Thursday, July 24, 2008

Exploring Other Options

The other day I visited the Lincoln Square Farmer's Market. With no CSA box coming for a few weeks, I decided to stop by and see what was available.

It was a beautiful sight.

There was so much color and variety - corn, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, lettuce, beets, greenbeans, blueberries, raspberries, zucchini, bread, flowers, cheese, and more.

I didn't go into the market with a plan, which is usually my downfall when I go to the grocery store. I'll buy some produce without a specific recipe in mind and always find that I'm missing something when I decide to make a dish.

While I've gotten a lot better at knowing what foods go together and anticipating what I might need, I still follow recipes closely and rarely improvise.

I bought some zucchini at the farmer's market and found a recipe for zucchini pasta on the New York Times web site. I didn't have tomatoes though, and even though the recipe didn't include garlic, I think almost any recipe is enhanced by it. I also needed pasta.

My commute from Lake Forest is over an hour on a train, and I'm usually unmotivated to do much when I get home. So rather than wait until then to go to the store, I decided to buy the missing ingredients in Lake Forest. I normally opt against this because everything costs more there.

But I was getting hungry, so I went for convenience over price. There's a small produce market in a quaint brick alleyway called Amadei Mercatino, where I picked up some tomatoes and garlic ("Did you squeeze it?" the owner asked. "Always squeeze garlic. It should be hard. If it's soft, you don't want it.")

It is a charming little hidden nook that overflows with bright flowers and colorful, fresh produce, and I knew I would get quality food. But by the time I bought those items and the pasta at a specialty food store across from the train station, I was out almost $10, which seems ridiculous for a bag of noodles, two tomatoes, and garlic (especially considering I had bought zucchinis and a bunch of onions for maybe $2 at the farmer's market).

But I liked how the dish turned out and decided my investment was sound when I had enough for lunch the next day.

Zucchini Pasta (from the New York Times)

Salt and pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 or 6 medium zucchini, rinsed, trimmed and cut into ribbons or coins
1 large onion, chopped
2 or 3 sprigs thyme (I subbed garlic for thyme)
2 tomatoes, in wedges or roughly chopped, with their juice
1/2 pound cut pasta, like ziti or penne (I used 3/4 pound, which gave me plenty for leftovers)
Freshly grated Parmesan or freshly chopped parsley for garnish.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Put olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini, onion and thyme, and cook, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper and adjust heat so onion and zucchini release their liquid without browning. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until very tender.

Add tomatoes and their liquid to zucchini and raise heat a bit so mixture bubbles. Cook pasta until it is nearly but not quite tender. If sauce threatens to dry out, add a little pasta cooking water.

Drain pasta and finish cooking it in sauce. Serve, garnished with parsley or Parmesan.

4 servings.

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