Exploring Your Local Farmers Market

June 6th, 2016

Have you ever shopped at a farmers market? Not since the beginning of the industrial revolution has farm-to-table been a more meaningful phrase. Buying directly from a farmer means you are purchasing the freshest local products available while supporting a small business. It's good for you, your health, and your local economy!

I visited my local farmers market in mid-May for the first time this season. Living in northeast Ohio, I was dubious about what would be available – I expected only eggs, apples, and root vegetables from the fall harvest. I was stunned at the volume of products available! Fresh breads and other bakery items, cheeses, meat and poultry, jams, jellies, syrups and honey, eggs, herbs, greens, asparagus, and vegetable plants for MY garden were all available. My local market has expanded to over 20 vendors and will grow bigger as the season progresses.

Here are a few tips for a successful trip to your local farmers market:

  • Be prepared for the weather! Don't stay home if it's cold or raining. Just wear the right clothes. A slow day at the market makes for good deals for the shoppers that do show up!
  • Bring cash, preferably $5 and $1 bills and quarters. While many vendors do accept credit and debit cards, cash is preferred. This also helps with budgeting.
  • Bring a sturdy shopping bag or two. Better yet, bring the family and let everyone carry a bag.
  • Walk the market, perusing what is available, before buying (I used to run out of money and carrying capacity before making it halfway).
  • Come hungry but not starving. Have some ideas of what you want to purchase but also be open to trying something new. Try the samples! If you have a picky eater – child or grown up – let them choose some of the purchases.
  • Talk to the farmers! Most enjoy sharing how the food they are selling is grown/produced, and they will often share family recipes.
  • To find a farmers market near you, simply do an internet search – enter your city or county name and the words "farmers market." You will likely have quite a few options available to you. Happy shopping!

Here's a recipe I made when I got home. It's an easy way to feature your locally-grown and produced treasures!

Farmers Market Ricotta Stuffed Chicken Breasts

(Aside from the imported cheeses, olive oil, and wine, I was able to purchase all ingredients at my local farmers market)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (8 - 10 oz each)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (dry, NOT in oil, can be found in produce section of most supermarkets)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup marinara sauce
1/2 cup white wine - try Pinot Grigio as it pairs well with this dish!
4 whole basil leaves
2-4 slices provolone

Heat oven to 325 degrees. If you have an oven safe fry or sauté pan, use it. Otherwise, you will need to transfer breasts and sauce to oven safe pan for baking. Non-stick and or pans with plastic handles cannot go into the oven. Use cast iron if you have it!

Rinse the chicken breasts and and pat dry with a paper towel. On a cutting board, lightly press your palm down on one breast while slowly cutting a slit into the center almost the entire length, creating a pocket for the filling. If you slice through, do not fret. Repeat with the other chicken breast. Lightly salt and pepper top (smooth side) and underside of both.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmigiano, garlic, tomatoes, and basil. Stuff each breast with half of the mixture. Don't worry if it spills out a little bit.

Over medium high heat, melt butter with olive oil in a pan. When the pan is hot, place breast, top side down, in the pan and cook until lightly browned, three minutes or so. Gently turn and cook underside three minutes. Layer a tablespoon of marinara sauce, a basil leaf or two, and provolone on top of chicken breast. Add remaining sauce and wine to the pan and gently stir. Place in the oven for 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let it rest for a few minutes. Stir sauce. Slice breasts into half-inch thick slices and drizzle with sauce. My family eats this hearty dish with a simple green salad and crusty Italian bread. You can serve alongside pasta, risotto, or polenta, topped with the sauce.