Old MacDonald had a Farmers Market, E-I-E-I-O. That’s MacDonald, not Mickey-D’s gut-wrenching, chemical-tasting industrial waste that passes for food. Don’t eat nasty, processed food when you can get fresh and delicious farmers market food all over Northeast Florida. Farmers markets offer great opportunities for Cheffing you UP!
Just 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have imagined the local farmers market scene would be crazy-hot right now. The farmers market used to be a place for aging hippies and the granola crowd, but times have changed, and locally sourced food has made a helluva comeback.
Every Saturday, I stroll through the farmers market in downtown Historic Fernandina Beach in my white chef’s coat, leading students around the stalls and encountering a huge cross-section of our community — single millennials, families with small children, middle-aged couples, and older people with dogs — inspecting the produce and other items and interacting with the farmers. It’s an idyllic community event.
Shopping at farmers markets allows us to embrace the farm-to-table trend. But what should you do with all the fantastic produce? The farmers themselves often offer suggestions for getting the most out of their products — be sure to ask when you buy.
If you’re anything like me, you lie awake at night contemplating techniques and recipe ideas to utilize these amazingly fresh farmers market foods in new, creative ways. I’m always imagining a different process to enjoy local produce because preparing rutabagas the same way over and over gets boring.
If those thoughts don’t keep you up at night, I’ve got an idea! Salads give us an outstanding opportunity to exercise our culinary talents. Check out the remarkable quality of the greens at farmers markets. How could anyone possibly pour commercial bottled dressing over delicate red-leaf hydroponic lettuce? Isn’t there a better way to bring out the flavors of vine-ripened, multicolored grape tomatoes than dropping them in another boring bowl of lettuce?
Of course there is! Give your salad a little love, a little passion, a little je ne sais quoi. To grab your palate’s attention and explode with flavor, salads should contain many different textures, flavors, spices, colors, and shapes. As a chef, I find that salads offer an empty canvas to paint with the colors and tastes of the seasonal ingredients from the farmers market. We can experiment with several ethnic flavor profiles and seasonings that compliment, not cover, the produce’s freshness.
Here’s my recipe for a simple rice wine vinaigrette. Consider this as a light dressing for your farmers market greens such as spicy arugula or watercress. Maybe add spiced peanuts for crunch, shave a little cucumber and marinate it with tamari, sesame, honey and lime. Or a shaved carrot for color, maybe a quick-pickled red onion for a burst of sour! Make sure it’s all seasoned and have a taste of the market.
Chef Bill’s RICE WINE VINAIGRETTE
- 1 shallot
- 1/2 garlic clove, paste
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 ounces rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon chopped herbs
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 4 ounces vegetable oil
- 1 ounce olive oil
- Combine all ingredients except the oils.
- Emulsify the oils into the other ingredients.
- Adjust seasoning.
- Use it to dress up your favorite farmers market produce.
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Historic Fernandina Beach, with your recipes or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, for inspiration to get you Cheffed Up!