Ask the Test Cooks
Farmers' Market Favorites from the ATK Books Team
What our test cooks buy and how they use it.
07-01-2018
Mari Levine

If you like to cook, summer isn’t beach season or even vacation season. Those associations, while great, are secondary to what it should really be known as: farmers’ market season.

We love being able to get the best of summer produce straight from the people who grow it. And with so many fresh options, it’s tough to know where to start. With that in mind, we posed the following question to some of the members of the America’s Test Kitchen books team: What is your favorite farmers' market ingredient, and how do you like to use it? Here’s what they had to say.

Julia Collin Davison, Executive Editorial Director: Tomatoes

Julia Collin Davison
Tomato and burrata salad

Without question, it is tomatoes. I just can't get enough of the variety and flavor of all the different types available during the summer. These are my two favorite ways to use them:

1.) A thick juice slice placed on a perfectly toasted everything bagel with just a slight smear of plain cream cheese, and topped with a sprinkling of good sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

2.) In our recipe for Tomato and Burrata Salad with Pangrattato and Basil. (You can find it in Cooking at Home with Bridget and Julia.) Burrata is type of fresh mozzarella with a creamy, liquid center—they sell it everywhere these days—and it’s pure heaven when its flavor mixes with all of the tomato juice on the platter. Also, I think that chopping the tomatoes for the salad (rather than slicing them) and using a combination of regular and cherry tomatoes works best. For fun, I like to buy a colorful variety of tomatoes. The thing that takes this salad over the top, however, are the garlicky bread crumbs that help soak up all the juices. Sometimes to help keep the crumbs crisp, I put them on the side and let folks sprinkle them onto their own plates.

Dan Zuccarello, Executive Food Editor: Arugula

This time of year at the farmer's market, I book it for the first stall that has bunches of fresh-picked arugula. I might seem crazed pushing through my fellow market-goers, but after suffering through months of stale, tough baby arugula from the grocery store, I imagine they are quick to forgive me. Fresh arugula is nothing like its winter-time baby brother; it's delicate and crisp with bright citrus and pepper notes. Keeping that in mind, I do as little to hide that flavor as possible. A light drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt is all it needs. Looking for another use for arugula? Try it in place of the basil in your pesto and you have a unique take on pasta salad or a next-level topping for grilled chicken and fish.

Russell Selander, Associate Editor: Strawberries

Russel Selander
Strawberry Shortcakes

Strawberries! They are amazing from summertime farmers’ markets—such a better flavor, and different varieties. It's hard to buy supermarket strawberries after indulging in those found in a farmers’ market. I use them for everything: salads (balsamic with arugula and strawberries), dessert (strawberry shortcake, or even just sprinkled with sugar and left to sit, topped with whipped cream), jam, or eaten straight up as a snack. I can easily go through 2 pints in one sitting.

Camila Chaparro, Test Cook: Cucumbers

On our honeymoon in Turkey several years ago, my husband and I delighted in the breakfast spread every morning—thick tangy yogurt, salty cheese, sesame-crusted breads, briny olives, fresh fruit, and salads. But the absolute best were the cucumbers: a narrow Persian or Middle Eastern variety, with ridged, slightly pebbly skin, and the sweetest, most crisp and seedless flesh. I could’ve eaten them all day (and for the 10 days of our trip, I did my best). I even tried to take some home with me, squirreling away a packet of seeds in my luggage, before my husband insisted that I turn them over to customs lest we start our new life together as convicted smugglers.

Now, Persian “mini-cucumbers” are nearly ubiquitous in grocery stores, but I think this more perishable variety is best fresh from the source. So anytime I see Persian cucumbers at farmers’ markets, I snatch them up in armloads. I put them to use in recipes that highlight their fresh snappiness—Turkish-style shepherd’s salad, fattoush, or tzatziki—and transport me back to our breakfasts in Istanbul.

Afton Cyrus, Associate Editor: Rhubarb

Afton Cyrus
Rhubarb Cake

Winters are long in New England, and when I first see rhubarb popping up at the earliest farmers’ markets in the season, I know we've finally made it to spring. That bright pink and green is irresistible to me—finally something fresh and new when I'm on the last of my storage root veggies from the winter! I'm always amazed at how my own little rhubarb plant comes back year after year in my garden, and I love transforming something so humble (a sour stalk that grows like a weed) into something delicious. I use rhubarb to make jam and bright pink simple syrups for cocktails. I also chop it into salads like the Rhubarb, Celery, and Radish Salad with Feta and Cilantro by Tim Chin, or bake it in Andrea Geary's wonderful Strawberry Rhubarb Pie or Katie Leaird's showstopping Rhubarb Ribbon Cake. I got to make that cake a couple of times in the test kitchen while working on photo shoots for The Perfect Cake, and let me tell you, that pale pink rhubarb-y frosting is to die for, and the beautiful lacquered rhubarb ribbons on top are a work of art!

Joe Gitter, Test Cook: Sweet Corn

I love corn at the pinnacle of its season. The sugar in sweet corn starts to convert to starch very soon after being picked, so time is of the essence. If you remember that, it's very hard to go wrong: I love it fresh in a salad or simply boiled to fully appreciate all the nuance of its sweetness and texture of its plump little kernels. It might be gilding the lily but grilling it, slathering it in a garlicky lime crema, and scattering fresh cilantro on top is the clear winner—it's delicious, decadent, and always the favorite in my cookout lineup.


What’s your favorite ingredient to purchase at a farmers’ market—and how do you use it? Let us know in the comments!

Comments