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Cooking Farmers’ Market Fare:

Cooking locally grown food in season was the theme of Amelia Saltsman, author of The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook, in her presentation on the Culinary Stage at the Festival of Books at UCLA on Saturday, April 25.In the introduction to Saltsman’s book – subtitled Seasonal Foods, Simple Recipes and Stories from the Market and Farm – Deborah Madison writes, “Amelia’s book is really three volumes in one: gleanings from the culture of farming; a guide to produce, meats, and cheeses found at this extraordinary market; and a great cookbook.” Saltsman treated the audience to a sampling of all three “volumes” at the book festival sponsored by the Los Angeles Times in association with UCLA.She teamed up on the Culinary Stage with JoAnn Cianciulli, author of L.A.’s Original Farmers Market Cookbook, and together they waxed eloquent about the advantages of buying food directly from the source while they prepared a meal from locally grown food in season.Saltsman said that the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market started up with two tables in 1981 and that she has been buying food there nearly ever since. She noted that the growth of farmers’ markets over the last 30 years has not only influenced the way consumers shop and cook, but also has influenced the way supermarkets purchase and present their fare.Stressing the sense of pride taken by the “artisans” who sell their food at farmers’ markets, Saltsman said that the markets are not just about fruits and vegetables, but also eggs, poultry, beef, and pork. The markets would more accurately be called “growers’ markets,” she noted.All the while, Saltsman was cooking up a green garlic and potato soup, chopping young, immature garlic (leaves included) and onion, sautéing them in olive oil in a saucepan, then seasoning with salt and pepper. After adding cubed red potatoes, she later poured in two cups of water -– “Don’t add the water all at once or you’ll just have boiled food” – and she produced a springtime soup that smelled as good as it looked.Meanwhile, Cianciulli was preparing a dish of Italian sausage and peppers to be served over pasta or hero rolls while she recounted the 1934 origins of L.A.’s original farmers’ market at the famed intersection of Third and Fairfax. Saltsman tossed up a spring salad of roasted beets and red butter lettuce with blood orange wedges and cubed avocado and then topped it with a sprinkling of arugula flowers. Tragically, the Culinary Stage had not been cleared by the Health Department for serving the meal, so we could only see and smell the product of Saltsman’s and Cianciulli’s efforts.Even though this presentation was to be followed by recipes from Santa Monica’s Shutters on the Beach featuring Dana Slatkin (The Summertime Anytime Cookbook), this reporter had to set out to find something to eat after inhaling the springtime concoctions of the farmers’ market chefs.

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