The local harvest changes subtly through the season, with asparagus, strawberries and early greens giving way to new potatoes, early zucchini, beets, peaches and blueberries.
Some crops overlap for weeks, others — such as cherries — disappear if you miss the short window of availability. But I have to say that the late June and early July Harrisonburg Farmers Market is stunning in its variety.
The vendors do a great job with their produce displays: delicate squash shine like jewels in their little baskets, some with their blossoms still attached.
Small potatoes are mounded in pastel piles — rosy, golden and blue — and lush peaches smell like summer, arranged on tables with the largest harvest of local blueberries I’ve ever seen.
Baby carrots, gold and purple beets, young broccoli, rainbow chard, sweet young onions and fat cabbages remain from earlier in the month, giving these few weeks some of the best and most beautiful market days you’ll find in the season.
You’ll also see some early tomatoes, especially the smaller varieties, from farmers able to provide protection against late frosts.
I had been thinking about a way to make a vegetable platter that does justice to the gorgeous produce of the season, but it’s not so easy.
Raw vegetable platters look great, but often people pass them up. The hard vegetables, such as cauliflower and broccoli are sometimes bitter and hard to chew; carrots are so commonplace that people get bored with them. Others, such as spring onions, new potatoes, beets and zucchini are not often eaten raw and taste better when cooked.
I decided to trim and cut the vegetables, cook them and serve them on a platter with olives and a little olive oil. Because these early vegetables are so delicate, I decided to steam them rather than roast or grill, although either method would have worked.
I cut my beautiful tiny rainbow carrots from Muddy Creek Farmstead in half length-wise, leaving just a half-inch of the green part. I did the same with some little golden beets from Avalon Acres, and some slender new potatoes from my own garden.
I also had some tender broccoli sprouts and little squashes from the market. I cut everything into pieces no thicker than two fingers. I steamed groups of vegetables separately in a steamer, but you can also use the microwave.
This kind of antipasto is best eaten with a fork at the table, with some extra sea salt and olive oil, but I think it could also be part of an informal buffet. The variations could be endless, depending on the vegetables you use, and you’ll want to experiment with the steaming time for each.
Here’s a brief guide:
Steam cut broccoli, carrots, small peeled and quartered onions and zucchini for about 3 minutes. Carrots look much better if they’re peeled.
Steam potatoes and beets for about 6 minutes.
I’ve tried marinating the cooked vegetables overnight, but I think they taste fresher if you arrange them on a platter, sprinkle olive oil, vinegar and your choice of fresh herbs over the top, and serve at room temperature.
To make it a meal, add a can of oil-packed tuna, some good deli meats or cheese, and serve with crusty bread.
Theresa Curry blogs about food, health and gardens at gma85.com.