- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2003

My local farmers market is in full bloom on Tuesdays during the summer. The tomatoes, melons, figs, peaches, plums and cherries form colorful mounds under tents that shade the farmers and their produce from the hot midmorning sun.

The sugar snap peas, slender green beans, English peas and glistening yellow and green zucchini with their delicate flowers are carefully displayed in shallow plastic bins. Fresh herbs sit in jugs of water. Pristine berries — raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries — are displayed in green plastic pint baskets.

We are fortunate to have vendors selling fresh eggs, farmstead cheeses, freshly dressed free-range chickens, fresh pasta and line-caught Pacific salmon and halibut. It’s a virtual outdoor supermarket.

As I tour the market, I plan my menus for the days ahead. These summer market menus are so fresh, lovely and sumptuous that I think of them not as simple dinners, but as midweek feasts to celebrate summer’s bounty.

For the menu that follows I will gather juicy ripe tomatoes to stuff with locally made sheep’s milk feta and herbs. I will cut fresh herbs for the tomatoes and other dishes from big clay pots in my garden.

I’m told the salmon at my local farmers market, naturally deep red in color, was caught off the Northern California coast. I’ll pick a lemon from our backyard tree to zest for the salmon’s gremolata crust. The sugar snaps I will buy at the market, along with sweet cantaloupe and navy blue blueberries.

Of course I realize that not everyone is close to such a splendid market, but many of these products are found in our supermarkets during the summer. If not, substitutions can easily be made.

For example, farm-raised Atlantic salmon is available in all supermarkets. Just because the feta cheese in your market is imported doesn’t mean it’s not good. The melons in your market might be local or they might be trucked in from another state, but, either way, the point is to remember to support your local farmers and other local food producers by looking for local first. Then, if it’s not available, go to the supermarket and buy the next best thing.

Preparation: Prepare and roast the tomatoes. While the tomatoes are roasting, prepare the fish. While the fish is roasting or grilling, trim (if necessary) and blanch the sugar snap peas. Cut the melon and sort the blueberries. Assemble the dessert just before serving.

Feta-stuffed roasted tomatoes

The preparation time is 10 minutes, and the roasting time is 15 minutes.

4 medium ripe red tomatoes

cup crumbled feta cheese

1 tablespoon minced fresh dill

1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallion

teaspoon minced garlic

Extra-virgin olive oil

Cut about inch from tops of tomatoes. Use a teaspoon to scoop out a shallow indentation in the tomatoes, removing only about 1 tablespoon of the pulp.

To make stuffing, mash feta cheese, dill, scallion and garlic together in a small bowl.

Place tomatoes in a lightly oiled baking dish or pie plate. Use a spoon to fill indentation in each tomato with cheese mixture, mounding slightly and distributing evenly. Bake in 400-degree oven until cheese is golden and tomatoes heated through, about 15 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Grilled or roasted fish with gremolata crust

The preparation time is 10 minutes, and the cooking time is 8 to 15 minutes.

4 boneless and skinless center-cut salmon fillets or 1-inch-thick halibut fillets

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

cup chopped Italian parsley

2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 strip ( inch wide and 2 inches long) lemon zest, chopped

Lightly coat fish on the underside with olive oil. Sprinkle the tops with salt and pepper.

To make gremolata crust, finely chop parsley, garlic and lemon zest together. Rub mixture on top side of fish.

To roast in oven, place in roasting pan and roast in 450-degree oven until cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.

To cook on grill, place fish on hot grill, oiled side down, and grill, covered, until cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness of fish and the intensity of grill heat.

Makes 4 servings.

Sugar snap peas

The preparation time is 5 minutes, and the cooking time is 2 to 3 minutes.

1 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed (strings pulled, if necessary)

Salt

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or unsalted butter, optional

2 tablespoons slivered basil leaves

Fill a medium saucepan ⅔ full of water and heat to boiling. Add salt to taste and stir in sugar snap peas. Boil 2 to 3 minutes or until desired tenderness.

Drain at once. Spoon into a serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil or dot with butter, if desired. Garnish with basil leaves. Serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.

Cantaloupe with vanilla ice cream and blueberries

The preparation time is 10 minutes.

1 ripe cantaloupe, quartered lengthwise, seeds and pulp removed

1 quart vanilla ice cream

1 pint blueberries, rinsed and sorted

At serving time place a quarter of the cantaloupe in each of 4 bowls. Spoon ice cream into center of each wedge. Spoon blueberries on top. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

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