Saturday, June 11, 2011

Farmer's Market Goodness

It is one of my favorite times of year--Farmer's Market time!  Our neighborhood market is every Tuesday, and starts in May, ending in November, just before Thanksgiving.

Early in the season, it is mostly plants and some other basics like breads, cheeses, salsa etc. Which is great, because I love to grow various herbs in the summer. Since we moved to a new place where neither of us shared space with other tenants, we were able to make the glorious patio all "ours". I had several herbs growing last year, and it really was wonderful to be able to just walk on the patio, grab a handful of fresh herbs to chop and add to my recipe.

Here is my herb "garden" so far this year:

 I've collected one or two each week since it has started.  Top left is my newest addition, sage. Top right is Genovese Basil. Bottom left is Pineapple Basil, which interestingly does have a pineapple scent and taste. Middle is a sweet Thai Basil and on the bottom right, rosemary. I also have a dill plant that is in a part sun/part shade area.

We recently used some chopped pineapple basil for some grilled organic chicken. I simply chopped the basil and pressed it into the chicken tenders. Then we soaked it in some white wine. It turned out very well! That same day we also did some baked potatoes on the grill. I just wrapped them in foil with some olive oil and fresh ground sea salt & black pepper. Wow, how good that was!

I use the herbs most with pasta dishes.  We try to stay away from heavy sauces in general, but it is much easier to do that when we are getting fresh herbs and vegetables from the Farmer's Market! You can vary your ingredients and make a different dish each time when you have several things to choose from. I usually start with a pasta like bowties, penne or gemilli. More often than not, I simply use olive oil, and add a handful of chopped herbs. Depending on what else may be available at the market, we may add chopped tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini or other vegetables.

The possibilties are endless, really! You can add chopped tomatoes, basil, feta cheese and some black olives for a Greek-style pasta. One of my other favorites is to make a light "sauce" by adding some white wine and crumbled goat cheese. The cheese softens nicely and compliments the wine nicely. It's really a wonderful way to add some flavor without adding a lot of fat or heaviness to the dish. With the crumbled cheeses, and even some shredded cheese (I always have shredded parmesan onhand--it's a great addition to a tomato-based pasta dish), a little really can go a long way. I always add a minimal amount first, then taste as I go and add a little if needed.

I try to visit the market every week. Many of the same vendors are there week after week, year after year. It's a great way to support local farmers, grocers and merchants, as well as getting truly fresh and home grown food.  Veggies are starting to appear now, and every week I usually buy a dozen eggs from an Amish farmer and homemade salsa from our friend, Arturo. These eggs cannot be beat, they are large and cook up perfectly. Towards the end of the season, farmers start to run major deals on veggies to try to sell what they can. Last year I bought tons of broccoli at a steal and blanched and froze for soup, side dishes and stir-fry.

Right now is the too-short strawberry season. Unfortunately, here it only lasts a few weeks to a month at best, but I am in heaven for that time! I will have some for breakfast or lunch but one of my favorite treats, especially in summer, is a smoothie. And these fresh strawberries really give it a boost. In a blender or food processor, simply mix 4oz orange juice, 4oz milk (I use skim), a heaping spoonful (or 2) of non-fat Greek yogurt,1 sliced banana and a handful of chopped strawberries. Blend for minute and serve. I've also added wheat germ or flaxseed for an extra health boost!  You can easily substitute or add additional fruits depending on what you can find good and fresh. Adding blueberries, raspberries or blackberries can give it a new twist! 

If you have a Farmer's Market nearby, I hope you begin to patronize it if you don't already. Even if it is a little out of your way, I can guarantee that the trip is absolutely worth it! I often take a walk around to see who has what, which prices are better, or what looks best. I have gotten to know several of the vendors over the years, and last year even passed on a low-fat broccoli cheese soup recipe I had found and made with all that broccoli I was buying. The farmer explained he'd been diagnosed with high blood pressure, so he and his wife were really working to change their diet as far as salt & fat were concerned. I haven't seen him yet this year to be able to ask him if he tried it, but look forward to chatting with him soon. And maybe passing on more recipes.

Happy Eating! Buy fresh, buy local!