Peak Produce: My favorite farmers’ market finds
Special to The Aspen Times
If you ever want to find me in the summer, head to the Aspen Saturday Market or the Basalt Sunday Market, as I’m almost guaranteed to be there, donning some variation of my ACES trucker hat with my tiny, four-legged fur sidekick in tow. That sidekick, as good at sniffing out discarded street kettle corn as a bloodhound on the trail of a raccoon, loves the free samples as much as I do. She’s still mad the goat cheese guy at Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy stopped giving them out after COVID-19. And by “she,” I mean “me.”
As a consummate food nerd, I count the days until farmers’ market season begins and nearly never miss a weekend on the prowl for my favorite produce. And we are smack-dab in the middle of my absolute most beloved growing season. Peaches! Tomatoes! Zucchini! Squash blossoms! In addition to those tried-and-true favorites, I also found myself experimenting a bit more this year, as the late season produce seemed to arrive even later than usual this summer. I kicked things off in June with a delicious garlic scape and radish top pesto. I’ve never used (or eaten) garlic scapes before, but the recipe idea was a hot tip from Mariah Foley, the agricultural manager at ACES’ Rock Bottom Ranch. Proving my theory that you can make pretty much anything into a pesto, I tossed the scapes and tops into a food processor with basil, sliced almonds, parmesan, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice (a modified pesto recipe combining my grandmother’s classic take with a more modern “The New York Times” cooking section suggestion). It was a home run, poured over cheese ravioli, and it made enough to stash in the freezer for several more dinners.
I also cooked with something else I’ve never used before: rhubarb. I acquired a big batch of the stuff one night when helping a friend weed her plot at the Aspen Community Garden. A neighboring, green-thumbed woman had piles and piles of rhubarb plants she was looking to get rid of. I know people love it, but it’s always intimidated me, as I’m not much of a baker, and, despite my voracious appetite, am weirdly particular about the kinds of fruit I fancy (i.e., not many). I also hate, hate fruit pies. I can’t help it: I’m a cake person. I scoured the internet for a rhubarb cake recipe (streusel toppings for me, please!) and found one on Allrecipes, which had both rave reviews and a very detailed list of modifications for high-elevation baking. It was, by far, the best thing I’ve ever baked since moving to Colorado a decade ago. It was also an entire sheet cake, sitting in my single-person home. With the understanding that the free rhubarb train might have been a once-in-a-season score, I thought the cake would also be terrific with chopped peaches. I also learned valuable lessons about portioning and freezing the cake slices, so I wasn’t just sitting at home watching “The Real Housewives” and shoving my face full of cake (a perfectly acceptable pastime, but my 44-year-old body now requires more restraint than it used to). Ten out of 10 recommend this cake with rhubarb or peaches! I might even try it in the fall with some pears.
If you’re craving something savory, I’ve been hitting that cherry tomato/zucchini combo hard. And, while not a typical seasonal summer item, I can’t resist the oyster mushrooms at one of the corner booths in Aspen, situated next to the The Farm Collaborative’s llamas (go early, they frequently run out — of the mushrooms, not the llamas). I recently modified a risotto recipe (another classic from my grandmother and sure to appear here in Foodstuff in the future) to make a summer vegetable orzotto with mushrooms, tomatoes and zucchini. Dusted with Parmigiano Reggiano, it’s perfection on a plate.
Finally, at least 60 percent of my late summer meals are a caprese salad, or a take on a caprese salad, depending upon what’s fresh and most appealing in my fridge or on my countertops. It’s especially great when it’s too hot to cook. Always tomatoes, always cheese, always basil, but sometimes I switch it up by adding thinly sliced peaches or using feta. Want a few tips and tricks for the best caprese you’ve ever had? First, get the best tomatoes, which goes without saying, but you’d be surprised how many truly mediocre restaurant caprese salads I’ve eaten, with cold, flavorless slabs of tomato. Blech. Secondly — and this is important — dry out the tomatoes on paper towels for about 30 minutes before assembling your salad. Slice, place on dry towels on a plate, salt, let sit, flip, pat dry again, salt, wait and do a final pat dry. So annoying, but completely worth it, as it concentrates the tomato flavor and eliminates the excess moisture. While the tomatoes are drying, slice your mozzarella, and let that come up to room temperature for best flavor and consistency. It makes all the difference — so much so, in fact, that this salad needs little more than a sprinkle of chopped basil, a drizzle of olive oil and a few cracks of black pepper (balsamic is for the birds, trust me).
Oh, and if you haven’t been there yet, be sure to check out the pasta guy with the thick, charming accent, who you’ll find in both Aspen and Basalt at La Pastaiola. He offers honestly the best pasta I’ve ever had, and it’s the first time since before the pandemic I’ve been able to find bucatini. Score! Just don’t buy all the spaghetti before I get there, because I swear on all the beliefs of Pastafarianism to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I will physically fight you for that overpriced pasta. And the dog will have my back, after she’s done wiping that kettle corn off her face.
Katherine Roberts is a mid-Valley based writer and marketing professional who stockpiled all of the recipes she references here for easy swapping with fellow foodies. If you’re interested in any of them, she can be reached via her marketing agency, Carington Creative, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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