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A trip to the farmers market yielded fresh, colorful ingredients for this salad. Mixed greens, strawberries and leeks are the stars of the show. Photo by Sue Doeden

To market, to market to get some fresh greens

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Most people take a vacation to get away from it all. Especially work.

I recently hefted my suitcase into the trunk of my car, put my bike on the rack, and headed to Minneapolis for a week of vacation. Miles and miles of beautiful winding bike trails around Minneapolis lakes, light rail rides, a Twins game, cozy coffee shops, wine bars, meals at great restaurants with friends, stops at my favorite shops and lots of exploring were all included in my vacation plans.

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I didn't quite leave everything behind me, though. I brought some work along. Writing a food column and teaching a cooking class also were scheduled into my plans.

I had decided before leaving home that I'd challenge myself to cook up something using only foods I could find at local farmers markets to share in my column.

On Saturday morning, I headed downtown St. Paul to browse through the oldest farmers market in the Twin Cities. It began in the late 1800s. A full city block filled with fragrant bouquets of flowers, herbs that gave off their sweet scents as I brushed by, and earthy aroma of fresh-from-the-farm produce were nose candy that kept tempting me to buy. I filled my market basket with all kinds of treasures I couldn't resist.

The next morning I visited the Kingfield Farmers Market in south Minneapolis, much newer and smaller than the St. Paul market, but charming and filled with treats to eat on the spot as well as fresh ingredients to take home.

I had collected my booty: two bags with a mix of fresh greens draping over the tops, a quart of bright red, just-picked fresh strawberries too irresistible to pass up, and a bunch of young leeks that had early summer written all over them and more fresh herbs to take home to plant in my garden.

I rinsed and drained the greens well and rolled them all up in a clean towel to keep crisp in the refrigerator until needed.

The tender baby leeks I purchased at the farmers market looked like overgrown scallions.

Normally, when we buy this member of the onion family in the supermarket, it is quite large. Their flavor is mellow, complex and more subtle than other members of the onion family. When cooked, they become silky and tender. They are often used in soups, but can be used any time you would use an onion.

Since I didn't have any nuts to add texture and crunch to my salad, I chose to turn my leeks into crunchy twigs to add to the greens. I discovered the leeks become delicately sweet and almost melt in the mouth when they are roasted to crispness. These crunchy twigs would be wonderful mounded on a bowl of creamy potato soup or a veggie omelet or even tucked into a wrap or a sandwich.

A taste of one of the strawberries was disappointing. It was juicy but had little flavor. That's when I decided to try roasting the strawberries to make them a little sweeter. The tiny apartment I was renting filled with the seductive aroma of caramelizing strawberry juice as the berries spent time in the oven.

Pleasurable trips to farmers markets along with some creative work in the kitchen resulted in a salad full of fresh summer flavors.

When work is play, it's easy to bring it along on vacation.

Early Summer Greens with Roasted Strawberries and Crunchy Leeks

4 to 6 young leeks

1 quart fresh strawberries

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 heaping tablespoon finely chopped lemon thyme or tarragon leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

Freshly ground black pepper

8 to 9 cups mixed greens (about 10 ounces), torn

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Use a sharp knife to slice off the dark green top of each leek down to where the color is pale green. Cut off the root end from the remaining white stalks and cut the leeks in half lengthwise. In a bowl of cool water, separate the layers slightly and swish them around in the water to dislodge any grit that may be hiding inside. Cut the leek halves lengthwise into very thin slices. Toss them with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and spread them out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Slide the pan into the hot oven and bake the leeks for about 10 minutes. Check them often and remove any twigs of leeks that have become brown and crunchy. Allow baked leeks to cool on a plate.

Hull clean strawberries and cut in half. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and spread the berries out on the same rimmed baking sheet used for the leeks. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Roast in 400-degree oven for 10 minutes, or until softened. Transfer roasted berries to a plate and allow to cool.

Pour the juices that have collected on the baking sheet into a bowl. Add orange juice, vinegar and chopped herbs and whisk together. While whisking, gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place the greens in a large bowl and toss with just enough of the dressing to lightly coat the leaves. Divide the dressed greens evenly among individual plates. Top each serving with an equal amount of roasted strawberries. Scatter leeks over each salad. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Tips from the cook

--Warm roasted strawberries would be delicious spooned over premium vanilla ice cream and topped with just a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

--If you have some fruit vinegar in your pantry, pull it out and use it in place of the red wine vinegar. I was lucky to have just purchased some strawberry balsamic vinegar on my visit to Vinaigrette, one of my favorite shops in Minneapolis. Raspberry vinegar would also be delicious.

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