Walking through the farmers' market is dazzling these days. So many choices, so much leafy lushness and cut-flower color. I keep thinking Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman will appear around a truck bed, feeding each other berries as they might in Casablanca.
Even newbie locavores won't have any trouble hauling home enough from a Saturday market to feast for a week. The key is in the planning: main dish salads; stirfrys built on snow peas, broccoli, kale, chard; maybe a quiche with local eggs and cheese, which can be eaten chilled or at room temperature.
Warm weather begs for light main dishes, and you can't wrong with native North Carolina shellfish or farm-raised trout and catfish. Good side dishes can be made from the early tomatoes, squash, green beans and cucumbers that are starting to show up at the stands. There'll be peppers, corn and peaches soon. We can't let the summer pass us by without maximizing its foodie pleasures and giving the season for local eating its fair chance.
Below are two recipes in the spirit of everyday meals made from local ingredients that can be easy and fast. The Faux Smoked Trout or Catfish Filets can be cooked on the grill in 7 minutes; throw them on when you are firing up peppers, eggplant and zucchini, near the end of the veggies' cooking time. The salad serves two as a main dish, four as a side dish and can be prepared ahead and assembled at mealtime. People who've never been big on beets love this manner of serving them for the earthy sweetness in tangy vinaigrette. They're a far cry from run-of-the-mill pickled taste.
Faux Smoked Trout
True smoked fish is a different thing altogether, but with this method you get a fresh, outdoorsy taste, and the thrill of no pan to clean. If you serve the salad and fish together, make the salad first, because the trout cooks in no time at all.
Trout or catfish filets (1 per person)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh parsley, dill: 1 teaspoon minced, per filet
Olive oil, 1 teaspoon per filet
Use either a gas or a charcoal grill, but if you are using a charcoal grill, light the fire and let it burn at least 20 minutes until you get a bed of ashy, white-hot embers. If you are grilling the large vegetables mentioned above, cook them first until almost done, since timing can vary according to size, then move them to the outside edges of the rack to make room for the trout in the center.
Put the fish filets on a large sheet of foil, skin down on the shiny side, and season with salt, pepper, herbs and oil. Fold the foil over to protect the fish, leaving a vent at the top for the grilled flavor to get in, and cook no longer than 7 minutes to start. If your filets are thicker than a half-inch, you may want to cook them a minute or two longer. When done, the meat will flake but look moist. The natural fish oils are sealed in, combining well with the herbs and oil for a mild and flavorful finish.
Mixed Greens with Roasted Beets and Feta in Vinaigrette
1/2 pound beets (farmers' market average bunch), any variety (I like to use heirlooms like the Chioggia, also known as "Candystripe," for its concentric pink and white circles)
1 bag mixed salad greens from your favorite farmer
2 ounces feta or other crumbly cheese (1 ounce per person if serving as a main dish)
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Put scrubbed beets, stalks trimmed to about an inch, into a foil packet and seal it up tightly. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes or until fork-tender. Set aside, in the foil, until cool enough to slip off their skins (15 minutes in the fridge will help, if you need them fast). Watch as their color rubs off on your hands that it doesn't spread to your clothes. Slice beets into rounds. On individual plates, arrange beets on top of greens, sprinkle with cheese and pecans. Drizzle with vinaigrette, covering the beets well.