Without fail, my favorite weekends always start with a trip to a local farmers market. I love it in the spring, when the rhubarb and asparagus are piled high. I love it in the fall when butternut squash, garlic and beets abound. I'll say without reservation, though, that late summer is my favorite time of year. Now when the farmers' tables are stacked high with such a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is when the trip to the market goes from something I'd like to do to something I must do.
The colors, the crowds, the smells all provide more than enough inspiration to go home and cook something wonderful -- which is not hard to do when you're starting with gorgeous vegetables, perfectly ripe and in season. Here in Minnesota, where fresh local vegetables are hard to find in winter, it's best to strike while the iron is hot. And right now, the iron is smoking.
So when I had to think of a side dish to bring to a dinner party last weekend, I let the produce do the talking and decided to make something that would make those vegetables sing, a vegetable tian. This Provençal-style bake of mixed vegetables, roasted in a gratin style, is simple and adaptable to almost any vegetable -- perfect when you don't want to stroll the market with a list in hand. What looked good to me recently was eggplant, zucchini, potatoes and tomatoes, so that's what I used. You can cook with whatever appeals to you.
The other thing I like about this dish is that it can offer something for every member of the family. If one of your kids likes zucchini, while another hates it but likes sweet potatoes, just include them both in the dish. Then everyone gets a little something they like, perhaps along with something you'd like them to give another try. If you line up the vegetables in individual rows (in other words, one row of potatoes, one of zucchini, one tomatoes), they aren't all mixed up together, which can make it an easier sell to a picky eater. It looks beautiful that way, too. And that's always a plus.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.