THE BLOG
08/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Meatless Monday: Farmers Market Bounty

For Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, the economy's dark days are over. Then there's the rest of us, for whom no bailout appears forthcoming and for whom the market is very much in flux. There's one market we can trust, though -- the farmers' market.

You can score produce at the supermarket, but when you get it at your local farmers' market, you'll know it's grown nearby. There's no justifying voting with your wallet for produce that has more frequent flyer miles than you do, not with gas prices going up and fossil fuel reserves going down. You help support that vanishing breed, the small, independent farmer. And hitting the farmers' markets has never been easier. Back in 1994, America had less than 2,000. Now there a bumper crop --upwards of 5,000. Check out Local Harvest for farmers' markets, co-ops and CSA (community sustained agriculture) programs in your 'hood.

Farmers' markets are good for the planet and good for you. As Michael Pollan writes in In Defense of Food, "When you eat from the farmers' market, you automatically eat food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious." You get to enjoy produce with all its phytonutrients intact and pay less for it. It's a win-win, and then some. That's what seasonal eating is all about.

And now's the time, when farmers' markets strut produce that's fresh, local, delicious and abundant. In season -- luscious red tomatoes, sweet green beans, glossy eggplant, heat-loving collards and chard and zucchini, so plentiful in summer, farmers practically pay you to to take it off their hands.

You can understand why zucchini can be a vegetable vilified -- not-so-fresh, it tastes like not so much. Farmers' market zucchini will make a believer out of you. Fresh zucchini is tender and mild-flavored, cheap and versatile. It's the vegetable with a thousand faces. It disappears effortlessly into dishes from veggie lasagna to zucchini bread without overwhelming them, leaving only traces of its goodness. It is an excellent team player, high in vitamin C, rich in antioxidants and with negligible calories ( one cup raw has less than 20). However, its summer profusion can be daunting. Zucchini's sheer abundance makes it seem as overexposed as Jon and Kate (and we're so over them).

Do not spurn the zucchini, learn from it. Make it your lesson in green economics. How you source your food counts. So does how you utilize it. Waste is not green. If you really suffer from a zucchini surplus, don't toss it, go for pleasure deferred. Freeze it for later, because it won't be summer-cheap forever.

The easiest means of freezing it is to grate it or chop it into bits, steam or plunge it in boiling water for a minute or two, then drain. When cool, place in freezer bags, press out air, seal and pop it into your freezer. It keeps for three months. It can go frozen into whatever you're doing with it, including this easy-breezy recipe below. And it's all waiting for you at the farmers' market.

A farmers' market meal greens up your life and keeps the green in your wallet, too. That's the kind of market we can bank on.

Summer Bounty Orzo With Zucchini and Dill

A quickie summer main deceptively full of fresh vegetables (including you know, zucchini).

2 cups orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
2 large onions
4 zucchini
4 tomatoes
8 garlic cloves
juice of 4 lemons (about 4 to 6 tablespoons)
1 bunch dill
6 to 8 ounces feta
4 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt to taste
1 pinch red pepper flakes or generous grind of freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Dice zucchini and onion and tomato. Mince garlic.

Place vegetables a large roasting pan, drizzle with olive and stir. Spread vegetables, making sure there's no crowding. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until zucchini is tender and fragrant.

Meanwhile, prepare orzo. Fill a large pot with water. Bring to a boil. Add orzo and reduce heat to medium-high, cooking for about 10 minutes, until pasta is just al dente
(that's firm, not mushy).

Drain into colander.

Remove vegetables from oven. Stir in pasta and lemon juice.

Crumble in feta, chop dill and add. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve warm, room temperature or chilled. Covered and refrigerated, it keeps well for several days and allows flavors to deepen. You can even freeze it.

Serves 4 to 6.