Wednesday, August 7, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dishing / Kathy Casey

Summer bounty: Savor the freshness bursting from local farmers' markets

Late summer brings an abundance of local fruits and veggies to area farmers markets. So much produce, so little time! And who has the hours to traditionally can and "put up" a few good things ... maybe Martha does now? Oops! Did I say that?

One of my favorite ways to preserve the seasonal bounty is a quickie form of Pickled Peppers — they're great to top crostini spread with chèvre, or a nice fat grilled steak. At local markets you can find a ton of them, grown and trucked over from the other side of the mountains. These peppers can be roasted, tossed with some vinegar, herbs, and oil, and then refrigerated or frozen for a later taste of sunshine.

Also much loved are fresh-fruit salsas — a flash to make and best eaten right away, scooped up on corn chips. My recipe for Spicy Mexy Melon Salsa fits the bill. Slightly sweet, a touch sassy and definitely refreshing, it's great when accompanied by a tall margarita on the rocks and the day's heat.

Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with Deborah Madison, the founding chef of the renowned Greens Restaurant on San Francisco Bay and author of the best-selling "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone." Her new book, "Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America's Farmers' Markets," (Broadway Books, $39.95) is fabulously delicious — from her recipes to the photos. It will have any veggie lover drooling. The book is filled with a superb collection of recipes and menus featuring ingredients found in fresh markets across the country.

A huge supporter of farmers markets, Deborah contends that the best way to cook, especially with vegetables, is to buy from your local farmers. After all, your final outcome is only as good as the quality of the product you use, and foods in season pair well together naturally. Whenever she's in Seattle, Deborah enjoys (aside from great Pacific Northwest seafood) gathering samplings of Washington berries, hazelnuts and wild mushrooms. It is easy to get overwhelmed with so many delicious choices, so Deborah likes to "get a big platter and put everything on it."

I, a self-proclaimed recipe snob, was so enthralled by the mouthwatering recipes from "Local Flavors" that it was hard to decide which recipes to test and feature in this article. So I narrowed it down to three and then added a couple of my own favorites.

Fresh corn is, of course, wonderful eaten right off the cob, rubbed with butter and sprinkled with salt — but I love it folded into a batch of Deborah's Corn Fritters with Aged Cheddar and Arugula. As Deborah says, "These crunchy fritters are all corn, not just a few corn kernels suspended in batter!"

A fun, fluorescent-crimson color, the Ultimate Root Soup Borscht is truly its definitive rendering for borscht fans. Deborah's recipe takes full advantage of a variety of full-flavored, locally grown veggies by extracting every bit of goodness from their trimmings for the homemade soup stock. And she deepens and enriches the taste even more by incorporating dried mushrooms.

Another irresistible recipe from Deborah's book features roasted poblano chiles, mint and cilantro whirled into a luscious appetizer to spread on warm corn tortillas. Ricotta with Roasted Chile and Mint is summery and refreshing, especially when nibbled with a chilled glass of the French-style vin rosé that is popping up from our Washington wineries.

So out to a farmers market — with recipes in hand — and gather up the veggies and fresh herbs from local growers. No better way to cook up some summer yum!

Chef Kathy Casey is a national food, beverage and restaurant consultant and freelance food writer. Her "Dishing" column appears the first Wednesday of each month.


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