw them in the cold water. Completely submerge them and swish them around a bit. If they're at all wilted, let them sit in the cold water for a while. The water's not going to hurt the greens at all, so be lazy and let 'em soak.
Do you have a salad spinner? WHY NOT? They're awesome for this thing, though a pain in the ass to store, but they do double as a nifty Wheel of Death for Hot Wheels cars, as well as a lesson in centrifugal force, so there's that.
(NEVER A SINGLE TASKER, ALTON! NEVER A SINGLE TASKER!)
Ours is Oxo (affiliate link), but there are a ton out there that are good. I prefer the pump kind with a brake to the pull-string kind. Though growing up, we totally had the pull string one, which was super entertaining when you're eight. Which might be why I now prefer the pump kind, since now I'm the grown up and have to clean up after the designated spinner.
Salad spinners are great, though, for real. I highly reccomend them. In a pinch you can suck it up with a clean non-terry dishtowel or pillowcase, but the spinner is the easiest. Swish the leaves again in the water, and DON'T DRAIN. Just gently lift out a handful or two of just leaves. Shake off some of the water, and toss them into the salad spinner.
Don't try to pack in all your lettuce at once. The leaves need some room for centrifugal force to work its magic, fling the water off the leaves, and get 'em dry. (If you are using a dish towel, lay the wet leaves on the towel and gently pat dry. If you are using a pillowcase, stick the leaves inside the pillowcase, hold the open end tighly closed and swing that sucker around in a circle, without knocking your shit off the walls. THAT'S why I have a salad spinner.)
Keep going, drying off all your leaves. When you're done, and left with a sink full of water, check out the bottom and look at all that crud! Satisfying, no?
Using all your lettuce right away? Good on ya, you are ready to go. More likely than not, you'll be hitting a week where you have more lettuce than you can eat that day. This is the trick to keeping things fresh and crisp for days. Grab a stretch of paper towels, or a clean, dry, non-fuzzy dish towel and lay it out flat in front of you. Spread your leaves out in a single layer (mostly single layer, I fudge it a lot).
Roll up the towel loosely, like a jelly roll, and pop the roll into a big ziploc bag. Press out some of the air, and boom into the fridge.
The towels absorb any extra moisture from the greens, and then will release it back to them so they don't wilt. Don't press all the air out of the bag, because the greens will still be respirating--exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide--as they age. Also, to keep waste to a minimum, we get the 2 gallon size of ziplocs so we fit more than one head/roll of lettuce in there. We also reuse the bags (and sometimes the paper towels, dried) for the next week's greens.
I don't bother doing the full jelly roll with hardier greens like kale or swiss chard. Those are sturdy enough to last just fine once washed and dried. But the lettuces? This jelly roll trick is effing MAGIC. Greens, even fragile ones, will last a full week, or longer.
Next installment? We'll talk big salad for the week.