On Food: Getting the most from Farmers' Market produce
Living in the midst of Savannahâs beautiful historic downtown offers many great pleasures. But, being a cook, one of the best for me is the Forsyth Farmersâ Market.
Beginning at 9 oâclock every Saturday morning the South Promenade of downtownâs Forsyth Park is filled with local farmers, gardeners, coffee roasters, bakers, pasta makers and bee keepers, all selling fresh, mostly organic produce, organic meat, dairy products and eggs, breads, pastries and pasta, as well as home-style conserves, fresh roasted coffee, honey and even fresh-cut flowers.
One of my favorite things is taking the time to get to know the vendors. These are people deeply dedicated to what they do, and theyâre not just eager to sell to you, they want you to get the most from their product. Theyâre always ready to stop and share recipes and tips for storing, cooking and serving.
There is so much beautiful food that the temptation is to buy everything in sight. (And how can anyone resist an unexpected bouquet of bright sunflowers?)
I limit myself by taking a budgeted amount of cash â when itâs gone, I go home. I used to say I was limiting myself to what I could carry, but found that I could always convince myself that one more melon wasnât going to throw my shoulder out of its socket before I got back home.
Surrounded by such beautiful stuff, limiting yourself is hard to be sure, but itâs even harder to find yourself throwing out food that someone else might have enjoyed because it spoiled before you could use it.
Among the things that found their way into my bags were fresh crowder peas, three kinds of heirloom tomatoes, small, bright eggplants, snapping fresh pole beans, three varieties of baby okra and peaches. Here is how I cooked them.
-- Damon Lee Fowler | Savannah Morning News
Fresh Field Pea Ragout
4 cups (about 2 pounds unshelled weight) shelled crowder peas or fresh black- or pink-eyed peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
1 ounce country ham, cut into thin julienne strips (about 1/2 cup)
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1 small whole fresh or dried hot red pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped fine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion (green part only)
1. Rinse peas well and drain. Put in heavy-bottomed pot with enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, skimming away any scum that rises. Reduce heat to medium and cook until barely tender 10-15 minutes depending on freshness of peas. Turn off heat. Drain but reserve cooking liquid.
2. Heat olive oil and onion in large, heavy-bottomed skillet or saute pan over medium heat. Saute, tossing often, until onion is pale gold, about 5 minutes. Add ham and toss until it loses raw, red color. Add garlic, hot pepper, and thyme and toss until fragrant, about 1/2 minute.
3. Add peas, toss until hot through, and add enough reserved cooking liquid to almost but not quite cover peas. Add pinch of salt and simmer, stirring occasionally, until peas are tender and liquid is reduced and lightly thickened. Taste for salt and season as needed. Simmer a minute longer to allow seasoning to be absorbed. Serve over hot cooked rice, garnishing each portion with green onion.
Sauteed Eggplant with Fresh Tomatoes, Capers, and Olives
1-1/2 pounds small very fresh eggplant
1 pound fresh vine-ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced large (about 1/2 inch)
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1 whole fresh or dried hot red pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped fine
2 tablespoons capers
8-12 brine-cured black olives, pitted and quartered
10-12 small fresh basil leaves
1. Wash eggplant and tomatoes under cold running water and drain. Wipe eggplant dry, trim off stem, and cut into 1-inch dice (or if long and thin, into 1-inch rounds). Put in colander, sprinkle generously with salt, and toss. Sprinkle with salt again, and toss. Let stand at least 30 minutes. Wipe dry with paper towels.
2. Meanwhile, scrape across skin of tomatoes with edge of sharp paring knife until skin feels wrinkly. Set wire mesh sieve over a glass or stainless steel bowl. Core tomatoes and cut âXâ in bottom of each. Working over sieve, pull off skins; should slip off as if tomato has been scalded. Cut in half and scoop out seeds into sieve. Cut into large dice and add to collected juices.
3. Cover bottom of large 11-to-12-inch heavy bottomed pan with olive oil. Add onion and turn on heat to medium. Saute, tossing often, until onion is softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Raise heat to medium high, add eggplant, and toss rapidly until evenly coated with oil. Saute until beginning to color at edges. Add garlic and hot pepper and toss until fragrant.
4. Add tomatoes and juices, capers, olives, and large pinch salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Simmer, stirring often, until tomatoes begin to break down, eggplant is tender, and juices are thickened. Taste and adjust salt as needed. Let warm a minute longer. Turn off heat. Serve warm or let cool to room temperature. Just before serving, cut basil into thin julienne and sprinkle generously over eggplant.
Slow-Cooked Pole Beans with Parmesan
Pole beans are the large, flat, thick-skinned string beans that in the South are simmered slowly in ham broth or with a thick piece of salt pork. For those who prefer to cook without salt pork, a well-scraped parmesan cheese rind makes a fine substitute, especially when caramelized onions are added to give it extra depth of flavor.
From my upcoming book, âEssentials of Southern Cooking,â due out in Autumn 2013.
Serves 6 to 8
1Â˝ pounds pole beans
1 medium yellow onion, trimmed, split lengthwise, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 well-scraped imported parmesan cheese rind at least three square inches (about an inch wide by three inches long)
1 medium whole hot pepper such as cayenne or jalapeĂąo
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
1. Break off stem and tail ends of beans and if they have strings, remove. Snap into 1-inch lengths and wash in several changes of water. Drain.
2. Bring large tea-kettle full of water to a boil. Meanwhile, warm onion and butter in large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium high heat. Saute, tossing often, until onion is rich golden-brown, but not scorched.
3. Add beans and toss until hot, then add enough boiling water to cover by an inch. Add cheese rind, hot pepper pod (left whole), and season well with salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to slow simmer, and loosely cover pan. Simmer gently until beans are very tender but not mushy (may take as little as 45 minutes and as long as 1-1/2 hours).
4. Taste and adjust seasonings and simmer 1 minute. Remove and discard pepper pod. Liquid should be considerably reduced and should no longer quite cover beans. If not reduced enough, raise heat and boil until reduced, stirring occasionally to be sure beans donât scorch. Turn off heat. Beans may be cooked up to 2 days ahead. Transfer to storage container, cool, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Reheat gently over medium-low heat and simmer 5 minutes.
5. Remove and discard cheese rind, turn beans out into a serving bowl, and serve at once.
Whole Baby Okra in Olive Oil
This is the very best okra recipe I know. In the dead heat of summer, I like to make it ahead of time, let it cool completely, and serve it at room temperature. If you have them on hand, try adding a sprinkling of thyme leaves and a bit of minced fresh red or green hot pepper.
1-1/2 pounds fresh, very small okra pods (each no more than 2 inches long)
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, optional
1/2-to-1 hot red or green pepper pod, stemmed, seeded, and minced, optional
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving
1. Wash okra under cold running water, gently rubbing to remove outer fuzz. Drain well and trim off stem, leaving cap intact. Set aside.
2. Put okra, garlic and 1 tablespoon olive oil in lidded, heavy-bottomed skillet or saute pan that will hold it in one layer. Add thyme and/or hot pepper, if using either. Season well with salt and pepper, add 1/4 cup water, cover tightly, and put the pan over medium high heat.
3. Cook 3-4 minutes, giving pan a shake from time to time. Turn off heat, taste and adjust seasonings and pour into shallow bowl or platter. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and serve with lemon, warm or at room temperature.
From my last book, âThe Savannah Cookbookâ (Gibbs-Smith, 2008).
10 ounces (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons sugar, divided
Â˝ teaspoon salt
4 ounces (Â˝ cup or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small bits
2 tablespoons chilled lard or vegetable shortening
About Â˝ cup ice water
Cinnamon Sugar (recipe follows)
6 to 8 ripe freestone peaches
Whole nutmeg in a grater
3 tablespoons peach jam
1. Whisk or sift together flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, and salt. Add butter and lard and cut into flour with a pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal or grits. Add about 1/3 cup of ice water and work in. Keep adding water by spoonfuls until dough is just holding together. Gather into ball, cover with plastic wrap, and chill 20 minutes. Alternatively, make pastry in food processor fitted with a steel blade: Chill blade 5 minutes, then put in flour, sugar, and salt and pulse to sift. Add fat and process until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pulse in water a little at a time, starting with 1/3 cup, until just holding together. Wrap and chill as in the hand method.
2. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Line 12-inch round tart pan with dough, pressing into flutes without stretching. Prick well with fork, line with buttered foil (buttered side down), fill with pie weights, and bake 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights and bake 8-to-10 minutes more, or until beginning to color. Sprinkle bottom with cinnamon sugar and let cool while preparing peaches.
3. Peel peaches, cut in half, remove pit, and slice into thick wedges. Arrange on crust in single layer of slightly overlapping circles. Sprinkle well with cinnamon sugar and generously grate nutmeg over top.
4. Bake until peaches are tender and crust is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, melt jam with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over medium-low heat and simmer until sugar is dissolved, about 3 to 5 minutes. Let tart cool slightly and brush with jam glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Tomato Salad with Vidalia Sweet Onions and Basil
6 medium or 4 large ripe tomatoes
1 medium Vidalia sweet onion, peeled and sliced as thinly as possible
Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
Late Harvest Riesling vinegar (available at specialty grocers and kitchenware stores)
Extra virgin olive oil
12-14 fresh basil leaves
1. Wash tomatoes under cold running water. Pat dry, core, and if peelings are tough, peel. Slice crosswise 1/4-inch-thick. Remove and discard seeds and arrange on a serving platter. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
2. Scatter onion evenly over tomatoes and season lightly with salt and pepper. Can be made to this point up to 1/2 hour ahead.
3. Just before serving, sprinkle generously with Riesling vinegar and lightly with sherry vinegar, both to taste. Lightly drizzle with olive oil, to taste. Cut the basil into fine chiffonade, scatter over salad, and serve at once.