Farmer's Market Finds

It's 6:30 on a Saturday morning and I'm looking through my closet to find a nice sweater to wear. Wait a minute...6:30 AM...on a I dreaming?!? No. It's Farmer Market Season again in Madison, Wisconsin and I'm greeting it with a smile!

While I was lucky enough to grow up in 'farm country', I am now a city dweller like many others. I still maintain a small garden and an extensive patio filled with tomatoes and such. However, time and space constraints make some favorite fresh produce impossible to grow for me.

That's where the Dane County Farmer's Market comes in.

Every Wednesday and Saturday between June and October sees our lovely Capitol Square transformed into a gardener's and cook's dream. You can find everything from fresh radishes to bok choy to smoked trout to honey to farm-raised chickens at the market. If you want the best selection and the smallest crowds, get there early. By 9:00 you'll see the square packed with little old ladies carrying wicker baskets filled with fresh flowers, tots in red wagons munching on fresh cinnamon rolls, avid gardeners inspecting the quality of the pepper plants, and so much more. If you're a people-watcher, wait until 10:00 and enjoy the show!

I love going to the farmer's market and letting myself enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes (yes, tastes!) all around me. It's a great way to spend a morning. A backpack and oversized cloth bag are on hand to hold my treasures. Others choose baskets, wagons, and carts. It all depends on what you are planning on picking up. Just remember, farmer's markets are pedestrian domains so plan on walking and carrying all your finds home or to your vehicle.

I like brainstorming as I walk among the vendors. I think about how I can make a meal from what I'm looking through. On the first loop I usually limit my purchases to a cup of freshly brewed coffee and a breakfast treat from a pastry and bread vendor.

After I've made my preliminary trip around the square, I get down to business. Suddenly, my bags start filling with fresh sun-dried tomato penne, homemade basil braided bread, crunchy cucumbers, hickory-smoked bacon, garlic cheddar cheese, and so much more. The plans for Farmer's Market Chicken, Sunburst Pasta Salad, and Basil Braided Bread swirl in my mind. Dinner's compliments of the Dane County Farmer's Market tonight!

Farmer's Market Chicken

The key to this aromatic dish is fresh, plump tomatoes. The right tomatoes will result in a dish with tender chicken, meaty mushrooms, and a taste that will give you pleasant dreams! I used sharp garlic cheddar cheese from the market, but sharp cheddar will also do.
  • 2 large chicken breasts, skinned and boned
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 large Portabella mushroom, sliced
  • 1/4 c. sliced black olives
  • 4 slices of hickory-smoked bacon, cooked
  • 1 c. shredded sharp cheese

Place the chicken breasts in a small roasting pan. Spread the minced garlic over the breasts and layer the remaining ingredients over the chicken in the following order:

  • onion slices
  • tomato slices
  • Portabella slices
  • sliced olives
  • onion slices
  • tomato slices
  • bacon slices
  • shredded cheese

Cover the roasting pan and cook for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

  • Yields: 2 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Sunburst Pasta Salad

This powerhouse pasta salad is a perfect accompaniment to the Farmer's Market Chicken. Its strong flavor can stand up to the great flavors introduced by the chicken. If you are lucky enough to find Basil Braided Bread at your local market, add that to you table as the finishing touch. Make sure you pull it's better that way!
  • 2 c. sun dried tomato penne pasta
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small green pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tomato, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 c. sliced black olives
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 3 T. garlic red wine vinegar
  • freshly ground red and black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 c. toasted walnuts

For dressing, combine olive oil, vinegar, and pepper. Mix well.

Prepare pasta and rinse thoroughly in cold water until cooled. Combine pasta and vegetables in a large bowl. Add dressing and mix until well coated. Garnish with toasted walnuts.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes