My husband, Doug, and I have been putting produce first for a long time at our table. We are not vegetarians — we’re lifetime omnivores — but weeknight dinners at our house almost always center on seasonal produce. And the Napa Farmers Market is where my meal planning starts.
In restaurant lingo, the “center of the plate” is the steak, chicken breast, salmon or pork chop that the rest of the dish revolves around. Vegetables play a supporting role. They’re the sides, like an afterthought.
At my house, we flip that. Vegetables, beans and grains anchor our dinners. Meat, if we have any, is largely a flavoring — chicken broth in the asparagus risotto; crisp pancetta bits in the arugula and radicchio salad; a little crumbled fennel sausage with pasta and broccoli rabe.
I believe this way of eating has helped me maintain a stable, normal weight for decades. (A gym habit also helps.) And I know our veggie-centric meals keep the grocery bill down. We can devour heaps of organic asparagus for the price of a fresh wild salmon fillet.
As you stroll the Napa Farmers Market this week, think about giving vegetables a promotion. Here are some ideas for how you might transform spring’s best produce into a satisfying, wholesome and mostly meatless dinner:
— Boil, steam, roast or grill asparagus. Top with a fried farm egg or two, over easy. Sprinkle with a little grated Parmesan, pecorino or smoked paprika.
— Make a salad of red and gold beet wedges on top of steamed beet greens. Dress with olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic and crumbled feta. Second course: pasta with pesto.
— Steam some artichokes and make a “quick aioli” by whisking some extra-virgin olive oil into store-bought mayonnaise, then adding garlic to taste. Second course: a saffron risotto with leeks or peas.
— Make a hefty salad with leafy greens, orange segments, fennel and sliced avocado. Serve with stove-top quesadillas and tomato salsa.
— Whip Greek or French feta in a food processor with a smidgen of garlic and enough olive oil to make it smooth. Surround with radishes, carrots, cucumbers and other crisp, raw vegetables for dipping. Add hummus and flatbread from the farmers market. Follow with an asparagus omelet or frittata.
— Make a cauliflower soup with sauteed onions, cauliflower florets, broth and thyme. Simmer until the cauliflower is tender, then puree in a blender. Add a green salad and finish with cheese and fruit.
Seniors Day: Tuesday, May 17, is Seniors Day at the Napa Farmers Market. On the third Thursday of every month, shoppers 65 and older receive a 10 percent discount from participating vendors. Get a list of participating vendors at the farmers market information booth.
The Napa Farmers Market takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., May through October, in the parking lot of the South Napa Century Center, 195 Gasser Drive, Napa. For more information and upcoming events, visit NapaFarmersMarket.org or visit the market on Facebook.