Take advantage of fresh produce

By J.M. Hirsch

Associated Press

When it comes to food, Deborah Madison detests middlemen.

She wants produce so fresh she still can smell the earth. She wants to know the names of the men and women who coaxed it from the sun and soil. She wants her money to go to them, not a corporation.

That's why she heads straight for the source. At farmers' markets, "people can see where their food is coming from; they can talk to the people who grew it," Madison said. "We have a connection that makes the experience so vital. It's so unlike the experience of going to a supermarket."


Now the author best known for her encyclopedic "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" has written a new tome to turn people on to cooking and eating seasonally from the fields of their neighbors.

"Local Flavors" is an informative culinary tour of the nation's farmers' markets, complete with hundreds of recipes for everything one might find in them.

Tucked between the recipes are nuggets of Madison's kitchen wisdom, and tales of the more than 100 markets she toured along with the colorful characters who people them.

For Madison, farmers' markets provide a "village square" experience most Americans associate primarily with Europe.

"They're friendly, they smell good, people are happy," she said. "It's a nice mixture of age groups. It's a great mixture of diversity in terms of ethnic groups. People seem to really love the experience of just being at the market."

The experience continues when you get the goods home. While carrots in a grocery probably were picked weeks ago, produce at farmers' markets often is only hours out of ground -- and it's always seasonal.

Here are a couple of her flavorful recipes.

White beans with black kale and savoy cabbage


(Preparation: soaking 4 hours, cooking 2 hours 15 minutes)

1 cup dried cannellini or navy beans, soaked for 4 hours or overnight

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large onion, finely diced

2 leeks, white parts only, diced

1 bunch cavolo nero (black kale), the leaves stripped from the stems and slivered

1 small Savoy cabbage, quartered, cored and chopped

2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced or pounded with a pinch of salt


1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional to finish

Drain the soaked beans, then put them in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, add 1/2 teaspoon salt, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. While the beans cook, prepare all the vegetables. Rinse the leeks, kale and cabbage, but don't dry them.

Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add the onion and leeks and cook over a medium-low flame until the onion is soft, but not browned, about 12 minutes. Add the kale, cabbage, garlic, parsley and 2 teaspoons salt. Cover and cook over a low flame until the vegetables are soft and greatly reduced, about 30 minutes. Set aside.

When the beans are done, add them along with 1 or 2 cups of their cooking liquid to the skillet. Mix well to combine, then simmer until the greens are completely tender. Taste for salt and season with pepper. Serve with, or over, garlic-rubbed toast and drizzled with olive oil. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Shell beans and summer vegetables

(Preparation 1 1/2 hours)

3 tablespoons olive oil


2 bay leaves

2 onions, chopped into large pieces

7 plump garlic cloves, peeled and halved

3 thyme sprigs

6 sage leaves

12 small (3- to 5-inch) carrots

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 pound small new potatoes


1/2 pound yellow wax or green beans, ends trimmed

5 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped into large pieces, juice reserved

1 bell pepper, yellow or orange if possible, cut into 1-inch strips

1 pound summer squash, cut into large pieces

1 to 2 pounds shelling beans

For the basil puree:

Packed 1/2 cup basil leaves

1 garlic clove


3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or soy alternative)

Warm 3 tablespoons olive oil with bay leaves in large casserole dish or Dutch oven over a low flame. When fragrant, add onions, 6 of garlic cloves, 2 of thyme sprigs and sage. Cover and cook while preparing vegetables.

Leave the small carrots whole, or if wide cut into 4-inch lengths. Add them to the pot. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. If the potatoes are the size of large marbles, leave them whole. If large, halve or quarter them. Place the potatoes in the pot on top of the carrots and onions. Add small amount of salt and pepper.

Cut the beans into 3-inch pieces and add them, along with the all remaining vegetables except the shelling beans, to the pot. Season each layer of vegetables with additional salt and pepper.

Pour the tomato juice over the vegetables, then cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes to 1 hour. If the pot seems dry, add several tablespoons of water or white wine.

While the vegetables cook, simmer the shelling beans in water to cover with the remaining garlic and thyme and a bit of olive oil. When tender, after 30 to 45 minutes, season with salt and pepper. Add the beans, along with any remaining liquid, to the pot of vegetables.

Make the basil puree just before serving. To make, chop the basil and garlic in a food processor with the oil and enough water to make a puree. Stir in the cheese, then season with salt and pepper.

Serve the vegetables in soup plates and spoon the basil puree over them. Makes 4 generous servings.

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