Life & Times Locavore: Late summer cooking in Hyattsville
By Imke Ahlf-Wien
Ahh, late summer! The vegetable gardens of my friends and neighbors are overflowing with produce. Just strolling through the neighborhood and peeking into front yards, I can see tomatoes, squash and peppers, raspberry bushes and fig trees. Folks in Hyattsville grow food everywhere, from small beds next to the sidewalk to generous, tended patches in backyards and large community gardens.
At the Riverdale Park Farmers Market, just a 10-minute walk from my house, a half dozen local farmers (local meaning that their farms are less than 100 miles away) pile produce high on their tables — greens and beans, tomatoes and potatoes, berries, peaches and apricots, corn and cabbage, zucchini and peppers.
I try to come every week to stock up on local produce as well as eggs and meat. I love chatting with farmers and other vendors; I love hearing how their food is grown, how the weather affects their crops and what’s in season next. That’s how I heard from farmer Brady Griest that tomatoes at McCleaf’s Orchard didn’t turn red until late this year, but, for reasons unknown, blueberries were a bumper crop, with two separate harvests this summer. It feels good to be connected, both to the people who grow the food and to the food itself.
There are well-known benefits to eating locally grown produce. First, locally means seasonally, which in turn means the food will be more flavorful and more nutritious, and oftentimes more affordable, as well. Buying locally grown food supports the local economy and benefits the environment, in part by shortening supply chains and creating less waste. Just one example: Each week I return my egg cartons and berry containers to the farmers at the market, and they will continue using them as long as possible.
Eating locally may be safer for us, too. Food produced close to home goes through far fewer handling steps before reaching your dinner table than does food shipped in from distant locations, and less handling lowers the potential for contamination.
And eating locally connects us with each other — with farmers who grow the food and with our loved ones, too, as we purchase, prepare and try new foods together.
But don’t we all find ourselves in a rut, running out of ideas and resorting to one of the well-stocked supermarkets along the Route 1 Corridor? This question inspired my idea for a new column: I could write about our many sources for local food, especially produce, and also introduce simple recipes that get you and your family excited to cook and eat together!
In late summer, it’s easy to satisfy your hunger: Just a handful of zucchini, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and onions make for a delicious, plant-based dinner. To get into the mood for cooking, watch the Pixar movie “Ratatouille” — and start chopping your veggies!
Ratatouille (serves 6)
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
This recipe can easily be prepared by older children, supervised as necessary. The ideal size for the vegetable chunks is about ½ inch, but you don’t have to be rigid about it. You can also double the amounts and freeze leftovers. Packed in a thermos, ratatouille is perfect as a simple, nutritious school lunch.
2 small eggplants
2 medium zucchini
3 medium tomatoes
2 bell peppers
2 cloves garlic
1 bouquet garni (2 bay leaves and a few sprigs of parsley and thyme, all tied together by their stems or a cotton string)
2 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup water
Wash vegetables and herbs.
Trim ends from eggplants and zucchini. Cut them in half lengthwise, slice halves into strips, and then dice into ½-inch pieces.
Stem and core the tomatoes, and then cut them in half. Cut peppers in half and remove seeds. Dice both into ½-inch chunks.
Peel the onions and cut into ½-inch pieces.
Place all vegetables in a large pot.
Peel and mince garlic, add to the pot.
Add the oil, salt, pepper, herbs and water; stir well.
Put on the stove, cover, and bring to a simmer. Cook on medium-low for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft.
Remove the herb bouquet before serving.