Every spring and summer, to the delight of local foodies, farmers’ markets pop up like mushrooms on street corners and parking lots. Piles
of freshly picked vegetables, dirt still moist and clinging to their roots, glow in baskets next to stalls laden with homemade jams and pastries. Shoppers can choose a freshly baked pie, or pick up a few pints of fresh berries to create one of their own.
Summer cuisine is where fast prep and simple recipes reign. Who wants to hang out in the kitchen, measuring and timing, when outdoor concerts beckon and flower-speckled hills call out to be hiked? Fortunately, cooking with ingredients from farmers’ markets requires little fuss. Flavors explode out of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables with minimal enhancement.
Stroll the brimming tables of a farmers’ market while planning a menu for that day’s lunch and dinner, along with a few longer-term projects such as putting up some pickled baby cucumbers on your next day off. Or, if you’d prefer a day away from the kitchen, ready-to-eat goods are abundantly available: fresh cheeses, creamy fudge and other sweets, golden honey, and warm, freshly baked breads. At some markets, stands from local restaurants and barbeque houses offer the makings for a perfect picnic or potluck.
One of the best aspects of shopping at a farmers’ market is the quality of the produce itself. Fresh, whole foods, grown locally in season, offer the most flavor and the best nutrition. Among these family-run stalls, genetically modified seems a term from another world. Many of the fields are managed organically, with little or no pesticide (check with each purveyor) applied during production.
Ripe tomatoes and common summer vegetables are prevalent, but odd or rare members of the garden can often be found at farmers’ markets: herbs such as savory, which makes a delectable soup, or yellow beets ready to be roasted and added to an arugula salad. Remember, to bring out the best in exquisitely simple dishes made from fresh, high-quality produce, olive oils and other accoutrements should also be of excellent quality.
Pasta with Mozzarella and Heirloom Tomatoes
Any tomato works well in this dish, but a rainbow of heirlooms makes it a real showstopper.
Serves 4 as an entrée
1 pound shaped pasta such as farfalle (bowtie)
or ceppo (small twists)
8-10 fresh heirloom tomatoes
3 large fresh mozzarella balls
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 packed cup fresh julienne basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chop the tomatoes into bite-size chunks and place in a bowl. Cut the mozzarella into half-inch pieces; add the olive oil and half of the basil. Toss lightly. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and let marinate for 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Just before serving, boil 6 quarts of water with 1/8 cup salt. Add the pasta and cook, stirring twice, until al dente. Drain, reserving a bit of the cooking water. Toss the pasta immediately with the tomato marinade. Add oil or cooking water if the mix seems dry. Check seasoning for taste. Top with remaining basil. The mozzarella will melt from the heat of the pasta, so serve immediately.
A crisp sauvignon blanc, fumé blanc, or light red wine makes a nice accompaniment to this dish, along with crusty bread and baby salad greens.
Grilled Summer Fruit
Nothing finishes off a summer barbeque or campfire dinner like these jewels glistening on the grill. Enjoy them alone or as the perfect complement to homemade ice cream.
Choose the best of the market’s bounty from the baskets of peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots. Wash and halve the fruit, removing the pit. Sprinkle the cut halves with lemon juice and a dusting of brown sugar. Place cut-side down on grill over indirect heat until caramelized and sizzling.
Market Salad of Green Beans, Beets, and Onions with Baby Greens
This salad can be made as a light entrée or side dish to grilled chicken or fish. Any fresh garden vegetable may be substituted for the beets, and baby spinach or butter lettuce may be substituted for the greens.
Adjustable for any number of servings
1 small to medium fresh beet per person, washed
and root end trimmed
5 fresh green beans per person,
washed and ends trimmed
1/2 medium red onion per person, thinly sliced
Butter for sautéing
2 spring onions (scallions) per person, finely sliced
1 handful fresh baby greens per person, washed and dried
Extra virgin olive oil
Raspberry or other fruit vinegar
Freshly ground white pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the clean beets, trimmed end down, in a rimmed baking pan such as a cake pan or casserole. Fill the pan with water about 1/4 of the way up the side of the beets. Roast beets until tender when pierced with a fork, usually 20-45 minutes. Cool. (May be held overnight at this point for quicker preparation the following day.)
Peel cooled beets with a small knife, then slice thinly or dice. This is a messy task, so wear gloves if you prefer not to have fuchsia-colored hands.
Boil green beans in salted water for 5-7 minutes, or just until tender. Drain and immerse immediately in ice water to set the bright green color.
Slowly sauté the sliced onions in melted butter with a pinch of salt over low to medium heat. Stir occasionally until the onions are soft, then add a dash of vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Cool slightly.
To assemble salad, place greens in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil, just enough to coat, then add a splash of fruit vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. Place the dressed greens on a serving platter or individual plates. In the same bowl used to dress the greens, toss the green beans and beets with a bit more oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Arrange the vegetables evenly over the greens and top with cooled, cooked onions and sliced spring onions. Serve immediately.
Wonderful croutons for this salad can be made with sliced or cubed pumpernickel bread, toasted in the oven and served warm. If goat cheese was among your farmers’ market finds, crumble some over the top of your salad before serving, or spread on warm pumpernickel toast and serve on the side.
Summer Fruit Salsa
A tantalizing mix of fresh sweetness and Latin heat, this is an explosion of summer colors and tastes. The peaches and nectarines may be substituted with 31/2 to 4 cups fresh mango, papaya, or a mix of tropical fruits and tomatoes.
3 or 4 fresh peaches
3 or 4 fresh nectarines
2 green jalapeño peppers
2 red jalapeño peppers
2 yellow jalapeño peppers
1 medium sweet onion
1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
4 large cloves fresh garlic, minced
3 T. champagne vinegar
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of two limes
Freshly cracked black peppercorns
Wash and peel the peaches and nectarines. Finely chop the fruit, jalapeños, and onion. Place in a medium bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients, toss well, and place in refrigerator to marinate for at least two hours. Serve with tortilla chips, with grilled fish or chicken, or in a fresh fish taco.
Lynn McCarthy, chef and owner of Cottonwood Catering & Cooking School, lived to cook in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., before moving to Ketchum seven years ago.