Less common vegetables make some of the best summer side dishes.
On any given weekend, I might spend a little time in a farmers market. A fast utilitarian spin for basics at a market I know. Or a leisurely fun stroll enjoying the produce under the tents or piled on the truck beds.
I like them everywhere they pop up - in front of important buildings or subway stops in big cities or on school playgrounds or town squares in the suburbs.
Over the last few summers, as farmers discover and plant more heirloom vegetables, I've found a treasure trove of new things to try, like celery root, ramps and tomatoes in all sizes and shapes, from pearls to large lumpy baseballs in a rainbow ranging from sunshine yellow to burgundy as well as stripes in shades of green, claret and cream.
Then, there's kale, kale, kale, everywhere, that leafy vegetable of the nutritionists. It's their fault that the prices have skyrocketed on this one.
Every summer brings something new. And some of them look downright weird when they first appear. It's always amazing how vegetables seem so bizarre one summer only to become commonplace the next.
While purple potatoes have been around for a few years and are now a supermarket staple packaged with red and white potatoes in net bags, some cooks and consumers are still timid about trying them. But once they take that first bite, they fall in love with the intense potato flavor.
Now, carrots and cauliflower are starting to rock the market in shades of violet. Over the last few seasons, cauliflower appeared in surprising chartreuse. Now you can find it in all three - white, green and purple.
When I first saw all three together, I thought it would be fun to do a tricolor cauliflower dish, but purple cauliflower, disappointingly, fades to green during cooking, although it still makes a lovely lilac addition to fresh salads.
The following recipe was created specifically for purple cauliflower. Yes, it's just as good with the more familiar colors. I often add a handful or two of fresh breadcrumbs before the cheese topping to give it a nice blanket of extra crunch.
You might not recognize garlic scapes when you see them. Long, thin, twirly, green things that look like scallions gone awry in the growing process. If you've only bought garlic in the supermarket, you won't have seen these giddy garlic tops that let a farmer know that what's under the soil is nearly ready for picking.
The flavor is gentle, perfect for anyone who doesn't like their garlic to screech in their food. They're good fresh, sliced thinly on the diagonal into green salads. They take well to scrambled eggs or omelets, tossed in during the last few seconds of cooking. Try them in omelets, either as part of a filling or whisked into the egg mixture. And they do a tuna salad or egg salad proud. Snap them up while you can, as when summer disappears, garlic scapes go with it.
Page 2 of 2 - ZUCCHINI BLOSSOMS
You can find zucchini blossoms with the Asian vegetables. At first glance, they look like a pile of wilted lilies and you might bypass them. But intrigued shoppers gather around trading ideas about what to do with them.
The first impulse is to add them to a stir fry. But lots of other ideas crop up in the give and take of the market. My favorite is stuffed with cheeses and fried to golden perfection, with a dipping sauce or plain.
Linda Bassett is the author of "From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston." Reach her by email at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda's blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.