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The Joy of College Cooking

Making the most of our local farms

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Editor’s note: “The Joy of College Cooking” is a weekly column dedicated to food and the cooking experiences of college students.

The sun is out, final projects and papers are looming, and the farmers market continues to grace the U-District. I love going to the farmers market on a sunny Saturday morning — the endless options are always a comforting sight when I feel like my daily routine has become annoyingly dull.

An unintentional, but important side effect of shopping for produce at the farmers market is the fact that it can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. On average, American supermarket produce has traveled between 1,500 to 2,500 miles before landing on the shelves.

By buying some of your fruits and veggies (and other exciting goods like hummus and mushrooms) at the University District Farmers Market, not only do you reduce your carbon footprint, but you can also experience some of the freshest produce ever and meet some of the people who grew that food. For many, the farmers market is one of the easiest ways to connect with the origins of the food on our plates.

In addition, every first Saturday of the month, UW students can receive $2 in “Farm Bucks” to use at one of the many stalls, making trying new fresh produce much easier and accessible.

This week, I wanted to see what different meals I could make with my recent favorite spring farmers market finds: green garlic, rhubarb, and asparagus. As it warms up, the produce season peeks through with these delicious stalks that impart their own very unique flavors.

Because of my current love affair with rhubarb — the tart but sweet stalk that grows in a way disturbingly similar to stinging nettle — I started by making Lahb Co.’s rhubarb olive oil upside-down cake.

While an upside-down cake may seem daunting, and olive oil cakes sound way fancier than they should, this cake was one of the easiest things I ever made and came together so quickly. It’s a huge, delicious cake, perfect for study picnics, morning pick-me-ups, and late night cravings. Spreading rhubarb on the bottom of the pan is essentially the hardest part, which just tells you how easy this cake is.

For mine, I took out the tarragon and used vanilla extract instead of almond, and it turned out beautifully. While the recipe calls for a springform pan, a simple nine-inch cake pan will work just fine. The springform pan is used to make taking the cake itself out easier, but oiling your pan and using parchment on the bottom make flipping it over incredibly easy.

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The final product is a light and lemony cake covered in a jammy rhubarb compote, each distinct but perfectly complementary. I found that the ingredients, outside of the rhubarb, were also relatively easy to have on hand, which makes this a good back pocket cake for when you need something impressive in a jam. A similarly tart fruit using the same method should yield similarly delicious results. That being said, this cake is the perfect way to make full use of rhubarb season.

The other stalky vegetables I used this week were asparagus and green garlic, which I used in tandem. Green garlic can be used very similarly to regular garlic, but looks like a cross between a leek and a green onion, with a distinctly peppery scent in addition to the garlic flavor.

The first recipe I made with my bounty of garlic and asparagus was a browned butter, green garlic, and asparagus spaghetti so simple that it doesn’t require a full recipe. To make it, I melted butter in a pan until it began to foam, then brown, and produce a lovely nutty smell. Then, I added my minced green garlic and thinly sliced asparagus and sauteed for about five minutes until the asparagus was soft. Finally, add in cooked spaghetti and enjoy. Feel free to top with parmesan and red pepper flakes, if you are feeling particularly fancy.

This was the type of pantry pasta that is so simple to make and one of my favorite late-night stressed-out dinners to put together. A portion of fresh pasta with veggies and butter is the perfect combination of healthy and comforting — perfect for this time of year.

Finally, I made a simple asparagus risotto. This recipe can be scaled up or down and can be a great way to meal prep for the week.

Risotto is a comforting rice-based dish that is only tricky because of how finicky it can be and the constant attention it desires. Undertaking making risotto is rewarding, and results in a delicious and filling feel, but it does require stirring and slowly adding stock to a pot for about 15 to 30 minutes. Therefore, it is a great way to force yourself to escape from the troubles that finals bring. This type of attention also lets you sit with your food and feel the process.

This week reminded me to be adventurous with my farmers market bounty meals each week. It also reminded me of the reason Kate and I set out to write this column this year — making food accessible to college students. With programs like the University District Farmers Market’s “Farm bucks,” trying new produce couldn’t be easier, and it is even more accessible to go out and see your farmers.

Reach columnist Megan Matti at Twitter: @megan_matti.

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