This morning, I snuck out early and went to the Farmer’s Market all alone, leaving the guys at home air-guitaring along with B.B. King (or Baby King, if you’re Jacob) and Lucille. I love Saturday morning market runs with my family, but there is also something so deeply pleasant about clean morning air and a few minutes of my own company. I always seem to come home a little more awake, a little more relaxed, my bags full of produce and my head full of ideas about what to do with it.
This is the time of year when the Farmer’s Market suddenly explodes – with people, with double-wide tents and stands, with music and flowers and especially, of course, with produce. There are cartons of sweet shelled peas, tomatoes of all shapes and sizes, a rainbow of berries, all manner of stone fruits, and cherries, and corn! We have passed the solstice, and are rushing headlong into summer. I got completely caught up in the madness and made three trips, market-to-car (I was missing my kids and their stroller ;). I arrived home with a ridiculous bounty – especially given that we’ll be getting our CSA box on Wednesday! Nothing to do, then, but get cooking.
Eaters … must understand that eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act, and how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used.
Preparing meals from our Farmer’s Market bounty is one of the best ways to remind ourselves that we are in fact committing an agricultural act. Shaking soil from basil, slicing into sticky tree-ripe figs, swirling frisée to remove the dirt … with each swoosh of leaves through the cool water we are reminded that our food was grown in the ground.
Berry also calls out the ways in which working for our food increases our understanding of it and ultimately our pleasure in it. This work includes farming of course – growing your own food, even herbs on the windowsill, changes the way you feel about what you are eating. But farming is not the only relevant work; “reviving in your own mind and life the arts of the kitchen” can also connect us more deeply with what we are eating.
I spent my afternoon in the kitchen today, listening through open windows as my little guys rode bikes and scooters up and down the driveway and my big guy cheered their feats and refereed their quarrels. There is a fine rhythm to chopping and slicing, rinsing and peeling, and I relaxed completely into it. Convenience in the kitchen has its place; getting dinner on the table easily and quickly and happily is good. But I love those days when I don’t have to think about convenience, when I can slow down and sink in and savor the task at hand. (I imagine some of you might feel the same – are there hours you spend in your kitchen, when you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else?)
There is nearly always some degree of enjoyment in a meal. But when we broaden our role in seeking, in preparing, in working for our food – when we are able to do that, the pleasure of eating is indeed vast.
Figs with Basil, Ricotta, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette
This is adapted from the fig, basil and goat cheese recipe on page 272 of the magnificent cookbook Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi.
Pomegranate molasses is one of my very favorite kitchen staples – I have used it in the past almost exclusively for stews, but I will be making this vinaigrette again soon. Like probably tomorrow. Creamy ricotta and the tangy-sharp dressing are both in perfect contrast with the deeply sweet figs. Frisée offers an undercurrent of slight bitterness that plays really nicely with the richness of the figs and cheese, and sunny basil lightens the mood of the whole thing – the quintessential early summer salad. (Ottolenghi’s version uses young goat cheese and purple basil, and I imagine that it is also pretty perfect). I cut back on the oil in the dressing to play up the tangy zip of the molasses – you can taste and adjust as you see fit.
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (original calls for 3 tablespoons good olive oil)
1 1/2 cups frisée leaves
1/2 cup basil leaves (mixed purple and green, or whatever you have – I used just green)
8 ripe figs, at room temperature, quartered (or cut smaller if they are large)
3 ounces of creamy ricotta (homemade if you’d like)
Mix together the shallot, mustard and pomegranate molasses with a whisk. Add salt and pepper. Once those are well blended, slowly add the oil, whisking all the while, to make a “homogenous” dressing.
Gently mix the frisée leaves and basil leaves together, then add most of the dressing to them and toss (reserve some dressing for finishing the salad). Distribute the greens over four plates. Divide the figs among the four piles of greens, then dot each plate with cheese. Drizzle the remaining dressing over the plates, and season with more salt and pepper if needed.
We served this salad as a modest first course, but secretly I could have eaten an entire recipe of it myself – and then I would have called it dinner.