Tell me you go to your local farmers market. Please.
Two reasons: First, you can’t beat the capital “F” fresh produce with a stick. I mean, if you’ve never shopped at a farmers market, well, I suppose it’s an exaggeration to say, “you haven’t lived.” You’re alive right now, in fact, reading this article, like some crazy alive person. But, you should still go.
Second: I like to support the little guys. By shopping at farmers markets, we’re literally buying into a food system that challenges the corporate, industrialized farming model that currently rules the world. In other words, we’re sticking it to the man.
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Hmmm, “the steps you take …”
Well, I guess Step 1 would be, “Go to a farmers market.”
Step 2: Stare at your tattoo that reads “WWJDB”: What would Jim DeWan buy?
Step 3: Buy that stuff, then go home and cook it.
Now, I like experimenting with the weird stuff as much as the next guy: kohlrabi, ground cherries, Pyrenees mastodon rhubarb, weasel-throated stretch beans (OK, those last two I made up). Still, being the creature of habit that I am, I have a few go-to items I always like to bring home:
Here are some varieties I really like: zucchini, of course, and patty pan squash that look like a 7-year-old’s cartoon drawing of an alien spacecraft. And my favorite: golden zucchini, with its deep, lustrous hue that makes plain old yellow squash look like Jim Nabors next to Rock Hudson.
(Do I need to hip up my cultural references, or what?)
Recently, I got something stripy called green tiger squash that, after a couple of zinfandel coolers, might remind one of an unholy union of vegetable and carnivore.
Here’s my basic preparation for any of them: Saute 1/4 - or 1/8 -inch cross-sections or half-moons over high heat in olive oil until tender. Next, add some garlic, salt and as much freshly ground black pepper as your nose can stand. Saute until the garlic is just fragrant, about 30 seconds. This is your base recipe. Now add other farmers market gems: fresh tomatoes, basil, mushrooms, etc.
Suddenly, you realize you could toss the whole thing with pasta for a complete, lovely lunch. Then you’re thinking, ooh, I bet some crisp bacon would be good in this, and a little grated Parmesan or fresh mozzarella. OK, now you’re just getting crazy.
The reason we invented summer. Salads, sauces, salsas, sure, but, listen to this: When I was in college, working a summer job in a North Carolina mill, we’d eat “mater sammiches”: thick slabs of ripe tomato on bread as pure and white as Mother Teresa’s soul (as the cheap seats section at the RNC) (as Julia Roberts’ smile) (as an Icelandic albino) (I could go on …). Just slather some mayo onto the bread, place the mater slabs on top, season with salt and pepper and, blammo! One of the greatest things ever. Swear to gosh. Think of it as a B-less BLT. Without the lettuce. A “T,” if you will.
At six bucks a dozen, you’re thinking, “Why, that’s the kind of irresponsible spending that got us into this mess in the first place. Thanks, Obama!”
OK, simmer down now, Griswold: Sure, you can get eggs for a quarter of that price at the supermarket. But, let me ask you: If spending an extra 35 to 40 cents on breakfast could turn it into something remarkably better, wouldn’t you do it?
Work with me here: Regular supermarket eggs can lie in the pan as flat and lifeless as a cardboard zombie. Farmers market eggs, though, fresh as a dadgum daisy, straight from the chicken, sit up as high and as tight as a Nolan Ryan fastball. There’s just no comparison.
Poach a couple of farmers market eggs to put over a lyonnaise salad with frisee, crispy bacon and delicious vinaigrette. Or, my favorite breakfast: over-easy egg over leftover legumes – Central American black beans, French white beans or Indian dal – with the warm liquid yolk dripping into the legumes, enriching the sauce.
Supermarket cantaloupes are small, hard and virtually tasteless. Your locally grown varieties, though, are often huge, juicy and bursting with flavor. Peel, seed and cut one into dice and snack all day long. Or toss the chunks into the blender with some yogurt and ice and a pinch of salt and you’ve got yourself a smoothie that Genghis Khan or James Caan would enjoy equally. Or puree the cantaloupe with a splash of Champagne for a spectacular cold summer soup. Or wrap it in prosciutto and drizzle it with a balsamic reduction.
Our local varieties from Illinois soil taste nothing like the pale, bland specimens the masters of the national grocery chains have gotten us used to. And consider the tons of beany varieties: yellow beans, purple beans (like green beans, only – go on, guess), gorgeous dragon tongue beans and a host of others. Steam or simmer them, then toss them on a nicoise salad with boiled potatoes, olives, tomatoes and a dollop of canned tuna. Or quick-saute them with a little butter (And garlic. And tomato. And herbs. And mushrooms. And more beans. And and and …). Trust me, it will make you happy.