Kathleen Purvis

When the growing season is over, I can harvest ideas for dinner

Farmers market vendors like Rio Bertolini’s pasta give you choices even after the summer produce is gone.
Farmers market vendors like Rio Bertolini’s pasta give you choices even after the summer produce is gone. Kathleen Purvis

As a farmers market regular, I have a different list of seasons than the usual spring/summer/fall/winter. My seasons include things like “eat all the asparagus I can cram in my mouth” season, “buy a cantaloupe a week” season and, of course, “tomato sandwich” season.

Once the first frost passes, though, I enter a different season when I troll through the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market on a Saturday morning: The time for buying things that make my life easier.

In summer, I save my crumpled dollar bills for the really fresh stuff. I avert my eyes when I pass those hopeful vendors with their jars and tubs of pickles, salsas and soups. With so many fresh vegetables, I’d rather do the cooking for myself.

In fall and winter, though, with fewer vegetables screaming to get into my canvas bags, I can spare more money to try things someone else made.

I can get to know Rio Bertolini, the fresh pasta stand. Based in Charleston, they supply pasta to several markets in the area. The twirls of pastas in different colors always look a little like yarn for a fettucine sweater. But what really pulls me over are the list of raviolis, usually $8 for a dozen, frozen and ready to drop in boiling water. A few weeks ago, butternut squash ravioli tasted so much like fall, it didn’t need sauce. I just tossed the cooked packets with a little butter and a generous grinding of black pepper.

A few tables over, I can stop for Empanadas 2 Go, usually $7 a box. The newest flavor, black bean and plantain, jumped into my bag last week, along with a tall jar of emerald-green chimichurri. That’ll be dinner with a salad one night this week.

Stopping by Yah’s Salsa, I spot one of my favorite fall colors: Her bright red cranberry salsa. Spooned over cream cheese and surrounded with crackers, it’s been my favorite no-work Thanksgiving appetizer for several years now, and she only makes it for a little time in the fall.

I stop by Renaissance Patisserie almost every week for one of Sylvain Rivet’s long baguettes. I’m glad he’s opened a shop, but I’m even more glad that he kept his farmers market stand. How else would I get through fall without those big jars of French onion soup?

It keeps going: Lucky Fish is selling smoked mountain trout, ready to flake into an omelet. Lit’l Taste of Heaven, home of those addictive garlic cheese biscuits, has added small circles of cornbread, ready to rewarm or turn into dressing for a roast chicken. And Una Alla Volta’s burratas make a simple plate of pasta an occasion.

Even when real winter hits and there’s nothing green left except cabbage and kale, I can find enough food to keep me playing in the kitchen until “cram in the asparagus” season comes back next spring.

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis