Spring has truly sprung here in upstate New York, which means summer is right around the corner. And so is farm share season! I am excited to be subscribing to another weekly CSA this summer, and this year we have a little bit more experience. One secret to a successful season? Make sure your kitchen is ready for anything! It’s time to prep your pantry for CSA season.
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If you’re not signed up for a farm share, you can still take advantage of the tips I’m sharing here. Whether you are picking up fresh produce from the market or just trying to eat more locally and in-season to lower your impact, you’ll find this guide helpful. Plus, snag the shopping list below!
Farm Share Meal Planning
It can be tough at first to plan meals around seasonal produce. Each week on a farm share, you’ll be getting something different, so you’ll need to be flexible with your recipes. Have a few ideas in your arsenal that you can quickly change up, like pizza, tacos, salads, and pasta. Then incorporate your fresh fruits and veggies into those templates.
When you get your farm share, be sure to research the best way to store each piece of produce for it to last the longest. Then keep an inventory list of everything you have, and when it will be fresh until. This will help you stay organized and throw away less food you forgot to use.
The best way to be flexible with your meal ideas and use up the shorter-lasting plants first, is to have a well-stocked pantry of non-produce items to round out your meals. Make sure you have everything in the list below without the hassle of going to the store. Check out Instacart, which lets you order your groceries for home delivery or curbside pick-up. The time you save will give you even more of a chance to brainstorm meals!
Summer Pantry Essentials
I’m breaking this down into a few different categories. You certainly don’t need every item on this list. But make sure you have a good balance to be able to create the dishes you most enjoy without it feeling repetitive.
Grains and Carbs
Pasta and Noodles: I like to have a few different shapes of pasta on hand. A penne, ziti, or rigatoni can be incredibly versatile and works well with most sauces. Then add a fun shape like farfalle or rotini, a classic staple like fettucine or spaghetti, and a rice noodle — you can pretty much make any pasta meal, noodle bowl, or macaroni salad!
Rice: White and brown rice are the staples. Both can be doctored up with fresh garlic or ginger, a variety of spices, or broths to add plenty of flavor. They are essential for curries, stir fries, and taco salads.
Tortillas: Wraps, tacos, quick pizzas, or fried cinnamon chips are just a few of the fun ways to use tortillas. You can find these in white or wheat flour or corn, or look in the wraps section for spinach and tomato flavored ones!
Bread: Nothing pulls a meal together like a warm loaf of bread! Plus it’s totally necessary for French toast with breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and toast with fresh homemade jam for a snack. Plus you can make fresh bread crumbs, croutons, or panzanella salads. A basic white or wheat sandwich loaf can get you pretty far, and you can buy fancier loaves as needed.
Alternative grains: Things like quinoa, freekeh, and farro can be used in all kinds of dishes. Try freekeh in place of fried rice. Add quinoa to salad, or fry it up after boiling for a vegetarian taco meat. Use farro as the base for a grain bowl with plenty of veggies piled on top.
Meat: If you’re a meat-eater, it’s an easy source of protein that can be cooked and adjusted to a variety of flavors. Pick out your favorites, freeze them for the season, and cook up portions as needed.
Beans and Lentils: For a more plant-based protein source, I like using beans and lentils. My basics include black beans, white beans (like cannellini), chickpeas, and green lentils. Additions can be things like red kidney beans for chili, and red lentils for more variety.
Eggs: These are probably the most versatile food you can have in your fridge. Eggs can be made into fresh fruit ice cream or custard, fried up to add to a sandwich, boiled to top a noodle bowl or salad, and mixed with veggies and cheese for a frittata or omelet.
Dairy: Milk and cream, or their non-dairy alternatives have so many uses, from adding richness to sauces or adding to smoothies. Cheese is another staple for me. I always keeps some shredded cheddar, grated parmesan, and fresh mozzarella around.
I have so many spices in my cabinet that I needed to put them on a double-level turntable to keep them organized. But I really tried to limit myself with this list to the most essential and versatile. Feel free to expand on these for your favorite dishes with additional seasonings and spice blends! Browse The Spice House for ideas.
Salt & Black Pepper: The basics, really. I salt and pepper after nearly every step of recipes. Salt will help bring out the natural flavors of the food. Pepper is a versatile classic that complements nearly everything.
