Boulder Farmers' Market, week thirteen: Fruit frenzy and lamb with eggplant (recipe included!)
Colorado apricots that survived the tough spring.
Fifteen minutes before the Boulder Farmers' Market opens Saturday, a line of some twenty or thirty people has formed in front of the Morton's Orchard stand. Word is out that the first peaches are at the market. These early peaches won't be as sweet and juicy as later ones, and the flesh will still cling to the stone -- so I'm thinking no jams, pies or ice cream yet, just some amazing out-of-hand eating.
Miracle of miracle, there are even a few apricots on the stand, and the family is selling boxes of apricot seconds -- bruised, bird-pecked and pocked, some a bit mushy and some rock hard, but salvaged from a savagely frosty spring and perfectly fine for jam.
First peach of the season.
There are peaches at the Durazno stand as well. A lot of people swear Morton's peaches are the very best -- hence the long line. I once spent a late summer Saturday morning cruising from stand to stand -- Durazno, Morton's, Ela, First Fruits -- buying a couple of peaches at each for a taste test. The results were inconclusive because all the peaches were luscious, but it was one of happiest experiments I've ever conducted.
By around 8:45, the peaches at Morton's are sold out, and disappointed people are being turned away.
I pick up a hard-neck, not-yet-dried stalk of garlic at Red Wagon Organic Farms and also a Napa cabbage. Mo McKenna, who works here as well as at Plowshares Pork, explains that you have to harvest the cabbage at exactly the right time, and describes how to assess this: Split a head and check to see if the small inner leaves are still curled tenderly inwards. As she recalls the perfection of this moment, her eyes actually mist -- it's great to buy food from people as passionately obsessive as this. (You can see a photograph of what McKenna describes, along with a couple of her recipes, at redwagonorganicfarm.com.
I saw the first eggplants at Ollin Farms Wednesday -- Ollin comes to Boulder Wednesdays and sells in Longmont Saturdays -- and started trying to decide how to use them. One of the best things about going to the farmers' market is figuring out new dishes to make with what's currently available and thinking about different flavor combinations. In general, you can't go wrong sticking with the tried and true: It doesn't get any better than tomatoes with basil or oregano, for example, or zucchini with dill, new potatoes with mint and butter, fish and chervil, garlic with pretty much everything. But I like trying unfamiliar combinations, too -- or at least combinations unfamiliar to me.
I had lamb chops from the Lamb Lady -- aka Mary Miller of Triple M Bar Ranch -- in the freezer. Everyone knows lamb and mint love each other, and I've made some nice lamb dishes in the past with apricots or preserved lemons. But last month I read an article in the Guardian by Angela Hartnett that said lamb and eggplant are delicious together. I checked that idea out in Niki Segnit's brilliant book, The Flavor Thesaurus: A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook (which should be in the hands of everyone who loves food) and she concurred. She also suggested cooking lamb with rhubarb and since this year's rhubarb crop shows no signs of slowing down, I'm going to try that next.
Keep reading for the lamb recipe.
I changed the quantities in the Guardian recipe a little -- basically, just estimated amounts instead of measuring -- and sauteed the lamb and eggplant instead of grilling them. On tasting the dish, my husband promptly asked me to make it a regular event.
A couple of eggplants
Feta cheese (I'm thinking of trying Haystack Mountain's goat next time, since Segnit also recommends goat cheese with lamb).
For the dressing: Four or five tablespoons olive oil, a dollop of mustard, around a tablespoon each chopped mint and chopped parsley, one or two minced cloves of garlic, lemon zest and a bit of juice. Salt and pepper.
Mix the dressing ingredients together. Season and taste.
Slice the eggplant thin. Since these were Japanese eggplants, I cut them into longish planks.
Any shape is fine. (Recipes used to tell us to salt eggplant slices for thirty minutes before cooking to remove bitterness, but most eggplants aren't bitter these days. Salting will draw out liquid, however, which means the slices won't soak up as much oil as they cook. Supposedly this is particularly helpful with spongy globe eggplants -- but truthfully I stopped pre-salting years ago.)
Heat a glimmer of olive oil in your saute pan. Season the chops and cook over relatively high heat so they turn nice and brown on the outside and just slightly pink inside. (If they're thickish and don't cook through, finish them in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for a few minutes.)
When the chops are done, place them somewhere to keep warm.
Add a bit more oil to the saute pan, and cook the eggplant slices until they're soft but not mushy.
To plate: Set the eggplant slices beside the chops, scatter the feta on top of the eggplant, spoon the dressing over the entire dish.
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