PASTA WITH ROASTED BEETS, KALE AND PARMESAN
(or, Pink Pasta for Zoë when Flinstones vitamins aren’t enough)
I came up with this recipe when Zoë was determined to be iron-deficient. Kale, which I grew in my herb garden, is high in iron, and beets, also high in iron, make the pasta pink. (Enriched spaghetti also is a good source of iron!) I blended the kale (I have also used spinach) in with the roasted beets and topped with Grana Padano Parmesan shaved on top of the noodles and veggies, and Zoë scarfed it up…and she didn’t even know it was good for her, all she cared about was the fact that it was pink.
1-2 bunches beets (I don’t recommend canned)
Preheat oven to 400º.
GRILLED EGGPLANT WITH GARLIC AND GOAT CHEESE
Slice eggplants lengthwise. Set out on platter and sprinkle salt over slices and leave alone for half an hour.
Note: If the taste of raw garlic just isn’t your thing, mice it fine and spread onto eggplant slices prior to grilling.
Summertime in my town of San Diego is a hot prospect. Inevitable triple-digit temperatures, sometimes even into October. With the Pacific coastline, arid inland valleys and mountains to the east, San Diego almost has two climates within twenty minutes of each other, which means you can find a wide range of flowers, plants, fruits, vegetables and other goods if you know where to look – in addition to weather conditions that have their own moods.
On any day of the week except for Monday, you can find at least three farmers markets throughout the county. On Sundays, I take my family to the La Jolla farmers market at the La Jolla Elementary School. My kids play on a shady playground under the cover of Eucalyptus trees with my husband while I shop the local, organic farms that sell their crops. I find sunflowers the size of pillows, sweet coastal strawberries, flavored olive oils from olives grown locally, and baby vegetables of endless variety.
Food is also prepared and sold – there is Mississippi/North Carolina barbecue run by an older man from the South, with two usual helpers. When I watch them I get the impression that the older man, the middle aged man and the younger man represent three generations of one family, at least they appear familial to me…slicing and plating brisket, pork and chicken together in perfect harmony. The meat is smoked, and let me tell you on a hot August day those men are working pretty hard to get you the best ‘que west of the Old Miss. But they have a smile on their face for everyone as they wipe the sweat from underneath their baseball hats. I would love to wait around until the market closes, give those guys tall, cool beverages, and listen to them tell me stories about their recipes, their history, things they have seen in their lives.
When I am not in the mood for barbeque (which isn’t very often), I stand in a line which is on average ten people deep, sometimes deeper, to get a handmade crepe from scratch made by vendors with thick, French accents (“Oui, Madame, with many strawberries”) The crepes can be made either sweet or savory, I prefer savory, although watching Monsieur Vendeur top blueberries, strawberries, and bananas on chocolate above the base of the crepe makes me reconsider my usual choice of the baby Brie crepe (Brie and mushrooms) or the California crepe (smoked ham, cheese, spinach). What a gift not to have to travel to France with toddlers to get an authentic crepe. I can just sit and let myself be transported to Europe while eating the delicacy, my kids screaming on the monkey bars.
A little further inland, towards the brush covered mountains of rural San Diego and farther away from its rocky coast, there are different vendors. The farmers markets of the sleepy inland towns attract vendors who sell fresh-picked zucchini blossoms, and they’ll give you tips on what to stuff them with (goat cheese is the best bet) and how to fry them up (in olive oil, of course). My favorite picks there are the bread from nearby Native-American Indian reservations, and the fresh salsa and chips. When I grab a bag of tortilla chips, I can feel the warmth of the chips through the bag, and I can see the salt still resting on the surface of the chip like sand on a sea cliff. The salsa is not just the typical mild, medium and hot tomato-based salsa, but salsa with black beans, corn, red peppers and jalapenos that send your taste buds reeling. The hummus is also worth its price, as are the sun dried tomatoes with fresh mozzarella packed in olive oil and pita chips heavier than golf balls. Depending on their mood, pita and hummus or tortilla chips and salsa, I can unload the bags of produce in peace when my kids are feasting on their farmer’s market favorites. That makes a mother happy.
