I don't know about you, but there's something about farmers markets that makes me lose all reason. Even though I know I have a busy week ahead -- work events, family obligations, even a hair appointment -- I cram my bags with lovely fresh produce I can't possible cook, let alone eat, in a week's time. It's an exercise in fantasy.
By the following Friday, the crisp green beans, freshly picked corn, lush blackberries and plump tomatoes all start to look a little sad and lonely, untouched, on the kitchen counter or the bottom refrigerator shelf. And that's where the guilt sets in.
Well, give me your tired zucchini, your poor tomatoes, and your huddled mass of spinach. The wretched refuse of your farmers market binge can easily be made into … Alice Water's Summer Minestrone!
Alice Waters, as you might know, is an iconic chef, writer, activist and humanitarian, sometimes referred to as "the mother of American food." She is a huge proponent of the organic movement and has been at the forefront of advocating sustainable food grown by local farms.
In other words, Waters is all about farmers markets. Of course, she's all about actually cooking and eating the food, not just buying it!
Her recipe for Summer Minestrone is the perfect solution because it is so flexible. Just use the recipe as a road map. If you don't have spinach, but have chard, by all means swap it out. No leeks? No worries. Just add what you have. The only trick here is to make sure to cut the vegetables small and uniform in size. You want a variety of veggies with each spoonful. Also be mindful to add them in the right order so you don't overcook any of them.
This time, I cooked my own beans, but canned beans are a perfectly fine substitute. In fact, because of my hectic schedule, I cooked the soup in stages. Monday, I started the beans so they could soak overnight. On Tuesday, I cooked the beans and chopped the vegetables. On Wednesday, I actually made the soup, which was a snap because all the prep work was done. And, I have to say, having a pot of soup bubbling on the stove with a clean kitchen was an extremely pleasant experience.
This soup easily transitions to the fall, as well. In fact, in her Fall Minestrone Alice Waters just swaps out kale for spinach, butternut squash for the zucchini and she uses canned tomatoes rather than fresh. Voila! You have a perfect way to get rid of your fall farmers market bounty.
• M. Eileen Brown is the Daily Herald's director of strategic marketing and innovation, and an incurable soup-a-holic. She specializes in vegetarian soups and blogs at soupalooza.com.