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  • Writer's pictureTommy Centola

Finding inspiration from Farmer's market

If you haven’t taken a trip to Searcy’s Farmer’s Market, you don’t know what you’re missing. Every Saturday, from Late Spring to Late Fall, you will find vendors around the Court House selling their wares. From 8am until noon, you will find fresh produce, meats, baked goods and handcrafted jewelry. I always start my Saturday with a stroll around the booths.

As I walked around, I couldn’t help but notice all the wonderful produce. Among the vegetables, I found tomatoes, eggplant, squash, zucchini, garlic, onions, bell peppers and fresh corn on the cob. They also had some fresh blueberries and blackberries. So today, I used this inspiration to make these recipes: Stuffed Tomatoes, Eggplant, Shrimp & Crabmeat Étouffée, and Blueberry-Lemon Iced Tea. Let’s head to the kitchen.

In New Orleans, we grow a tomato known as Creole tomatoes. Due to the rich soil around the Mississippi River, these vine ripened tomatoes develop a unique flavor. The tomatoes I found at our Farmers markets are a great substitute for a Creole tomato.

Stuffed Tomatoes

6 to 8 large tomatoes

½ teaspoon Creole seasoning

2 cups cooked long grain rice

½ pound sliced bacon, cooked and crumbled

¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese

½ cup finely chopped onion

¼ cup minced fresh parsley

1 egg, beaten

½ teaspoon pepper

1 pound cooked small shrimp

¼ cup dry Italian style bread crumbs

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Cut a thin slice off the top of each tomato; scoop out and discard pulp. Sprinkle Creole seasoning inside the tomatoes; invert on paper towels to drain. In a large bowl, combine the rice, bacon, cheese, onion, parsley, egg and pepper. Fold in shrimp. Spoon into tomatoes. Place in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Combine bread crumbs and butter; sprinkle over the tomatoes. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 30 minutes or until heated through.

By now, you should know that I love to cook étouffées. The cover photo for my cookbook is my Crawfish Étouffée. Here is a twist on a shrimp étouffée. The addition of crabmeat and eggplant elevated a regular shrimp étouffée to new heights. Try it and I think you will agree.

Eggplant, Shrimp & Crabmeat Étouffée

4 medium eggplants, peeled and cut into pieces

1 cup chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup chopped bell pepper

1/4 cup chopped celery

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/4 pound butter (1 stick)

1 1/2 pounds peeled shrimp (90/110)

1 pound fresh picked lump crabmeat

Creole seasoning to taste

Melt 1/4 pound butter in a medium sized pot. Add 1 cup chopped onions, 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper, 1/4 cup chopped celery, 2 tablespoons chopped garlic. Sauté seasonings until cooked limp. Boil eggplant cubes in a separate pot until cooked. Remove and strain. Add shrimp to pot with seasoning. Heat over low to medium flame and bring to a simmer. Add cooked eggplant. Stir shrimp and seasoning and eggplant until evenly combined. Add Creole seasoning and mix throughout. Allow to smother 20 minutes, adding a small amount of water if necessary to keep moist. Taste for seasoning. Add crabmeat and parsley and mix throughout. Remove from heat. Serve around rice pilaf. Garnish with a sprig of parsley.

The blueberries looked very inviting. Usually when I grab blueberries, it’s for a dessert. With the heat being what it is, I thought I would try something else. The beverage will quench your thirst on even the hottest of days.

Blueberry-Lemon Iced Tea

1 pound fresh blueberries

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

4 cups water

3 family-sized tea bags

3/4 cup sugar

Bring blueberries and lemon juice to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until berries burst, about 5 minutes. Remove form heat and pour through a fine wire mesh strainer into a bowl, using the back of a spoon to squeeze out the juice. Discard solids. Reserve juice. Wipe saucepan clean. Add water and bring to a boil. Add tea bags and let stand 5 minutes. Remove from heat and discard tea bags. Stir in sugar and reserved blueberry juice. Pour into a pitcher; cover and chill 1 hour. Serve over ice.

Every time I walk through our Farmer’s market, I come home inspired to create dishes with these fresh products. They are a far superior quality product than what you can buy at the store. You are also supporting local farmers. I hope to see you there next week.

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