Shopping with the chef

Going through a farmers’ market with a local cookbook author

TOWNSHEND — When the farmers' market offers so much variety and we've run through all the typical combinations of ingredients and preservation methods, the most unexpected things can seem to go together perfectly.

Take basil, for instance.

After the endless batches of pesto are made and stored away, after more leaves have been frozen inside olive-oily ice cubes, after the experiments with basil jelly have produced a shelf full of potential holiday gifts, one might be hard-pressed to come up with yet another use for the prolific herb.

At the Townshend Farmers' Market one recent Thursday afternoon, Guerrilla Grown Produce from Westminster was selling whole plants, roots and all.

The next booth over, Leda Scheintaub, co-author and editor of several cookbooks, was mixing up an on-the-spot salad featuring some of the basil, along with cantaloupe, Sungold tomatoes, corn kernels, and dark purple Thai pepper.

From her kitchen pantry, she added lime juice and a generous pinch of salt.

Mixing sweet and savory, fleshy and crunchy, spicy and tangy, the salad was gobbled up by curious shoppers, including one girl who looked to be about 12 and couldn't suppress the look of delight on her face at this juicy, tasty culinary discovery. (See sidebar for recipe.)

Scheintaub had run into a bit of difficulty with the cantaloupe's dirty skin; she didn't want dirt in the dish, and the nearest water supply was across the Town Common at the church.

“That's one difference between shopping at Whole Foods and here: there, the produce is so clean,” she said.

“Which isn't necessarily better.”

At the market, she ended up using her own water bottle to rinse the melon, politely assuring observers that she hadn't drunk from it.

Basil ideas

It's not so unusual to combine sweet with savory, and specifically cantaloupe with basil and other ingredients.

Among many other recipes, has one for tomato, cantaloupe, and basil salad with tomato water; and the Splendid Table has a cantaloupe salad with Thai basil and chile.

Riffing on the pesto theme, Scheintaub tossed into a rugged stone mortar some of the basil leaves with cloves of garlic from Wild Shepherd Farm in Athens, along with walnuts, pumpkin seeks, olive oil, and a Thai spice mixture (made with dried Kaffir lime leaves, ground toasted rice, and chile) that she brought from home.

Using an appropriately shaped river stone as a pestle (“I ran it through the dishwasher first!”), she ground the mixture into a rough paste. She then halved the Sungolds, scooped out the seeds, and stuffed them with spoonfuls of the pesto.

It's a bit of effort for a pint or more of tomatoes, but the intensely flavorful morsels are well worth it.

Also available at the market were oversized zucchini and summer squash, a perpetual challenge for gardeners and food preservers.

Scheintaub also suggested making chips using a dehydrator or an oven at low temperature.

Also, having recently published a raw-foods cookbook, Easy, Sexy, Raw: 130 Raw Food Recipes, Tools, and Tips to Make You Feel Gorgeous and Satisfied, with supermodel Carol Alt, she had a more complex recipe for flavored chips that can use up quantities of zucchini. They're dark and dense and delicious and packed with nutrition. (See sidebar for recipe.)

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates