Pick of the Crops
Shopping at the Farmers’ Markets
Late spring through early summer is farmers market paradise in south Louisiana. Creole tomatoes, Ponchatoula strawberries and north shore blueberries, along with local asparagus, herbs, peppers, new potatoes and so much more await us at markets throughout the metropolitan area. Just google “local farmers markets” to get on board.
Because we are among the warmest spots in the country, our beautiful bounty of produce fresh from the farm arrives early before the blistering heatwave hits in mid-June. I live in River Ridge and like to get up early on a Saturday morning and drive up the River Road to the German Coast Farmer’s Market in Destrehan because it makes me feel like I’m on a trip to the country where many of the farmers live.
That’s not to say that farmers aren’t parking their trucks all over the east bank, west bank, north shore and south shore, especially on Saturdays with regular appearances of the multi-market Crescent City Farmers Market on days throughout the week. They are there with fruits and vegetables and sometimes fresh fish and shellfish, locally made sausages, barbecued meats, jams and jellies.
My favorite dish in springtime is pasta with fresh Creole tomatoes, fresh sweet basil, garlic, extra-virgin olive oil and Parmesan cheese. I do have other favorites. For example, asparagus cooked al dente with sliced boiled egg and homemade mayonnaise; green beans with new potatoes, seasoned with ham chunks and onion; spinach cooked for seconds in heavily garlicked extra-virgin olive oil; corn maquechoux with sweet peppers of all colors; field peas seasoned with ham as a side for pot roast; strawberry shortcake with real whipped cream, and blueberry cobbler a la mode.
Following is my latest warm-weather, fresh-veggie combo that happens to be a vegetarian entrée with appeal to all ages. Or serve it as a side with meat or fish. Any vegetables that are good roasted can go into this dish. You might try Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli or summer squash.
Spring Vegetable Pasta
1 medium purple eggplant
Fine sea salt
½ red bell pepper
½ green bell pepper
2 ears yellow corn
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large red–ripe Creole tomato, cut in bite-size pieces
Handful sweet basil leaves, roughly chopped
Handful baby spinach leaves, roughly chopped
12 ounces penne or other pasta
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Peel eggplant and cut into 1-inch cubes. Place on a plate and salt lightly, tossing to salt all sides. Cover with another plate for about 30 minutes. Drain, dry eggplant with paper towels and place on a large baking sheet, lightly greased with olive oil. Trim peppers and cut into 1-by-1/4-inch strips and place on baking sheet. Place cleaned corn on baking sheet. Drizzle all vegetables lightly with extra-virgin olive oil, turning as you drizzle. Roast in oven for about 20 to 30 minutes or until done and lightly browned. You can test vegetables with a fork to see if they are done.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in small skillet and sauté onion and garlic until wilted.
3. Boil pasta in lightly salted water until al dente. Drain and place in large serving bowl.
4. Add all other ingredients to pasta and toss, adding more olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 6 to 8.
If you like to visit farms and pick your own fruit and vegetables, there are plenty of opportunities. Find them on Google under Louisiana’s Pick-Your-Own Farms. Call to make sure they will be open and ask what is provided and what you need to bring. Go on a clear day, and be sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat, plenty of sunscreen and sunglasses.