The farmers markets are in full swing now and this is the time to get out and make sure you're enjoying the best our local producers have to offer.
To start you'll want to check out a few websites to find out where the markets are and when they are open. Do take note of the hours and days and also note the closing dates of each market. While some are open right up until the Thanksgiving weekend or beyond, some end their season much earlier. Here are a few sites to visit:
The Red River Exhibition Park Farmers Market
This market is open every Saturday until Sept. 24 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. There is lots of free parking.
St. Norbert Farmers' Market
You'll find the handy Harvest Schedule to see what's should be ready and what's coming up. This market is open Wednesdays from noon until 6 p.m. until the end of September and every Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., until Oct. 29.
Government of Manitoba's site for the Local Produce Guide.
This guide is a good outline to all things market and market-related, including U-pick and pre-pick locations. It's worth downloading as it gives lots of links and important information, as well as a map and lists of producers, including phone numbers.
Be ready: Dress for the weather. A sun hat is de rigueur and a wagon or shopping trolley is always helpful. While you shouldn't have any trouble transporting fruits and vegetables home, you might want to consider packing an empty cooler with some ice or freezer packs in case you find fresh or frozen meat, dairy, fish or fowl that you want to transport safely.
Cook up something fresh: To help you make use of some of those farm-fresh Manitoba vegetables, I'm featuring Cristina Ferrare's Big Bowl of Love (Sterling Epicure, $36). Ferrare can currently be seen on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) on Big Bowl of Love, where she demonstrates (along with her guests) how to cook simple but beautiful recipes.
Ferrare's recipes are straight to the point, with readily available ingredients. Any cook can follow these simple recipes, since there are no challenging techniques. But these Mediterranean-inspired dishes are by no means boring. Ferrare covers everything from appetizers to desserts -- and with family tastes in mind. At the same time, these recipes are good enough for company.
Some of Ferrare's tips include:
1. When serving appetizers, serve at least two types but not more than three and not too many servings.
2. Use store-roasted chickens when making chicken stock to save time and money. Roasted bones also give a better flavour.
3. She purchases enough vegetables for three days' worth of menus. Vegetables that are starting to wilt are still good for the juicer, for soup or blended with fruit for a smoothie.
You can find Cristina Ferrare's Big Bowl of Love at ownca.oprah.com. Just go to the website and scroll down, then click on the icon for the show. You'll find recipes, trailers and video clips from the show that demonstrate the featured recipes.
Grab some fresh herbs at the market or out of your own garden for this one. I've been able to find some wonderful, fresh, local garlic -- the difference between that and the imported stuff is that there is no bitterness at all.
2 roasted red bell peppers, charred under the broiler and cut into strips
45 ml (3 tbsp) olive oil
15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped Italian parsley
15 ml (1 tbsp) finely chopped sage
15 ml (1 tbsp) finely chopped rosemary
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
500 g (1 lb) New York steak
8 ml (1 1/2 tsp) kosher salt
1 Italian baguette cut on an angle into 16 (1/4-inch) slices
170 g (6 oz) goat cheese
5 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
In a bowl combine the peppers, 15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil, parsley, sage, rosemary and garlic. Cover and set aside.
Heat a grill pan until very hot. Sprinkle the steak with 2 ml (1/2 tsp) kosher salt and cracked pepper on both sides.
Drizzle 15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil over grill pan, add beef, and grill for 10 minutes, turning every 2 minutes.
Remove the steak from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes.
Slice the steak in thin slices, and set aside.
Brush the slices of bread with 15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil on both sides and grill for one minute until grill marks show. Turn the bread over and add the goat cheese. Remove the bread from the grill.
Place the grilled bread on a serving platter, and top each slice with roasted pepper and a slice of beef. Sprinkle with finishing salt such as fleur de sel or kosher salt, and cracked pepper. Sprinkle on fresh thyme. Makes 16 appetizer servings.
Cucumber and zucchini carpaccio salad
Fresh local zucchini is what you want -- the key to the presentation here is for the zucchini and the cucumber to be about the same size. Again, go for the fresh herbs. They make this simple salad sing.
50 ml (1/4 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
60 ml (4 tbsp) fresh lemon juice
15 ml (1 tbsp) rice wine vinegar
15 ml (1 tbsp) finely chopped fresh mint
10 ml (2 tsp) finely chopped fresh dill
15 ml (1 tbsp) finely chopped Italian parsley
2 zucchini sliced paper-thin
2 cucumbers sliced paper-thin
2 ml (1/2 tsp) kosher salt
125 ml (1/2 cup) feta cheese, crumbled
50 ml (1/4 cup) finely chopped roasted walnuts
Freshly cracked pepper
In a glass bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, mint, dill and parsley. Set aside.
Slice the vegetables on a mandolin or a vegetable slicer that can slice paper-thin. Arrange the zucchini and cucumbers alternately on a large platter. Sprinkle lightly all over with kosher salt. Drizzle 45 ml (3 tbsp) of the vinaigrette over the top, add the crumbled feta, and sprinkle with walnuts and cracked pepper to taste. If you are not going to use the salad right away, do not add the vinaigrette, instead, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to use. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Pay attention to the order in which you place your vegetables on the grill and where there may hot spots. Thicker, starchier items need longer cooking time than juicier items. You will have to stagger items as you put them on the grill, but if you time things well you should be able to have them come off at the same time.
1 bunch asparagus (about 12 to 14 stalks), rinsed and bottoms snapped off
2 zucchini, sliced on a diagonal 1/4-inch thick
4 Japanese eggplants, sliced on a diagonal into 1/4-inch thick pieces
2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into quarters
1 large red or yellow onion, peeled and cut into round 1/4-inch pieces
45 ml (3 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil
Reduced Balsamic Syrup (follows)
Fresh oregano for garnish
Preheat an indoor or outdoor grill pan until hot. Brush the vegetables with olive oil all over using a pastry brush (use any combination of vegetables you like). Add the vegetables to the hot grill in batches, and keep an eye on them since some will cook faster than others.
Arrange the grilled vegetables on a platter and drizzle extra olive oil and reduced balsamic syrup over the top. Finish with a sprinkle of French or kosher salt and fresh oregano. Serve hot, cold or at room temperature. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Reduced balsamic vinegar syrup
1 x 500 ml (16.9 fluid oz) bottle balsamic vinegar
This will make 125 ml (1/2 cup).
Pour whole bottle into a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to medium-high and continue to boil until the vinegar starts to boil and thicken and forms a syrup-like consistency, about 15 to 20 minutes. Do not thicken too much.
To test, use a wooden spoon. If the syrup coats the back of the spoon it is ready to remove from heat. Let it cool to room temperature and then store in the refrigerator. Will last up to two months in the fridge.