Author Beth Dooley says the secret is to buy the best produce available and then figure out what to make.
When Beth Dooley visits the Lakeville Farmers Market, she might buy ingredients for gazpacho or a tomato bread salad. Maybe a salad with sweet peas, raspberries and strawberries.
According to the author of the new “Minnesota’s Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook,” she’ll make something light and refreshing but won’t know precisely what until she gets to the market.
“That’s the whole point of the book,” Dooley said. “It’s more about seeing what’s in season and seeing what’s there.”
On Wednesday, Dooley and food photographer Mette Nielsen will lead a market tour and talk at the Lakeville market. After stocking up on supplies, the pair will lead the group back to the library to whip up a summer meal — a soup, salad entrée and dessert.
A longtime locavore and frequent Taste contributor, Dooley has written about the regional food scene for the last 25 years, penning several books on seasonal cooking. Farmers markets, she said, are “a great way to get to know a place.” Plus, you’re supporting the local economy, the food is fresher, and because it’s fresher, she said, it keeps longer.
Dooley’s book, which opens with a history of Minnesota farmers markets, serves as much as a guide to the markets and “an encyclopedia of Northern Heartland foods” as a cookbook, the introduction says.
Dooley lists recipes alphabetically by type of food, an organizing principle that corresponds with one of the book’s primary suggestions: “Forget the shopping list.”
Instead of shopping with a specific recipe in mind, Dooley suggests, snag what is freshest and then figure out what to make with it.
“Whatever is in season is going to be what tastes the best,” said Nielsen, a photographer who worked on the book with Dooley.
Nielsen, also an avid gardener and cook, grew up in Denmark eating meals prepared from her parents’ huge kitchen garden. Eating out of season, she said, is generally either a) quite expensive or b) rather unhealthy.
Nielsen said she hopes they can convey the following message: “When you have good ingredients, you don’t need to do much to it. It doesn’t have to be a complicated thing that takes forever.” Also, “if you know how to cook, you can eat well for not very much money.”
At the event, Dooley said they plan to take a pass through the market to see what looks good, chat with vendors and then make a plan for the meal.
Nielsen, who spent three years taking photos for the book, will also offer some tips about photographing food. “It was really important that people see what the food looks like in the market,” said Nielsen, who has worked as a food photographer since 1986.
When taking photos, she said she relied on natural light and avoided staging. “It was so completely out of my general comfort zone,” she said. “I really had to control myself and not move something.”
This was both an effort to be non-intrusive and to capture the vendors’ choices. “People are very artistic in the way they display,” she said, “and I love that.”
“People interested in photography are drawn to the farmers market because there’s such an explosion of colors,” said Dooley.
Dooley said the goal of the Lakeville event is to show “how to live the book,” she said. “Hopefully, it brings it alive and gives more context to it.”
She is looking forward to putting practice into action. “Just sitting around talking about food is not as fun as sharing it,” she said. “It will be great.”
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.