Cooking from the Farmers’ Market
Posted by MeghanFriday July 27, 2012
As a self declared foodie, I take great pride in my creative process in the kitchen. Whether I’m in my head planning menus with dishes I may never end up making, or actually doing “my thing” in the kitchen, throwing around spices and seasonings, I consider myself an artist, a conductor of a great culinary orchestra, a creator.
Ok, so maybe I glorify the process a little bit… but the point is, I almost always have an end goal in mind, a mental picture of the dish I want to create. This leads to a premeditated sort of grocery shopping; I stroll the aisles looking for the ingredients to fit the final product, and frankly, it’s got to stop. Say I’m dying to make a spin on Pasta Alfredo that uses avocado instead of thick creams and cheeses (I know you’ve seen it floating around Pinterest too!), but the avocados at my grocer are mediocre at best. I make do, I buy the produce that has come from goodness-knows-where and traveled goodness-knows-how-many-miles to be over-priced and rock hard under-ripened in my store.
It is the most heinous of culinary crimes, and I plead guilty on all accounts. If I didn’t have access to beautifully fresh, locally grown fruits and veggies, I might be able to excuse my actions. But I live in Boston, where one can roam the streets and literally stumble into a farmers’ market just about any day of the week. There, friendly faces take pride in their offerings that surpass the quality I could get anywhere else.
I will not allow my transgressions to go on any longer– I will cook for ingredients, choosing the best ones I can find, and finding recipes to match them, not the other way around.
So here we go.
I don’t know about your local farmers’ markets, but every time I get to one, I always hear a siren call from gorgeous eggplants. Maybe it’s the beautifully rich, purple skins under the warm sun, or how they are always stacked just so plentiful and lush. I’m drawn to them. But then I think, what in the world am I going to do with eggplant? Most of the time I honestly can’t come up with something more unique than eggplant parm, or roasting them as a side, so I wander past them, longingly.
No more, I say. No more.
Tomatoes, tomatoes. Once again, maybe it’s the atmospherics of a farmers’ market, as opposed to the oppressive florescent lights and off-colored tiles of a supermarket, but the tomatoes just seem redder, fuller, juicer, heavier. Better. Nothing like the orange-y ones with wrinkling skins I get elsewhere. These guys are not to be hidden in a heavily dressed salad, or cooked away to nothing for tomato sauce. They deserve to be the star.
And the cucumbers. They just look cool and refreshing. It’d be a shame to do anything to distract from that. Michael Natkin offers a perfect preservation of the essence of a cucumber, not over embellishing, not distracting from their simplicity.
When the time of the season is absolutely right, and the gods of produce smile upon me, I will find peaches. Ripened in steamy hot weather on the tree, farm fresh peaches are utter perfection for the fleeting window of opportunity you can get. The challenge then, is to pause their ripening and make the moment of perfection last.
A simple Peach Jam is just the trick.
And come Fall, when the soft and sweet fruits of summer are behind us, and there’s a long cold, grocery store filled winter ahead, all hope is not lost. There’s still a few more weeks of farmers markets, and undoubtedly the squash, pumpkins, and most of all apples will be at their best. I’ll feel like staying home wrapped in a big sweater, warm socks, and doing something as deliciously cliché as baking a Traditional Apple Pie.
So I’m turning over a new leaf. I will reform. I vow to let ingredients speak to me more, tell me what they want to be, and cook with their sake in mind. These recipes may seem simple, even logical, but I’m ok with that. Their purpose is not to show off how many ingredients one can get into one dish, or how long the name of a recipe is. The focus is on the produce, providing a stage for your market basket to shine on.