Oh man, there are a lot of options at our farmers’ markets. The summer heat and diligent farmers have brought forward a colorful bounty. I’m drawn to the bright and contrasting colors of the vegetables, and have been inspired to make meals that showcase the vibrancy of color and flavor. I’ve been using a lot of herbs — they just freshen up any meal.

I’ve been on a caprese salad kick. Caprese salad is simply tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella. I always add a sprinkle of salt, and if I’m not feeling too lazy, a drizzle of olive oil and a bitty splash of balsamic vinegar. (You have to be careful with the vinegar; a not-so-bitty splash will leave the dish soaked.) I generally try to avoid falling into the “well, actually,” traps of what people and should and shouldn’t eat and how people should and shouldn’t prepare foods…but — yes, there is a but — you really should be using some local tomatoes for the best caprese salad. You want the tomato to be sweet and a little tangy and actually taste like tomato. If you stop by one of the bazillion market vendors selling tomatoes right now, they will gladly help you identify the best variety of tomato for your caprese.

You can’t have caprese without basil, and basil is in abundance right now, especially at Urbana’s Market at the Square. Fathead Farm in Urbana is new to the market (and only established this year). You won’t miss the booth in row two — the smell of basil is intoxicating, and the basil plants are planted in really big buckets, so when you buy your basil, it’s literally fresh cut. It’s amazing.

As for the cheese, well, you’ll have to find the fresh mozz at Common Ground on Saturday morning, or at your preferred grocery store. If you’re really feeling it, get buffalo milk mozzarella because it is far superior to regular mozzarella.

On last month’s Five things to eat or drink in C-U, I included micro greens from Diamond’s Homestead. They are a good addition to or substitute for herbs, when you want something a little subtler. You could make a really nice chopped salad with tomatoes and cucumbers and basil and herbs and micro greens.

The other summer dish I’ve been craving is this corn pizza I’ve written about before. It’s the perfect use of market goodies. Technically, it doesn’t even need to be on pizza; you could serve it as a salad, or add in some grains (quinoa, farro, pasta), or on top of some greens.

This is the perfect time of year to push outside of your cooking and eating comfort zones. Never had a beet? Pick up a few and ask for suggestions from the farmers (or the internet). Think you’ve exhausted all possibilities for zucchini? Try it raw, shaved into ribbons and tossed with olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, and fresh herbs like basil or parsley. Or just stand in the middle of the row and yell, “Can someone please tell me what to do with all this damn zucchini?”

The Land Connection Champaign Farmers’ Market

The Champaign Market is in its 5th year, and runs every Tuesday from May 14th to October 29th from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., rain or shine. It’s located in the parking lot at Neil and Washington in Downtown Champaign.

Forms of Payment: Vendors mostly take cash, but some do take credit. If you run out of cash, there is an ATM at First Mid Bank on Church Street.

SNAP/LINK: All eligible vendors accept SNAP benefits through the LINK token program. Please visit The Land Connection website for specifics and for matching information.

Parking: Metered parking is available in parking lot M off of Neil Street, or in the Hill Street Parking Deck.

Pets: Leashed dogs are welcome.

Social Media: Follow The Land Connection on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or check the website for more information.

Urbana’s Market at the Square Info

The Urbana Market has been in continuous operation since 1979. The market runs each Saturday, May 4th to October 26th from 7 a.m. to noon, rain or shine. It’s located at the corner of Illinois and Vine in Urbana.

Programming Schedule:

  • First Saturday: Chef Demos
  • Second Saturday: Art at the Market
  • Third Saturday: Sprouts at the Market
  • Fourth Saturday: Read at the Market

Forms of payment: All vendors accept cash, and a few may take checks. Many accept credit. If you run out of cash at the Market, there is an ATM at Busey Bank on Main and Race.

SNAP/LINK: Vendors selling LINK-eligible foods accept LINK tokens. Please visit Urbana’s Market at the Square website for specifics, or the information tent on site. 

Parking: Free parking is available in the parking lots surrounding Lincoln Square Mall and the lot south of Illinois Street. Bike parking is also available at the entrances to the mall and at the bike corral area past the entrance to the Market off of Illinois.

Pets: No pets allowed. Please respect the market’s rules and leave Fido at home.

Social Media: You can follow the Market on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Sign up for weekly Market emails here.

Photos by Jessica Hammie