musings about food, travel, creativity and life

Leave It To Wisconsin

Madison inspires me. I love the university vibe, even though it is mellower in the summer–and hotter and muggier. Bicyclists are out in full force; music and food festivals abound; sailboats, kayaks and rowing shells sweep by on Lake Mendota. And–one of the best and largest “producers only” farmers’ markets in the U.S. awaits eager shoppers every Saturday morning from April to November on Madison’s Capitol Square. Foodie heaven.

This Dane County Farmers’ Market (, started in 1972, is dedicated to uniting “the urban and the rural cultures” of the area. And what a uniting and entertaining event it is. Anywhere from 150 to 170 vendors congregate around the Square. And hundreds of shoppers walking mostly in one direction shop at the booths filled with the abundance that the farmers and farmlands of Wisconsin have produced for our sustenance and enjoyment.

The Square on market days is crowded. One has to just go with the flow or the “slow,” as the case may be. But that is all a part of the experience. This time of year, one goes by stands and stands of fresh rhubarb, garlic scapes, broccoli, lettuce, mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, spinach, strawberries, popcorn kernels, honey, bakery, meat and dairy products– and cheese, of course. Every cheese producer has tidbits of their production with toothpicks for easy tasting. And not for sale, but definitely part of the ambiance, are musical groups and political booths. After all, this is Wisconsin’s capital!

As serendipity would have it, we recently happened onto an “On Point” public radio interview with Samin Nosrat (, chef and author of Salt, Fat, Acid and Heat, and creator of a four part documentary Netflix series by the same name. What a fun, inspirational interview. She had me with her comment of “searching for that taste of home.” We even watched one of the series–on Heat–which takes place primarily in California (!) and which has quite a few tips on how to shop for, and prepare, the freshest vegetables. Timely.  (And I just read that she will be speaking in Madison this October–serendipity yet again!)

Thanks to last week’s Farmers’ Market foray, I made rhubarb sauce, a first for me, and a hit with my Wisconsin husband. And when seeing a woman holding pots of basil to plant in her garden, I developed a hankering to make my family’s pesto sauce, as in “searching for that taste of home.” I remember summers as a teenager coming back from a day at the local swimming pool to my grandparents’ home in Fairfax, California, opening the gate, walking down the walkway and inhaling the smell of basil pesto coming from the house. Italian nirvana!

My mom and grandmother used to make the pesto with the traditional mortar and pestle; I have switched to a food processor–mea culpa!

Here is my family Pasta con Pesto recipe, with a Genovese/Ligurian touch of adding green beans and potatoes to the dish. Buon Appetito!


Pasta Con Pesto

Serves 3

l bunch basil (about 2 cups of leaves)

2 cloves garlic, chopped

l/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons pine nuts

12 ounces dry linguini or spaghetti


l cup green beans, stems trimmed and cut into two inch lengths

l medium red potato, peeled and sliced


Place basil, garlic, Parmesan, olive oil and pine nuts in a food processor or blender and puree until well blended (or grind all of the ingredients to a paste with a mortar and pestle).

In a large pot, cook the pasta, green beans, and potatoes in salted boiling water until the pasta is al dente. Drain, saving 4 or 5 tablespoons of the hot pasta water to add to the pesto sauce before spooning it onto the pasta. Toss the pasta with the pesto sauce. Sprinkle generously with grated Parmesan cheese.



8 thoughts on “Leave It To Wisconsin”

  • I just got caught up on my “Bring Joy to the Table” reading. These three travel pieces were delightful. I was there. I could feel it, taste it, and hear it.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences. Certainly your farm to table adventures must bring joy to your table. Madison intrigues me. Sounds like a place well worth a visit. How beautiful that John has had an opportunity to share his love of Madison with you.

    • Thank, Barbara, for reading my midwest posts. Madison and the Midwest are filled with so many gifts–I feel fortunate to be able to experience them.

  • Be sure to invite me over for that pesto. It was delicious in Liguria but is sure be even better from the kitchen of my favorite Italian. Hope you cheeseheads had a fun 4th in Madison.
    Ciao Ciao for now. xoxo

  • What a sensory trip through the Madison Farmers Market with you Lynn!! Love the summer vibe and memories of growing up in California.
    Thanks for taking me back to my childhood summer days! Diane

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *