Farmers market seduces my palate with fresh flavors

Year after year my local farmers market has never failed to surprise and seduce me. I go there each weekend promising myself to buy prudently; after all, I’m only cooking for two most of the time. But then I taste a new variety of heirloom tomato, smell a special hybrid peach, and see a bunch of multicolored carrots, and my resolve disappears like last week’s irresistible Bing cherries. Emptying my produce basket at home, I try to think of upcoming simchas that I can cook for, utilizing my farmers market bounty. Since the whole point is freshness, I usually create simple dishes to be consumed midweek with a few special ones for Shabbat dinner.

The fresh sweet peas from Half Moon Bay and the crunchy ears of ivory corn from Brentwood can’t wait for that special occasion, while the luscious ripe stone fruits from local orchards can be turned into compotes or tarts to be served at the end of the week — perfect for Friday night. If ambition overtakes me, I can make the flavors last through winter, until the market reopens, by cooking and preserving some sweet and pungent chutneys and jams.

Heirloom Tomato Salad | Serves 8

6 large heirloom tomatoes, more or less the same size, sliced
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

On a platter, arrange half the tomato slices. Cover with half the cucumber slices and half the onion. Sprinkle with half the cheese and dill. Drizzle with half the vinegar and half the oil. Repeat layering. Serve at room temperature.

Peach Chutney | Makes about 3 cups

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp. finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 tsp. mustard seeds
2 large peaches, diced
1/3 cup dried currants (1 1/2 oz.)
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp. salt

Cook garlic and ginger in oil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add mustard seeds and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes (chutney should be moist). Cool to room temperature. May be refrigerated or frozen. Serve with roasts or grilled poultry and meat.

Plum Torte | Serves 8

3/4 cup plus 1 or 2 Tbs. sugar
8 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs
Pinch of salt
24 halved and pitted small plums (Santa Rosa or Italian)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon or more

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In an electric mixer, cream the 3/4 cup of sugar and butter. Add the flour, baking powder, eggs and salt and beat to mix well. Place in a 9- or 10-inch ungreased springform pan. Cover the top with the plums, skin side down. Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar and sprinkle over the top.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the center tests done with a toothpick. Remove and cool to room temperature or serve warm. Serve plain or with vanilla ice cream.

The torte may be refrigerated overnight or frozen for several months, well-wrapped. To serve, return to room temperature and reheat at 300 degrees until warm.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].