There are a handful of culinary experiences I’m determined to cross off my long list before I die — luckily for me, I’ve made lots of progress already! High on the list was a visit to the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market (one of the finest in the country) alongside one of my culinary crushes, Amelia Saltsman, author of The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook. We met up at the market bright and early, and as I swooned at the sight of perfectly ripe fruit and abundant greens, Amelia navigated the bounty with brisk efficiency… “These taste early,” she’d proclaim about a nectarine that seemed pretty incredible to a rookie. “Try this. Now this is worth the splurge,” she’d offer me a bite of what her nose and long relationships with growers and producers told her was the crème de la crème. I tasted, and the flavor nearly brought me to my knees, over and over again. Wine-dark strawberries, perfumed apricots, delicate golden raspberries, musky green garlic just developing into cloves, buttery fingerling potatoes, peppery greens: we loaded our bags until they burst at the seams.
In Santa Monica? You can have a market tour with Amelia, too! Check her website for dates.
*photography by Thomas Winslow
What do you do?
I write and teach about local, seasonal foods and cooking. I’m endlessly inspired by hardworking passionate farmers and the foods they grow and how what they do makes our lives so much better in so many ways. So, I also advocate at the state level for small family farms to have opportunities to sell directly to people like me!
What are you cooking this week?
Eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes, and basil! I’ve got a bowlful of overripe tomatoes calling my name, so spaghetti in a simple tomato sauce for sure. I want to play with Italian plums (oval prune plums) — a couple of different pies are in order I think. Summer will be winding down before you know it, so I am taking a last-chance approach and enjoying whatever is at the very peak of flavor!
The meal you’ll never forget:
My husband and I were lucky enough to travel to southern Italy last summer. In a tiny shop in Naples, we bought fresh-that-day mozzarella di bufala (which is the only way Neapolitans eat that cheese). On the same street, we bought traditional almond-and-black pepper crispy bread rings called taralli, and some small bright red tomatoes that had been grown in the volcanic soil of nearby Mt. Vesuvius. We took our purchases back to our hotel room and with only a pocket knife and the paper bag for a plate, enjoyed one of the most special meals we have ever experienced.
If you could pass one trick onto a newbie cook, what would it be?
Start with the best-tasting ingredients you can and then keep it very simple. That means sourcing locally, carefully raised whole foods and then letting them shine. I cannot stress this enough. Everything will be easy after that — ease and speed of meal preparation, healthfulness, helping to heal the planet, and of course, the pleasure that comes from enjoying a delicious meal. Just because we are busy, on a budget, or have limited cooking skills doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice pleasure.
The cooking tool you can’t live without:
I’m going to go with a sheet pan and an offset serrated knife. With those and olive oil and salt, I could cook just about anything.
Favorite quickly assembled appetizer:
Cheese, nuts, and fresh or dried fruits. You instantly get an exciting contrast of colors, textures and salty, sweet, and tart flavors. Vary by season, of course!
Favorite food and drink pairing:
Oysters and a minerally white wine!
Your favorite ingredient:
That depends on the season! I live completely in the moment and like to focus on whatever is at peak flavor. I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m most excited by the ever-changing array of fruits and vegetables that appear at my local farmers’ market.
Your favorite cookbook:
One of my all-time favorites is Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I always give it as a wedding present. Right now I am enjoying Deborah’s newest book, Vegetable Literacy, as well as Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi.
For sweets, you can’t beat books by my friend Alice Medrich, her most recent is Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts. But I also love reading old cookbooks from the 19th century and earlier — it really puts food and cooking in context.
What does a dinner party at your place look like?
I like to decorate my table with a simple assemblage of seasonal items I find at my local farmers’ market: in summer, a bowl of fragrant fruits or pots or a bundle of herbs tied with twine; in fall and winter, I use citrus, persimmons, or pomegranates on the branch or in a bowl. Less is more, especially when it comes to time and money spent for best effect. I also like to include soft candlelight whether we are eating indoors or out. Speaking of which, I have light bulbs that hang from the avocado trees in our garden. At the start of every summer, my husband and I hang Japanese lanterns on the lights to create a warm, romantic feel.
Kitchen Inspirations: Inspired (as always) by the gorgeous late-summer produce at the markets and a simple but satisfying recipe from one of Amelia’s favorite cookbooks, we had dinner ready almost before we had our market bags unpacked! Click here for the recipe to these Zucchini and Fresh Herb Fritters.
What’s your favorite farmers’ market find? Share your favorite discoveries with us in the comments below.
Interview by Elizabeth Winslow
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