As the economy struggles to improve, it becomes more important than ever to find ways to stretch our food budget. One good way I’ve found is to visit the local farmer’s markets.
A little internet research shows there’s one almost every day of the week in the Chicago area this time of year.
Not only are they a fun way to spend time outdoors in the crisp autumn air, farmer’s markets also feature a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and usually are less expensive grocery stores because they have, literally, no overhead.
Some farmer’s markets also have flowers and plants, baked goods, jams and jellies, assorted honeys, and even cheeses.
This week, I visited two local farmer’s markets — in Oak Lawn and Evergreen Park. I spent a total of $9.25 and I bought: One medium pumpkin for making soup, two smaller pumpkins for serving the soup, three sweet gypsy peppers, two purple peppers, two large eggplants, 5 or 6 patty pan squash, and three beautiful red beets.
Not a bad haul for the money.
Next, I had to figure out what to do with all this. It’s sort of like one of those tryouts for a chef’s job, where they give you a mystery basket full of ingredients and you have to create something unique and delicious out of it.
So after nosing around my refigerator, freezer and cabinets, here’s what I came up with: Roasted Beet, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad with a Honey Dijon Vinaigrette, and Assorted Stuffed Peppers. I’ll make use the rest to make pumpkin soup and baba ganouj another time.
The stuffed peppers are kind of an inside joke between my wife, Sandi, and I. Growing up, stuffed green peppers was one of the few dishes Sandi’s mother and grandmother could make, so they made it almost every week, freezing leftovers in plastic Wonder Bread bags. As a result, she ate her lifetime allotment of stuffed green peppers by the time she turned 12. It’s one dish I’m strongly discouraged from making at home.
But I’m going to stuff those purple peppers, the sweet gypsy peppers, as well as a green pepper from our garden, so hopefully this twist on an old standard will be acceptable.
Roasted Beet, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad
For the Salad
1 large beet
1/2 TBS EVOO
1/4 cup walnuts, broken up
4 oz imported Danish blue cheese (or domestic), crumbled
1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
For the Honey Dijon Vinaigrette
2 TBS honey
1-1/2 TBS Dijon mustard
3 TBS red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 cup EVOO
1. Roast the beets the night before: Preheat the oven to 425F. Leaving about 1/2 inch of the stem attached to prevent beet juice from escaping, rub beets with EVOO, place in baking dish, cover with foil and bake until a knife passes through easily, about 1 hour. Allow to cool and remove skin with a pairing knife.
2. In mixing bowl, whisk together honey, Dijon, vinegar, salt and pepper. Emulsify the oil into the mixture by slowly whisking in the EVOO, starting with a drop at a time and building to steady stream. Season with S&P to taste.
3. Dice the beets into medium cubes. Remove a few lettuce leaves and set aside. Chop remaining lettuce into bite-sized peices and toss with beets, walnuts and blue cheese, then dress with vinaigrette. To assemble, place one Bibb leave in center of each chilled salad plate, and build tall pile of salad in center of each leaf. Drizzle a bit more dressing on top and grind a little more pepper on top of that.
Assorted Stuffed Peppers
2 purple peppers
1 sweet gypsy pepper
1 green pepper
1 lb ground turkey
1-1/2 cooked white rice
1/2 white onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
8 oz can tomato sauce
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1. Cut tops off peppers, then use a spoon to dig out the ribs and seeds, being careful not to pierce the walls. Blanch peppers by dropping into boiling water for 30 seconds, then immediately plunging them in ice water.
2. Heat cast iron pan. When hot, add TBS EVOO. When smoking, add chopped pepper tops and onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute, then add ground turkey and cook until browned, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Combine turkey, rice and 3/4 of the tomato sauce in a mixing bowl. Season with S&P to taste.
3. Use a spoon to stuff the peppers with the meat and rice mixture. Place about 1/3 of the mixture in the bottom of a 9″x9″ baking pan. Place peppers on top, spoon a little of the remaining tomato sauce onto the top of each pepper, then sprinkle each with parmesan. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.
What treasures have you found at your local Farmer’s Market? Share your discoveries in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!