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Entertaining with a fresh, local twist

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(BPT) - The pleasant weather of late summer and early fall is ideal for outdoor gatherings. Instead of a go-to meal of burgers and potato salad, explore your culinary side and try something fresh and different. Entertaining with local vegetables and flavorful garden herbs can be easy, healthy and delicious. Farmers markets are often the best source for ingredients straight from the garden.

With the USDA National Farmers Markets Directory listing approximately 8,000 across the country, there is sure to be a great local market minutes from your home with everything you need for a perfect seasonal soirée.

Menu magic

Before heading out to purchase your ingredients, decide what’s on the menu for your party or get-together. Keep it simple. Fresh, local produce is full of flavor and doesn’t need to be used in an especially complex meal to satisfy taste buds. For an informal gathering, a salsa verde is an easy-to-make accompaniment to fish, chicken or pork and a delicious snack paired with baked, homemade tortilla chips. The salsa can be prepared in minutes using a high-powered blender like the Vitamix 5200, so you can spend less time prepping and more time enjoying your guests.

For a more formal dinner with friends, make a twist on the traditional spaghetti and meatballs. Whole-wheat pasta tossed with a healthy pesto makes for a lighter meal that’s perfect for a balmy evening. Ingredients like kale, spinach, roasted red pepper, garlic and olive oil, along with fresh herbs and spices, blend together beautifully after just seconds in a Vitamix machine.

Smart shopping

Once you’ve completed your menu, it’s time to visit your local farmers market to pick up the ingredients. Arrive early, when the market is less busy, and familiarize yourself with the producers. Ask them questions about when the produce was picked and how to tell if it’s ripe, developing a relationship with them for future visits. If you’re shopping early in the week, make sure the ingredients you’re using for your dish will stay fresh until your weekend party, and ask the vendors for advice on storage.

Have fun experimenting with new ingredients. Pick up a few golden beets, red dragon carrots or purple potatoes, which house amazing nutritional benefits and pack a tremendous amount of flavor into any meal.

Clean, prepare and pair

Clean your produce thoroughly and be aware that vegetables from farmers markets may have more dirt on them than the ones you pick up at the grocery store as they are fresh from the farm. Keep the preparation simple to allow the natural flavors to shine.

To make your meals pop, plate them on inexpensive bamboo or melamine dinner plates in cheerful colors. Serving trays in dark colors or woods will complement the colorful dishes and simplify the transport of food and utensils from the kitchen to your dinner table or patio.

If you have extra fruit, vegetables or herbs, use them for a refreshing drink, such as cucumber lemonade for the kids, a blended green smoothie or a strawberry basil mojito for the adults. These fresh and delicious beverages will entice the senses and complete your farm-to-table meal.  

Tomatillo Salsa
Yield: 1 cup
Total time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

8 tomatillos, peeled, stewed

2 scallions, halved

1/4 jalapeño, halved, seeded

1/2 garlic clove, peeled

1 teaspoon lime juice

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Place all ingredients into the Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid.

Select variable 1.

Turn machine on and slowly increase speed to variable 7.

Blend for 15 seconds or just until chopped. If necessary, use tamper to push the ingredients into the blades while processing.

Do not over-mix. Serve as a dip or as an accompaniment.

Kale Pesto
Yield: 1 1/4 cups
Total time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

4 cups chopped kale

1/2 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1/4 cup roasted red pepper

2 garlic cloves, roasted, peeled

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 Tablespoons toasted pepitas

1/2 cup fresh spinach, loosely packed

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

In a large pot of salted, boiling water, blanch 4 cups of kale for 4 minutes. Shock in a bowl filled with ice and water; strain. Once water has drained away, press out as much water as possible, leaving 1/2 cup of blanched kale.

Place all ingredients into the Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid.

Select variable 7.

Use the on/off switch to quickly pulse 15 to 20 times, using the tamper to press the ingredients into the blades.

Serve over pasta, or with bruschetta and flatbread as a dip.