While the abundance of a farmers’ market may seem the last place to shop for solo meals, the overflowing displays of festive, just harvested vegetables and fruits is the ideal place to find the most delicious and most sensible additions to your solo meals and snacks. Produce purchased at a farmers’ market are super fresh, often picked the day of the market or the day before. This is of great advantage to those of us who cook solo. They will last much longer when we take them home. Unless, of course, they are so tasty that storage will not be an issue at all!
Get to know your farmers market vendors, just as I have suggested with your grocers and the staff in the produce department. Find out when the market opens for the day and go as early as possible when the market is likely less crowded and the farmers are more able to answer questions. Take your own bags or knapsack and even a small cooler with an ice pack if you might buy cheeses, eggs or meats. The growers are experts in their crops and will be ready with tips for storage and often ideas for preparation and cooking.
The current early season crops, here in the Upper Midwest, are a splendid introduction to cooking and eating market fresh food. Spring offerings are generally from young plants and need minimal preparation. The fleeting crops like asparagus are mandatory treats during their short season.
Growers need to thin out their rows of carrots, onions, beets and other root vegetables that grow underground, so the first crop will be tinier than their full grown future cousins. The first of the carrots are small, tender and sweet. Lettuces and spinaches joyfully appear with far more flavor than their store-bought relatives and should be savored as they are not available during the hottest part of the summer.
A further advantage of farmers’ market shopping is the cost savings. The cost of transportation from a thousand or more miles away and the up-charge of the grocery store is eliminated. So, freshness, quality, taste and cost savings all make farmers’ markets a logical place to shop. You can buy as much or as little as you choose, whether you want one pound or five pounds of carrots is up to you, but you know they are fresh, they store well and are saving you money.
Food Prep Note: If you steam fresh vegetables in a microwave, in a bowl with a small amount of water, be sure not to overcook them. Underestimate the cooking time a bit and test them so they have a slight bit of firmness left. This is where the Italian term of al dente is worth understanding. Al dente is Italian for to the tooth. Your vegetable (or pasta) when it is cooked should have some tooth left to it and not be mushy.
I’ll discuss markets and other ways to enjoy these jewels throughout the growing season.