Your CSA Box: Summer Comfort Foods

In my last article, I wrote about Brassica vegetables, which aren't the most popular items in the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box. This week, I've spent time with more widely loved summer vegetables, red potatoes and yellow squash.

Potatoes have fallen into bad repute in the past few years. They've been vilified, not without cause, by both the diet and health conscious as full of mostly empty calories, especially in their more popular forms, French fries and potato chips. The National Health Service does not even include them as vegetables that count toward the recommended servings of five or more per day. The potato's thin skin makes it vulnerable to contamination by pesticides, so it is one of the top vegetables recommended by groups such as Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group to buy organic (report here.)

While potatoes may not be the most healthful vegetable, organic local ones are still good for you, especially when prepared simply, without frying. On their own, they are fat free, and good sources of vitamin B6, potassium, and vitamin C. With the skin on, a potato is a good source of fiber comparable to some whole grains. For farmers, potatoes make up the fourth largest crop in the world. The largest per capita consumption is in Europe. Potatoes are popular to grow worldwide because they are inexpensive to produce, with stable pricing.

Like the potato, yellow summer squash is entirely edible. Harvested before fully mature, its thin skin makes it perishable, but well suited for eating raw or cooking lightly. It is not botanically a vegetable, though, and is instead related to the cucumber and melon families. Most of its calories come from sugar, but it is a good source of protein, fiber and several vitamins and minerals.

When I saw the lovely squash in my last two CSA boxes, I recalled a recipe I'd saved from the late, lamented Gourmet magazine. I was abashed to find I'd had it since 1994; it was from the first Road Food column by Jane and Michael Stern. I'd never yet tried it, so now seemed the perfect time. I've also included two of my family's favorite potato recipes. The skillet chicken and potato recipe is easy to make and avoids the oven, which is nice on a hot summer night. The roasted potato slices and squash casserole do use the oven, but the results are so tasty I find they're worth it.

For more ideas and great recipes to use the produce from your CSA box, also see Peggy's blog for Featherstone Farms, Cook Out of the Box, and Sarah at Vegetarian Perspective, who has a CSA menu tab.

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Skillet Chicken and Potatoes
, from Cook's Country
(Serves 4)

You may substitute thyme, oregano, or other fresh herb to your taste for the sage.

1 pound small red potatoes, halved
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
2 Tablespoons lemon juice

1. Toss potatoes and 1 tablespoon oil together in microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high power until tender, 4 to 5 minutes, tossing potatoes halfway through cooking.

2. Place flour in shallow dish. Season chicken with salt and pepper, dredge in flour, and shake to remove excess. Melt 1 tablespoon butter with remaining 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. When foam subsides, cook chicken until browned on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to plate, leaving fat in skillet, and cover chicken with foil.

3. Reduce heat to medium, add potatoes, cut side down, and cook until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to platter. Add broth, sage, and lemon juice and, using wooden spoon, scrape browned bits from skillet. Return chicken and accumulated juices to pan and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened and chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer chicken to platter with potatoes. Whisk remaining tablespoon butter into sauce, season with salt and pepper, and pour sauce over chicken and potatoes. Serve.

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Roasted Potato Slices with Lime and Chili, from Epicurious
(Serves 2)

2 1/2-pound russet potatoes, or 1 pound other potatoes
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.

2. Halve potatoes lengthwise. Cut potatoes crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and on a baking sheet toss with oil and salt and pepper to taste. Bake potatoes in one layer in middle of oven, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes, or until golden.

3. In a bowl stir together mayonnaise, lime juice, and chili powder. Add warm potatoes and combine well.

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Summer Squash and Cheese Casserole, adapted from Hap Towne's Squash Casserole
(Serves 6 to 8)

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
4 cups sliced yellow summer squash, steamed till soft
1 cup grated mild cheese
1 cup milk
1  1/2 cup coarse cracker crumbs, divided
1 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large skillet, saute onion in butter over medium heat until translucent.

3, Transfer to large bowl, add squash and mash with fork or potato masher until chunky.

4. Stir in cheese, milk, 1 cup of the cracker crumbs, and salt.

5. Transfer to 2- to 3-cup baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cracker crumbs on top. Bake about 30 minutes, until bubbling.

Kristin J. Boldon is a frequent contributor for Simple, Good and Tasty, who also writes for the Eastside Food Cooperative's newsletter on health and wellness, and for her own blog Girl Detective. Her last post for us was "This Week's CSA: A Boxful of Brassica."