My alarm goes off at 7:00 every Saturday morning. I really must be crazy. Unlike my peers who take advantage of the opportunity to spend the weekend mornings in much-needed slumber, I have other concerns on my mind. I must beat the rush – the farmers market rush, that is.
Bleary-eyed and coffee-deprived, I make my way to Turner Pavilion, the earlier the better, to get the first pick. I stock up on the finest produce, eggs, and bread in Harrisonburg; grab one of J&L Green Farm’s delicious sausage, egg, and cheese muffins; and take a few leisurely strolls around. I watch as people catch up with their friends, sharing stories from the past week. I see the camaraderie building between farmer and consumer, a relationship that slashes the non-transparency in our current food system. It is a community of people coming together, sharing the harvest, and supporting localism. It’s a beautiful sight.
One of the best things about the farmers market is that even though it comes back twice a week, each day is something new. Each market day comes with a sense of mystery. I make my way over, wondering what new produce has arrived since my last visit, which breads will be offered, who I will see and meet. In fact, this aspect is something I use to guide my meals for the week. It is an exciting challenge to go to the market without a recipe in mind, letting the season and availability guide me instead. I may see one item, which inspires me to think of another, and before I know it, I’ve got the makings of a new dish in my market bag. And with our vast numbers of vendors and products, this is not necessarily a hard thing to do, especially when so many vendors have great recipe tips as well.
Recently, I made a simple and seasonal dinner, spawned from a stroke of inspiration I got while perusing the market. It started with a butternut squash and later, an onion. I love roasting the two in the oven with a little olive oil, caramelizing both and slowly bringing out their sweet flavors. Goat cheese and arugula soon came into the mix and, for some reason, I decided that all of these ingredients would taste great piled on a pizza crust.
The resulting pizza is a healthy and fresh twist on the standard concept, but is just as comforting and satisfying. It is a great way to fit a filling vegetarian meal into the day as well. It is sweet from the squash, tangy and salty from the cheese, and intensified with a spicy kick from the arugula. And, of course, by using local and seasonal ingredients, the flavor is even more delicious.
This is a great recipe to think about making for Food Day on Monday, October 24th. Not only will it serve to celebrate our local food, but it will also fulfill the needs of those who may take part in Meatless Monday. If you would like to make it any other day of the week, that’s of course perfectly okay too.
Fall Harvest Pizza
-One premade whole wheat pizza crust (Willow Run Bakery has these every Saturday. The crust is already cooked, so you just need to put on the toppings and heat to make it crispy.)
-1 medium butternut squash (available at most produce-selling vendors. Any one that you pick will be great!)
-1 medium onion (again, many vendors sell these but I like to use the “candy” variety of onion. North Mountain Produce has these.)
-8 oz mozzarella cheese (Mountain View Farm Products sells fresh mozzarella cheese made from raw milk straight from their dairy farm in Fairfield, VA.)
-8oz goat cheese (Green Haven Farm sells delicious fresh goat cheese. Pick up a container of their plain soft cheese to sprinkle on the pizza.)
-A few handfuls of fresh arugula (though a little late in the season, Radical Roots, as well as other vendors, still has fresh arugula.)
-1/3 cup walnut pieces (this is the only non-farmer’s market item but luckily, Friendly City Food Co-op sells walnuts in their bulk bins. Stop by after visiting the market to get just the amount you need)
-(optional) a drizzle of honey (get local and fresh honey from Pure and Simple at the Farmers Market. Though the pizza only requires a drizzle, you’ll still find yourself using this honey every day)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel and de-seed the butternut squash and cut it into medium-small cubes. Peel the onion, cut it in half, and slice each into thick half-rings. Place the squash and onions on a baking sheet and toss generously with olive oil and salt and pepper. Place in the oven for 40 minutes, turning the squash and onions halfway through.
When the squash is finished, remove from the oven and set aside to cool while you prepare the other ingredients. Keep the oven on at 400 degrees. Take out your whole-wheat pizza crust and place it on a baking sheet or pizza stone. Brush lightly with olive oil. Shred the mozzarella cheese and sprinkle over the crust. Put about half of the arugula over the cheese. Place the butternut squash and onion evenly over the cheese (I always end up snacking on a few plain cubes of squash – I can’t help it) then crumble the goat cheese on top. Finally top with the walnuts. I actually then shredded some parmesan on top but only do this if you happen to have parmesan around – it’s perfectly good without it. Place in the oven for around 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and the crust is crispy.
Remove from the oven and top with the remaining arugula, salt and fresh cracked pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and a drizzle of fresh honey. Cut into wedges and enjoy!
Katie George is the Promotions Intern for fall of 2011. She is a senior Media Arts & Design major at James Madison University.
All photographs © 2011 Katie George