While I have only been to the Santa Monica Farmers' Market once, the Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook is a place I will return to time and time again.
The San Francisco Ferry Plaza farmers' market has inspired at least two terrific cookbooks that I know of, Fresh from the Farmers' Market and The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Cookbook. But even though it's not local, the Santa Monica book is my current new favorite. After a brief history of the market and "day in the life of a market manager" there is a great section on tips for shopping at the market. These tips apply to every possible farmers' market, not just the one in Santa Monica. My favorite tip? "Carpe Diem. If you find something amazing, buy it on the spot and change your cooking plans."
Instead of organizing the book by seasons or type of produce, it is organized by meals. The explanation is that seasons vary from year to year and from place to place, though the likely season for each recipe is marked in the margins. Sprinkled throughout the book are chefs tips, farmers tips and guidance on how to choose the best produce. The recipes themselves are at the same time exciting and approachable. Many of the recipes have an unexpected twist. A baked applesauce uses a bit of thyme, a tomato and bread salad includes olives and cucumber, a cherry and almond salad sounds like something you'd find in a restaurant and a roasted okra side dish also features fresh peanuts.
Classic Tomato Soup with a Goat Cheese Swirl
What gives old-fashioned tomato soup its comfort-food super-status is its perfect sweet-acid balance. Sample tomatoes at the market and if they are too acid or too sweet, add a few of another variety to your shopping bag to adjust the flavors (especially important when using low-acid Japanese, orange, yellow, or white tomatoes). Chervil adds a delicate celery-like flavor that complements the tomatoes.
Makes 8 servings
1 leek, white part only (reserve green parts for making stock), finely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 center rib celery with leaves, finely chopped
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded (page 24), and chopped
2 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig thyme, and 1 bay leaf tied together in cheesecloth
5 cups Vegetable Stock (page 52), or 2 1/2 cups canned diluted with 2 1/2 cups water
2 ounces mild goat cheese such as Redwood Hill plain or herbed chevre, at room temperature
Small handful of fresh chervil leaves, coarsely chopped
In a wide pot, cook the leek, carrot, onion, and celery with a little salt in the butter over medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes, covering the pot halfway through the cooking time. Uncover, add the tomatoes and herb bundle, season with salt and pepper, and raise the heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat as needed to maintain a gentle boil, and cook, uncovered, until the tomatoes break down and thicken slightly, about 10 minutes. Add 4 cups of the stock, bring to a boil, and cook for 20 minutes, reducing the heat if the soup becomes too thick.
Puree the soup with an immersion or stand blender. For a refined puree, pass the soup through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean pot to remove any stray seeds or lumps. If the soup is too thick, add the remaining 1 cup stock. If too thin, cook uncovered over medium heat to reduce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top each serving with a spoonful of goat cheese and a sprinkling of chervil.
Farmer's Tip: To enjoy good-tasting tomatoes long after the growing season has past, tomato grower Ed Munak recommends freezing whole ripe tomatoes on a baking sheet, and then storing them in re-sealable plastic bags. When you are ready to use them, rinse the frozen tomatoes briefly and the skins will slip right off. Ideal for winter soups and sauces.
Recipe reprinted from THE SANTA MONICA FARMERS' MARKET COOKBOOK:
Seasonal Foods, Simple Recipes, and Stories from the Market and Farm
By Amelia Saltsman (Blenheim Press; August 2007; $22.95/soft cover; ISBN-13: 978-0-9790429-0-4)