Farmer's Market Forays

There is magic in a Saturday Morning. All over the world people wake up and for many, the first thing on their mind is the farmer’s market. No need to shower. It’s worth a grubby appearance for the first pick of the produce and fresh bread. No need to eat breakfast. Chances are more than one vendor has a selection of freshly ground coffee and morning goodies from sweet pastries to egg and cheese sandwiches. Just throw something on, grab one or two reusable market bags, make sure you’ve got some cash, and walk on over.

I’m sorry…did I say walk over. I must be confusing my current life with a previous one where I either lived in London or Harrisonburg and the markets were a mere hop, skip, and jump way. Unfortunately I meant drive over. Yes, we get into the inefficient, gas-guzzling car and drive to get our local produce and artisan goods. Are you picking up on the horrendous hypocrisy my life has come to. But the sad truth is, when I am home, the nearest market is a 30-minute car ride away and turns what should be a weekly sustainable venture into a rare, fuel-costly field trip.

Luckily, last weekend was one of those Saturday mornings where I got to revisit the feeling of being abuzz with farmer’s market exhilaration. We had other errands to attend to so while we were in the neighborhood, a trip to the market was a must. It was actually only my second time at this particular town’s Saturday market. The first visit was actually rather dismal – a few bleary-eyed vendors moping around a vacant parking lot – so things must have gone though some major revamping in the last year. In fact, the market, in a new location in town, was filled with all the right smells, sounds, and sights for a hoard of food-loving locavores. The smell of local eggs turning into breakfast burritos overtook the air while samples of homemade cheeses, chips and salsa, cupcakes, bread, and grass-fed beef led to temptation at every turn. It felt like Saturday morning should feel.

In our browsing, my mom and I played my favoring farmer’s market game: come up with some amazing lunch meal based on what’s fresh at the market. It could be something different every time. And with a little glimpse at some beautiful multicolored and plump cherry tomatoes, flashing their shiny tight skin at me, inspiration struck.

From there we snagged a premade pizza crust, made from local hand milled whole-wheat flour. Next stop was cheese from Everona Dairy. They make the most incredible sheep’s milk cheese in central Virginia and we picked their award winning Piedmont cheese, known for it rich, nutty flavour and great melting qualities. And lastly, a bag of freshly picked greens, though I’m not entirely sure what the various types were. I know there were several sprouts, cress, and leaf lettuces among other herbs but regardless, it was strong and snappy in flavour. We had basil, Parmsan, pine nuts, and ricotta at home…do you see what this is all coming to.

So for lunch, we made a simple pizza, but with such fresh and exquisite ingredients, it became something much more than just simple. We coated the bottom with homemade pesto (recipe below), topped it with the Everona Dairy cheese, dolloped on some ricotta cheese, and placed the cherry tomatoes on top, cut side up so that as it cooked, each tomato became a cup of sweet, hot juice that exploded in the mouth with every bite. Once cooked in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes we transferred our pizza to a platter and scattered over a few handfuls of the greens, a generous drizzle of olive oil, and plenty of fresh Parmesan cheese. It was nothing terribly inventive, just the result of seasonality and what we could find, but great nonetheless. We enjoyed it slowly, sitting on the back patio and savoring each bite of the well-cared-for local ingredients. Just another perfect summer lunch.

Basil Pesto
There are about a thousand things that you can do with pesto, but not being a big pasta person, my favorite way to use it is on pizza or simply spread cold on grilled focaccia or ciabatta bread along with tomatoes and slices of mozzarella. I love pesto because you don’t necessarily need a recipe; most times you can sporadically throw the ingredients into a food processor and come out with something decent, but after making it so many times, I’ve finally come up with a recipe that reflects the way I like my pesto. It’s fairly heavy on the cheese, light on the garlic, and not too runny either. But feel free to experiment not only with the pesto recipe itself, but also with its uses. Although I made my pesto pizza one certain way, it would have been great with an array of other ingredients: sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, or anything laying around really. Have fun with your pesto!

Three large handfuls of fresh, rinsed basil leaves
1/3 cup of pine nuts, toasted
1 clove garlic
¾ cup grated Parmesan
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Toss the basil, cooled pine nuts, Parmesan, and garlic into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until everything is finely chopped. Then, with the motor running, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the top pouring spout. Scrape the sides of the bowl, add a squeeze of lemon juice, and pulse the mixture a few more times. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Pulse one more time and transfer to a bowl and use as you desire.