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The Perfect Time for Ratatouille

Thanks to Pixar, the first image to pop into your head when you hear the word ‘ratatouille’ might in fact be a rat! A fuzzy, cute chef rat, but a rat nonetheless. Moving away from the rat— for obvious reasons—if you haven’t made ratatouille yet, what are you waiting for? Seriously, the time is now! Almost everything you need for this amazing dish is currently available at your farmers’ market.


Ratatouille is a traditional French Provençal stewed vegetable dish, originating in Nice. It can be served as a side dish with fish or meat, yet it’s hearty enough to stand alone, with a side of crusty bread. The key ingredients in a ratatouille include tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, and onion. When you go to the farmers market this weekend, you’ll find all of those ingredients heaped in boxes and bins and scattered on tables.


Be sure to put your personal spin on the ratatouille. There are multiple varieties of eggplant at the market, so pick the kind of eggplant you want. Mix red and green bell peppers; use heirloom or vine ripened tomatoes. It’s completely your choice. The most important thing is to get these ingredients at your local farmers’ market—this dish is uninspiring unless you’re using inspired ingredients.

There are many variations on ratatouille; the recipe I recently used is from Tom Colicchio, of Craft Restaurants. My zucchini came from Garden of Eve, my tomatoes from Queens County Farm Museum, and my peppers and eggplant from Norwich Meadows.

Ratatouille

Adapted from Think Like a Chef

Ingredients

  • 4 small zucchini
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 3 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
  • 1 green bell pepper, cored and seeded
  • 2 tomatoes, halved and seeded
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • salt & black pepper
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 6 sprigs of fresh basil

    Directions

    1. Slice the zucchini lengthwise, then cut into half moons. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into 6 pieces, then slice. Thinly slice the peppers. Cut the tomato halves into half again and cut into thin lengths.
    2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, salt, and pepper and cook the onions for about 10 minutes, until the onions are tender and golden. Transfer the onions to a large bowl, carefully wipe out the skillet and add another tablespoon of oil.
    3. Cook the zucchini until they begin to soften (about 3 minutes). Add a little garlic, a sprig of basil, and more salt and pepper. Cook until the zucchini are almost tender, 2-3 more minutes. Add the zucchini to the bowl with the onion, and then wipe out the skillet.
    4. Cook the eggplant, adding more oil. Add garlic, basil, salt and pepper when the eggplant is about half-cooked. Add the eggplant to the onion and zucchini.
    5. Repeat the same process with the peppers, flavoring them with garlic and basil. When the peppers are almost done, after 3-5 minutes, add the tomatoes to the skillet. Cook the mixture for 3-5 minutes, then add the onion, zucchini, and eggplant mixture.
    6. Reduce the heat to medium-low and gently simmer the ratatouille, partially covered, until all the vegetables are tendered (about 15 minutes).
    7. Spoon the ratatouille into a colander set over a bowl. Drain the vegetables for a few minutes and then pour the juices into a small pan. Thicken the vegetables juices over high heat and then combine these juices with the drained ratatouille into the original skillet. Warm over low heat, serve, and enjoy!

    This recipe is cross posted on Cheery Observations

A Closer Look: Okra

Growing up in the South, I assumed everyone both liked and ate okra.  It was only when I moved further north for college that I realized this is decidedly not the case.  Okra is a polarizing vegetable, often put in the same category as eggplant and Brussels sprouts. 



Okra is known as ‘lady’s fingers’ outside of the US.  I’d have a much harder time chomping down on a piece of okra if we called it that! When okra starts showing up at the farmers’ market, I don’t need to look at a calendar to know that August has arrived.  Okra pairs well with many of the items you’re probably already buying at the market; next time you’re loading your bags and baskets with tomatoes, greens, and peaches, add some okra to the mix too.

What:  

Okra is the immature seedpod of a tropical herb and is closely related to the hibiscus plant.  Full of Vitamin C, a large okra pod can contain as many as 50 seeds.  At their peak, okra pods vary in length between 3 and 10 inches.  It’s best to avoid pods that are longer than 10 inches, as they become tough and fibrous.


Okra was first introduced to the United States via Africa by way of the Caribbean.  Sources argue about when it first showed up in American cuisine.  Thomas Jefferson planted okra in Monticello’s hillside garden; the vegetable was a crucial ingredient in several dishes. Records indicate that his okra soup was a melting pot of international cuisines.

Flavor Profile:

Okra’s polarizing reputation stems from its slimy texture — the more it is cut, the slimier it becomes.  While the slime is off-putting to some, others build entire dishes, such as soups and gumbo, around it.  Okra is sweet like an eggplant, its crisp exterior giving way to a delicately sweet middle.

In the Kitchen:

As is usually the case with summer produce, be sure to buy okra as fresh as possible.  Choose crisp and firm okra over its limp and dry counterpart.  Okra doesn’t store well.  If you must store it, keep it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.


If you’re in the mood to eat the okra as soon as you get home, steam the pods for 3 minutes.

Growing Season:

Okra is a warm season crop, planted after the last frost.  Okra seeds germinate between 6 days and three weeks.  Harvest occurs after roughly 50-60 days.  Farmers know that once the okra flower opens, the pod will be ready for harvest in 3-4 days. This means that okra must be harvested at least every other day during the growing season. 

You can find okra at the Greenmarket from mid to late summer into the early Fall.



Greenmarket Vendors:

Norwich Meadows
Cherry Lane
W. Rogowski Farm
Oak Grove Plantation

More Vendors HERE

Recipe Ideas:

Okra Fritters with Shrimp and Peach Salsa
Crispy Okra Salad
Fried Okra


Sources: Wikipedia, The Produce Bible, Veggie Harvest, About Gardening, Heirloom Organics

Happy Marketing!

-Meaghin

A Closer Look: Cucumbers

One result of this summer’s heat wave is an abundance of fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market, with some items actually ready a few weeks earlier than usual.  Because many crops are currently at their peak flavor, it is tempting to go the market and snatch up more than you can carry, store, or cook with (or is that just me?).

However, the heat necessitates staying focused:  pick up too many ingredients and they’ll spoil before you have time to cook them all; pick up ingredients that are more labor intensive and you’ll heat up your kitchen so quickly that it’ll be impossible to tell the difference between inside and outside.



So for these July days of summer, we have a slight dilemma.  On one hand, you want to take advantage of the peak fruits and vegetables.  On the other hand, you don’t want to spend too much time in a hot kitchen.  This is where cucumbers come in.  With very little work cucumbers yield a refreshing appetizer, soup, or entree.  There’s a reason the phrase “cool as a cucumber” is used so frequently:  cucumbers are nearly 90% water! Besides, don’t you want to feel ‘cool’ this summer?  (If you really are too hot and lethargic to cook with them, remember—cucumbers are good for the skin.  Place them over your eyes for a refreshing moment).

What:  

Cucumbers originated in India millennia ago and were first cultivated in North America in the 16th century.  They’re classified as fruits—the same family as melons—but are usually prepared and eaten as a vegetable.

Despite what a standard grocery store may have you believe, there are a plethora of varieties and shapes of cucumbers: yellows, greens, 20 inches long, round, etc.
Cucumbers grow to be eaten fresh and for pickling.  In the U.S., pickled cucumbers are simply ‘pickles’.  In Britain, they’re known as ‘gherkins’.



Flavor Profile:

Due to their high water content, cucumbers are cool and refreshing, tasting like a diluted melon.  Some find the rind to be slightly bitter. 

In the Kitchen:

Pick cucumber that are heavy and firm.  Avoid cucumbers that have soft ends.  Don’t leave cucumbers out in room temperature for too long, as they have a tendency to wilt and become mushy.  When storing, put cucumbers in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator (but NOT in the coldest part of the fridge).

