Archive for the ‘Heart of the City Farmer’s Market’ Category

Many people loathe brussels sprouts because they were force-fed them as a child or because they only know them as a gross, overcooked mess on their cafeteria lunch tray. And sadly, that is probably how most people will continue to encounter them since the vast majority of U.S. production winds up in the frozen section, where larger specimens are de rigeur.

But brussels sprouts really are delicious, and it is the sprouts that are too small to meet processed food standards that are the tastiest. Although all vegetables are better fresh, this is especially true of brussels sprouts. Fresh, they’re nutty, sweet and meltingly tender. Once they’ve been sitting around for too long, they become flatulent and flabby-tasting. I cannot warn you away from most supermarket sprouts strenuously enough. They’re usually too big, which means they’ll have leathery, slightly bitter outer leaves; and packed into a plastic-covered tub that’s been shipped however many miles it is to you from Monterey County, Ca, where most of the U.S. supply is grown.

So if you see them at the farmer’s market, snap them up. They’re quick and super-easy to cook. Here’s how I cooked a batch I got from Phan’s Farm at the Heart of the City Farmer’s Market:

Simple Brussels Sprouts:

1/2 – 3/4 lb smallish brussels sprouts
1 pat butter
1 tsp salt

Cut the bases off the sprouts, then slice them in half. Set them face-down in a shallow frying pan and put enough water in the pan to cover them just over half way. Cover the pan and put over high flame. Once the water is boiling, add salt and lower heat to medium. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and return to pan. Add 1 pat butter and swirl sprouts around in pan to coat. Done!

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Every now and again, my weekly stroll through the farmers market gets interrupted by a sighting of something extraordinary that makes me stop in my tracks and think, “holy shit!”. This week, it was yuzu.

Yuzu is something that I’d tasted all my life in a processed form, but had never had fresh. It’s in a lot of Japanese seasonings, most commonly the ponzu dipping sauce served with shabu-shabu and sashimi; and it’s apparently also commonly consumed in Korea in yuja-cha, a honey-laden tea meant to ward off the winter cold.

The ones I bought tasted basically like a cross between an orange (without the sweetness) and a lemon (but without the puckering sourness). A glance through Harold McGee indicated that yuzu is composed of a pretty considerable medley of flavor notes: limonene (citrus), pinene (pine), terpinene (herbaceous), linalool (flowery), sulfur (musky), terpenoids (spicy).

My parents used to impress upon me how hard it is to find fresh yuzu every time they’d crack open a bottle of Mitsukan ponzu (which doesn’t even have any real yuzu in it), so I was eager to snatch up a couple from De’Santis Bella Frutta and try them out. The first thing that struck me about them was their heady, perfumy scent. The second thing that struck me was, unfortunately, how breathtakingly expensive they are – $20/lb (??!!). But my curiosity got the better of me and I bought them anyway.

Now, given that I’d now spent $18 on only a few fruits, I was determined to use every last bit of them. I sent two home to my parents, and then got to work on zesting the rest. The fresh bits of peel work very nicely in tsukemono, where they added a warm citrus undertone to an otherwise mundane batch of salt-pickled turnips. I dried the remainder of the zest for ginger-honey tea, which makes for a nice, cozy brew for the crumby, rainy weather we’ve been having of late. I reserved the juice (of which there wasn’t terribly much) and minced the rind to steep in about 2 cups of soy sauce for homemade ponzu – which is also a great accompaniment for tempura or fried fish in addition to shabu-shabu.

All in all, a decent purchase from my favorite fruit vendors at the Heart of the City Farmers Market (they also sell at the Sunday farmers market at the Civic Center in San Rafael). Can’t wait to see what surprises they’ll have in store next time around! In the meantime, I’ll have to try some other yuzu recipes I’ve come across, like this pork cutlet with yuzu miso and shiso.

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Photo from St0rmz’s flickr stream

Last year, when I was working on the farm, the late summer was marked by a frenzy of jam-making. We’d come home from the farmers’ market loaded down with plums, peaches, pluots and strawberries which then got turned into jars and jars and jars of delicious jam – none of which was made by me. I’m actually from New York City, so the idea of canning your own food kind of freaked me out. I’d never done it before, and frankly, I’m kind of a putz so I figured that if I canned it, it would have to turn into botulism.

