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5 Fall Farmers Market Dinner Ideas

The Farmers Market is tomorrow, what will you be cooking for dinner?

Ok, now that the heat wave is behind us, we can get back into the spirit of fall cooking. Get out the slow cookers and fire up your ovens, it's time for soup and comfort foods made with hearty fall goodness.

Pumpkins, squash, eggplants and peppers are all at their finest right now, and especially fresh and delicious if you buy them from the Watsonville Farmers Market on Friday.

Here are a few recipe ideas using the best of what's in season. Have other ideas? Please share in the comments!

1. Potato Leek Soup

The key ingredients you will need from the market are leeks and potatoes (the less waxy ones are the best for creating a creamy texture in your soup. Try the Yellow Fin variety.)

This recipe makes eight cups, serving four generously.

Ingredients:

1. The white and pale green part of four large leeks, split lengthwise, washed well, and chopped finely. If you use baby leeks, you'll need about 20. Make sure you rinse them well, since dirt gets way into their crannies.

2. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3. 3 cups chicken broth 

4. 2 pounds potatoes (the recipe calls for skinned potatoes, but leaving the skin on all or some of the potatoes won't ruin your soup, it's actually pretty good that way).

5. 4 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

6. 4 tablespoons chives minced

7. Salt and pepper to taste

8. 1-2 cups milk or cream (optional)

Directions:

In a large heavy saucepan cook the leeks in the butter with salt and pepper to taste, covered, over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, for eight to ten minutes, or until they are softened but not browned.

Add the water, the broth, and the potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice, and simmer the mixture, covered, for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

In a blender purée two cups of the soup, (here is where we added the milk) stir the purée into the remaining soup with the parsley and chives, and season the soup with salt and pepper.

Serving Suggestion: It may sound wierd but adding a dollop of plain yogurt to the bowl is pretty delicious, and makes for an impressive presentation. Garnish with sprinkle of chives.

2. Roasted Sweet Peppers Stuffed with Goat Cheese 

Poblano, lipstick or corno de toro peppers are the best varieties for stuffing. Then you'll just need something to stuff them with. The following recipe calls for goat cheese, shredded carrots, and jalapenos, but you can use any kind of cheese or even some sort of meat. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  1. Boiling the peppers whole until they are pliable makes for an easier stuffing process, and cuts down on the roasting time. 
  2. Use a sharp knife to cut around the top, then fill with goat cheese, shredded carrots, diced jalapeños and whatever else you may desire, including a tiny bit of lemon zest for a kick. We recommend pre-mixing the cheese and other stuffing ingredients to get the best consistency, and to make things easier on yourself. You can also add a little cream cheese for a richer filling, or a stringy cheese like queso Oaxaca or mozzarella.
  3. Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 450 degrees, until the skin of the peppers starts to get bubbly and brown. 

 While the peppers bake, make the balsamic reduction:

  1. Heat equal parts balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar in a small sauce pan, whisking constantly. 
  2. Add a little bit of the water you used to boil the peppers in for an extra flavor kick. Keep whisking until reduction reaches desired thickness. Drizzle over roasted peppers and a bed of greens. Mmmm.

3. Winter Squash or Pumpkin Soup

For this recipe, the squash or pumpkin takes the main stage. Try the orange hokkaidos for maximum flavor. This recipe was inspired by a butternut squash recipe by local chef Santos Bautista of Bittersweet Bistro in Aptos:

  1. Roast chunks of butternut* squash in a pan of water in a 400 degree oven. 
  2. As the squash gets softer, sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
  3. Sautee one whole onion and garlic in some butter or olive oil as the squash cooks. 
  4. When the squash is soft enough to scoop out, do so and add onions, garlic, a little bit of cream and chicken broth and continue to roast. 
  5. By now the squash will be very aromatic and should be roasted until it is mushy.
  6. Put in blender and purree. Add chicken stock or broth and cream or half and half until you get the desired texture. And salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Garnish with sliced scallions.

 *We used orange Hokkaido squash in addition to Butternut. We also added added plenty of cayenne for some forehead heat. Bautista suggests adding steamed celery for a lighter consistency and taste. This soup tastes great the next day!

4. Ratatouille 

For this classic late summer dish, you'll need to catch the last of the summer's bounty. You'll need a few good sized tomatoes, a couple zucchinis and eggplants, which are luckily everywhere!

Here is a really simple and easy recipe for Ratatouille courtesy of Caroline Phelps at the Huffington Post.

5. Swiss Chard and Cream of Mushroom Soup

Another warming comfort food, with a dash of serious nutrition in the form of dark green Swiss chard, which is all over the market right now. This one is one of the more time consuming dishes, so it is great for a cold weekend. It's definitely worth the time though, this soup is delicious!

Ingredients: 

1 large yellow onion

5 stalks of celery

3 large carrots

1 cup sliced mushrooms plus the stems

2 sprigs of sage finely chopped

Directions: Chop all veggies and sautée with one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil. Add five cups of water and let simmer for at least one hour. Then let the base cool.

Soup:

2 cups chopped crimini mushrooms

2 portabella caps

2 large chanterelle mushrooms

1 cup half and half

1 cup whole milk

4 sprigs of sage finely chopped

Directions: Blend base together to make a thick cream-you can use a blender or food processor if you have one. Sautée mushrooms with sage and one tablespoon of olive oil, and add to the cooled base. Add the half and half and milk. (The base will curdle the milk if it isn't cool.) Let the soup warm but never boil until desired heat. Top the soup with sautéed swiss chard grown by a local farmer.  Enjoy!

The Watsonville Certified Farmers Market is held 3-7:30 p.m. every Friday on the corner of Peck and Main streets. The market is open rain or shine.

David H. Perez October 05, 2012 at 04:14 PM
@Watzon McWats - I agree, our local farmers markets and produce stands are the greatest as far as selection, quality and price. The Aptos Farmers Market at Cabrillo College has a much bigger selection than ours in Watsonville, but I still mostly frequent the one in Watsonville since it is closer to home. I do a lot of Asian cooking, so I buy a lot of produce from the people that have the Asian varieties of produce like Chinese long beans, bok choy, Chinese broccoli, bitter melon, Thai chilies, etc. And the plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines and pluots this year have been amazing!
Maria Grusauskas October 05, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Awesome! let me know what you cook next! Hear you're a good chef...
Maria Grusauskas October 05, 2012 at 04:34 PM
How do you cook the bitter melon? I love KT Farms at the Aptos Market.. not sure if they are also at the Wats? They have so many varieties of eggplants, bok choy, chilies... and I love the exotic look of those bitter melons but i've never tried them.
David H. Perez October 05, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Maria - Here is one of my favorite recipes using bitter melon. It based on a classic Filipino dish, and is delicious. You really have to like the pungent bitter flavor of bitter melon though - I do, but some people don't. If you can't find fresh okra, I have also used frozen okra which I purchased at Safeway in Watsonville. Pinakbet 3 tablespoons olive oil 1onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 pound pork loin, chopped 1/2 pound peeled and deveined prawns Salt and pepper to taste 1 tomato, chopped 1/4 pound zucchini, seeded and cut into bite-size pieces 1/4 pound fresh okra, ends trimmed 1/4 pound fresh green beans, trimmed 1/4 pound eggplant, cut into bite-size pieces 1 small bitter melon, cut into bite-size pieces Directions: Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat; cook and stir the onion and garlic in the hot oil until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the pork and cook until completely browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir the shrimp into the mixture; season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until the shrimp turn pink, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato to the pot, cover, and let cook 5 minutes. Stir the zucchini, okra, green beans, eggplant, and bitter melon into the mixture; cover, and cook until the vegetables are all soft to the touch, about 10 minutes more. Serve hot. A second recipe will follow in my next comment as I am running low on "characters."
David H. Perez October 05, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Maria - Here is another very simple recipe for bitter melon based on another classic Filipino recipe. Bitter Melon and Shrimp Stew Ingredients: 2 large bitter melons, halved lengthwise, seeds discarded and chopped into slanted half-moons 1 pound or more of shrimp, shelled and deveined 1 medium ripe tomato, diced 1/2 onion, diced 3 cloves garlic, minced Olive oil Salt and pepper to taste Preparation 1. Drizzle olive oil in a hot pan and fry garlic until fragrant. Add shrimp. Season with salt and pepper. 2. Before shrimp turns completely pink, add tomato and onion. Pour in just enough water to cover the shrimp, tomato and onion mixture. Bring to boil. 3. Reduce heat to medium-high and add bitter melon slices. Bring to boil again. 4. Dish is finished when bitter melon slices are tender, but not mushy. 5. Reduce heat to low. Crack an egg and drop into the pan, mixing to incorporate. (Optional, I left it out for this recipe). 6. Serve hot with rice.

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