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Summer Guide: Chef Chris Becker shares tips (and recipes!) for making the most of farmers markets

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Depending on your skills in the kitchen, a visit to local farmers markets might be a joyous trip into the world of fresh produce or a nightmarish trek into culinary hell. Take a deep breath. There’s no need for a visit to the market to be so stressful, especially when a few easy tips can make shopping and cooking a breeze.

Step 1: Take cash. Though more and more markets are accepting credit cards and SNAP benefits, cash is still king with local farmers. Be sure to grab some reusable shopping bags. Not only will you help out the environment by avoiding cheap plastic bags, but you’ll have plenty of room to keep gathering ingredients.

Step 2: Take a lap. “When I go to a market, the first thing I do is walk around and check out all the stands,” said chef Chris Becker. Becker has a long history of working with home cooks and professional chefs. Currently the corporate chef for 84 Hospitality Group (owners of Empire Slice House, Gor? Ramen + Izakaya and Revolución Taqueria & Cantina), Becker is also the founder and head pasta maker for Oklahoma City-based Della Terra Pasta. He also spent five years teaching young culinary professionals at Francis Tuttle Technology Center. Walking around the market is a good way to find out what’s available and in-season.

Step 3: Take advice. Farmers want to make a sale, but they know the way to build a relationship is to steer consumers to the best produce they have. You’re not likely to go back to a grower who sent you home with mealy peaches or flavorless tomatoes. Ask what they recommend and what else they’re growing. Knowing what’s coming next is a good way to prepare for the coming weeks.

Step 4: Let ingredients guide you. Becker said once you’ve had a look around and learned what’s available, it’s time to let the ideas percolate. Would those vegetables go well in a stir-fry? Can the stems be used to make a stock? What works best raw, and what needs to cook? “Doing this allows for ingredient-driven cooking; checking out all the items and letting them steer you towards a delicious meal,” he said.

Step 5: Be flexible. Going in with a recipe in mind is fine, but the magic of farmers market cooking is finding the best fresh ingredients and making them work for you. “There is a lot of room for alternatives, which is a big part of farmers market shopping,” Becker said. “A recipe focused on farm-fresh food is more of a suggested guideline, not an exact, unalterable thing.”

Becker contributed a pair of recipes.

Asparagus with Spring Red Onions and Mint (cooked)

Ingredients

1 bunch trimmed asparagus 1 bunch baby red onions split in half from pole to pole, exterior skin removed 1 bunch mint 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar Salt to taste Black pepper to taste

1. Bring a medium-size pot with water to a boil, and lightly salt the water. Boil the asparagus for 30 to 45 seconds.

2. Strain the asparagus and place it into an ice water bath immediately to cool. Separately, heat the grill to a medium or high heat.

3. Brush both the onion and asparagus with the least amount of olive oil possible and season with salt and pepper.

4. Set the ingredients onto the grill across the grates, cooking 1 to 2 minutes. Turn them over when sear marks develop, and cook for an additional minute.

5. Remove them from the heat and arrange them on a platter. Drizzle the remaining olive oil and red wine vinegar over the asparagus and onions. Tear the mint and sprinkle it on top.

Asparagus with Spring Red Onions and Mint (raw)

1. Using a sharp knife, slice the asparagus at an angle from top to bottom.

2. Slice the onions thin. The green should be tender too, so slice that as well.

3. Tear the mint into small pieces.

4. Add ingredients into a bowl along with the olive oil and red wine vinegar. Toss them together and add salt and pepper to taste.

If you want to prepare this to use later in the day, prepare all the ingredients and combine later. The asparagus and onions will be good for several hours if refrigerated.

Becker said to play around with the recipe and make it your own. Substitute lemon juice for the red wine vinegar or swap out asparagus for snap peas or English peas.

Print headline: Marketable skill; Chef Chris Becker shares tips on making the most of farmers markets.

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