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Farmers' Market Desserts
By Jennie Schacht



In Nonna's Kitchen: Italian Cooking and Culture from Contemporary Italian Grandmothers
By Carol Field


Grandmother Knows Best

What should you look for in searching for the best tomatoes at the market? Carol Field’s answer to this and a myriad of other questions about selecting ingredients and preparing them for the dinner table is the same: "Just watch an Italian grandmother in action."

Her new book, In Nonna’s Kitchen: Traditional Italian Cooking and Culture from Contemporary Italian Grandmothers, is built around this theme. By about the umpteenth reference to Italian grandmothers, it can start to get tiresome. But the Italian grandmother theme is not a shallow gimmick. In researching her book, Field spent many months interviewing, shopping and cooking with a diverse array of older Italian women, living repositories of ancient food traditions that could largely disappear among the current generation of young Italians who were raised, as were their counterparts on most other continents, on fast food. So it is with a great deal of authority that Field can write about "la cucina della nonna."

The expertise of her research subjects is captured in more than 150 recipes in the book for dishes such as Eggplants Cooked as if They Were Mushroom. The recipes are interspersed with capsule biographies of the more than a dozen women with whom she spent time.

So how do they pick the best tomatoes? To begin with, they are respectful enough of the farmers or produce merchants selling the tomatoes not to squeeze, poke or in any other way handle them. Instead, they rely on sight, picking tomatoes that still have a greenish tint if they’re slated to become an ingredient of a salad. For tomatoes that will be cooked, Italian grandmothers select deep red, ripe ones. There’s one other trick that all of her subjects used: in virtually every recipe that calls for tomatoes, Italian grandmothers toss in a spoonful of sugar, Field writes.

Fresh From the Farmers Market

By Janet Fletcher

A Farmers Market Shopper’s Manifesto

Lots of praise has been lavished on farmers markets in recent years. But a statement by Alice Waters in the forward to Janet Fletcher’s new book takes the cake. "To my way of thinking, the proliferation of farmers’ markets is the single most important and heartening development in this country in my lifetime," declares Waters, the proprietor of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley.

Fletcher, a writer for the food section of the San Francisco Chronicle who worked in the Chez Panisse kitchen for a while in the 1980s, shares her mentor’s deep appreciation for seasonal, locally grown produce and for the farmers who bring it to market. Her new book, Fresh From the Farmers’ Market, offers a litany of reasons why shoppers who share those interests should patronize farmers markets.

At the markets, shoppers can find fresher, more nutritious fruits and vegetables than the produce in supermarkets, which travels on average 1,300 miles to get there, losing taste and nutritional value along the way, Fletcher writes. Broccoli, for example, loses 34 percent of its vitamin C in just two days. And asparagus loses two-thirds of its vitamin C on the trip from California to New York, she writes.

Farmers markets also provide more intangible benefits. By creating a weekly meeting place, they can help restore a sense of community while keeping shoppers in touch with the seasons. By providing a market for more obscure vegetables and heirloom varieties that have been excluded from supermarkets, they can help preserve a more diverse gene pools of crops. By keeping small farmers in business, farmers markets can help maintain greenbelts around cities, writes Fletcher.

And of course, farmers markets also enable knowledgeable shoppers to transform their dinner tables with an abundance of top-quality produce. The 80 recipes in the book offer suggestions for how to use beets, corn, tomatoes, green beans and other staple items at farmers markets and the more exotic items as well, such as broccoli rabe, dandelion greens, blood oranges and squash blossoms.

The book is also filled with advice about how to shop at farmers markets and how to select the best specimens, many of the tips provided by the farmers who Fletcher interviewed in her research on the book, names that regulars at California farmers markets will recognize.

Anyone who reads Fresh From the Farmers Market will find one of her shopping suggestions hard to heed: "Try not to over-buy," Fletcher advises. "One of the main reasons to shop at a farmers’ market is to get fresh food and cook it while it is fresh."

Copyright 1997 Seasonal Chef