By Bonnie Fishman
If fall doesn’t scream farmers’ markets, I don’t know what does. Actually, they’ve been open for a few months already but there’s something really special about hitting the fresh produce stands when there’s a nip in the air, the leaves are beginning to turn. and we see summer veggies making way for winter squash, root vegetables, and pumpkins. Farmers’ markets are my weakness. I palpitate when I visit them, just as a seamstress’ fingers itch in a fabric store or an artist gets a twinge in a paint supply shop. It doesn’t matter what part of the world I’m in–I hunt down the farmers’ markets. As a matter of fact, before I go abroad, I spend countless hours online looking for ones not to miss when I travel. You learn so much about the food culture of a country by seeing what they grow, interacting with the farmers, watching the patrons, and trolling for noshes for yourself.
The author at the market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Provence, France, 2015
I’ve had the good fortune to visit three of CNN’s 10 best list of fresh food markets in the world: Borough Market in the Southwark district of London, Mercado de la Boquiera in La Rambla Barcelona, and Le Marché Provençal in Antibes on the French Riviera. These are not to be missed even if you don’t cook. On my vacations to London, Barcelona, and Antibes, respectively, I wasn’t able to cook where I was staying. It did not hinder my enjoyment of these fresh food markets because beside raw vegetables, fruits, fish, seafood, and meat, the stalls were loaded with local cheeses, nuts, jams, honey, olives, oils, vinegars, spices, breads, pastries, flowers, wines, and even some prepared street foods. I was with my sister Marcia and my cousin Jeri at the Borough Market in London in October three years ago. They were awestruck by my ability to suss out the best stalls and buy samples from many of them. “Here, share this pizza with me, how about some fish and chips, check out this nut tart, maybe a handheld pie, ooh, ooh let’s hit up the cheese shop for samples.” They couldn’t keep pace with my undying desire to eat everything. My niece likes to call me a “healthy eater”, having to do with volume not content!
Assorted spices and olives at the Marché Provençal in Antibes, France 2015
I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it thrilling to take in all that these markets have to offer: the sights, the sounds, the people, the tastes, the smells. It’s quite exhilarating. I thoroughly enjoy our local markets, too, where I can actually buy produce to cook. I don’t really know what that will be until I go up and down the aisles and see what calls to me.
On a recent visit, I zeroed in on eggplants. What is more classic than a delicious ratatouille? I find many ratatouilles watery. That’s when they are cooked on top of the stove and the juice is not allowed to fully evaporate. I have solved this problem by grilling all of the vegetables. This takes ratatouille to new heights. The only negative: it is quite time consuming to make, but well worth it.
Buying local is a great way to support farming, one of the most underappreciated professions, but one of the most necessary ones. I am a healthy eater by both volume and content. What most piques your interest at farmers’ markets in cooking? Tell us here at The Insider!
Yield: 8 servings
1 lg. firm eggplant
2 med. zucchini
1 lg. onion
1 head of garlic
2 lg. ripe tomatoes
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1/4 c. chopped parsley or basil
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste
coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Remove the stem from the eggplant. Cut lengthwise into 1” thick slices. Slice each zucchini lengthwise into 3-4 pieces. Peel the onion. Cut into 3/4” thick slices around the middle, not from stem to stem. Core the tomatoes.
Heat grill to moderately high. Grill the garlic, turning once. The garlic takes the longest.
It is done when the cloves are very soft.
Add the vegetables to the grill. Lay the eggplant, onions, and zucchini on the grate crosswise to create grill marks. Close the lid. Cook the vegetables until they are tender. This will take about 10-12 minutes, depending upon your heat intensity. Place the vegetables onto a jelly roll pan with edges to cool.
Grill the peppers until they are blackened on all sides. Put in a plastic or paper bag for 10 minutes to sweat off the skin. Peel the skin while running it under cold water. Remove the core and seeds. Cut peppers into 1” squares. Put in a large bowl. Grill the tomatoes whole until they are charred and softened, about 8-10 minutes. Put in the bowl with the peppers, allowing the juices to flow, until the tomatoes are cool enough to handle. Chop the tomatoes coarsely and add to the bowl with their juices.
Cut the eggplant into 1” squares. Stack up the zucchini slices, cut down the center lengthwise, then crosswise into 1” pieces. Cut the onion slices into 1/2” pieces. Add all of these to the peppers. Using a sharp knife, remove the core end of the garlic head on a cutting board. Squeeze the bottom of the garlic head firmly. The flesh will come out of the cloves. Coarsely chop and add to the bowl.
Finish the ratatouille by adding the fresh herbs, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.