Boulder Farmers' Market, week twelve: Cherries and green beans

This week, the cherries finally appeared at the Boulder Farmers' Market -- and as far as I know, these cherries from First Fruits Organic Farms in Paonia are the only Colorado-grown cherries available in the entire state. In many religions worldwide, first fruits are traditionally offered up to priests and, according to First Fruit's website, Kris and Kevin Kropp's cherries, peaches, apples, pears, and plums are raised organically "in keeping with the high calling of stewardship for the earth." Their farm stand boasted a bright, tart early cherry Wednesday, but Saturday morning's offerings are even sweeter: Rainiers and two kinds of dark cherries. Despite my general agnosticism, it's hard to refrain from raising a few hosannas. As the market opens, word hasn't yet gotten around, but as time passes and more and more people congregate and marvel. See also: - Best Farmers' Market 2012: Boulder Farmers' Market - Strawberries are at their peak -- time to make jam! - Teri Ripetto shops for Potager at the Boulder Farmers' Market One of the perks of regular market attendance is that you're alert to what's available when and from whom, which means you can sometimes get your hands on a treasure that's in short supply: a basket of raspberries, artichokes. The earliest peach crop tends to be light, and you have to get to market early to score peaches -- especially this year, when the apricot crop has failed and everyone's keeping an eye out for any sign of the fruit. The folks at Morton's Orchards says they'll have some peaches from their first crop next Saturday, when everyone else's peaches will still be two or three weeks away. Since it's not a full crop yet and the line for Morton's tends to start early and wind long even on the peachiest weeks, I tell you this only out of a sense of loyalty -- and I'd better not find you ahead of me in line.

The market gives you an acute sense of seasonality, as well as of time passing. Last week's skinny little carrots have grown thicker, crisper and sweeter. You probably don't even need to peel them; just give them a quick scrub and eat them out of your hand; roast mixed vegetables and carrot-ginger soup can wait 'till fall. The first zucchinis and summer squashes made an appearance a week ago; now they're everywhere and Red Wagon has fleshy golden squash blossoms for cutting up into salads or filling with herbed cheese, battering and frying.

The Alaska salmon people are here, 2 Rs has the usual greenhouse tomatoes, and when I see that Miller Farms has set baskets of fresh green beans alongside their floury new potatoes, I know salad Nicoise is on the menu.

Keep reading for a recipe.

Salad Nicoise

This is a composed salad, and it isn't important to measure quantities. Every element is easy to make, though it takes time to put the entire salad together. It looks lovely when finished, though, and is great for a summer dinner or brunch with friends, accompanied by crusty bread and butter.

You need:

Smoked salmon or quality canned tuna fish or -- if you want to be extravagant -- a beautiful piece of sushi grade tuna. Potatoes (preferably new) String beans Eggs Tomatoes, quartered or cut in half if they're cherry tomatoes Nicoise olives (I couldn't find them at the supermarket and substituted kalamatas) Lettuce Tarragon, chopped fine

For the vinaigrette: apple cider vinegar, olive oil, mustard, minced garlic clove, chopped tarragon, salt and pepper.

Make the vinaigrette. The nice thing about vinaigrette is that once you've got the basic recipe in your head -- some kind of acid, salt and pepper, a dollop of mustard for emulsification, roughly twice as much oil as acid, garlic or herbs to taste -- it's infinitely customizable. For the acid, you can play with wine vinegars, sherry vinegar, balsamic, flavored vinegars (everything from raspberry to coconut), lemon juice or lime. For the oil there's vegetable, olive and all kinds of nut oils (you want to use these sparingly). Basically, whatever suits you and goes well with your ingredients. If you mix rice vinegar, soy sauce, minced ginger and garlic, mustard, vegetable oil, a touch of sesame oil and maybe some chopped cilantro, you've got an Asian-style dressing.

For the Nicoise, I shook up the vinegar, salt and pepper, garlic clove and a lot of chopped tarragon (not all of it; you want some to scatter over the rest of the salad) in a jar, added a dollop of mustard, then poured in a slow stream of oil and shook the entire thing up. (You can whisk the vinaigrette in a bowl, adding the oil to the acid base drop by drop until the mixture starts to emulsify, and then pouring it in a steady stream. It's fun watching the mixture slowly thicken, but it takes a bit longer.)

Hard boil the eggs: Standard instructions say to cover the eggs with about an inch of cold water, bring them to a quick boil, turn off the heat and let them sit for twelve or fifteen minutes. Cool them fast, and peel under cold running water. But I hate runny yolks, so I keep the eggs at a slow simmer longer. I usually still avoid the dreaded gray-green ring around the yolks, but truthfully, the ring doesn't do the least bit of harm if it happens to appear. Halve or quarter the eggs, add a bit of salt and pepper.

Peel the potatoes, or just wash them thoroughly if they're new. Boil (start them in cold water) until they're cooked, but not falling apart. Slice while they're still warm, toss with a bit of the vinaigrette, add salt and pepper to taste.

Top, tail and string the green beans, toss them into boiling water and cook until they're crisp-tender (you can probably see on the photograph that mine got a bit overcooked). Shock immediately in cold water. Dry them a little and dress with some of the vinaigrette.

Shred the smoked salmon, or drain the canned tuna, or sear your chunk of tuna quickly, leaving it bright red on the inside.

Cut up the tomatoes. If you're using Nicoise olives, tradition says to leave the pits in -- though you might want to warn any guests. I cut the kalamatas in

Wash and dry the lettuce and make a bed of it on a large plate. Arrange everything else on top. Drizzle the whole thing with a bit more vinaigrette and sprinkle with what's left of the chopped tarragon.

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