Monday, July 12, 2010

Exposing the Dark Underbelly of the Farmers' Market

I love the summer because of the farmers' markets. I love that, every Thursday, I can wander through the Daley Center Plaza, without any sort of produce agenda, and I can pick up unbelievable, probably picked that morning or the day before stuff, which tastes amazing, will last much longer because it is fresh, and is inexpensive. The Daley Center is also great because there are so many small artisans selling craft breads, jams, honeys, and other tasty delights.

During this season, recipes abound with what to do with all of these fresh ingredients. Restaurants talk about the salads they create that day based on vegetables picked that morning. Open any newspaper or perform a simple search on Google, and you can find any recipe that emphasizes fresh ingredients, how to maximize them, and how to make something simple to bring out those flavors.

And I think that's all fine and dandy. Those recipes are delicious, and if I'm at a restaurant with farmers' market specials, I will definitely order it and love it. So why my, ahem, melodramatic title? The obvious first reason is pure marketing; you're reading this, aren't you? :) But in all seriousness, I find when I go to a market, I have absolutely no self control. Maybe everyone else has will power, but I find the combination of unbelievable ingredients at ridiculously low prices leads me to buy most things that look fantastic. Unfortunately, this means I have tons of produce that is difficult for Greg and me to finish in a reasonable amount of time. And this is what I mean by the "dark underbelly." There's so much focus on what to do with vegetables the day of purchase, but what do you do when time has passed and wilting seems to be an imminent issue, I know it's time to save the produce.

Yes, save the produce! Greg and I pride ourselves on the fact that we nearly never throw away food. Yet I have already admitted to having an overpurchasing problem. How to reconcile? With soup!

I should confess upfront that Greg and I are fiends for soup; we eat at least one, and usually two, homemade soups a week for dinner. But summer soups are so special because of the wide range of produce available, and we take full advantage of it! The trick is, just like at the market, not to be too attached to the actual vegetables that go in the soup. I literally just go through the fridge and fruit and veggie basket, pick what looks like it is ready to go. The beauty of this recipe is that the soup will taste delicious from the variety of vegetables, but there is no need to go with vegetables bought the day of market; since everything will be heated and melded into a soup, you don't need perfectly fresh ingredients like you would in a caprese or beet salad.

The basic idea of the soup is an adaption from one of the corn broth based soups in Veganomicon, but definitely feel free to make it your own. I will sketch out general guidelines of how to prioritize and add vegetables, but this is definitely a time to be creative! And because it's soup, feel free to make it ahead for an easy, reheated dinner.

Save the Farmers' Market Soup
Yields generous 4-6 one bowl servings

General outline of ingredients:
Olive oil or spray
2-4 cloves garlic or shallots, minced or pressed
1/3 -2/3 cup onion, diced
1 1/2 cups of some combination (feel free to add or omit) celery, carrot, and/or parsnips, diced
2-3 cups (give or take either way) of an assortment of vegetables, diced. Suggestions: potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, jalapeno pepper (or red pepper flakes or a hit of sriracha sauce for spice, if you're into that), but be creative!
2 tsp. dried thyme
Scant salt and pepper
1 quart of veggie stock
2-3 cups corn (fresh or frozen works)
1 lb. tomatoes, diced (fresh, canned, whole grape tomatoes - all those options are fine!)

1) Spray or add 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil into a stock pot and warm over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic/shallot and saute for a couple of minutes, until onions are at least starting to sweat.
2)Add the celery/carrot/parsnip combo and saute for another 2 minutes. If you have any hard vegetables (for example, potatoes), add those and cook for another 2-3 minutes and then add remaining veggies and thyme, salt, and pepper; cook for 3 minutes. Otherwise, just cook the onion/garlic/celery/carrot/parsnip combo for 4-5 minutes and then add the veggies and thyme.
3) Add the corn and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the stock. The vegetables should at least be covered; if the veggies aren't covered, or if you like a more watery soup, feel free to add another cup or two of water. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a low simmer and tilt the lid slightly to let some steam escape. Simmer for 45 minutes.
4) The soup should have a slightly creamy texture, but with some of the chunkiness of the vegetables. There are two ways to do this after the 45 minute simmer period. If you have a stick blender, turn off the heat, insert the blender, and puree parts of the soup, being sure to leave chunks and not blend the whole thing. Otherwise, scoop out 1 1/2-2 cups of soup, set aside, and run the remaining soup through a blender. Add the vegetables back in.
5) Turn the stove back in and stir in the tomatoes. Heat for ten minutes and serve.

Tastes great with the biscuits or beer bread.

No comments:

Post a Comment