Life got a little easier for locavores this year, what with the growing selection of prepared foods available at area farmers' markets. Products like jarred pesto and salsa have long been a boon to busy "buy local" cooks, but this season there's a new twist: a growing number of ready-to-heat-or-eat frozen and fresh foods, made with regional ingredients.
RP's Pasta has introduced filled ravioli at outdoor markets on the north side and in Middleton, as well as at the Westside Community Market and the Saturday market on the Capitol Square. Owner Peter Robertson and crew make eight varieties of ravioli at his east-side pasta factory. Six of them feature local ingredients: asparagus-asiago, portobello-Parmesan, four-cheese, spinach-ricotta, butternut squash and spinach-feta. I've tried the latter four, and, while all are hits, the spinach-feta is a grand slam. It has sweetly pronounced spinach flavor, butter-tender pasta and something unusual in prepared foods: just the right amount of salt. The package suggests complementing the ravioli with grilled vegetables or a light tomato sauce, but all I added was a trace of olive oil and butter, and they were perfection.
Tim Turner, chief of operations at RP's, says, "Peter has put lots of energy into the local line. He feels strongly about its importance." Robertson adds that after this fall's harvest, his two other ravioli fillings - pumpkin and sweet potato - will also be sourced from area growers. "The goal is 100% local for our ravioli."
Jordandal Farms offers pasties and soups at the Dane County and Westside markets on Saturdays. The pasties feature Jordandal's pasture-raised meats and poultry in three versions (rosemary chicken, beef and vegetables) and "breakfast pie," made with savory sage ground pork, bacon, potatoes, eggs and cheddar cheese. If that sounds too hearty for late summer, try popping these pasties into the toaster oven the next time you need an easy meal. They're smaller than other behemoth pasties in the area, the fillings are way more interesting, and the crust - well, I'd buy these for that rich, crumbly crust alone. Just add sliced garden tomatoes and dinner is complete.
And coming this fall from Jordandal: more soups, including ham and potato and liver and dumpling, plus pot pies, jambalaya and beef stew.
Delicately eggy quiche-lets, oversized cheddar biscuits and vegetable-studded focaccia from Honey Bee Bakery qualify as either a light main course or a substantial side dish. Made by Mary White, one of Madison's most gifted bakers, they're featured at the Eastside and Westside Community markets. (It's easy to find White's stand because it's almost always the one with the longest lines.) Her toppings and fillings "run in cycles with the season." The focaccia, for example, might show off cherry tomatoes and garlic scapes, or roasted garlic and fennel. When spinach was in season, she churned out spinach-feta purses, made with a raised dough. White keeps her eye out at markets for product inspiration. "That's what I get the most excited about," she says.
Add to the above items such now-familiar specialties as Shoe & Sal's organic pizzas and Cherokee Bison Farms' steamed bison back ribs (just add barbecue sauce), and you can now include convenience foods on your farmers' market shopping list.