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Dinner from the farmers market

From March through November, it’s a long season in Southern Oregon for farmers markets.

The season for some produce particularly prized by chefs, however, may be a few short weeks. That’s among the first lessons for home cooks who want to shop and plan meals like professionals do, says Constance Jesser.

“You have to understand what’s in season,” says Jesser, a chef and co-owner of Jacksonville Mercantile.

“When you see these fruits and veggies you really enjoy, snap ’em up,” she says. “Because next week, they might not be there.”

Midsummer is when Jesser expects local fruits and vegetables to really hit their stride, just in time for a Sunday, July 24, cooking class. A morning shopping excursion at the Jacksonville farmers market will furnish everything participants need to prepare — and partake in — a three-course dinner later that evening. Along the way, Jesser plans to discuss the finer points of selecting fruits and vegetables, including comparison with counterparts from the grocery store.

“You can tell by the quality of the soil,” she says.

Top-quality beef, lamb and wild-caught fish also are a chef’s quarry at local farmers markets, says Jesser. Yet a vegetarian menu of squash pasta, panzanella and fruit tarts emerged several years ago when she last presented “Dinner From the Farmers Market.”

“We just have to decide.”

A quandary could arise while weighing the summer’s last fava beans and greens against its first zucchini and tomatoes, says Jesser. The temptation to buy everything can overwhelm shoppers, who would be better served by highlighting just a few fine foods, she adds.

“A lot of times, people will shop like it’s a grocery store, and they buy too much,” says Jesser. “Scale it back.”

A small quantity of artisan cheese goes far when paired with locally grown fruits and vegetables, she says. And “all the farmers markets around here have the best eggs,” which suggest souffles, custards, omelets and Spanish-style tortillas. Devising the dish depends on whether herbs, berries, mushrooms or peppers, for example, are freshest and most plentiful.

“If you go with a set menu, you’ll end up being disappointed,” says Jesser.

Building confidence beyond shopping and cooking is one of her goals, says Jesser, who advocates communication with market vendors. Striking up such conversations challenges many shoppers, she says. But no one knows better than farmers, ranchers or specialty-food producers how best to prepare their wares, she adds.

“It gave them a whole new view of the growers market.”

Fava Bean Panzanella

1 pound fava beans

3 large tomatoes, cut into large cubes (remove some seeds and juice)

2 large cucumbers, cut into half slices (seeds removed)

3 scallions, trimmed and cut into rings

½ loaf day-old Italian boule (may substitute fresh bread, cut into cubes and toasted in oven for 10 minutes)

1 bunch fresh basil, in chiffonade, plus blossoms, for garnish (if available)

¼ cup good-quality red-wine vinegar

½ cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil

Flaked salt, to taste

Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Chive blossoms, for garnish

Clean the fava beans by removing pods, then pour boiling water over beans to soften outer membrane. Transfer beans to an ice-water bath, then peel membrane away from beans’ tender interior.

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients, except the herb blossoms, and allow flavors to marry for at least 1 hour before serving. When ready to serve, garnish with herb blossoms.

Depending on produce availability, salad may be adapted to a variety of vegetables, such as roasted beets, steamed green beans or blanched sweet corn.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

— Recipe courtesy of Jacksonville Mercantile

Thai-Inspired Salad of Peaches, Tomatoes and Peppers

½ cup moscatel vinegar or other sweet vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 to 2 peppers, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced

Lime juice, to taste

1 tablespoon peeled and grated, fresh ginger

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons Key Lime Avocado Oil (available at Jacksonville Mercantile; may substitute plain avocado oil and additional lime juice)

1 teaspoon fish sauce (preferably Red Boat brand)

2 to 3 peaches, pitted and cut into wedges

2 to 3 tomatoes, cut into wedges

Arugula, as needed

Fresh basil leaves, as needed

In a small stockpot, heat the vinegar with the salt and sugar. Pour brine over peppers and allow to marinate for ½ hour to 2 hours.

In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, ginger, mustard, avocado oil and fish sauce. In a large bowl, toss the peaches, tomatoes and arugula with some dressing. Divide among individual serving plates. Top with some marinated peppers and the basil leaves.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

— Recipe courtesy of Jacksonville Mercantile

Sweet Corn Pudding With Summer Berries

1 ear sweet corn, husked

2¼ cups whole milk

Pinch salt

1 whole egg

2 egg yolks

4 ounces granulated sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Fresh berries of choice, for serving

Cut kernels from the ear of corn, reserving cob. Set kernels aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat corn cob with the milk until hot, but not boiling. Remove cob and add corn kernels and the salt to hot milk. Puree in a blender and strain through a fine-mesh sieve.

Whisk the egg and egg yolks with the sugar and cornstarch. Temper this mixture with hot, corn-infused milk. Return to medium heat and bring to a low boil. Stir until thick.

Divide pudding mixture among several lightly oiled, 4- or 5-ounce ramekins; allow to chill completely in refrigerator. Serve with fresh berries.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

— Recipe courtesy of Jacksonville Mercantile

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

A trip to the Medford growers market Thursday yields items for cucumber soup, a tomato, cucumber and onion salad, rainbow chard pesto on bread, and peach granita with fresh blackberries for dessert. Cheese, almonds and stock round out items from the pantry to make a complete dinner. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta
Chef Constance Jesser picks tomatoes from the Medford Growers Market. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta