I love my Farmer’s Market. My market runs year round and only supports first-hand food growers and producers. I don’t get there every week-I often work weekends with shifts that conflict with market hours. I don’t always have market money in my budget-but do try to go for the pre-freeze enormous bunches of greens, always better tasting and a better price than anywhere else, and the kombucha, not (yet!) available at my usual brick-and-mortar market.
Beside knowing the faces and names of the people I buy from, the thing I love best about the market is the grounding effect it has. If I only shop at a conventional grocery store, even if that store is a co-op, organic, with goals of supporting local produce and products, there will always be items on hand, far out of our local season, every day of the year.
Shopping in the grocery store vacuum, seeing 3 kinds of bell peppers, cilantro bunches, corn-on-the-cob, and strawberries during January in the PNW can start to seem “normal”. I begin to feel numb to the when and where and who of the food I buy. Bundling up with scarf, hat, gloves, and warm coat early on a January Saturday morning brings everything back to real: there’ll be root vegetables minus carrots, there’ll be some little bunches of always-hardy kale, there will still be apples, there will be fruit and chilis dried by the growers, there will be the bakers, the butchers, the kombucha, and cheese makers, but it will be slim. There will be camaraderie and smiles, the summer poet’s fingers perhaps too cold to type, but the tamales, salmon slider, or cup-of-soup will be warming.
I don’t have a root cellar or even a second fridge at my house. I store some squash and potatoes in the barely heated basement, but I will be buying carrots and kale from California.
I will buy Washington-grown fruit until it’s all gone, or too musty from storage, but won’t buy apples or pears from Chile or New Zealand or whereever else they might come from. I will use the seasonal fruit captured in my freezer rather than that shipped fresh across the planet.
In January, I’ll be teaching new groups of kids how to make a soup and a few other things. I will be emphasizing ingredients that might still be available at a Farmer’s Market, though will be using some that won’t be. Things like celery, local only for a moment, are so integral to the flavor base of every soffritto or mirepoix. Celery seed can be used as a substitute, and I will include the seeds in our conversation, but first learners need to mess around with the whole food before experimenting with stand-ins. For this reason, I do buy celery out-of-season. I buy it intentionally. Having taken many road trips to central California, I can imagine the trucks, the stops, the last In-N-Out of Redding, the low water levels of Lake Shasta, the relief of Portland, the amazingly boring (no offense!) highway between Vancouver and Olympia. Yes it’s more than 100 miles away, but I can reasonably drive to celery. I know the trip it will take, and I will be grateful.
As for the soup, it’s a minestrone I’ve tweaked, and, yes, the celery makes a difference. I make this with Junior, both of us practicing our knife skills. The rosemary comes from my garden, nestled where it is, protected from the coldest our PNW Winter can muster. For economy, I usually use the small white beans available where I buy bulk, cooked, then frozen in recipe-ready quantities. If I cooked the beans, I add their liquid to the soup. Take care with canned tomatoes. Always buy whole, it’s good to know what really might be in the can, and buy from companies that care about canning practices, limit toxins whenever possible. Frozen vegetables are a good winter substitute for from-across-the-planet fresh. The green beans can be happily exchanged for strips of kale or any other vegetable you prefer. The touch of green makes me happy.
This is simple food. Each time I start a batch, I have doubts about the meal to come. But each time I sip a spoonful, I marvel that such few ingredients turn into something as comforting, satisfying, and tasty as I find this soup to be. Cheers!
Minestrone • Serves 4-6
Preparation time: 15 minutes • Cooking time: 30-40 minutes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 large celery stalk, diced
1 pinch of red pepper flake
1 garlic clove, minced
1 ½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 large potato, diced
1 14.5-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained (save liquid) and finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
About 5 cups of water
1 10-ounce bag frozen green beans
Optional: ¾ cup grated Parmesan for serving
Place a large pot onto the stove. Turn the burner onto medium. Pour the olive oil into the pot. When the olive oil is warm, add the onion, carrots, celery, red pepper flake, and garlic.
Stir the vegetables to coat with oil. Stir in the salt and pepper.
Cook for 5-8 minutes, until the onion begins to turn golden.
Add the tomatoes, potatoes, cannellini, rosemary, the saved tomato liquid, and about 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Let soup cook for 15 minutes, gently boiling. Test the vegetables for tenderness.
During the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the frozen green beans. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. While the soup is cooking, grate the Parmesan, if using, and set aside.Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan, if using