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The Joys of Cooking from Farmers' Markets: Deborah Madison

One of the great joys of summer is a visit to the local farmers### market to select fresh produce, fruit, meats, cheeses and more for one###s kitchen. Markets have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years in tandem with renewed interest in organically grown food. A long-time supporter of farmers### markets is author and chef Deborah Madison, who several years ago published Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America###s Farmers### Markets. Founder of Greens restaurant in San Francisco in the late 1970s and long identified as a vegetarian cooking innovator, Madison today wears a number of hats: she is very involved in the Slow Food movement, which identifies, protects, and brings into usage foods that have disappeared from our diets; she writes books and magazine articles about cooking and gardening; and she teaches cooking and does public speaking in relationship to farmers### markets. "The speaking I do in relationship to farmers### markets is to help people feel more comfortable getting out of the supermarket and into a market they are not so familiar with," she says. Madison is also the author of The Greens Cookbook; The Savory Way; This Can###t Be Tofu!; and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Among the foods Slow Food is helping to reintroduce are old breeds of turkeys; this in turn offers new livelihood to poultry growers, notes Madison. Native harvested wild rices are also regaining popularity. Madison recently returned from a trip to New Orleans where she saw unusual varieties of beans, heirloom tomatoes such as Brandywines, and a Creole cream cheese, originally made by the French in the 19th century, which had all but disappeared. A Slow Food committee member enlisted a local dairy to begin making it again. Meat products raised in a conscientious way are also receiving attention, such as cattle descended from Spanish breeds that are well adapted to the arid West, bison from South Texas, and sheep from Spanish breeds. Madison points out that aside from the produce, cheeses and other items one expects at a farmers### market, high-quality chicken, lamb, pork, beef and bison have returned in force.

Thanks to her frequent travel, Madison jokes that she carries as much food home to Santa Fe in her luggage as she purchases from the local markets. Thus, on a recent trip to New Orleans, Madison reports she returned with "chanterelles, beefsteak tomatoes, Creole cream cheese, and blue berries."

Her next book, due out in Spring 2005, is Vegetarian Suppers (Broadway Books). She also has books in the works on soups, and fruits and desserts. Madison###s own cooking revolves around what is in season, so her main ingredients change frequently. As for staples in the kitchen, she is never without olive oil, and relies "a lot, maybe more than many chefs do" on a great variety of fresh herbs, and dried herbs. "I###m in love with whatever is in season, because it###s going to be very brief!" she says. "I eat from the farmers### markets as much as possible. If asparagus is in season, I###ll eat it heavily for a month, and then I don###t really care if I don###t have it the rest of the year. Same with squash, eggplant etc."

Following are a few recipes from Local Flavors that Madison recommends for mid-to-late-summer.

Red and Golden Beets with Anise Hyssop (serves 6)

The Chioggia beets no larger than an inch across and some similarly sized shiny red onions that I found at a late-summer market were irresistible. They fell right into place with a cooked red beet waiting at home, and some purple-tufted anise hyssop. Of course it needn###t be this combination exactly. What###s enjoyable is to be led by what you find at the market.

  • 2 large red beets
  • 20 small golden or Chioggia beets
  • 2 small red onions
  • 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 10 leafy flat-leaf parsley sprigs
  • 6 large and 12 small anise hyssop leaves, plus the blossoms if possible, or 1 tablespoon chopped dill.
  • A handful small arugula leaves or pea shoots Extra virgin olive oil

1. Steam the large beets until tender-firm when pierced with a knife, about 35 minutes. Steam the little beets until tender-firm, about 20 minutes. Chill both. Using 5 or 6 neat strokes of the knife, peel and trim the red beets. Slip off the skins of the smaller beets with your hands. Leave the smallest ones whole. Quarter and halve the rest.

2. Peel, then thinly slice the onions into rounds, toss with the vinegar and sprinkle with salt. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

3. To compose the salad, slice the large beets on a mandoline or very thinly by hand, then overlap them on a large platter. Scatter the small beets on top, then add the onions. Drizzle some of the vinegar over all, salt lightly, and season with pepper. Finely mince the parsley and the large hyssop leaves, then sprinkle them over the salad. Add the arugula and the small whole hyssop leaves, along with their violet flowers. Drizzle olive oil over all and serve.

Chard and Cilantro Soup with Noodle Nests (serves 4 to 6) Cool-weather markets can count on a steady supply of chard and cilantro, which get together in this pretty soup. Diana Kennedy is responsible for the noodle nests-I never would have come up with them myself-but they###re a great addition, giving texture and substance to a light soup. Consider using them in place of dumplings and croutons in other brothy soups.

  • The Noodle Nests 2 eggs, separated
  • 3 ounces (1 ¾ cups) fine egg noodles such as fideos or capellini, uncooked
  • 1/3 grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • Sea salt
  • Peanut oil for frying

1. Beat the egg whites until they hold firm peaks, then stir in the yolks, noodles, cheese and cilantro. Season with a few pinches of salt, then really work the mixture with your hands or a wooden spoon so that it###s more or less homogenous. It will look impossibly dry and stiff.

2. Heat enough oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat to float the noodles, at least 1/3 inch. When it###s hot, drop the batter into the oil, dividing it into 4 or 6 portions by eye. Fry until golden, about 1 minute, then turn and fry the second side, another minute. Set aside on paper towels. These can be made hours ahead of time.

The Soup

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 bunches scallions, including an inch or 2 of the greens, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, diced
  • 1 cup finely copped cilantro stems and leaves, packed Leaves from 1 bunch chard, green or Rainbow (Bright Lights), about
  • 6 cups, packed Sea salt and freshly ground pepper 6 cups Vegetable Stock, chicken stock, or water Cilantro sprigs for garnish

1. Warm the oil in a soup pot. Add the scallions and celery and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. After a few minutes, add the cilantro and ½ cup water so that the vegetables stew rather than fry. Add the chard leaves, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, then cover and cook until the chard has wilted down. Add the stock or water.

2. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and add the noodle nests to the pot. Simmer until the chard is tender, about 10 minutes. Taste for salt and season with pepper. Ladle the soup into soup plates, include a noodle nest in each bowl, and serve garnished with a sprig of cilantro.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Fresh Oregano and Lemon (Serves 4)

The lamb chops at our market are little, offering only a few succulent bites each.

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 large handful chopped oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 8 lamb chops
  • 1 lemon sliced

1. Combine the oil, oregano, salt, and pepper flakes. Pour it over the lamb, turn to coat it well, then add the lemon. Marinate at room temperature for 1 hour or cover and refrigerate for several hours. Bring it to room temperature before grilling. Preheat a gas grill to hot or build a wood fire. Grill 4 inches or so from the heat, allowing 3 to 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness.

Recipes are from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison. Reprinted with permission from Broadway Books, New York. For more info about Deborah Madison go to www.deborahmadison.com.