The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook: Seasonal Foods, Simple Recipes, and Stories from the Market and Farm
Reviewed by MM Pack, Fri., Oct. 26, 2007
The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook: Seasonal Foods, Simple Recipes, and Stories from the Market and Farmby Amelia Saltsman
Blenheim Press, 224 pp., $22.95 (paper)
From Georgetown to San Marcos, Austin-area residents are blessed by numerous farmers' markets and farmstands that provide a bounty of fresh, seasonal, and organic produce. For those who take advantage of this local abundance, the inevitable question arises, even for the most creative cook: "What can I do with all this good stuff that I haven't already done a hundred times before?"
In The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook, Amelia Saltsman provides some delicious answers. For 20 years, Saltsman – writer, food historian, cooking teacher, television producer, and host – has collaborated with Southern California farmers and shopped at the Santa Monica market, one of the oldest and best established farmers' markets in California. The result is this savvy and lovingly crafted guide to preparing farm-fresh vegetables, salads, fruits, fish, fowl, and meats in a home kitchen.
Saltsman reminds us that the small but determined national movement toward local and sustainable eating rests entirely on the hardworking shoulders of regional farmers; among the recipes, she intersperses profiles and vignettes about the farmers and farms she's gotten to know, and the photo montages of growers, products, fields, and vehicles tell their own poignant stories.
While it's true that the produce of Southern California isn't the same as that of Central Texas, there's plenty of overlap, and the recipes lend themselves to substitutions (Texas pecans for California walnuts, for instance). The book contains a wealth of universal information about thinking seasonally, the etiquette of market shopping, selecting what attracts you and then deciding what to do with it (like the best chefs do), and plenty of uncomplicated cooking techniques and seasoning ideas.
It's a given that we usually want to prepare these freshest of farm products in simple ways that showcase a food's inherent character. Saltsman's recipes ably demonstrate that there's more than one way to define simple and bring out the best of a product. A good example is the recipe for sfranta, a traditional Italian-Jewish dish of zucchini, garlic, olive oil, and herbs. In contrast to the common quick sauté, this familiar combination is simmered low and slow until it melds into a luscious, glossy, and deeply flavorful essence of zucchini, suitable to serve as a side, atop bruschetta, or stir into pasta or risotto.
Another fresh approach to a familiar food is No-Cream Creamy Corn Soup, where you grate the raw kernels from the cobs and briefly cook the grated corn and "corn cream" with sautéed onion, garlic, and celery, pureeing or not as you prefer. The resulting soup is the corniest I've tasted, and the drizzled garnish of chipotle, garlic, and cilantro crushed in olive oil and lime juice is the perfect spicy complement.
It's not just about produce – there are recipes for chicken, beef, pork, and seafood – but vegetarians and vegans will find numerous suitable dishes that are equally appealing to omnivores. The section on desserts focuses (understandably) on fruits and nuts, ranging from tarts and crisps to crème brûlées and compotes. I'm waiting for my persimmons to ripen, so I can try the Holiday Persimmon Pudding (with pecans instead of walnuts, of course).
Amelia Saltsman will be in Austin this weekend signing books at two events:
Cooking Demo and Booksigning, Austin Farmers' Market
Saturday, Oct. 27, 9am-1pm
Fourth and Guadalupe, 236-0074
Harvest Dinner at Fino Restaurant, with Boggy Creek Farm
Monday, Oct. 29, 7pm
2905 San Gabriel, 474-2905
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