Anyone else high on the idea of visiting farmers’ markets? As in, feeling a rush when you see one no matter where in the world you are?
Let’s file this under ‘simple pleasures.’
Here in the Northeast, we are in the thick of about a month-long window when tomatoes are beyond delicious. They became the star of a meal rather than playing their usual supporting role. They’re so good I have been known to cut up a juicy one and eat it as a snack, unfettered, leaving a puddle of red liquid in its wake. It’s hard to believe they should even have the same name as the anemic, light orange variety we see so often.
Every sandwich possibility, every salad we might contemplate, is in a whole different class at this time of year and I love the creativity and predictability of that. A scoop of egg salad plopped in the middle of a tomato? Sublime. My mother’s Italian tomato salad recipe with some bread for dipping? Sloppy goodness. Tomato cubed as a side to just about anything? Steals the show.
My window sill is currently filled with tomatoes from the weekly farmers’ market in my town. I took the four-block walk in the rain just to get that haul. On the left there are five from one farm stand; on the right five from another. As the week goes on, a contest will ensue.
While I may be describing here the joy of this simple pleasure in my daily life, it is almost always one of the most enjoyable aspects of my traveling life as well. Of course my upcoming vacation to the Jersey Shore will include a farm stand just blocks from our beach house and we’ll take full advantage of the corn, tomatoes and peaches there. Sometimes that will dictate dinner.
But I am quickly reminded of other places as well when I think of markets or roadside stands. On a recent driving trip in California with friends, our journey down the Pacific Coast Highway included a stop at a strawberry stand. That was all it offered – strawberries. An unquestionable specialty. With a sink right there for washing, we were off and running on our afternoon snack. Delectable, lip-smacking fresh fruit.
It also brings to mind the street market near the place I stayed in Paris’ first arrondissement. One of my favorite memories was buying a cucumber, cherry tomatoes, a baguette and a hunk of cheese and using a little plastic knife to luxuriate in my feast on the grounds of the Saint-Eustace Church. No dressing, no condiments. Just the basics, but the very freshest of basics.
While in Northern Italy a few years ago and staying with a family, my host Anita went outside to her garden and picked a few tomatoes and plucked some basil. She made a salad that included those ingredients and some corn. It was so good I had to ask her what was in it. She told me it was salt, pepper and a little bit of olive oil.
“No, what else?” I said, as if she was holding back. “There has to be more to it.”
She smiled and shook her head.
So pure. So clean.
By Nancy Colasurdo