Amy Pennington is a one-woman wonder. She’s a cook, writer, web sensation, television host, urban farmer, and avid small-space gardener. Gwyneth Paltrow loves her. So does Huffington Post. Not surprisingly, Seattle Magazine has listed her as a top power player in Seattle’s food scene. She’s the muse of DIY super-fresh, hyper-local eating.
Recently, ParentMap caught up with Amy Pennington and chatted a little bit about shopping the Farmers Market and her upcoming book Fresh Pantry: Eat Seasonally, Cook Smart & Learn to Love Your Vegetables (to be published in May 2014 by the Mountaineers), based on her popular ebook series of delicious, quick recipes.
Why should families eat fresh?
Eating fresh foods that are in season has many benefits. First and foremost, everything will taste better.
Sugars develop as fruits and vegetables sit under sun — this is a natural conversion of carbohydrates to sugars. The sooner you can eat a fruit or vegetable after it's harvested, the better.
Eating in season is also one of the most budget-friendly things you can do for your family.
For example, when there is a glut of tomatoes in the farmers market, the price comes down and THAT is when it's best to buy in bulk and gorge! It's also a great time to put something up as a preserve for winter stock.
What’s the best way to figure out which fruits and vegetables are in season?
The best source of information are farmers themselves, as they're connected to weather in a way we are not, and they are the best guide for figuring out when a fruit or vegetable is really coming on.
Growing your own food at home puts you in touch with conditions needed to successfully grow crops. This learned knowledge helps, too!
Do you have any tricks for making veggies irresistible to finicky diners?
I'm not a huge fan of hiding vegetables in recipes, but in my own kitchen I'm always tucking bits of veg into my meals for healthy nutrition and maximum vegetable-intake.
You can add two kale leaves to a blueberry-cinnamon smoothie without affecting the delicious flavor.
I sauté small cubes of sweet potato and chop kale fine and fold that into my turkey burgers.
It's also been my experience that home cooks tend to overcook vegetables, so shoot for al dente and see if the texture isn't more appealing.
You can also play with the cooking preparation. Grilled vegetables and high-heat roasted vegetables are irresistible and often only need a nice coat of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste great.
Also, don't forget acid! A squeeze of lemon over grilled zukes and peppers will do wonders.
When you were a kid, what was your favorite vegetable?
I loved raw carrot sticks, dipped in water. I'd eat the more-bitter exterior and save the perfectly shaped core for my final bites.
I also loved steamed broccoli with cheese sauce, but honestly — what's NOT to love about that?
Fresh organic vegetables can be expensive. Do you have any thrifty tips for families who want to buy farm fresh?
Shop smart. Buying fruit and vegetables in season when there is a glut will drive down the price.
Organic food is more expensive when you're shopping out of season, or it's a specialty item. You don't need the specific organic label if a farmer is using organic farming methods. Buying in bulk can often get you some good deals, too.
Fruit can dominate the breakfast table — any thoughts on how to incorporate vegetables into the morning meal?
I always eat vegetables in the morning! You can make savory pancakes easily.
I have a recipe for corn-zucchini fritters in my ebook, Fresh Pantry: Summer Squash. And a spiced leek fritter in Fresh Pantry: Onions. Oh, and a crispy squash croquette in the winter squash book and a cabbage pancake in the cabbage book.
Basically, there are lots of delicious and savory breakfast items in Fresh Pantry.
What dishes from your childhood lend themselves to today’s family-style meals?
I loved most vegetables as a kid. I already mentioned my mom’s broccoli and cheese. You can do the same at home— steam an entire head of broccoli or cauliflower and strain it. Then, grate a thick layer of Parmesan over to top, put under broiler until the cheese is crispy and toasted, and serve that family style.
We ate a lot of eggplant Parmesan in my house, too. That or zucchini Parmesan — that's an excellent one-dish meal for a family. If you're going through the trouble of making it, it's best to make two trays and freeze one for later.
Do you have a favorite farmers market?
No, I love them all for different reasons.
Ballard Farmers Market is so busy, but I love the social element of spending time there. Lake Forest [market] has great vendors and a lot of space. University District [market] has a unique selection of farmers that I love — I always buy my apples there in fall. Queen Anne Farmers Market is close to home for me and has an exciting food court. They're all great in different ways.
If you could pick a single vegetable to champion, which one would you encourage readers to try?
I would champion any vegetable that is seasonally available.
In early May, I'd say lettuce. Learn to love salad, braise lettuce in a mustard-cream sauce or bring back the wedge!
Or try asparagus. Grill it and serve with hazelnut aioli. Steam it with lemon butter. Add it to pasta with prosciutto.