The blessings of fresh, local food
Summer is drawing to a close. The sun sets earlier each day. Sunflowers are blooming; so our sunchokes. Birds and monarchs are heading south.
We’re enjoying its last days — especially the abundance of fresh, local veggies. Whether it’s our neighbors gifting us tomatoes and zucchini, Swiss chard and Quintus beans from local farmstands, or the huge variety of fresh veggies available at the farmers’ market — fresh, local veggies are in abundance right now.
There is so much variety! You won’t find this at the supermarket — even in summer. You won’t find purple cauliflower, Swiss chard, white carrots, green striped heirloom tomatoes, yellow beans, Quintus beans, path-pan squash, arugula, fresh mint, or kohlrabi at the supermarket.
This past weekend featured a celebration of local food sponsored by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of neighboring St. Lawrence County. Many different activities were offered by 30 different providers to entice the community to dive into our rich local food offerings. I did a book signing at Nature’s Storehouse in Canton and featured a recipe from my cookbook, “Garden Gourmet.” There were many other events all over, featuring growers, retail stores, cooperatives, restaurants, organizations and customers. Our North Country has such a diversity of products, from local cheese, yogurt, baked goods, meat as wells as vegetables and fruit. You can see a display of Our Rural Food System in Photos at TAUNY in downtown Canton until Oct. 29.
Make an effort to buy as much of your food as possible directly from local farmers. Join all the many folks who are eating delicious local food and helping to save our planet by reducing carbon used to transport food around the country.
Buying food grown in our region is healthier because the produce is fresh. It has not traveled a long time to get to you. Which means it retains more nutrients, as well as more of its flavor.
Farmers benefit by selling directly to the consumer, avoiding the middle-man. Consumers benefit by making relationships with their farmers.
With the weather getting cooler, soup season is upon us. The abundance of summer veggies can create a variety of delicious, healthy soups, like kale and zucchini soup, roasted veggie bisque or summer veggie stew.
Local veggies are also great in salads — tossed salad as well as pasta and grain salads. Make them full of veggies and low on pasta!
With the veggies my neighbor gave me and those I bought at a local farm stand, I made this delicious summer veggie skillet.
Summer Veggie Skillet
A little bacon or olive oil for the pan
1/2 pound (2 links) sweet Italian or breakfast sausage
1 large or several small potatoes
Salt & pepper (about 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste)
1 small or ½ large onion
2 cloves garlic
6 stems from a bunch of Swiss chard
1 bell pepper, any color (or several small peppers)
1 medium summer squash (like pattypan or zucchini)
1 large tomato, diced or 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup chopped sweet basil
1/2 cup arugula leaves
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 or 2 Tablespoons shredded cheese (like Parmesan or sharp Cheddar)
Render bacon or coat skillet with cooking oil or cooking spray.
Add sausage and brown; break it up.
Slice or dice potatoes, and add. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low while you chop and add everything else (in order of cooking time).
Next, chop and add the carrot and onion. Stir, cover, keep cooking.
Mince the garlic, slice the chard stems in 1/2-inch pieces, core and dice the pepper and add.
Chop zucchini or summer squash, and stir in. Chop and add the tomato.
Keep stirring every time you add something, and cook on low with a tight-fitting lid to keep moisture in. If it gets too dry, add a little broth or water.
Chop the herbs, stir in, cook just 1 or 2 minutes. Add the cheese and cook, stirring, until it melts.
Serves 2 or 3.
Note: This skillet has infinite variations. Use what you have on hand — like I did — for tasty vegetable combinations. Fresh beans would have been good in this but I didn’t have any. Broccoli or purple cauliflower also could be added. Omit the potatoes and serve over pasta with a little tomato sauce. Use different herbs if you like. Want it vegan? Omit meat and cheese, stir in a can of beans at the end.
Summer Veggie Pasta Salad
8 ounces Sfoglini pasta (This is a local pasta made in New York state from locally grown wheat. You can also use other pasta like ziti or penne in this dish.)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
About 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
About 2 cups diced pickles
1 carrot, diced fine or shredded (I used a brined carrot for extra flavor)
3 or 4 stalks Swiss chard, sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (use a variety of colors)
1 bunch scallions, sliced (about 1/2-inch)
About 1 or 2 cups chopped sweet bell pepper, different colors
1 cup chopped pattypan or zucchini or other summer squash
1 or 2 cups fresh arugula leaves
1/2 to 1 cup fresh minced parsley
1/2 cup fresh minced basil
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (I used local Asgard feta)
About 1/2 cup pickle juice from the pickles
Directions: Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. In salad bowl, coat pasta with olive oil. Grind pepper, and stir. Add black pepper, and stir again.
Add the veggies and greens; stir to combine. Drizzle with pickle juice and, if you like, additional olive oil. Garnish with feta and olives, if desired.
Options: Use other veggies, like broccoli, purple or white cauliflower, other squash varieties (e.g. Patty-pan). Play around with types and different veggies. Add pepperoni or salami or caned tuna or cooked, shredded chicken or hard-cooked eggs. Use olives in place of pickles. Play around and see what you come up with!
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Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached by email at email@example.com. Twitter: @yvonawrites.