12 lbs. of tomatoes yielded 3 1/2 quarts of sauce and 8 oz of dried tomatoes – not quite enough to get you through the winter, but not bad for a first attempt

But I’ve been gorging on tomatoes from the farmers’ market all summer and about a week ago, it dawned on me that this bounty of tomatoes would not last forever. One day, the tomatoes will be gone, replaced by stand after stand of winter squash (not that I have anything against winter squash!). My favorite dry-farmed tomatoes from Yerena Farm aren’t going to last forever. And they really are great tomatoes. Heirloom and specialty tomatoes are everywhere these days, but heirloom doesn’t automatically mean delicious. If you’re going to shell out upwards of $3.50/lb for tomatoes, you want delicious. Yerena’s Early Girls and Romas are rife with an intense, sweet flavor that will bring tears to your eyes. I am not kidding, people! They are amazing!

This is just under 12 lbs. of tomatoes, blanched and peeled. Romas are great for this b/c the skin splits almost exactly down the middle and you can just tweeze the skins between your fingertips and shake them to peel.

This is why I decided to try my hand at some home preserving. I was always content to buy Italian canned tomatoes in the off season, but mainlining those delicious tomatoes from the market has made me think it would be worthwhile to give it a shot. I picked up about 12 pounds of tomatoes and decided to make oven-dried tomatoes and can the rest.

Oven-drying is extremely easy. I took 10 romas, cut them lengthwise into quarters, brushed them with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and put them on a baking sheet.

After three hours in the oven at 300 degrees (had to turn them a couple of times), I had about 8 oz of dried tomatoes. It’s pretty amazing how concentrated the flavor gets with this treatment. Here they are:

Canning is a bit more complicated, so rather than recount my bufoonery in the kitchen, I’ll leave it to the USDA to explain. Alternately, eGullet has a great post on this, but you might have to be a member to view it.

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Bella indeed. Every time I go to De’Santis’ stand at the farmer’s market (they’re at Civic Center on Wednesday and San Rafael on Sunday), they have something new. This week it was fresh roasted almonds for only $3 a pound!!! Almonds will usually set you back at least $8 a pound, and these have an distinctly sweet taste that your standard bulk almond doesn’t. Try them out!

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Hiding inside those huge, plump shells are little morsels of beany goodness. You have to peel the shell open, make a little notch on the pale green casing and pull that off, too, to unearth the deliciousness within. Definitely a huge pain in the ass. But so worth it. Don’t even think about eating them without that second step – you’ll have a mouthful of pasty mush that will take you right back to your elementary school cafeteria.

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You know you’ve done this yourself a couple times. You know, gone to the farmer’s market, seen all the amazing stuffs and bought everything in sight. Today, I went to the Heart of the City Farmer’s Market and loaded up.

This market gets poo-pooed a lot because it isn’t as fancy-schmancy as the Ferry Plaza one or because not everyone there is organic (gasp!), but it’s still great. Lots of Asian farmers selling all different kinds of eggplant, bitter melon, okra and an unbelievable variety of unusual greens like sweet potato leaf, water spinach and what looked to me like cucumber leaves. Where else can you get local, ORGANIC ginger??? Or fresh young jicama with the beans still attached (as opposed to the enormous, more mature jicama usually spied at Asian and Latino markets)? OK, OK, so those two particular examples are from farms growing around Fresno, which is almost 200 mi from San Francisco. But that’s still a lot closer than China or Hawaii, which is where most of the ginger you see around here is from.
Plus, De’Santis Bella Frutta sells here. I’ll have to muster up the courage to talk more with them, but they’re Italian and grow all kinds of very unusual and unusually delicious fruits – sweet lemons, kaffir limes, buddha’s hand citron, moscato grapes and AMAZING figs. You’ll also find the best tomato deals around at this market. I don’t usually like to tout how cheap food is (give the farmers a break! they work really hard!), but there’s an unbelievable profusion of heirloom tomatoes and cherry tomatoes to be had at this market. I got 2 pounds of mixed sungold cherry tomatoes for $3.00 from a Chinese vendor towards the edge of the market and $2.00/lb dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes. Can’t beat that.

Here’s today’s haul: eggplants, peppers, the aforementioned moscato grapes, romanesco cauliflower, english peas, armenian cukes, romano beans, fava beans and glorious, glorious tomatoes.

OK, so it doesn’t take a goddamn genius to come up with a salad (tomatoes, cukes and blanched romano beans). But it was good anyway.

Romesco cauliflower stew with cherry tomatoes, fava beans and chicken over brown rice!
There was quite a bit left over, but this dish worked nicely over pasta two days later. I separated out the chicken and shredded it, took the vegetables and all the liquid and pureed it with a bit of sour cream and asiago cheese. Voila! A totally different dish.

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