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Farmers Markets, Fall Edition: Healthy, Tasty, Budget-Friendly

photo: abmaac

If you’re not yet convinced that buying in season is a simple way to save money and eat well, head to the fall farmer’s market.

Although summer markets may offer the most variety, fall boasts tasty fare such as apples, carrots, beets and winter squash that can stay in your kitchen longer. Depending on how warm the weather has been where you live, there may still be one last gasp of summer fare, too.

The sheer quantity of fall produce — it is the harvest season, after all — drops prices as supermarkets and local farmers compete to have you buying from them. In addition to getting a good price, home cooks benefit from the fact that in-season vegetables and fruits are at their prime, flavor-wise. Even simple, fast preparations turn out amazing.

Here’s what fresh, cheap seasonal produce chefs around the country are buying now, and their suggestions for how home cooks can prepare it for maximum flavor. (Have more ideas? Post a favorite recipe in the comments.) 

Apples

It’s hard to go wrong buying enough Granny Smith, Honeycrisp or Gala apples for eating in hand or working into everything from salads, roasts and soups to pies and muffins. But chat up farmers about the more unusual heirloom types to see what recipes fit. Last year, Frugal Foodie made the best ever baked apples after asking a seller advice on what to do with a bigger-than-softball-sized heirloom. His description of it as “a sponge that will suck up all the sugar and butter” was spot on.

Jean Fritz of Indianapolis, who sells heirloom and other unusual varieties of fruits and vegetables, has been making mincemeat from apples and other fall produce each year for the past decade. “The taste and texture are just like commercially made mincemeat, and it is a lot less expensive,” she says. The recipe she uses makes enough for three pies:

Wash and drain two quarts green tomatoes, an orange and two and a half quarts tart apples. Chop tomatoes, place in a glass bowl, and sprinkle with one tablespoon pickling salt. Let stand at room temperature for an hour.  Drain off liquid, rinse tomato pulp with boiling water and drain again. Grate the orange rind and chop the orange pulp. Add rind and pulp to tomato mixture. Chop and add apples. Place fruit mixture, one pound raisins, three and a half cups brown sugar, two teaspoons ground cinnamon, one teaspoon each of ground cloves and ground nutmeg, a half-teaspoon ground ginger and a half cup white vinegar into a large saucepan. Boil until thick, stirring constantly. Pack into plastic pint containers and freeze.

Beets

Roasting produces tastier results than boiling, says private chef Alexis Colantonio, the owner of Pure Natural Kitchen. “It gives them a nice caramelized texture,” she says. Clean beets, remove greens, and wrap each in aluminum foil. Roast at 350 degrees for about an hour. Remove and let cool, then simply slide the tough skins off. Colantonio likes to dress the beets with a little avocado oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Use them solo, or with goat cheese and chopped walnuts on top of quinoa or salad greens.

Kale

If you’re not already used to cooking with this somewhat chewy green, it can be a little intimidating. Kitchenware designer Scott Doty makes a salad of steamed kale and toasted pine nuts topped with a dressing of (to taste) finely mined garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt. Another good option: baked kale chips, which (in Frugal Foodie’s opinion, anyway) beat out potato chips any day of the week.

Squash

Jill Nussinow, aka The Veggie Queen, makes a spicy-sweet soup using two in-season staples: pears and delicata squash. “I have also used apple but the pear seems to melt into the squash,” she says. Roast three delicata squash in the oven at 350 degrees until a knife is easily inserted, about 25 minutes. Cool and scrape pulp from skin (you’ll have about two cups). Heat a stockpot over medium heat. When the pot is warm, add a small, diced onion and sauté for five minutes until it softens. Add one peeled and chopped D’anjou or comice pear and two to three teaspoons curry powder and sauté for two minutes. Add four cups of vegetable stock and simmer for 10 minutes until the pear is soft. Add the roasted squash and simmer for another 10 minutes to blend flavors.

Eggplant

Eggplant parmesan is already pretty kid-friendly, but a chip version makes for a great after-school snack, Colantonio says. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and place a cookie sheet inside. Dredge thin slices of two peeled eggplants in flour, and shake off the excess. Then dredge in a bowl of beaten eggs, again shaking off the excess. Then dredge into a bowl containing one cup panko or bread crumbs. Salt and pepper to taste. Place on baking sheet in a single layer.   Brush liberally with olive oil. Allow to bake until golden (15-20 minutes), then flip. Brush the other side with oil and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.  “These also are delicious if you add some fresh mozzarella on top and some tomato sauce and bake until the cheese is melted,” Colantonio says.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie http://www.twitter.com/mintfoodie.