From a French toast salad to a Greek riff on panzanella, this summer's crop of farmers market-inspired recipes boasted winning flavors.
Last month we challenged you, dear readers, to come up with an original dish inspired by the produce of the season, whether it was saucy tomato creations, squash extravaganzas or berry bonanzas. Then we opened the polls for voting and took your fan faves to our testing panel.
One windswept, tomato-spattered kitchen later, the winners include a high school food blogger, a veggie-obsessed cookbook author, a sugar-and-spice entrepreneur and a passionate farmers market shopper.
French Toast Fruit Salad
We have a love-hate relationship with brunch. We can't resist pancakes, bacon or eggs Benedict, but we find the caloric guilt hard to take -- and the necessity of a post-brunch, morning nap plays havoc with weekend plans. But with San Mateo food writer Merrin McGregor's irresistible recipe, you can have your French Toast -- and eat it, too.
It's a glorious fruit salad with little cubes of orange-tinged French toast. "This recipe was inspired by my love for breakfast and brunch foods and my ongoing quest to get extra fruits and vegetables into the meals I cook," says McGregor, who blogs at VegetablesAccidentally.com. "Mixing a classic food that people already love -- like French toast -- with in-season produce is an easy way to find common ground between great taste and healthy cooking."
McGregor suggests you toss the salad with maple syrup, but we found that the berries were so juicy, the dish hardly needed dressing. We just added a tiny maple drizzle when we served it, and felt sated and virtuous at the same time.
Zucchini and Goat Cheese Ravioli
It was a prolific zucchini harvest that inspired Palo Alto high school student Kinsey Drake, who writes about her foodie adventures, tasty travels and favorite vegetarian recipes at KinseyCooks.com.
"I've been cooking ever since I can remember," Drake says. "I love zucchini with goat cheese as a tangy contrast, along with some fresh mint for brightness, so I combined those flavors into a filling for r fresh egg pasta."
Sauced with a brown butter and roasted tomato sauce, the dish is a light, flavorful ode to summer. As for that fresh pasta, Drake has been making her own papardelle, farfalle and ravioli ever since she was 10 and Santa brought her the best Christmas gift ever: a pasta machine.
Panzanella, the classic Italian bread salad, got a Greek makeover from Fremont native Kayti Mangan one summer, thanks to a combination of "really hot weather, stale French bread and lots of fresh tomatoes and peppers," Mangan says. The result is a riot of bright colors -- purple onion, pale green cucumber, gold and scarlet bell peppers and toasted cubes of bread -- dressed with an oregano-spiked vinaigrette.
Southern Blackberry Cobbler
It doesn't get more farmers market-inspired than this: Sugar-and-spice entrepreneur and former chef Scott Shaia was manning his Shaia Spice booth at the Pinole farmers market when he heard about the recipe contest and began eyeing the baskets of ripe blackberries at a neighboring booth. So Shaia took his favorite Southern-style cobbler and gave it a twist with his own vanilla-infused sugar.
This is not one of those fruit-forward cobblers with a crisp, crumbly topping. Here, the berries disappear into the puffy batter, forming a very sweet, jamlike layer within. Based on reader votes, this retro, down-home dessert was a great favorite. It's easy to throw together and infinitely adaptable, depending upon what's in season.