Summer is one of the best times of year to visit your local farmers market. Only then can you find colorful vegetables, perfectly ripened fruits and fresh herbs when they’re at their peak.
With such a short, but plentiful season, it’s hard to resist filling up your market basket (or two) with fresh produce. Then you get home, unload a mountain of produce and think, “what next?”
You’re not alone. For many, cooking with market produce can seem complex, intimidating, or just too time consuming for a weeknight dinner. It doesn’t have to be. The truth is, cooking with fresh, local ingredients is actually easier than trying to eek flavor out of the bland, imported-from-South America produce you find in most grocery stores. When the ingredients are fresh, simple preparations are best.
Here a few easy recipes that feature Northwest producers (aside from a few pantry staples) and can feed a family of four for right around $30 – proving that shopping at local markets doesn’t have to break the bank.
For a backyard cookout
Grass-fed Beef and Blue Cheese Burgers with Grilled Onions & Local Asparagus
While blue cheese burgers sound like an artery clogger, grass-fed beef is much lower in saturated fat than meat from grain-fed cattle. Willapa Farms’ blue cheese is so flavorful, a tiny bit goes a long way, allowing you to get great flavor for only a small amount of fat.
- 1.5 pounds of grass fed ground beef (Skagit River Ranch or Olsen Farms, $9)
- 4 sourdough rolls or whole wheat buns (Tallgrass bakery, $5)
- 1 small piece Tall Boy Blue cheese (Willapa Hills, $4)
- 1 bunch arugula (Let Us Farm, $4)
- 1 bunch sweet onions (Nash’s, Homestead or other stand, $2)
- 1 pound local asparagus (Lyall Farms, $4)
- Olive oil, salt and pepper (pantry)
- Preheat grill to medium-high; brush grates with oil.
- Shape beef into four patties that are 1-inch thick and about 4 inches in diameter. Season with salt and pepper.
- Cut bottom inch off asparagus. Toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt.
- Slice onions into thick wedges. Brush with olive oil.
- Add onions and burgers to the grill. Cook for 3 minutes with cover down.
- Flip onions and burgers, add asparagus to the grill.
- Grill burgers and vegetables for another 4 minutes (burgers will be medium-rare; cook longer if you like more well-done meat). Check asparagus and onions, continue cooking if not quite soft.
- Split rolls in half, toast face-down on grill until just lightly grilled, about one minute.
- Wash arugula, dry and cut away stems.
- Assemble burgers in rolls with a slice of blue cheese, grilled onion, and arugula leaves. Serve grilled asparagus on the side.
For a Vegetarian Feast
Spinach Fettuccine with Hazelnut Pesto and Fresh Ricotta
Fresh fettuccine noodles from La Pasta are best, but dried pasta can be used instead. Just cook according to package instructions. Likewise, any good whole-milk ricotta can be substituted for the fresh ricotta from Samish Bay creamery. You can use any combination of herbs for the pesto, or try an arugula pesto using fresh arugula in place of the basil.
- One bunch fresh basil (Let Us Farm or Homestead, $3)
- ½ cup hazelnuts, toasted and skins removed (Holmquist Farms, $3.50 for half a small bag – save the rest for later)
- 3 cloves fresh garlic (Nash’s farms, $1)
- ¼ cup grated aged sheep’s milk cheese (optional, you can buy a small slice from Willapa Hills, $4)
- 1 pound fresh spinach fettuccini (La Pasta, $7)
- 1 container fresh ricotta (Samish Bay creamery, $6)
- 1 bag mixed baby greens (Homestead, $4)
- Aged Balsamic (Rockridge farms, pantry)
- Olive oil, salt and pepper (pantry)
- Combine the basil, hazelnuts and garlic in large food processor fitted with metal blade. Process until finely chopped.
- Add grated cheese (if using) and process until incorporated. With the motor running, drizzle in 3-4 tablespoons olive oil (adding more or less if desired). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil (make sure you use LOTS of water with fresh pasta; the starch in the flour will cause the pasta to become gummy and stuck together if you don’t cook it in enough water). Add pasta, cook 3-4 minutes until barely firm in the center (al dente).
- Drain pasta, add to warmed serving bowl and toss with pesto until strands are well coated.
- Add tablespoon-sized dollops of ricotta, and barely toss (you don’t want the ricotta to get too well mixed in).
- Serve with mixed green salad dressed lightly with good olive oil, salt and a drizzle of aged balsamic.
Note on toasting hazelnuts: Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350°F until fragrant and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. After toasting, let hazelnuts cool for a few minutes, then rub together in a clean kitchen towel to remove most of the papery skins.
Additional information on Northwest farmers markets, including tips on when to go, what to buy, and summer events, see the Seattle University District Marketcrawl, Ballard Marketcrawl, Portland Farmers Market at Pioneer Courthouse Square Marketcrawl and Portland State University Marketcrawl.