A foodie in a farmers’ market is like being a kid in an old fashioned candy story… I want one of this, two of that, a bag of those, a big one of that… You might know how to cook most of what you find, but part of the fun of a market is buying something new. And if you can’t find anything new, discover a new way of cooking an old favorite.
Eating local is a great idea. Supporting our Central Florida farmers as much as possible is a win-win for everybody. Ask the vendor if the produce you’re buying is grown around here. If not, is it harvested in Florida? Let’s keep our dollars as close to home as we can. For instance, look where the garlic you buy comes from. There’s not a big chance of finding local garlic, but California is a garlic giant. That keeps the cash inside our national borders. Mexico produces plenty of garlic. At least that’s on the same continent. China is a huge producer, and it’s a long way away. Read the box, the label on the bottle or the tag on the mesh sleeves to find out where your garlic originated from.
Getting zealous about zucchini
Okay, you’re home with bags and bags of delicious stuff, with as much as of it as possible grown locally. Let’s do a simple dish with zucchini.
Cut it in half lengthwise. Make crisscross cuts the length of the vegetable. Drizzle with olive oil and fry it. When the flat side browns, turn it over and cook the round side. Sprinkle good, grated parmesan cheese on the flat side. Let it melt in a bit then flip it to brown the cheese. This so simple and, depending on the oil and cheese, can have many flavors. You can do the same thing with yellow squash. Or serve some of each.
Satisfy a stewy-kind of craving
Ratatouille is a French dish that uses the bounty of the garden to produce a stewy-kind of mixture that goes on crackers, hard rolls, over pasta, on pizza. The only limit is your imagination and what’s in your vegetable bin. Get out the crock pot and you don’t even have to stir it.
Start with an eggplant that has been cubed, salted, and left to drain for an hour; three chopped tomatoes; three halved and sliced zucchini (or yellow squash); two medium onions, chopped; one large green pepper, chopped; one 6-ounce can tomato paste; two minced cloves of garlic; fresh basil or herbs of choice; salt and pepper to taste; optional pitted black olives.
Rinse and drain the eggplant. Spray the slow cooker with cooking spray. Add the eggplant. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Turn the cooker to high. Go away for three and a half hours. You’re done.
The beauty of this is that you can almost clean out the crisper. Change the herbs to what you like. Use it where you like.
“It’s what? What do you mean fried cucumber?” Don’t knock it till you try it. Peel a cucumber. Scoop out the seeds. Cut it into bite-size pieces, more long than square, and fry in a little oil or butter just until the edges soften a bit and it’s heated through. Add salt, pepper, and herbs to taste.
Sweet potatoes are a super food because they’re full of things that are good for you. My favorite way to do them is in a frying pan. Wash them well and cut into slices about an inch thick. Fry them in butter until they’re soft. It’s usually 10 to 15 minutes at medium.
If you’re having pork chops or ham steak you can do them in the same pan and one flavors the other. About five minutes before everything is done, add a handful of apple slices and a little brown sugar and cinnamon. It’s a one pan dinner… if you have a big pan.
A slice of this and a mash of that
Raw tomatoes and I have never been on speaking terms. Our son thinks the sun rises and sets on raw tomatoes. One of my wife’s favorite dishes takes only minutes to make and it’s a first course, a lunch or, in two slices of bread, a sandwich.
Slice a perfect tomato about half inch thick. Slice fresh mozzarella cheese about the same. Alternate cheese and tomato and drizzle with the best Balsamic vinegar you can afford. If you don’t like Balsamic, a good olive oil will do. Garnish with basil leaves.
Florida avocados are big. I don’t mean popular. I mean big— literally. You get a lot of flavor and goodness from one Florida fruit. Air makes avocado turn dark so mash it as if for guacamole and cover it with a thin layer of water. It would be a shame to waste any of Central Florida’s tasty bounty.
story by TRENT ROWE, Food Editor
farmers’ market photos by TOM HAGERTY