I'm a stickler for freshness and quality in food, especially having spent nearly ten years of my life working on site as promotions manager at a fresh produce market. That wonderful stint in my career taught me plenty about fresh and seasonal produce across the board: fruit and veg, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, cheese, bread, the works.
With Capital Region Farmer's Market at Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC) five minutes from our home, these days the farmer's market is the first port of call for Peter and I on a Saturday morning. Every visit for us is an enjoyable and exciting adventure, and celebration of what's on offer.
Lately there's a guy at EPIC who sells the most delicious and inexpensive pumpkins. His stall comprises a simple table lined with whole pumpkins, various sized wedges of freshly cut pumpkin and a giant knife (and a few potatoes). There is always a lineup for his pumpkins, which is good as there are plenty more pumpkins stashed in a mesh trailer behind the stall. I'm not exaggerating when I say that supermarket pumpkin is pale in comparison with these, and I mean that in every sense of the term.
With a good-sized whole pumpkin (say, four kilos plus) you have the makings of a few great meals; think risotto, fritatta, pizza, soup or a wholesome winter salad, such as the one featured in this snippet. Oh, and then there's pumpkin scones or (my favourite) pumpkin strudel, but that's another story.
This roast pumpkin, baby spinach, walnut and fetta dish of mine is inspired by the sheer beauty and abundance of the ingredients available at the markets (and based on a takeaway salad I picked up recently from a cafe in the city). Forgive me for saying, but my version is much tastier. I could wax lyrical about it for the next 500 words, or simply allow the images and recipe to speak for themselves.
ROAST PUMPKIN, BABY SPINACH, WALNUT & FETTA SALAD
750g of pumpkin, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces*
2 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and patted dry
1/2 cup fresh walnuts, halved+
2-3 tablespoons soft fetta
a little spray of light olive oil
juice of a lemon
EVOO, to drizzle
a little white pepper and sea salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 190 degrees C. Place the pumpkin pieces onto a tray lined with baking paper. Spray lightly with oil and season lightly with white pepper and sea salt. Roast for 25-35 minutes, then allow to cool slightly#. Layer the pumpkin, baby spinach leaves and walnuts in a serving bowl and toss gently with (clean) hands. Dot with the fetta, then sprinkle over the juice of a lemon and a drizzle of EVOO (don't overdo it, you don't want a soggy salad). Any leftovers should be refrigerated for lunch the next day. Serves 4. Serve as a main meal or as a side to a tender rack of lamb (see my simple but delicious recipe below).
*If you prefer not to peel the pumpkin, that's fine. The skin, when caramelised, can be delicious and is sometimes the best part! Take care when cutting pumpkin. As I'm not tall, I place the pumpkin onto a chopping board on a non slip mat on the kitchen floor and with a sharp knife (and keeping my feet out of the way), I slice wedges from the pumpkin as shown in this video.
+Toast the walnuts quickly in a hot pan if you wish, but take care not to burn them.
#Meanwhile, roast the lamb on the bottom shelf and now crank up the oven temperature slightly, just to finish off and caramelise the fat on the lamb.
ROSEMARY, GARLIC & LEMON RACK OF LAMB
2 x 8 point rack of lamb
slices of lemon and lemon juice
sprigs of rosemary
a clove or two of garlic
sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Place the lamb racks on a lined baking tray. Place sprigs of rosemary and garlic cloves in between the cutlets, and slices of lemon onto the fat of the lamb. Drizzle with lemon juice, EVOO and season with sea salt and pepper. Bake in a preheated oven at 190-200 degrees C for about 25 minutes. Check the temperature of the meat with a thermometer. When it reaches 170 degrees it should be perfectly pink and ready. Allow the lamb to rest briefly before serving. Sprinkle over some of the lemony garlicky pan juices. This quantity will serve four.
Lemons feature in much of my cooking and fortunately there are lemons galore at various stalls across the market. Again, there is a huge difference in flavour between supermarket lemons and those from smaller producers who sell home grown varieties. According to writer John Newton in Food, 'store-bought lemons have been picked while still green to prolong their shelf life and are then waxed to stop them from drying out!'. Meyer lemons are my favourite, when I can find them. Being a cross between lemon and orange they are sweeter in taste and have very smooth skin.
Pre-packed walnuts are all too often rancid, so I buy them in season from the Robertson family who sell their farm fresh walnuts at the Alpine Nuts stall. In the event that you can't find walnuts at your local market, Australian walnuts sold at health food stores are much better quality than the imported supermarket variety. Buy them in quantity and store them in an airtight container in your freezer.
The process in pictures...
A note in closing: of course Peter and I shop at a supermarket for items that we can't buy at the farmer's market, but our visits are few and far between. The two majors can have their 'fresh food wars' as far as we are concerned. Other than grumbling about some pontiac potatoes (that had seen better days) on one occasion, we have never, ever had to take any food back to the farmer's markets for a refund! Wish we could say the same for colesworth!
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