What to Buy at the Farmer’s Market

17 Jun

Photo Credit: Quentin Bacon

One of life’s greatest pleasures, anywhere in the world, is to go to a local farmer’s market. My life straddles two of them — the bustling Union Square market on Wednesday morning and the slightly more intimate market at Grand Army Plaza in Park Slope, Brooklyn on Saturday. At this time of the year, it is as though someone flipped the switch as the smells, energy and variety of nature’s bounty deepens and expands. The color of “fresh” seems to pulsate and I tenderly look for what was not there the week before.  The semaphores of the season alert me as to what to cook for dinner. I like the idea of being a seasonalist — and fondly remember the excitement generated around the idea of cuisine du marché (cooking from the market) first popularized by Paul Bocuse in 1976 with his book “La Cuisine du Marché. But several years earlier, the American cooking teacher Perla Meyers, wrote a book we all loved (even before most of us had farmer’s markets in our own zip codes!) called “The Seasonal Kitchen” in 1973!

So… this coming week, consider fleshy purple scallions (a wonderful garnish or lovely to sauté with peas), fresh peas!, petit ripe strawberries (small compared to what you get in the supermarket), fresh chamomile! (I infuse it in vodka), nasturtium flowers and leaves (superb in any salad), six different colors of slender carrots, crisp asparagus, and from Windfall Farms (my favorite place), flowering pea shoots (with a tiny purple flower) that I chop up and throw in consommé (Chinese style) or lightly sauté with garlic as a bed for roasted halibut. There are radishes for spreading with sweet butter and roasting and serving with one of the local nutty, sharp cheeses or creamier goat cheeses. I slipped the peas from several pounds of fresh peas today. It was quite meditative. I thought about the lecture I went to several weeks ago at the World Science Festival in New York about the “brain and the articulate hand.” This is what I thought about, pod by pod.

Do consider making my Seared Scallops on Sweet Pea Puree this weekend — and make it with fresh peas. It comes from Radically Simple and it is. Or try my Campanelle with Caramelized Onions, Peas & Mint. There’s lots of mint at the market, too! End with a basket full of berries topped with sweetened crème fraiche and snippets of lemon verbena.

Campanelle with Caramelized Onions, Peas & Mint

This is an exuberant way to dress up any short pasta.  Thai fish sauce adds a does of umami…and intrigue.  Use fresh peas!

4 large yellow onions, about 1-1/2 pounds
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces uncooked campanelle or penne rigati
1 cup shelled fresh peas
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus a 2-ounce piece

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cut the onions in half through the roots.  Place cut side down on a board. Thinly slice lengthwise (not into half-circles.) Heat the oil in a very large skillet.  Add the onions and cook over high heat, stirring, until dark brown, about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling water for 5 minutes.  Add the peas and cook 7 minutes longer.  Drain well, saving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.  Add the vinegar and fish sauce to the onions and cook 2 minutes.  Add the drained pasta and peas, reserved cooking water, mint and grated cheese.  Cook 2 minutes until hot.  Add salt and pepper.  Serve in warm bowl, use a vegetable peeler to shave shards of cheese on top.  Serves 4 to 6

2 Responses to “What to Buy at the Farmer’s Market”

  1. fillupnyclou June 17, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    Bravo for your continued championing of the Farmer’s Markets. While not as large as Union Sq, when I’m in Louisville, KY I have over half a dozen to chose from (even one that gives immigrant and refugee farmers a platform). There is one in our neighborhood you would particularly like. Local farmers, tattooed artisans, and Kentucky Amish vendors at a ring of stalls around a grand White plantation estate with amazing folk and blue-grass musicians on the porch serenading the market. Cheese grits, Bourbon BBQ and blue-grass. What’s not to like?

  2. CrispyAdventures June 29, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    Caramelized onions go well with a lot of dishes that I have tried, but I have to admit that I have been resorting to an easy fix of Onion Crunch as a finish for most of my dishes. Quick and damage-free, these crispy, fried onions add a very unique flavor to just about any dish. Might be something nice to try.

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