Food » Locavore Cooking

Letting markets dictate your menu

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In many parts of the world, the practices of everyday epicures include building meals around what's available in the twice-weekly markets or neighborhood greengrocers—as opposed to procuring household favorites regardless of season and accessibility.

I felt this keenly as I walked through the Saturday market last weekend, hoping to get some raw milk smoked mozzarella for homemade pizza. For the third consecutive week, I was too late (in spite of arriving half an hour earlier each time) and the vendor had sold out.

So I sipped my travel mug of coffee and surveyed the stands to assess what hadn't yet sold out. Seeing bags of baby spinach, spring onions, local eggs and central N.C. cheeses, it clicked: Is there anything quite like a lazy weekend brunch? Now that the warm weather is mostly here to stay, and the farmers' markets are bursting with these and other cool weather crops, how about frittata, a simplified omelet that you don't have to flip in a fancy pan? A form of home-cooked Italian fast food that can be ready in less than half an hour, frittata can be built from whatever you find at the market. In their appropriate seasons, you can replace the spinach in the following recipe with any summer squash, heat-tolerant chard or roma tomatoes, which are firm and not too watery. New potatoes, onions and baby garlic are another favorite combo, cooked just until it all starts to crisp. Likewise, you can substitute different cheeses, based on what's at your market (or what's left, if you overslept).

The trick to any frittata is to cook the veggies a bit before adding the eggs and cheese, and to have the broiler ready for the finish. This recipe is designed to feed four people, with a side of bread or grits; expand or reduce according to need. Leftovers are good cold, at room temperature or gently reheated.

Spring Onion and Baby Spinach Frittata

4 to 6 spring onions (more if using scallions), about the thickness of an adult thumb, chopped, including 2 inches or more of the clean green part

2 cups (3 to 4 large handfuls) of baby spinach, washed, shaken dry and coarsely chopped (if the leaves are more than 2 inches long)

6 eggs (1.5 eggs per person—1 for each diner and "1 for the pan" for every two)

3 to 4 oz crumbled goat or feta cheese

Sea salt, fresh ground pepper, olive oil and fresh herbs to taste

In an ovenproof nonstick skillet, sauté the onions and their greens over medium-low heat in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until white part is melted but not fried and green part is bright, 2 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile, beat eggs lightly (overbeating can make for a rubbery texture) and season with sea salt and pepper. When the onions are ready, add the spinach and cook just until wilted. Add the eggs, tilting pan to distribute over the vegetables without scrambling, and return to heat and cook 3 to 5 minutes until set (they will still look wet on top). Crumble cheese evenly over top and run under broiler for another 1 to 2 minutes to melt the cheese. Check center to be sure eggs are fully cooked. Garnish with fresh snipped parsley or chives.


Egg hunts

Scouting out local vegetables and herbs on non-farmers' market days is possible, but sometimes eggs, cheese and other dairy elude even the best intentions. The N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services offers an online directory of North Carolina-grown products, including dairy. Many operations will sell directly from their site, usually with just a phone call ahead. See www.ncagr.com/NCproducts to search by product and county.

And don't forget that Harris Teeter, Weaver Street Market, Whole Foods and other grocers often carry eggs from area farms, sometimes with a "local" sign, sometimes just quietly nestled among cartons from Nebraska and Kansas. Check it out!

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