farmers’ market fever

I’m a farmers’ market junkie.  Every year just before the market season begins, I find myself growing impatient for the experience of navigating through the throngs of people to locate my favorite vendors, so I can ogle their piles of fresh produce.  I start to long for big bunches of basil and the first arugula of the season.  I also love watching the vendors’ offerings change as the season progresses; the rhubarb, asparagus, fresh flowers and baked goods of the beginning of the season are slowly joined by fat, juicy tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and kale.  I love it all.

Unfortunately, as a renter, I am unable to nurture a garden of my own.  I do grow a few herbs every year in a container garden outside my front door, but it’s not the same and I know it.  I also don’t personally know any farmers; the closest I can get to farm fresh produce outside of going to the market is raiding my parents’ garden.  But while they have a wonderfully large garden with an envy-inducing variety of veg, it doesn’t start producing in large quantities until at least mid to late June.  So what’s a girl to do until then?  Become a regular produce stalker at almost every farmers’ market, that’s what.

Mom and Dad's garden in early May

Mom and Dad's garden in early May

I was fortunate enough to visit the Green City Market in Lincoln Park in Chicago last weekend.  Before anyone mentions how visiting a farmers’ market approximately 220 miles away from where I live is not really that sustainable, I’d like to point out that we were in Chicago to visit family anyway, and carpooled to get from Iowa to Illinois.  AND drove to the market in my sister’s new Prius.  Do I get points back yet?  Even if I don’t, it was totally worth the trip!

We managed to drag ourselves out of the house fairly early to arrive around 8:00 a.m., while the selection was still great, and the crowd was smaller than I expected.  I’m sure the weather helped with that, since it was cool and a little drizzly.  This market had everything you would expect to find in an early season outdoor farmers’ market:  exceptionally yummy pastries, wild mushrooms,  potatoes, leeks, and even a cooler full of watercress.  There was one surprising, but very welcome, discovery among the vendors:  cheese!!  I have not yet seen cheese for sale at the Iowa City market, which is probably for the best for both my pocketbook and my waist-line, as cheese is another great food love of mine.  Among the cheese bounty at the Green City Market was a cheese studded with morels, cheese flavored with cumin and cloves, and lots of cheese that was simply delicious without extra flavor enhancements.  But my favorite was one particular goat cheese.  Prairie Fruits Farm was selling a fresh chevre that had to be mine.  After one tiny sample spoonful of the smooth, tangy goodness that was this chevre, I knew they had me; there was no way I was going back to Iowa without some.  I’m surprised I managed to control myself enough to purchase just the one container, it is that good.

This is one of my favorite snacks, and the fresh goat cheese I bought was begging to be used for just this purpose.  If you can’t make it to the Green City Market just now, the recipe is still delicious with chevre you find at your regular grocery store.  You can even experiment with flavored, herb-y goat cheese if you’d like, but I prefer a plain no-frills cheese for this appetizer.

ingredients

flatbread

Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Flat Breads

Yields about 6 servings

Ingredients

14 oz. jar roasted red peppers packed in water
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 to 6 oz. softened goat cheese
1 package seasoned flat breads
Crushed red pepper flakes

Method

  1. Drain almost all water from the jarred roasted red peppers.
  2. Add roasted red peppers, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to a blender/food processor.  Pulse chop the mixture, being careful not to reduce the mix into a liquid – the object is to maintain some texture.
  3. Spread goat cheese on the flat breads, spoon red pepper mixture over cheese, and sprinkle with red pepper flakes.
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