Produce boxRaspberries, currants, snap peas, lettuce, mint, and fennel showed up this week.(Jennifer Prediger)

It’s Week Five of CSA living, which I’m keeping a journal of here in this Urbivore’s Dilemma series.

This week’s CSA share gave me a taste of the plenitude of summer with raspberries, currants, snap peas, lettuce, mint, and fennel. 

I had a rough experience last time, with watery mushrooms and slightly charred mustard greens. But this week things were exponentially improved. Thanks to you readers for recipe suggestions and encouraging me to keep moving forward with the joy of cooking. I even got a wonderful offer to help kick my CSA food preparation up a notch from a talented vegan foodie. Things are looking up. As the Beatles say, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

Roasted fennel and orangeRoasted fennel and orange(Andy Battaglia)

Speaking of friends, I suppose I may have cheated a little this week: the lion’s share of the box was not cooked by me. I was out of town for part of the week, so my dearest friend stepped in to concoct delicious things with the mint and the fennel. The mint made its way into Pimm’s cups, my #1 favorite drink of the summer. A little mint and cucumber muddled with a bit of ginger ale and Pimm’s, and you will refresh and impress yourself and your guests! Here’s a recipe.

My friend and dining companion followed Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything instructions for roasting fennel with orange. Fennel, known in some elegant circles as anise, is a bit like celery but oh so different! You can eat it raw — I once had a delicious shaved-fennel-and-parmesan salad with lemon and olive oil — or cooked. The bulbs of fennel vary greatly, with some ends as big as tennis balls and others as dainty as ping-pong ones. This fennel was more of the ping-pong bulb variety. Roasted for about 25 minutes with two oranges, 1/2 cup of orange juice, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, some rosemary, salt, and pepper, this dish was a light and savory hit.

CurrentsJennifer PredigerWhat did I do with the rest of my treasure? The raspberries got eaten raw. And the lettuce reprised its classic role as salad. The snap peas, some leftover mint, and the currants are awaiting their mission for the mouth. Any ideas what to do with these beautiful currants, inventive Readers?

Now, so you won’t think I shirked my duties of learning to cook fresh, seasonal food entirely, I must tell you of my holiday journey. I left for Harrisburg, Penn., to visit my dad and step-mom without packing the CSA fruits and vegetables in my suitcase. I was concerned for their welfare on a four-hour train ride, and I thought it exorbitant to buy them their own ticket.

I relied on the kindness of two Pennsylvania farmers markets for the meals I made over the 4th of July weekend. I got a bounty of fresh things to eat from the Amish purveyors of agriculture in Pennsylvania Dutch country. And I took this idea to heart: “Respect the ingredient and you’re a good cook!”

And I did have some success! The 4th of July food fireworks — not that anything exploded, it just tasted good! — included thin asparagus with olive oil, lemon, and salt cooked directly on the grill. Vegetable kabobs with yellow and green squash, purple onion, mushrooms, and green pepper were an easy, straightforward hit. I also added some radish to the kabob mix. Grilled radish, it turns out, is delicious. When cooked, it develops a softer, sweeter flavor. And it’s fun to serve to family members who have spent 65 years eating raw radishes. Cooked radishes = food to blow people’s minds!

Another signal-jamming food is savory salad! Not one to follow directions, I skipped using a recipe and freestyled my own, combining blueberries, strawberries, grapes, and blue cheese with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. It seemed like an award-winning combination. And it was, except for the olive oil. My Dad’s olive oil said on the label “Omega-3’s added!” I guess that’s why the savory salad had a hint of raw fish flavor.

But I ate the fishy fruit salad and was not discouraged. This week marked significant progress. What’s to be unearthed and plucked fresh next week? Swiss chard, plums, raspberries, onions, savory herb, lettuce, and fava beans!

Readers, I look forward to your suggestions for what you would do with these ingredients — especially the fresh fava beans, a delicacy I have yet to experience. What exciting foods like cooked radishes and savory salad have you tried? And what, pray tell, is in the CSA box from your area this week? Keep me posted.