If your recipe asks you to seed them, simply slice them lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.   Cucumbers pair well with dill, butter, yogurt, and cheese.

Growing Season:

Cucumbers have a long growing season—usually over 60 days.  They are sensitive to both frost and too much rain.

Farmers and gardeners are advised to plant them in warm soil and, if possible, on hills so that the vines can grow.  The plants need continual moisture in order to keep growing.  When ready, they are harvested every 2-3 days in the summer.

Weather and farm dependent, they’re available from the end of May to the end of July.



Greenmarket Vendors:

MANY!  A quick walk around any greenmarket will reveal numerous farms selling them…and in multiple varieties.
Check out:


Recipe Ideas:

Cold Avocado and Cucumber Soup with Dill

Beet and Cucumber Salad


Michel Nischan’s Cucumber, Bush Bean, and Tomato Salad w/Feta

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces pole or bush beans
  • 3 cucumbers
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces feta cheese
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 2-3 tablespoons oregano leaves
  • 1/2 cup loosley packed, thinly sliced basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons malt vinegar
  • salt

Recipe

  1. Fill a large sauce pan with water and bring to a boil. Add salt.  Add the beans and blanch for a minute.  Drain the beans and plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process.   Pat the beans with towels, cut them in half crosswise, and refrigerate until chilled.
  2. Peel the cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise, and seed.  Cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes.  Chill the cucumbers with the onion slices.
  3. Use a fork to break the feta into chunks.
  4. Core the tomatoes and cut in 1 1/2 inch chunks. In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes with the feta cheese.  Add the oregano, basil, chilled beans, cucumbers, and onion slices.
  5. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.  Add the vinegar and gently toss.

Sources:  WH Foods, Wikipedia, The Produce Bible, Veggie Harvest

Happy Marketing!

-Meaghin

A Closer Look: Strawberries

Children and adults alike can’t deny the allure of strawberries.  The fruit’s flavor is hard to resist, especially because it offers a guilt free way to satisfy your sweet craving. Strawberries are available year-round at your local grocery store of course, yet there’s nothing quite like chomping into a fresh local strawberry and enjoying its unparalleled tangy sweetness.

What:

Strawberries have grown wild for millennium, but were first cultivated in 1740.  The garden strawberry is a member of the Rose Family.   Colors can range from deep red to white, depending on which variety (and there are over 600 varieties).  Nutritionally speaking, strawberries are full of Vitamin C and potassium.   They are the only fruit whose seeds grow around the exterior.

Flavor Profile:

Sweet, sugary, and/or tart depending on the variety and grower.

In the Kitchen:

Pick strawberries that are firm and plump.

If you can, eat your strawberries on the day you buy them (or as close as possible).  Leave them untouched until you decide to eat them; that means no washing and no hulling!  If it will be a few days before you can eat them, put them in the refrigerator in their original container.

There are many ways to cook and enjoy strawberries (see below!), but they are perfect on their own too, or with sugar sprinkled on top, paired with cheese, dipped in chocolate…(etc!).

Growing Season

Some local farmers have been carrying strawberries since early May.  They should be available at the farmers’ market until early July, as each farm’s growing season is slightly different. 

Some of the varieties that you may see at the farmers’ market include June Bearing (produce fruit for 2-3 weeks in June), Everbearing (produce 2-3 harvests of fruit during the Spring, Summer, and Fall), or Day Neutral (produce fruit throughout the growing season). Strawberries are planted in rows or alternated raised beds in the late Fall or in the early Spring when the soil dries.

Greenmarket Vendors:

(to name a few) John D. Madura Farms, Cherry Lane Farms, Stokes Farm, Lani’s Farm

Recipe Ideas:

Strawberry Dumplings

Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

Arugula Salad with Strawberries

Sources: Wikipedia, WH Foods, About, The Produce Bible

Happy Marketing!

-Meaghin