Farmers' Market Finds
In recent years, I’ve found that I’ve managed to cultivate a deep envy of people who are lucky enough to live near year-round farmers’ markets. The taste of fruits and vegetables that have been allowed to ripen on the plant just a little longer than those shipped from points far away is unbelievable. Sweet, flavourful, juicy, tender — you name it. Food bought directly from the farmer offers huge advantages. Alright, so maybe I should qualify that with the word “usually.” After all, some farmers’ market vendors don’t sell the products grown or made on their own or their neighbour’s farms. And I always have to wonder about English cucumbers that are perfectly wrapped in plastic just like those sold in supermarkets. Dare I say that some vendors are actually “re-sellers”?
Do these two things the next time you’re at the farmers’ market:
1. Find out which fruits and vegetables are actually in season right now. This is really tricky. In these days of hothouse foods, practically any produce can be grown at any time. Also, new varieties have been developed that ripen earlier or later, like corn or sweet bell peppers. Take the climate into account, too. This year, spring was hot and dry. Fruits and vegetables are already at least one week ahead in terms of their growing seasons.
2. Talk to the vendors. The first question you should ask is whether the produce they’re selling came from their own or neighbouring farms. If a fruit or vegetable seems to be out of season, ask how they managed to grow and ripen it. Don’t be shy. The farmers’ market is your perfect opportunity to find out absolutely everything you possibly can about where food comes from.
I picked up some fennel bulbs, carrots, baby swiss chard, snow peas, fava beans and peas. The last three won’t be available the rest of the summer, unless the farmer plants more of those crops, so I really wanted to take advantage of them. The peas were really out of this world – super sweet and best eaten raw. The fennel bulbs, because the plants are so young, were sweet and licorice-like. (It tastes exactly like a good Sambuca!) I cut off the tops (and add the fronds to soups or salads) and slice up the bulbs. Eat them as is, or dress them with extra-virgin olive oil and a bit or sea salt. Eaten this way, fennel makes a perfect appetizer, snack or salad dish. The carrots were sweeter than any I’ve had from the supermarket. But, that’s one of the advantages of buying fruit and veggies directly from the farmer.
I haven’t made anything with the swiss chard, yet. But, it’s wonderful sautéed with peas and bacon. Or, try this: set a pan over very low heat. Add olive oil and one garlic clove sliced in half. Heat for about 5 minutes, or until the oil has taken on some of the garlic taste. Remove the garlic and add the swiss chard. The heat will wilt the leaves just slightly, and the garlic-flavoured oil acts as the perfect dressing. Lift the swiss chard out of the pan and place it in a pretty bowl. Sprinkle with some sea salt, toss gently. Enjoy!
Fresh fava beans and peas sautéed with garlic-flavoured oil and bacon. Mmmm… Sometimes, when I’m feeling so inclined, I’ll actually peel the outer skin away from the fava bean revealing the green and super tender inner part. In the picture above, I had just a handful of fava beans and peas, so I enjoyed them as is.