Summer Food

Third in a series of archived food columns. 

 

Thursdays this summer, the 400 block of Broadway will be cordoned off to create the second annual Bismarck Urban Harvest market. In addition to hosting the Thursday gathering of the Capital Farmers’ Market, each day will feature local craftspeople, prepared food and entertainment – ranging from preschool story hours to evening concerts. The market will run from 10 am to 7pm, for eight Thursdays starting July 13; see www.bismarckurbanharvest.org for more info.

This market is a great example of the small but growing movement towards “localness” – choosing to eat locally-produced foods and buy locally-produced products, as a way of strengthening community.

I’m sure people here are familiar with the Great Wal-mart debates, as they happened so recently in our community. The Local Food movement is pretty similar (but tastes much better!) Food is pretty much a fixed expense. If you have to buy food anyway, why not keep the money in our community? Buying directly from the farmer means that the full value of the purchase price goes to them, rather than the meager 7-25% they receive under the standard supermarket supply chain. In the Bismarck farmers’ market’s case, I have found the prices to be pretty comparable to the supermarket. Also, produce picked the same morning is more nutritious than something that had to travel 1500 miles to your table (the actual national average, as of a couple years back.)

The real reason I try to buy local is that it just tastes better! No one can argue the superiority of an August backyard tomato over a January supermarket version, or how farmers’ market sweetcorn tastes so much more alive than the stuff found prepeeled at the supermarket in April. Yes, the market only offers seasonal things – but that practically guarantees the food you find will be at the height of its flavor and goodness.  

The local food movement points out that if families chose to spend $10 per week on food grown nearby, the effects on the community would be enormous. I frankly find it hard to spend less than that, especially once the muskmelons arrive…

Here are some of my favorite recipes to help celebrate the long-awaited arrival of summer, and North Dakota produce.

Recipes:

Roasted Green Beans  

  • 1.5 lbs tender young green beans
  • Mild Italian dressing, or your favorite combo of olive oil and vinegar

Note – Avoid the Zesty-style dressings with the large chunks of garlic, as they tend to char and impart a bitter flavor before the vegetables are done. Instead, add whole peeled cloves of garlic to the roasting pan and chop them afterwards 

  1. Wash and trim the green beans. Combine beans and dressing in a large bowl, and mix until all the beans are lightly coated with oil.
  2. Spread the beans on two large baking sheets and roast in a 400° oven for 35-45 minutes. Roasting time will vary with the size of the beans. They are done when they have a somewhat blistered look and are beginning to brown in spots. Try one – if you like it, it’s done.
  3. Pile the roasted beans on a platter and serve them hot or at room temperature, as a finger food or on a plate with other foods.

Serves 3-4.

Asparagus is also wonderful cooked the same way. They would need about 20-30 minutes in a 400° oven, turning them over when they start to blister. Try substituting a mix of soy sauce and vegetable oil for the Italian dressing.

  Cantaloupe and Nectarine Sorbet 

  • 4lbs cantaloupe (2 medium melons, 4 cups cubed flesh)
  • 2 lbs nectarines (2 ½ cups sliced)
  • 5-7 T lemon juice
  • 3-4 T honey
  • 2 T chopped fresh mint leaves

Choose the fruit with great care. Use only sweet, intensely flavorful cantaloupes, and ripe, juicy nectarines. There is nothing here to obscure the flavor of the fruit, only a few tweaks to heighten it.

Peel and seed the cantaloupes and cut the flesh in cubes. You should have about 4 cups. Peel and slice the nectarines. You should have about 2 ½ cups. Puree all the fruit, with 5 T of the fresh lemon juice and 3 T of the honey until entirely smooth.

  1. Taste the mixture and stir in a little more lemon juice or honey or both until you have just the right sweet/tart balance. You must do this by taste as all fruit varies in sugar content, and lemons vary widely in acidity. When it tastes just wonderful, stir in the chopped mint.
  2. Freeze the mixture in an ice-cream freezer according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

If you wish, serve the sorbet drizzled with a sweetened raspberry puree. (Puree 1 pint of raspberries, force through a strainer to remove seeds, mix in 2 – 3 T of sugar.)

  My favorite zucchini dish – a Greek Rice Casserole 

You can complete steps 1 and 2 in advance. Assemble and bake the casserole just before serving. Serves 6-8 as a main course.

  • 1.5 c uncooked jasmine or brown jasmine rice
  • The amount of water specified on the package for that amount of rice
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 2-3 T freshly minced dill (or 2 t dried)
  • 1.5 T olive oil
  • 1 c minced onion
  • 4-5 small (7”) zucchini, sliced into thin rounds or half-moons
  • ¾ t salt
  • Fresh black pepper
  • ½ t oregano
  • 2 t basil
  • 8 medium cloves garlic, half minced, half sliced (keep minced and sliced separate)
  • 1 c crumbled feta cheese
  • 1.5 c cottage or ricotta cheese (may be lowfat)
  • 2 medium-sized fresh, ripe tomatoes
  • 1 c whole black olives, sliced (substitute nicoise or kalamata if you like them)

1)     Cook rice according to package directions. Remove from heat, fluff with a  fork, and stir in lemon juice and dill. Set aside.

2)     Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and sauté over medium heat 5-8 minutes or until soft. Add zucchini, salt, pepper and herbs, and continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 10 more minutes or until zucchini is tender. Stir in minced garlic and cook for a minute more. Remove from heat and stir in feta.

3)     When you are ready to assemble the casserole, preheat the oven to 375°. Lightly oil a 9×13” baking pan.

4)     Place the cottage or ricotta cheese in a blender or food processor fitted with the steel blade, and whip until smooth.

5)     Combine rice, zucchini sauté, and whipped cheese in a large bowl, and mix until very well combined. Transfer to the prepared pan, and spread into place. Top with tomato slices, then scatter olives and slices of garlic in a random fashion over the tomatoes.

6)     Bake uncovered at 375 until bubbly, about 30-40 min. Serve hot or warm.

  

More Resources:

For additional seasonal veggie recipes:

  • Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets, Deborah Madison (The pictures practically make this a coffee-table book.)
  • The Roasted Vegetable, Andrea Chesman

For additional discussion on the Local Food movement:

  • This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, Joan Dye Gussow  (A few great recipes, and a funny chapter on home experiments on winter tomatoes.)
  • Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods, Gary Paul Nabhan
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