Going to farmers markets just puts me in a good mood. The bouquets of flowers seem more colorful, not to mention cheaper, than the bouquets I see in chain grocery stores. The flowers were recently picked by the vendors selling them, you can see it on the tough skin of their hands that they have been working the fields. There are no pricey vases or air conditioned display cases, you simply pick a bunch of freesia, tuberoses, or bouquet of your choice from the white plastic buckets and the vendors wrap your flowers up in newspaper for you. It’s a simple transaction and you don’t need your club card to get a fair price, which is refreshing.
The produce has so much more personality when you buy straight from the grower. It is from the same neck of the woods as I am. Its grower has a zip code in my county. It didn’t have to be flown or picked before ripening, it got a humble start in the soil not far from where I stand, which means I have captured something at its full potential…and it won’t need much more than salt, olive oil or bread to make a hearty meal. I realize I am silly when I say the fruits and vegetables take on visible characteristics of their environment. When I see a Pineapple Heirloom tomato, I can count four different colors blending into each other, like a southern California sunset.
But the most attractive feature of a farmers market to me is the fact that I am doing what the people of ancient cultures did. The plaka in Greece, the mercata in Rome, all the markets all over the world where people traded goods for other goods or for money in order to survive. Thousands of years ago and into our own time, merchants and vendors sell things made and grown with their own two hands. Now that so many things are mass manufactured and commercialized, it is comforting to return to open air shopping. I seek simplicity when I shop at a farmers market, with the sun beating down on my shoulders.
Whether you want organic, thrive on anti-oxidants, avoid sugar and processed foods or simply love the woodsy taste of red-leaf lettuce unearthed a few hours ago, you can find farmers markets that have diverse, bright, and delicious goods year round, but I think produce peaks in summer. People come out in droves when the sun ripens things to perfection, people like you, like me, and people who are loads of fun to watch. I have seen professional chefs buying produce for their restaurants, people with their dogs in baby carriers strapped to their chests who determine what to buy based on the dog’s reaction to the samples. I feel kindred to the families that go on weekend mornings with their kids in little red wagons, with bags of pears, figs, and herbs piled on top of their tots. My kids know their way around open air markets, which is to say they take full advantage of the samples available. When I take my little girls to the farmers market, I have to watch them carefully. They will walk right up to a table filled with produce and sample beans, tomatoes, plums, you name it. Every vendor I have met is more than happy to let you try their harvest, but I am sure it is rather distracting to find little bites taken out of the fruits and vegetables they are trying to sell. They usually end up selling them to me.
Now that I am a very brave home cook and farmers market aficionado, I no longer plan menus in advance for dinner parties. Whatever is freshest is what I buy. Since I can get several types of fresh made pasta my local farmers market (my favorite is basil pappardelle), I love to roast my vegetables with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper and toss them with the pasta, and topping with the parmesan I bought from the Italian vendor, or the feta I bought from my soft spoken friend Mr. Petrou. The berries I buy can stand alone, but for a more satisfying dessert, I let them macerate in vanilla sugar and spoon onto a (store bought, sometimes homemade) pound cake. With a multi-color gerbera daisy centerpiece as the final touch on my table, my marketplace offerings are nutritious, crowd-pleasing, and stylish. I manage to please the picky eaters and delight the senses. I am also helping the local growers and small farms which makes me feel rebellious in a good way…like a modern day Tom Joad or a Mediterranean matriarch resisting a hostile takeover of the land, purchasing bushels of root vegetables with soil still clinging to them from the farmer who had more hungry mouths to feed, rather than from an ambitious grower who took more than his fair share.
Roaming an open air market on a long summer day, watching children climb trees and overhearing elders speak about the medicinal properties of their products…ah, I’m home. I’m also in my favorite history class, and the lessons, like the produce samples, are free.