Type-A personalities frequently have a hard time at the farmer’s market. I should know. I was (am?) one. Before I became an enamored addict of market fare, I used to plan each week’s menu way in advance, choosing recipes and making a precise list of ingredients. I felt lost if I had to deviate from it. (And, yes, I have a culinary degree. Embarrassing). As I started shopping at markets more often, though, I learned that seasonality and regionality throw a real curveball at such hyper-planning.
If you’re going to commit to the market, flexibility is key. You must go with the flow of what’s in front of you, becoming an inventive kitchen maverick of sorts. Far from my previous days of precision cooking, I now allow the ingredients to guide me. Prior to shopping, I might flip through a few recipes which feature produce that *should* be in season. (Fine Cooking magazine has an *excellent* section on easy ways to use seasonal produce and fantastic season-based recipes.) This gives me a rough picture of what I might use in my cooking. Next, I travel to the market and see what’s actually being sold that week. I always allow room to impulse buy a few items that strike me. I try to buy a new ingredient at least twice a month that I can experiment with at home and expand my palate.
After the market, I go home and plan around my purchases. If I need to make a trip to the store for some staples, I do. I use the internet and a few staple cookbooks (Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” is a favorite) if I’m not sure of exact cooking times or best methods. I might combine elements of two seasonal recipes to suit my purchases. And more and more, I’ve begun to substitute and improv. The thing about market fresh produce is that it stands well on its own. You don’t have to do all sorts of fancy cooking techniques to make it shine. Knowing a few tried and true methods of cooking vegetables is usually enough. (Fruit is even easier). Still, the more a cook becomes comfortable, the more he/she can experiment with flavor combinations. At the end of the week, I have a few “back-pocket” recipes that work well to use up any leftover goodies.
The variety in my diet because of this farmer’s market style of eating astounds me – particularly as someone who use to follow the “rotation” schedule of dining at dinner and ate the same lunch and breakfast pretty much every day. (Don’t lie…you cringed when you thought of your salad/pasta/rice/soup rotation and your bagel and banana breakfast line-up.) Nutritionally, this is huge. Maximizing the selection in your diet practically ensures that your intake of vitamins, minerals and nutrients is through the roof. (I don’t want to brag, but I haven’t been sick in over a year. OK…fine. I *totally* want to brag). Plus, food TASTES amazing when it is ultra-fresh and in season. Oh, oh, AND you’re helping the environment to boot! (How exactly do you think your grocery store receives strawberries in January?? Magic?!)
I’m not claiming that becoming a Farmer’s Market shopper will cure your OCD or convince you to let your husband leave his dirty socks strewn across the floor. But, it will unlock some creativity, restore some vitality, and make you feel pretty darn good.
Welcome back, asparagus!!! Harbinger of spring, tender and sweet accompaniment, maker of green pee. It’s so nice to have you back.
These little toasts are the perfect starter to a spring meal (even brunch!) or a simple side (they’d go wonderfully with egg dishes like a frittata or quiche). You might want to double the recipe though. Two toasts per person won’t be enough once you taste them!
Prosciutto-Asparagus Brioche Toasts
(I used a leftover salad dressing I had made earlier in the week. Feel free to riff on these ingredients.)
1 tablespoon vinegar (white wine or Sherry wine vinegar work well)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
1 tablespoon minced shallots or 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
Combine all ingredients and mix well.
Loaf of fresh challah or brioche
1 pound asparagus (contrary to general opinion, thicker asparagus tends to be sweeter and more tasty, so look for that)
2-3 ounces cured pork product (I used prosciutto or speck, but pancetta or even bacon would work)
Cut 8 slices of brioche around the size of a deck of cards. (I shave off the ends and save them for bread pudding.) Toast brioche and spread with butter or do as I did and toast stovetop. (I just love the crust this produces). Heat a little butter over medium-low heat and toast for a couple of minutes on each side. Heat oven to 450 degrees (except for bacon- cook that according to package directions). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place prosciutto/pancetta/speck slices on it and bake for anywhere from 4 – 8 minutes, depending on thickness of meat. You want meat to be crisp, but malleable.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place asparagus (cut it ahead of time to match the size of your toasts) in pot and boil for about 4-5 minutes, until just tender. Remove and pat dry. Toss asparagus in a large bowl with dressing.
Assemble toasts by placing prosciutto on brioche and then, using tongs, place several strips of asparagus on top. (You can drizzle over the dressing after assembly, if you wish, but I find the warm asparagus soaks up plenty in the bowl and it’s not really necessary.)
Serve immediately and watch them vanish.