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Published August 13, 2009, 12:00 AM

Cooking gets adventurous with farmers market fare

By the time I wake up on Wednesday mornings, our kitchen table is covered in a green leafy haul from the Duluth Farmers Market. My challenge this summer has been to turn these things into meals.

By: Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune

By the time I wake up on Wednesday mornings, our kitchen table is covered in a green leafy haul from the Duluth Farmers Market. My challenge this summer has been to turn these things into meals.

I’m a novice cook. I told someone recently, it’s like I’m chopping left-handed while wearing a blindfold. But, man, I like to do it. I cook with a vegetarian tendency. It’s not that I don’t want to eat meat, I just don’t want to touch it. The rules involving meat thermometers, hand-washing and surface disinfecting is too much — with all the timing and stirring, simmering and trying to keep the garlic from burning. (There is always garlic in these experiments.)

The farmers market has offered me loads of fodder for experimenting in the kitchen, sometimes with things I’ve never heard of; sometimes with things I’ve never touched.

A few weeks ago, I was gifted with a bunch of lamb’s quarter.

What the heck is lamb’s quarter? It’s got plenty of aliases: Pitseed Goosefoot, Pigweed. None of those names put a sheen on what it really is: It’s a weed — but a flavor-filled weed that can be used like spinach or kale. I like the idea of someone selling a bag filled with delicious weeds. What could be better: Someone pointing to the lawn across the street from the market.

“What’s that?” the shopper asks.

“Lawn,” the vendor responds.

“All you can fit in this bag for $3,” he said. “Just use it like you would spinach.”

I turned the lamb’s quarter into a Spinach Strata, a baked quiche-like blend of greens and cheese, sandwiched with gluten-free tapioca bread and covered in an egg-and-milk mix, chilled, then baked. This was covered with fresh basil, also from the farmers market.

Recently I’ve been receiving armloads of beets. I’d never touched one, and my working knowledge of the root vegetable involved one of those 1980s crash diets. My parents both downed a cup of beets every day — the gelatinous kind from a can. It looked awful. Talk about bad packaging.

This has become my favorite ingredient this summer. I started with a beet au gratin, which included baked beets, peeled and sliced, covered in a white sauce with Swiss cheese. Last week I incorporated the beet greens and made a salad of roasted beets, served with capers, a homemade vinaigrette and feta cheese on a bed of leaves, which I cooked for

5 minutes in a sauce pan. My beet-stained fingertips seemed like a bit of street, er … kitchen cred.

Other than that, I’ve been getting plenty of garlic. We had hamburger patties with gouda and bacon, and there has been some fantastic cheese — not quite as soft as havarti, but just as flavorful. I’ve played with small potatoes, seen garlic globes grow more sophisticated, and chopped plenty of onions.

And I’ve done it all blindfolded, like I’m chopping with my left hand.

CHECK OUT THESE LOCAL FARMERS MARKETS

  • 7 a.m. to noon Wednesday, Saturday at 14th Avenue East and Third Street, Duluth.

  • 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Barker’s Island, Superior

  • 1-5 p.m. Wednesday, Winter Street Depot, Superior

  • 2-4:30 p.m. Wednesday, University of Minnesota Duluth, Kirby Drive.

  • 2-6 p.m. Thursday, Miller Hill Mall

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