Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thursday Farmer's Supper

When I moved from California to New York City last year, one of my main concerns was access to seasonal, organically farmed fresh produce that is the norm in Los Angeles and Santa Cruz. Upon my arrival during the height of the summer season to the delicious corn and heirloom tomatoes of August, I began to visit regularly the Union Square Greenmarket, one of hundreds of farmer's markets that pepper the five boroughs making farm fresh produce available to the city’s residents. I have four markets within a twenty-minute walk of my apartment held at different times of the week. I was and continue to be pleasantly surprised by the myriad markets and the variety of delicious produce, meats, dairy products, flowers, and processed (canned, juiced, bottled) foods offered. A favorite is the Columbia farmer's market, a tiny market with 5 or 6 vendors only, conveniently located near my apartment in the Upper West Side and which boasts particularly delicious cheeses (the cheddar is sharp and tangy, not to be missed!). One of my favorite activities is to shop at the farmer's market and bring home whatever catches my eye or is recommended by the vendors and improvise a delicious and minimally cooked meal at home, showcasing the ingredients’ natural flavors.

I agree with Wendell Barry that "eating is an agricultural, ecological, and political act" and that to eat with a fuller consciousness when it comes to what and how we eat is gratifying. Eating through farmer's markets allows one to access a wide selection of foods that are more healthful and delicious. Farmers at the Greenmarket typically describe the difference between their products and those imported or commercially grown with the simple statement that their carrot actually tastes like a carrot, their leek like a leek. In short, incorporating seasonal, local and organic foods into our lives is not as difficult as it may seem and is worth the additional effort for the freshest and most flavorful ingredients.

Last Thursday, I hosted a small dinner party for a few friends, two who are Buddhists. I thought it appropriate to cook a vegetarian meal featuring the produce from the farmer's market. Apart from the zucchini, charlotte potatoes, shallots, and white string beans purchased at the market, I used a bushel of delicious Cherokee purple tomatoes and a couple of heads of garlic from my mother's garden upstate in the Catskills. I simply roasted the potatoes with garlic, rosemary, and olive oil in a hot oven until lightly browned and crispy, a staple side dish with roast chicken. I grilled the sliced zucchini and topped them Italian-style with basil oil, a variation of pesto with fresh basil, garlic cloves, and olive oil pureed in a blender or food processor until completely smooth. This sauce is delicious, compatible with virtually everything and can be kept in the fridge for up to three weeks; I try to keep some available at all times. I made a simple arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette (olive oil, the juice of one lemon, black pepper) and freshly grated Parmesan. The tomatoes and beans made a cold salad that I have had many times with my family in France. Briefly steam or boil the beans to soften them a bit, peel and seed the tomatoes, thinly slice the shallots and combine in a large bowl. Prepare a simple French mustard-based vinaigrette with Dijon, white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Dress the tomato salad generously and top with chopped flat-leaf parsley. These recipes are very easy to make and delicious for both vegetarians and omnivores alike, it was a successful dinner party and hope to have converted my guests to supporters of farmer's markets. In the words of Gertrude Stein, ”nothing is more interesting than that something that you eat.” Enjoy and share delicious foods and cooked meals with yourself and others!

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