It's the time of year when fruit and vegetable stands have popped up everywhere and vendors at the outdoor markets offer a bounty of locally grown produce.

Get it while you can, because soon the tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and other delights will be replaced with pumpkins, apples, and gourds.

For those of us who suffered the effects of COVID-19 restrictions by staying home and eating comfort foods till our trousers no longer fit, this time of year is the perfect opportunity to shed some of those unwanted pounds by eating healthier foods picked fresh from the vines.

The Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program, a statewide marketing order established by a grower referendum, governed by a grower board and funded by grower assessments, has come out with a collaborative cookbook of more than 100 pages titled "Pennsylvania Vegetables," offering many different recipes for fresh produce of the season.

The program’s sole purpose is to promote Pennsylvania-grown vegetables and fund practical vegetable production research. The digital book focuses on fresh, in-season produce.

Lawrence County is fortunate to have an abundance of vegetable growers who use three thriving farmer's markets as their venues. All three venues are open on Saturdays:

•The Fresh Marketplace in New Wilmington Borough, which opens at 9 a.m. every week.

•The New Castle Farmer's Market, on Mill Street downtown, open 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

•The Ellwood City Farmer's Market, open 8 a.m. to noon. 

Some of the venues offer live musical entertainment while people are doing their outdoor shopping, and each offers a variety of other food products and even some plants and crafts in addition to fruits and vegetables. 

The book "Pennsylvania Vegetables" offers not only recipes, it has a nifty chart showing what vegetables are in season when, and a guide showing the nutrition of certain vegetables and how to choose and store them.

For example, sometimes, picking a good eggplant or other produce can be a challenge to a novice. An Italian friend once told me — and I'm not sure how true it is — that the way to select an eggplant is to turn it over. If the mark on the bottom is round, it is a female and will probably be loaded with seeds. If the mark is elongated, it is a male and has fewer seeds. I've used this as a rule of thumb all these years when buying eggplant, but never really figured out the number of seeds thing.

My mother once told me that to select a good, ripe pineapple, in addition to looking at the color, pluck one of the green spears from the top. If it removes easily, it is ready to eat.

I've always struck out on choosing a watermelon. I've followed the advice of many but the ones I pick are not usually the prime watermelon I'm looking for.

The cookbook also offers tips on how to handle and prepare vegetables.

What's always been a mystery to me is the actual ingredients that go into making ranch dressing or dip at home. I usually buy it the store, but this new book has a recipe for the make-your-own ranch dressing, which is shown below. I would probably replace the mayonnaise with sour cream, since I am not a mayonnaise fan.

Another recipe in the booklet that caught my eye was for potato and green bean salad, which looks refreshingly good.

And the book also has a recipe for fried cauliflower, something I had never tasted until I moved to New Castle. A coworker had invited me to lunch one day nearly 40 years ago, at what used to be the Medical Center lunch bar downtown. It had moved to the Temple Building on North Street for awhile, near to where Meeks Jewelers was.

We sat at the counter and I ordered the fried cauliflower, which was served with a chunky blue cheese dip. I was hooked. So I was pretty excited to find the recipe for that, too, inside Pennsylvania Veggies.

I also found a recipe in there for Zucchini Vegetable Casserole, a variation of one I always loved that also had grated cheddar cheese, which you can add yourself for extra flavor. You also can jazz it up with extra sliced mushrooms if you like them.

The how-to for all of these treasures is listed below.

Anyone who wants to find a copy of the book can download it at www.paveggies.org/pennsylvania-vegetables-cookbook/.

Ranch dressing

6 ounces olive oil mayonnaise

8 ounces buttermilk

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh dill

Whisk the mayonnaise, lemon juice and the herbs and seasonings together in a medium bowl. Slowly pour in the buttermilk, adding until the dressing reaches preferred consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning (the onion and garlic powders will develop more fully after being hydrated by the dressing after a couple of hours). Whisk until completely smooth and serve immediately, or transfer to a jar to keep in the refrigerator. Shake before using.

Herbed potato and green bean salad

2 pounds small red and gold potatoes

1 tablespoon kosher salt, or more to taste

1 pound trimmed fresh green beans

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup fresh, flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

3 green onions, finely chopped, plus more sliced for garnish

Place potatoes in a large pt and cover with water by two inches. Add salt and bring water to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and continue boiling until potatoes are just fork-tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Drain and let cool.

While potatoes are cooking, boil a small pot of salted water and add green beans. Boil for 3 to 4 minutes, remove beans from water and run under cool water.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, garlic and vinegar, slowly streaming in olive oil until dressing is emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut in half (or quarters if large) and add to large bowl. Cut beans into halves or thirds, depending on size, and add to the bowl with potatoes. Pour dressing over the vegetables and toss to combine. Stir in parsley and green onions, and gently toss till combined. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Serve immediately, garnished with green onion, or cover and refrigerate until serving.

Fried cauliflower

1 head of cauliflower

1 egg and 3 tablespoons milk

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup bread crumbs

1 cup olive oil salt

Cut cauliflower into small pieces and boil in water until soft. Do not overcook.

In three small bowls, use one for flour, one for eggs, and one for bread crumbs.

Whip the egg with a fork and add the milk.

Heat a small frying pan with olive oil. Cover each piece of cauliflower with flour, then the egg wash, then coat in bread crumbs. Repeat for all cauliflower pieces and set aside.

Start frying the cauliflower when the oil is hot, about 1 minute per side. Drain oil on plate covered with paper towel.

Dip in blue cheese dressing or tartar sauce if desired.

Zucchini Vegetable Casserole

1 large zucchini (3 cups grated)

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large carrot, grated

1 cup fresh corn

1 can cream of mushroom soup

8 ounce sour cream

1 package boxed stuffing mix

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Saute zucchini and onion (and mushrooms if you use them) with a small pat of butter for about 5 minutes. Place mixture in a large bowl and stir in other ingredients, reserving a small amount of the stuffing mix to sprinkle on top.

Pour into a medium-sized, buttered casserole dish, top with reserve stuffing and bake for 35 minutes until hot and bubbly.

Consider liking PA Veggies on Facebook (PAVeggies), following along on Instagram (@PAVeggies), subscribing to its emails and YouTube channel, and using #PAVeggies to find and share your homegrown PA happiness experiences.

dwachter@ncnewsonline.com

Reporter

Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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