When the sun comes out, so do the totes.
An average of 25,000 shoppers come through the Portland Farmers Market during summer, filling Powell's gift bags with meat and produce from nearly 250 local vendors.
I'm typically not one of them. Until a few years ago, you wouldn't even find me at Safeway unless it was the beer aisle. Cooking wasn't something I ever had enough confidence to try, beyond throwing a chicken breast on the regifted Foreman Grill I brought with me when I first moved out of my parents' house. It took unemployment—and a monthly $200 food-stamp stipend—for me to discover that I derive an unexpected satisfaction from preparing meals.
But I'm still very much a novice. I also have the palate of an 8-year-old: I couldn't tell the difference between free-range beef and whatever's inside a Doritos Locos Taco. But with farmers market season approaching, I figured this would be a good time to take a culinary step forward. And they've made it easy: The new Portland Farmers Market Cookbook features 100 recipes from regional chefs and restaurateurs, divided by season. So, on a recent Saturday, I went to Portland State University with a shopping list and a meal plan. After making a week's worth of recipes, here's what I recommend.
Fire-roasted artichokes with lemon aioli
(Patreece DeNoble, DeNoble Farms)
Who's the first person who looked at an artichoke and said, "There's gotta be something edible somewhere on this thing"? Artichokes always struck me as a lot of work for little reward, and this recipe initially seemed to be adding steps to the process: cut in half, boil, brush in herb mixture, grill, enjoy that tiny swab of flesh on the bottom of each petal. Turns out, grilling—or griddling, in my case—is the ideal way to cook an artichoke, making it much more flavorful than steaming. The buttery, tangy lemon aioli was the perfect complement, too. We paired this with butter-roasted, fresh-caught salmon, gifted to us by our downstairs neighbors as an apology for a noisy weeknight party. All food tastes best with a side of contrition.
Peach and pancetta pizza
(Mark Doxtader, Tastebud)
Anything involving yeast still intimidates me, so I let my more experienced girlfriend handle the dough recipe. Unfortunately, it never rose. I will let her defend herself here: "I just kinda overmixed it, by kneading it with my hands instead of just with a wooden spoon. I think I was heavy-handed in my flour measurement." So we picked up some pre-made dough from New Seasons. Ultimately, though, it's what's on top that counts, and the sweet and savory combination toppings—with a mozzarella and mascarpone base and scattered with arugula—was a revelation, even coming out of our apartment's ancient oven.
Related: Tastebud Restaurant Review
(Melissa Berry, Missionary Chocolates)
Although Nicki Minaj's "Truffle Butter" just about swore me off truffles for good, I was excited to make these, mostly because I get a rush out of working with hot peppers. Will I accidentally rub my eye before washing my hands? Will the heat be too much to handle? It's thrilling! After a few days in the fridge, the ganache hardened, forcing me into a process of microwaving and refreezing to get it at the right consistency to scoop. Eventually, it softened enough for me to messily hand-roll about two-dozen chocolate marbles, which are insanely rich but come with a light, pleasing burn at the end.
(Eva Sippl, Eva's Herbucha)
The recipe calls for "good-quality small-batch vodka such as Bull Run, House Spirits, or New Deal," but in my experience, a warmed, half-full bottle of Svedka that's been sitting in your liquor cabinet for God knows how long will do in a pinch. What you do here is hollow out a watermelon to use as a makeshift punch bowl, mix the liquor with kombucha and sliced jalapeños, and let it refrigerate for a few hours. We found it preferable to strain the liquid rather than sip with the chunks of watermelon floating in it. The end result is smoky and refreshing, with a subtle flavor of jalapeño but none of the heat.
Salted cucumbers with ricotta, red onion and basil
(Joshua McFadden, Ava Gene's)
I figured this would be the hardest to screw up. Sprinkle salt on a bunch of cucumber slices, toss them in a dressing of ricotta and olive oil, done. What could go wrong? Take it as an omen that I nicked my finger on a mandoline five minutes into the process. As cucumbers are apparently nature's loofahs, the salt is meant to draw out the vegetable's moisture. In my case, it worked almost too well. Maybe I sliced them too thin, or left them in the fridge too long, but they would not stop sweating. Even after draining the excess water, there was a milky-white puddle that formed at the bottom of the Tupperware used to transport it to a barbecue. It came out looking soggy and unappetizing, but my friends gave it positive marks, because they're good friends.