Attending the Saturday farmer’s market is good for my soul. I love it no matter the season. It just always seems to fill whatever void needs filling. I welcome the rain and wind in the winter, when fewer people attend and a sense of peace and quiet pervades. The crowds are lighter and I can wander easily. In the fall, I find the crisp air refreshing, and the vibrant root vegetables a glory to see. The spring brings the crowds, but it also marks the beginning of short-season crops like asparagus, peas, and cherries. I always buy as much as I know we’ll eat, not wanting to waste a moment of their short-lived bounty. And here we are on the eve of the summer solstice. Summer squash is everywhere, as is basil, and the first tomatoes are making an appearance. It’s this time of year when I know that I must put a limit on the amount of money I bring with me, because I tend to want to buy one of everything. And I love coming home and spreading it all out on the kitchen counter and thinking about what I’ll do with it all.
This past week, we put together a wonderful summer vegetable stew, inspired by a recipe I found in Local Flavors, by Deborah Madison. The ingredients can and should vary, depending on what you find. It’s a perfect place to use up late-season, starchy peas, tough, mature, green beans, or little odds and ends that don’t have another home. Choose enough veggies to accommodate the number of people you plan to serve. Use things like potatoes, peas, green beans, carrots, onions, summer squash, fresh shelling beans (need to be precooked), garlic, herbs, sweet peppers, and tomatoes (fresh or canned). It looks fairly ordinary, but all the flavors meld together and become absolutely delicious.
Summer Vegetable Stew
- Prepare your vegetables depending upon their shapes and sizes. For example, young carrots might be split down the center, patty-pan squash could be cut into wedges, green beans cut into bite-sized lengths, young potatoes halved, and onions sliced into wedges held together by their roots.
- Warm some good olive oil with a bay leaf in a non-reactive dutch oven, or large casserole. Add onion wedges, a few garlic cloves, a few sprigs of herbs, and a sprinkle of salt. Cook gently, covered until they just begin to soften.
- Add the dense, longer-cooking vegetables like carrots and potatoes. Give them a sprinkling of salt. Add a little water to help them steam, cover and cook for, maybe, five minutes.
- Add the remaining vegetables and give them another sprinkling of salt. If you’ve used canned tomatoes, you’ll want to use some of the liquid. Cover again, and allow them to stew. Check it in a few minutes to make sure that there is enough liquid in the pot. If not, add water and maybe a little white wine. There should be liquid that comes at least 1/2 way up the depth of the vegetables.
- Allow the vegetables to stew gently until everything has become tender. Pay special attention to things like carrots and potatoes, which will take the longest to cook. It’s okay if the green peas and beans become drab in color. This isn’t an al dente dish. Their texture will become smooth and tender
- When the stew is ready, taste it for salt and stir in a handful of roughly-chopped basil. Spoon it into bowls and enjoy.