Garlic Powder: You may not always have fresh garlic from the farm, so this is a staple to have on hand, for sure. I use it in dishes from nearly every culture, but especially Italian and Asian.
Red Pepper Flakes: These are the easiest and most versatile way to add a little bit of spice. I use them in Italian, Asian, and Mexican dishes all the time!
Oregano: A classic spice for Italian, Greek, and Mediterranean food. But it also works well combined with Cumin in Mexican dishes.
Cumin: This is an essential for any Mexican-inspired dish. You’ll want it around for all your tacos, quesadillas, burritos, tostadas and more.
Smoked Paprika: I love adding a little bit of this to anything that I want to have that signature smoky flavor. It’s excellent for barbecue, tacos, or even a creamy pasta sauce.
Cinnamon: An obvious necessity for desserts, but cinnamon also works well in savory dishes. It’s especially great for anything Caribbean or Middle Eastern.
Oils: Vegetable and olive oil are the main bases for most cooking. It’s likely that you don’t need much else. However, if you want to expand, coconut oil can be used as an alternative in many cases.
Vinegar: I generally have six or seven different types around, but you can get away with white, apple cider, and balsamic for most uses. Vinegar helps add acid to your dishes, which brings out dynamic flavors.
Sauces & Spreads: Soy sauce, pasta sauce (either pre-made in jars, your own recipe, or canned tomato sauce you can season yourself), and Mayonnaise are my trifecta, but feel free to pick up your favorites that either you can’t or don’t want to make from scratch.
Honey: Sometimes you’ll be able to get this local or from your farm as well! If not, having some honey around as a versatile sweetener is always a good idea. You can add in sweetness to counter spice, or to help bring out other flavors.
Capers: We have a theory around here that dishes with capers are always better. They are salty and briny, and can add that little bit of acidity to plenty of dishes. You can use them in pastas, to make a vegetarian Caesar dressing, or to make a tangy pesto.
If you want to do some major baking, check out my full baking essentials list. Here I picked out a few items that I think will help you with other dishes that aren’t traditional baked goods.
Flour: White flour is super useful when you need to thicken up sauces like a teriyaki, soups like a corn chowder, or chilis. You can also use it to bread and fry vegetables, such as cauliflower, for a fun take on vegetarian nuggets.
Sugars: Brown sugar is the sweetener I use most outside of baking. You can add it to soy sauce for a quick teriyaki, sweeten up black beans for tacos, or add to rice with milk for a quick dessert. White sugar is also useful for sweetening up sauces and salad dressings.
Butter: Cooking with butter makes everything taste richer. Use it instead of oil for sauteing at medium temperatures, brown it up for a nutty flavor, or add it to pasta sauce to help the texture stick better. It’s delicious melted with some garlic over vegetables like green beans.
Nuts: Add these to garnish nearly any type of dish. You can use almonds in a pasta, cashews or peanuts on top of a noodle bowl, or throw any into a salad for some extra crunch. Pecans are my favorite to have around, since I think they work well in both sweet and savory dishes.
This list includes everything you need to have in your pantry if you’ve signed up for a CSA this summer!
Summer Salad: Combine any fresh greens with other vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and more. Make a dressing from olive oil, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and spices. For and entree-style salad, add in hard boiled eggs, shredded cheese, grilled chicken, quinoa, chickpeas, and/or any type of nuts.
Pasta Toss: Add some fresh veggies like zucchini, tomatoes, broccoli, and even leafy greens to your favorite pasta. You can make a red sauce, a cream sauce, or combine them for a blush. Or even try out a fresh made pesto! Don’t forget the red pepper flakes, fresh garlic, and capers for tons of flavor.
Fajitas: These are perfect when you get fresh peppers and onions! Fry those up with a protein of your choice and some seasonings. Then use other vegetables and even some fruits to make various toppings like salsa and guacamole. Load everything up in tortillas, or set up a fun self-serve bar.
Omelettes: You can put so many different vegetable in an omelette! Spinach, tomatoes, peppers, onions, avocado, potatoes, and more! Then just add cheese and meat if desired for a super farm-friendly breakfast.
Look out this summer as I post even more recipes using the wonderful ingredients we will get from our own CSA!