Recipes that make the most of out local, fresh ingredients
On the winding backroads that snake around the village of Ladner, British Columbia, there are gentle reminders every now and then that slow-moving farm vehicles should be respected.
I live around here, and often see and delight in respecting these vehicles — tractors hauling loads of manure to spread on springtime fields, sawdust to mulch and keep the weeds down in hectares of blueberry bushes and supplies for a glistening sea of greenhouses that dot the region, the ones full of perfect tomatoes and other foods that need lots of heat to make things happen. At this early-summer time of year, the same slow movers are also laden with the ongoing harvests that supermarkets — and all of us — will snap up in the golden weeks ahead. (Bulging tumbrils of spuds and corn, yet to come, are truly impressive.)
I don’t know when “local and fresh” became a must-have unit in our dietary lexicon, but at farmers’ markets, produce outlets and supermarkets across the land, local and fresh is what we want. And everyone who sells produce has climbed on board this happy bandwagon. Sure, we welcome Florida’s citrus family, off-season greens and giant berries from sunny California, and exotics from faraway lands. But we know that local and fresh always has an edge on flavour and goodness that somehow gets a bit lost in the bellies of reefer trucks that growl this Canadian way from wherever down South.
Historic, photogenic Ladner — the movie people love its down-home quaintness — had its fishing and farming beginnings when Canada was a pup. It sits about 20 minutes south of Vancouver, where the mighty Fraser River meets the sea. And out from the Fraser’s banks, rich delta soil supports the kind of farming that makes local and fresh really happen. Every month, vegetables are coming on. From cabbages, carrots, kale, leeks, onions and parsnips in January, to up to 40 varieties that ascend in summer and keep happening throughout the year.
Local and fresh really shows at the Ladner Village Market, a jolly affair that turned 21 this summer. Each year, beginning in June, the market takes over four blocks of Ladner’s main street, and more than 150 farmers and others mount their tents to offer fresh-pulled-and-picked enticements seven times each season.
The biggest of its kind around here, the Ladner Village Market is “known for its friendly atmosphere, where it feels like family for both the visitor and the vendor.” And for those visitors, the farm-fresh guarantee is all around them as they fill their bags with the best, show off their dogs, listen to live music and to talk to the folks who proudly grew what they’ll take home for dinner.
As a gardener myself, and a cook, I get as close as doable to local and fresh. When winter comes, I’m digging super-tasty roots like parsnips, beets and rutabagas, and stripping off Brussels sprouts, leaving enough for the holidays. Spring brings spears of snappy asparagus and, not much later, the first of the peas and tickled-out tiny potatoes. Right now, it’s hard to keep up as climber beans hang in furry fronds and the peppers are starting to pop yellow, green, purple and red. Next, those spiky, beautifully coloured artichokes, they of the oh-so-gentle hearts; zukes and cukes; and a gun-metal-and-more coloured assortment of granite-hard squashes that can linger in the field until they burr over with fragile frost, and long beyond.
linguine with zucchini ribbons, lemon thyme and parmesan
At one stage I contributed to Farm Folk City Folk (Douglas & McIntyre), a great little book that defined in stories, recipes and other thoughts what local and fresh is all about. This recipe, attributed to Mara Jernigan, will be ready when your zucchini invasion begins.
1 large zucchini
60 g unsalted butter
1 tbsp minced garlic
4 tbsp fresh lemon thyme, stemmed and finely chopped
500 g dried Italian linguine
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Slice zucchini thinly lengthwise and trim into half-inch ribbons 6 to 8 inches long. Heat a large frying pan on medium-high. Add butter and garlic and sauté until translucent. Add zucchini ribbons, seasoning with a pinch of salt.
Sauté until soft, but not mushy. Add lemon thyme, toss in pan and remove from heat. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook linguine according to package directions, about 7 minutes. Drain well and add pasta to zucchini mixture.
Return to heat and sprinkle pan evenly with Parmesan. Toss well to coat and warm through. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
new potatoes with sun-dried tomato vinaigrette
I like to tickle out tiny Yukon Golds early in the season. Steam them and load on the butter, or make something like this.
900 g small, new potato nuggets
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 cup slivered, drained sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil)
1/4 cup olive oil from bottled sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/3 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese
Scrub unpeeled potatoes and boil 12 to 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain, reserving 1 tbsp potato water. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard, garlic and reserved potato water. Whisk in sundried tomatoes, oil, salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, toss warm potatoes, vinaigrette and 1/4 cup basil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer to platter or large serving bowl. Top with cheese and remaining basil.
tomato basil sauce
Herbs are — or should be — part of every home garden, even if it simply means a pot or two on the deck or kitchen window sill, where they can be snipped easily to season whatever’s cookin’. I put this sauce together to use up some basil that was going crazy.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Garlic clove, chopped
4 medium, peeled tomatoes, chopped into small pieces
Dash of cayenne
1/2 cup basil, finely chopped
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium fry pan, then add the garlic, the tomatoes, the cayenne and the basil. Turn down the heat and simmer until the tomatoes are cooked through. Add the cream and the cheese. The sauce should be smooth. Freshly ground pepper and maybe a touch of dry mustard may be added for additional taste.
This very simple recipe has been in my three-ring recipe binder forever. I make a small batch every year, using cucumbers from a farmer friend in Delta, and dill and garlic from my own garden. I don’t process the dills since that makes them too soft — not desirable in a good pickle. However, they last up to a year in a cool place. The ingredients can be increased proportionately for larger quantities. I once used a four-gallon mayo bucket to make a really big batch. The dills sat on the deck all year. (More fun diving into a pickle barrel than a jar!)
1 cup cider vinegar
3 cups water
1/4 cup pickling salt
cucumbers, scrubbed well
Mix ingredients and bring to a boil. Add a clove of garlic and a healthy sprig of dill to cucumbers placed whole into sterile jars. Pour the hot liquid over the dills to cover. Seal with screw-top lids.
sweet and sour onion salad
Lots of taste in this recipe. Primarily from Provence, there are influences from other corners of the Mediterranean too. Sorry, but I’ve never found an easy way to peel baby onions, but the battle is worth it.
450 g baby onions, peeled
1/4 cup wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp icing sugar
3 tbsp tomato purée
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs parsley
1/2 cup raisins
Salt and ground black pepper
Place all of the ingredients in a smallish pan with 1 1/4 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer gently, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until the onions are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove the bay leaf and parsley, check the seasoning and transfer to a serving dish. Serve at room temperature.