Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

408 pages; Color Photographs Hardcover
Broadway Books, New York, 2002
Reviewed for Good Cooking by Renata Ameni 12/02

Local Flavors is a result of Deborah Madison's 5 years of work visiting more than 100 farmers' markets all over United States and some in Canada and Mexico as well.

In this new book she shows more than ever the influences Chez Panisse had on her (she worked some years there), sharing with the readers her passion for buying products directly from the growers and her concern about seasonality and freshness of ingredients as the secret of good food.

She starts the book with a short introduction of the history of farmers' markets, how they reached the number of nearly 3,000 nowadays; then she describes the advantages and rewards of buying products in these markets, how much fun it can be, and she gives some tips to make the best of your experience there. She is so involved with the farmer's markets that she actually makes you want to make the recipes out of their products. I've even found myself looking on the web sites she suggests in the end of the book to find one of these markets near my house, because I really wanted to have the experience that she makes sound so much fun!

The chapters are arranged in botanical families and regional seasons and in each one she describes her experience in each market and gives some menu options. One of the chapters is dedicated completely to herbs. As you can expect from Deborah, the book consists mostly of vegetarian recipes, but there are a few, around 15 or so, of chicken, meat and fish. When you first take a look at the book It'seems it has a lack of sweet dishes, but once you keep going to the end you will find a wonderful variety of deserts based on fruits.
One of the good things about the book is that when Deborah writes the recipes she doesn't want you to be limited to the ingredients, suggesting that you use products available locally, which really makes you want to explore the market.

I tested two recipes: the Onion Tart with Market Cheese and Walnuts was an easy to make dish and came up with a wonderful flavor from the combination of the sweetness of the onions and the salty gorgonzola cheese; however I would add a little more cheese because the gorgonzola doesn't really melt that well so some pieces of the tart end up with more cheese than others. In the Caramelized Apple Tart with Cinnamon Custard, the apples were not that caramelized with the amount of sugar she suggests so it doesn't come up with the flavor you expect from the recipe' s title, but it's still a light dessert and if you add more sugar, it can be perfect.

In general it is a great book with gorgeous pictures, not just of final dishes but of the farmers markets she visited, with easy to make recipes. Deborah Madison once again shows that you can really make flavorful dishes out of simple ingredients like fruits and vegetables, making you forget you're eating a vegetarian meal.

Rustic Onion Tart with Market Cheese and Walnuts
(Makes 1 large pan pizza or two 12 inch pizzas)

Pizza Dough

1 cups warm water
1 scant tablespoon active dry yeast
pinch sugar
3 cups all purpose flour, or more as needed
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

1) Put the warm water in a mixing bowl and stir in the yeast, sugar and 1 cup of the flour. Set aside until foamy, 20 to 30 minutes. Lightly oil a clean bowl for the dough.
2) Stir in the salt and oil, then start stirring the flour until the dough is fairly stiff. When too stiff to stir, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and knead until the dough is smooth and shiny, about 10 minutes. Add more flour as needed. Put the dough in the oiled bowl, turn once to coat, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise until doubled in bulk, about an hour.

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds onions, thinly sliced
several thyme springs, leaves plucked and chopped
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 ounces local blue cheese or Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
4 walnuts, shelled and chopped
1 large handful small arugula leaves

1.) Make the pizza dough. While it's rising, heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and two thirds of the thyme and toss to coat the onions with the oil. Cover and cook until lightly colored, stirring occasionally so they cook evenly, 30 to 40 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper.
2.) Twenty minutes before it's time to bake the tart, preheat the oven to 450F. Roll the dough into a thin rectangle just large enough to fill a 12x16 inch sheet pan or tow 12 inches round pans. Cover it with the onions and bake for 12 minutes. Add the cheese and walnuts and return the tart to the oven until the crust is crisp and the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes more. Remove, add the remaining thyme, and cover with the arugula. Cut into squares and serve.

Caramelized Apple Tart with Cinnamon Custard
(Serves 6)

The apples
3 apples (Braeburn, Gravenstein, Wolf River or Liberty)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar

The Batter
cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus extra
cup sugar
3 medium eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
1 cup all purpose flour

The Cream
cup cr me fraiche or heavy cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg yolk
confectioner's sugar

1.) Pre heat the oven to 375F. Butter a 9 inch tart pan. Peel and core the apples, then slice them into -inch wedges. Melt the butter in a wide non stick skillet, add the apples, and sprinkle them with the sugar. Cook over high heat, occasionally flipping the apples until they start to caramelize, them reduce the heat to medium. Keep a close eye on the apples, turning then frequently so that they don't burn. This will take about 15 minutes in all. Turn off the heat.
2.) To make the batter, cream the butter and sugar in a mixer with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla and salt, then stir in the flour. Smooth the batter into the tart pan with an offset spatula, pushing it up the sides to make a rim. Lay the apples over the batter.
3.) Mix the ingredients for the cream together, then pour it over the apples. Set the tart on a sheet pan and bake until the crust is golden and starting to pull away from the sides, about 35 minutes. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before serving. Remove the tart from the rim, place it on a serving plate, and sprinkle with confectioner's sugar.

Good Cooking hopes you have a farmer's market in your area. If you do, please support them and buy their products. Farmers work very hard and deserve to make a good living during their short season. Local, fresh produce and related food products are the best!

Good Cooking found the following Citrus and Subtropical Salad Plate to be very attractive and easy to prepare. You can even find the ingredients in most upscale food stores or ethnic markets during the Winter months. Treat yourself to a taste of Summer during the Winter months!

3 blood oranges, quartered
3 kiwifruit, peeled and quartered
1 small star fruit, raw or poached
4 pineapple guavas, halved
1 avocado, quartered
1 slice fresh pineapple
1 cherimoya, sliced
lychee nuts in their husks
1 lime, halved One-Minute Citrus and Subtropical Salad Plate

When time doesn't allow for a more laborious presentation of perfectly peeled and sliced fruits, just cut them up into pieces and serve them on an ornamental plate with a knife and fork. The fruits themselves are so beautiful that you needn't do more than this. Serve such a salad as part of a brunch or light lunch.

Rinse, then neatly cut all of the fruits. Arrange them on 4 individual plates and serve. Squeeze the lime over the avocado.