The newspaper has tried with varying degrees of success for the past two years to keep readers up to date with what’s fresh at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market. One editor’s penchant for just a few pieces of produce, namely asparagus, green beans and tomatoes, inspired our online market calendar, ideally updated weekly with staff notes
Web assistant Anita Burke and I were doing well to make it to Medford’s Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market before last week’s debut of the Hillcrest Growers and Craft Market on Wednesdays and Fridays, as featured in this week’s A la Carte. I guess we’ll have to consider changing the heading on our Web page, although the produce schedule is unlikely to change, as most of the Hillcrest growers also attend the area’s larger markets.
Anyone who’s checked our online produce guide knows it’s just that, an approximation of what’s likely fresh at the market month to month. For some shoppers, like my editor, that’s just not reliable enough to use in meal planning. But I consider the market’s unpredictability a selling point, at least with cooks who are truly inspired by their ingredients.
I tried to explain to photo editor Bob Pennell as we left Tuesday’s market how one little bag of tomatoes changed my outlook on the day. I hadn’t expected to bring tomatoes home, but hydroponic grower Dave Nance had set some aside for me because I never arrive in time to wrest a share from his feverish fans.
Tomatoes in hand, I had the perfect sweet counterpoint to my homegrown collard greens and leeks for a pasta dish. Perhaps best just sliced and drizzled with good olive oil and sprinkled with salt, tomatoes admittedly aren’t an ideal example of ingredients benefiting from culinary inspiration.
But there are plenty of other fruits and vegetables that do, which is why I felt compelled to include in this week’s food section a Los Angeles Times piece on improvising with seasonal ingredients. Advocating simple fruit salads and crisps, roasted vegetables and vegetable risottos and grain salads, the Times gave just enough detail to put cooks at ease in the kitchen and just enough leeway to encourage frequent farmers market shopping.
The suggestions may seem obvious, but it’s funny how a bounty of ingredients can cause a cook’s mind to either race or draw a blank. My mother-in-law must have had one such moment looking over our garden last night, which is truly gorgeous in its growing stage but hadn’t yet yielded all her favorite vegetables. What we do have lots of is greens: those collards and lots of Italian kale about to go to seed.
What should she prepare as side dishes for friends visiting this weekend, two of whom are vegetarian? The answer was obvious to me. Mow down all these greens, which are near the end of their usefulness, anyway, saute them and toss with a cooked grain like millet, quinoa or rice, add a few toasted nuts or feta cheese and dress with lemon juice and olive oil. As the Times piece pointed out, there are million variations on this pilaf or salad, served hot or cold, any time of the year.
Even if I’m full of ideas, I usually make a point of asking growers how they prepare a vegetable from their stall. It might not yield the next greatest recipe, but those conversations about how we eat put a fresh face on food.