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Market-fresh lunch hours

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Maybe you've been a farmers market regular all summer, stopping en route to work to pick up some beautiful fruit to go with your lunchtime yogurt—or stopping by at lunch for some terrific bread to go with the peanut butter you keep tucked in a desk drawer. Or maybe not. You figured: "What am I going to do with a dozen farm-fresh eggs all day while I pound away on my computer?"

Forget the eggs—head to a farmers market to pick up fixings for lunch before they close for the season. Some markets will run into October and beyond, but others will be closing up shop over the next couple weeks. (For details on City of Chicago markets, go to chicagofarmersmarkets.us. For info on farmers markets beyond the city, go to the Chicago Tribune's Good Eating listing.

Purveyors at the farmers market we visited told Lunch Box that hungry shoppers should be able to find blueberries and raspberries at least through this next week. Peaches and nectarines should still be around, but tapering off. Still in out force: Apples (delicious munched with chunks of cheese and crackers or croissant) and plums. Any of the above should make a great snack or sweet finish to lunch. Or chopped and topped with yogurt and granola from home, a fine light lunch solution.

But desktop diners do not live by fruit alone. Creating something more substantial shouldn't be a problem, especially if you keep a microwave-safe dish, knife and fork stashed in a drawer—and maybe a packet or two of single-serve mustard, some seasoned salt, balsamic vinaigrette and a small bottle of olive oil.

While perusing the market stalls we spotted tomatoes (cherry tomatoes, yellow tomatoes—you name it), cucumbers, green beans, yellow summer squash, zucchini, sweet peppers (red and green), potatoes (sweets and whites), greens (spinach, arugula, etc.) and herbs. Add in the breads (croissant, sliced loaves, baguettes) and cheeses (fresh mozzarella, cheese curds, etc.), and you've the fixings of a feast, from a simple salad to a hearty sandwich.

Some may involve a bit of "cooking." Respect your cubicle neighbors and limit any chopping (garlic or otherwise) to the office's coffeemaker-sink-microwave-refrigerator area. And if a bit of perishable food (i.e. cheese) is left after making your lunch, wrap and store in the refrigerator until you can take it home.

Here are a few ideas to get you started. Let me know if you've come up with other great farmers market lunch feasts.

Tomato + cheese + croissant: Slice croissant open. Spread cut surface with mustard (if you like) and layer in slices of tomato and cheese, such as fresh mozzarella. Place on a paper towel or plate and microwave 30 seconds or just until cheese begins to melt. Variation: Add a few basil or spinach leaves to the sandwich.

Potato + cheese: Buy several small potatoes, scrub, pierce with a fork then microwave on a plate for a few minutes until tender. Break open the potatoes. Sprinkle with seasoned pepper. Top with a small amount of cheese and microwave a few minutes longer. Variation: Use a big, plump sweet potato—and hold the cheese.

Tomato + zucchini + red pepper + cheese: Chop one of each. Combine on a plate or in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. Crumble a cheese (feta? goat cheese?) atop. Variation: Think ratatouille and combine the vegetables, sprinkle with a small amount of water then cover and microwave a few minutes. Stir, re-cover and microwave until zucchini and red pepper are tender. Add a torn basil leaf or two, if you like. Drizzle with olive oil, spinkle with seasoned pepper. Enjoy with a crusty French-type roll.

Zesty veggies: Choose a couple handfuls of green beans or some summer squash. Trim and ready the green beans or squash, the microwave (covered) with a splash of water until just tender. Sprinkle with seasoned salt or drizzle with oil and balsamic.

jhevrdejs@tribune.com

Twitter: @judytrib

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