Sunday, August 13, 2006

On Farmer's Markets and Corn Chowder

I take back everything I said about how expensive eating local is. For the past month and a half I've been buying almost all my produce at one of the local farmer's markets and most of the the vegetables there are cheap. You can get eight zucchinis for a dollar. A whole basket of excellent, firm cucumbers for two bucks. Three pounds of excellent tomatoes for $5.

But does locally grown food taste better than supermarket produce? Some snap judgments of veggies I buy almost every week:

Tomatoes: Incomparably better than store tomatoes, of course. Still, I've had more than a couple of starchy farmer's market tomatoes.
Corn: So sweet that I wouldn't mind having it for dessert, with butter.
Zucchini and yellow squash: Unlike pallid supermarket squash, farmer's market squash is a deep, golden yellow. I also like round squash, which I've never even seen at the supermarket. I can't tell much of a difference in taste between farmer's market squash and store squash, though. Maybe I should taste test raw zucchini.
Potatoes: I've only tried the fingerling potatoes so far, but they just might be the best potatoes I've ever had. I can eat them like candy with a little salt and sour cream.
Cucumbers: I love tiny, super-firm, super-crunchy farmer's market cukes. I often eat them as a pre-dinner snack while cooking.
Carrots: Pretty good, but not as flavorful as I would like them to be. I've had sweeter bagged baby carrots.
Radishes: Farmer's market radishes used to be almost too spicy for me. Then I had a couple of store radishes, and they tasted so bland and blah in comparison.
Green beans, broccoli and eggplant: Damned if I can tell the difference between farmer's market versions and the stuff I buy at the grocery store in January.

There's something very pleasurable and even sensual about shopping at the farmer's market. Ripe tomatoes glisten in the sun like odalisques in an Ingres painting. You can smell fresh dill, basil and cilantro from afar. If you go to a big and crowded farmer's market, like I do, you will feel a kind of happy mood, an overall sense of well-being in the air.

That said, I'm not a total convert to the Eat Local movement. There's something a little facetious about giving up spices, coffee, tea and non-local fruits and vegetables. Foodies in the '60s and '70s fought and died so we could have Middle Eastern couscous, olive oil from Italy, and cheese from France. Why you'd want to give that stuff up as a matter of principle, I have no idea. So I will shop at the farmer's market while I can, just because most of their produce tastes better and is cheaper. Come November, I'll be back at the soulless big mart, stocking up on vegetables from God knows where.

Corn Chowder--I bought far too much corn on the cob last week so I made corn and roasted poblano chowder. This recipe is adapted from the Williams Sonoma Everyday Roasting cookbook.

You toast a tablespoon of cumin seeds in a frying pan until they become aromatic. Add the cumin seeds, along with a couple of chipotle chilies (I used jalapeno), a bay leaf and 1/4 teaspoon of rosemary (I used thyme) to four cups of milk. Bring the milk to a simmer, but don't boil. Take off the heat, cover, and let stand for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, broil a couple of poblano chilies (the recipe called for 3; I only had 1 on hand) until their skin is black. Let cool; then peel and remove stems, seeds, etc. Dice and set aside. In a heavy stockpot, sauté a chopped onion in olive oil and butter. Salt to taste. Add a crushed garlic clove, a teaspoon of ground cumin, and cook for 5 minutes. Then add kernels from 4 ears of farmer's market corn and the poblano chilies. Cook for 5 more minutes. At this point I added a couple of cooked, diced potatoes. The recipe didn't call for them, but they weren't amiss.

Strain the milk through a sieve into the corn and onion mixture. Simmer for 15 minutes. Puree 1/3 of the soup in a blender or food processor, and add it back to the stockpot. The suggested garnish is chopped scallions, but I used a little chopped parsley and crumpled feta.


mzn said...

I agree about almost everything. I usually like farmers market broccoli and cauliflower much better than the supermarket stuff, but sometimes you're right that there's no difference. Cauliflower especially seem to be better fresh and local--they're more tender, cook faster, and have more flavor. Broccoli cook faster too, I have found. In general I agree about the green beans but there is one vendor at West Allis who sells "French style" beans that are darker green than the others. These are really good.

Last weekend I got some amazing heirloom tomatoes from the Saturday morning market at Cathedral Square. All different colors and shapes, but all really great.

The chowder sounds nice.

Sesh said...

Have you tried the carrots at the booth on the south west corner at West Allis? I thought they were pretty good. I've been very impressed at the variety this year following the remodelling. Last Saturday I was happy to discover Rueggsegger natural meats from New Glarus. I picked up some ground lamb which is cooking up in your lobio khortsit recipe as I type.

Rebecca said...

That soup sounds amazingly good! Speaking of radishes, have you ever tried grilling them? I read somewhere that they are really great that way.

Yulinka said...

mzn--I haven't tried the cauliflower yet. Is there any difference between the white, yellow and purple varieties? I always wonder. It's next on my list.

Sesh--Thanks for the carrots tip. I haven't tried any of the meats that they sell there, but next weekend I'm splurging on chicken. Hope you enjoyed the lobio khortsit.

Rebecca--The soup was good! It's also nice that it's milk-based. You don't even have to make stock. Grilling radishes sounds interesting, but I've never tried it. I always eat radishes raw in salads. I might make a radish/cream cheese dip, though.

mzn said...

Haven't tried the other colors of cauliflower but I'd be surprised if there's much difference in taste.

lindy said...

I 'm a big fan of corn chowder-this sounds like a really good one. My experience with the various colored cauliflowers has proven mzn right. They all taste the same. I love their look though, especially raw, and cauliflower is perfectly delicious as is, anyway.

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