Farmers' Market Fare

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – So, you visited your local farmers’ market and impulsively picked up Swiss chard, Japanese eggplant and some figs.
Now what do you do with them?
According to chef David Leathers of Tupelo, the simpler the better.
“A lot of times, I don’t think people know how to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables,” he said. “They’re intimidated. Sometimes, they want flavors that are too complex. They should just let the food speak for itself.”
One recent evening, Leathers arrived home with some eggplant he had purchased at the Tupelo Farmers’ Market. He sliced it and tossed it with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and arranged the slices in a cast iron skillet. After 20 minutes at 400 degrees, the side dish was complete.
“Fork tender,” Leathers said. “That’s what you’re looking for. I’ve gotten to where I roast most of my vegetables in a cast iron skillet, but you have to watch it carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn.”
The bottom line with vegetables from the farmers’ market, Leathers said, is that simple is better.
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “Going to a farmers’ market is different from going to the grocery store. In the grocery store, that squash has been off the vine for a week or more. At the farmers’ market, it’s been off the vine for an hour.”
Leathers picked up some green beans from Mike Bucci at the market one day last week. He blanched them for a few minutes in boiling water, then shocked them by placing them in ice water. Into the cast iron skillet they went with some almond oil, sliced almonds, salt and pepper. He roasted them at 400 degrees for 15 minutes and served them alongside some mashed potatoes he made from new potatoes.
“People want to do way too much with fresh stuff,” he said. “Just keep it simple and you can’t go wrong.”
Leathers said he’s impressed with how much the market has grown since it opened in 2000.
“I was standing in the middle of it on Saturday morning and everywhere I looked, I wanted something,” he said. “Fresh corn, fresh peaches, blueberries, blackberries. It was amazing. And now, it’s getting some young blood in it, which is a good thing, or in 15 years there will be no more farmers’ market here.”