What do you like to do on the weekends?
For me, it’s going to the Farmer’s Market. For the last twenty or so years, I have been going to the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market nearly every Saturday. For someone whose passion is cooking, that makes sense. The Market has evolved over the years…organic farming has taken off, and the produce that is being sold there is both beautiful and delicious. My favorite thing to do is to not have an idea of what to buy, but to become inspired by what I see there. I love to buy & cook seasonally with local produce…dont you agree Spring produce tastes best when grown in the Spring? I like to talk with the different farmers about what they’re growing & what their favorites are for that week…also, which produce has a shorter season, because I had better buy it, as it may not be there the following week!
That definitely was the case a week ago. I bought a bunch of ruby red beets & bag of delicate kelly green pea shoots from Root Down Farm. Next, onto Congolina Farm, where I bought deliciously bitter broccoli rabe & tender baby spinach. Mindenhall Farms had huge leaves of Swiss chard with stems the colors of the rainbow. My last stop is always Rudd Farm to get a gallon of their strawberries…my lips were red by the time I arrived home. With all the rain we had this past week, who knows what would survive? At least we would get to have some of our Springtime faves. Now, what to make?
When it comes to cooking…& other aspects of my life…I am typically a planner. However, there are times when I have to be flexible & become a last-minute girl. Such was the case when a dear friend was suddenly available for dinner, & I was getting home LATE from work. Do we go out to dinner? Nope…too tired…one glass of wine & I would be asleep. Plus, I had a refrigerator full of beautiful produce from the farmer’s market. I was cooking home!
On the way home from work, I stopped at the grocery store…that day, it was Harris Teeter because it’s right near our home. I already knew I wanted to make pasta with all those gorgeous greens, because they lend themselves so well to braising, and the combination of rigatoni, my favorite tubular pasta…since age 5…with all those greens just seemed like great comfort food. My Sicilian grandmother loved serving hot Italian sausage & broccoli rabe over rigatoni, but pork sausage seemed too heavy, & not everyone eats pork…so, I looked around for chicken sausage…same flavors, but much healthier & lighter…& then I spied the Al Fresco Sundried Tomato Chicken Sausage! Have you tried this product? It’s awesome! If you sign up for their newsletter, the company will send you coupons…always a bonus to me. Anyhoo, you know I bought a pack, right?
I passed through the produce section just to see if there was anything else I needed. That’s when the fava beans jumped out & said, “Buy me.” So did the grape tomatoes. As did the Meyer lemon. By the way, the ricotta salata from across the way said, “You need some of me, too.”
A Farmer’s Market-Inspired Menu…with a little help…was born. There are times when being “last-minute” helps.
The salad was easy. I already knew, from my weekend purchase, that I would do something with roasted beets & pea shoots. But that was a tad boring. Adding fava beans & crumbled ricotta definitely made a boring salad interesting. Both the ricotta salata…ricotta that is pressed, salted & dried into milky deliciousness…way better to me than feta…& the fava beans added flavor, texture & dimension to the sweet beets and delicate pea shoots, along with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar & EVOO.
Have you ever dealt with fava beans? They are truly one of the prizes of Spring, but, friends, I must admit that fava beans are a bit high maintenance…& worth every bit of that label, as is everything else high maintenance in this world. First, you must remove the beans from their pods…easy enough. The beans, though, come with an outer cover…sort of a jacket, if you will. When you look at them, you will say, “Seriously?” So how do we deal with this?
1. Take a paring knife & make a vertical slit the length of the fava bean into the “jacket”.
You will thank me for this lesson…fava beans are terrific in salads, pastas, & make a great hummus…yes, I will share that recipe soon…first, try Roasted Beet & Fava Bean Salad with Pea Shoots & Ricotta Salata with a glass of Rosé…you won’t be disappointed…
…but, we need to continue with this menu FIRST.
For dinner, I ended up making Chicken Sausage & Spring Green Pasta with Pan-Roasted Tomatoes…and grated a healthy dose of Parmesan over each dish. I first pan-roasted the tomatoes until the tomatoes had just softened & the skins began to blister & release their juices. I then browned the chicken sausage to get a nice caramelization, then added a mix of spinach, broccoli rabe & Swiss chard…with a smidge of arugula for a bit of spice…tossed in the pasta…voilà…dinner is served. I made this dish…with photographs…in 30 minutes, so imagine how quickly you can make it! I like serving this dish with Meiomi Pinot Noir…my favorite reasonably priced Pinot ever!
Now for dessert. When strawberries are perfectly ripe, there’s nothing better. Add a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar, and you have taken “nothing better” to “sublime”, as my dear Chip would say. That’s exactly what I did here…fresh strawberries + Midtown’s Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar…thick, rich, & decidedly chocolate…I then added a dollop of slightly sweetened whipped cream, & added a sprig of mint. I served the Balsamic Strawberries in martini glasses, which creates an upscale presentation…champagne coupes would also be great, as would vintage juice glasses. This dessert doesn’t need much, but the right presentation really takes desserts like this to a whole new level.
What about an appetizer? I figured you would ask that. This menu isn’t really complete without one, but during the week, with working & after school schedules, it would be hard to pull off anything more than maybe a nice cheese plate. But…what if we were making this menu over the weekend? Well, then, that’s another story. Since this menu has an Italian influence, if you will, I decided that Grilled Artichokes would be the perfect starter to this Farmer’s Market-Inspired Spring Dinner Menu. Artichokes are in season, & I always think of artichokes being part of an Italian menu, as my Italian grandmother loved putting artichokes in EVERYTHING!
The only part that you may question as whether it’s Italian or not is the sauce that accompanies the artichokes. Trust me, though, the sauce is the perfect accompaniment to the Grilled Artichokes. My dear friend, Carrie, created this Skinny Dill Sauce…which is fabulous also on grilled salmon, pan-roasted trout & grilled potatoes…& it is YUMMALICIOUS…I really like it served with smoked salmon & cucumbers on an everything bagel…talk about decadent! Sorry for my tangential thought process. The sauce is killer. Carrie, you hit a home run with this one. Dill is also in season, and the combination is fantastic. I really like the flavor of the grilled, lemony artichokes with the cool dill sauce. Admittedly, this is an appetizer that needs to be started ahead of time, and it is totally worth it. Again, I would have some icy cold crisp Rosé to serve…everyone can hang out & eat the artichokes while you prepare everything else…the total way I love to entertain…everyone in the kitchen, listening to great music, scraping their teeth on the artichoke leaves, while a great salad, pasta & dessert are being created. The perfect entertaining night.
Have a great week. Make this Farmer’s Market-Inspired Spring Dinner Menu…you will love it! This is a great weeknight menu, as well as a wonderful weekend entertaining menu. Go to your local farmer’s market this week, and buy some great seasonal produce…is there anything better? Enjoy Spring and its bounty! Cheers!
A Farmer’s Market-Inspired Spring Dinner Menu
Your Favorite Rosé
Meiomi Pinot Noir