It’s been a blast teaching Shop Like a Pro at a Farmers’ Market this year. I’m hosting a class this weekend, and then will take a break until autumn. If you can’t attend, I’d love your help in spreading the word on Facebook or Twitter. Use this link: http://skl.sh/KRGQ9W
At my class, I walk through the basics of local food including what’s in season, how to choose the best products (and keep them fresh when you get home), and simple recipes that anyone can prepare.
Here are some basic tips for your next trip to the market:
First thing to do is take a lap around the market to scope out the scene. Notice what’s popular, which stand has the best goods, and compare prices.
Enjoy yourself. Farmers markets are like little state fairs, so take your time if you can.
Bring your own reusable bags. Stuffing glorious fresh produce into plastic bags just feels wrong.
Try something new. Your average grocery store carries a soul-crushingly meager variety of produce. Try a purple heirloom tomato, or a pint of ground cherries. A daikon radish, or a duck breast.
Ask questions and seek advice. “How are these two eggplants different?” “How long will this last in my refrigerator?” “What do you feed the cows?” I’ve only met one produce stand worker who was standoffish. I gave him another chance the next week, and now I simply shop at a different stand.
Unless you are buying in bulk, don’t be a jerk about the price of the produce, which can sometimes be slightly higher than at your supermarket. These farmers are working harder than you can even imagine. Consider yourself lucky to have a direct pipeline to real food that supports the local economy.
If you buy only one thing, make it a dozen farm fresh eggs with those fiery-orange yolks. Trust me on this one.
Coming at you from the Bronx, where I’ve been spending a good amount of time lately. Dinner and pastries on Arthur Avenue, art installations in old mansions, and long walks through the unrivaled Botanical Garden (photos below). And this recipe, inspired by Bronx Bees, as featured in New York City Farmer & Feast, by Emily Brooks.
Serves 6 and costs about $8
Bundle of rhubarb
1 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of anise-flavored liqueur
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup of heavy cream (or milk if you’d like)
Dash of salt
1 pastry dough or tart crust
Wash and dice rhubarb, toss in a bowl with 1/3 cup of sugar, and refrigerate for an hour or so. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drain rhubarb in a colander over a large skillet. Heat the juice over high heat until syrupy. Remove from heat and add the rhubarb and liqueur.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, additional yolk, cream, salt, and remaining sugar. Place a pastry dough or tart crust in greased pie plate, add rhubarb, and pour half of custard, wait a minute, and then add the rest.
Bake the tart at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool to almost room temperature and enjoy.
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it.
That’s the final line of one of my favorite poems by Frank O’Hara (watch him read it below). I recently took a walk through his old stomping grounds in New York’s East Village, guided by the incredible “Passing Stranger - The East Village Poetry Walk.” The audio tour weaves you through the poetry-related sites of the famous Beats and New York School poets, like O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg (that’s the fire escape of where he once lived), Jack Kerouac, Anne Waldman, and even musicians like Charlie Parker.
The tour culminates at the Bowery Poetry Club. If you don’t live in New York, on the website, you can check out footage, scroll through photos, and hear some of the best poems ever penned.
While the tour focuses on poetry, you’ll also notice the many community garden plots throughout the village and Alphabet City. Which brings me to a puff pastry recipe. This is definitely the time of year for greens and handfuls of herbs. Here’s a simple way to use them while they are fresh.
East Village Puff Pastry
Serves three as main dish or eight as side and costs about $5
Inspired by the Fire Island Cookbook
3/4 pound of crumbled cheese, like feta or goat
3 tablespoons of chopped chives
2-3 tablespoons of chopped basil, or other herbs
Dash of nutmeg
1 egg beaten, plus 1 egg yolk
Homemade or store-purchase puff pastry, thawed
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine cheese, chives, herbs, nutmeg and beaten egg in a glass bowl and set aside. Lay out pastry dough on floured surface, and stretch a bit with a rolling pin. Cut into 3-inch squares (about 14-16 of them).
Drop a heaping teaspoon of the filling in the center of each square, wet all edges of the square with chilled water. Fold over the filling to form a triangle. Seal the edges with a fork and brush each triangle with the beaten egg yolk.
Place on a baking sheet (perhaps lined with parchment paper), and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. Serve with asparagus and a mixture of greens.
Drop a heaping teaspoon onto each square.
Margaret Atwood once said, “Gardening is not a rational act.” She’s right. No rational person pulls all of their tomato plants into their kitchen during a treacherous thunderstorm. No rational person tiptoes up to a broccoli plant in the dark of the night to catch the mysterious Hole-Chewing Creature.
Irrational, yes, but then there’s an uncanny moment when you see—nearly in real time—a scarlet runner bean break soil. In a perplexing world of New York minutes, there is a welcome relief in those simple, majestic moments.
Eggplant, broccoli, herbs, ground cherry, bok choy.
Cucumber, zucchini, garbanzo beans, fennel, Waltham broccoli, early purple sprouting broccoli, eggplant, ground cherry, early beets, golden beets, parsnip, swiss chard, strawberry, rutabaga, artichoke, cabbage, butternut squash, arugula, kale, lettuce, golden cal wonder peppers, green zebra tomato, old Italian tomato, Omar’s Lebanese tomato, chocolate stripe tomato, scarlet runner beans, Parisienne carrot, cosmic purple carrot, tall telephone peas, Charentais melon, English Ivy, morning glory and moonflower, wildflowers
Bok choy, basil, chicory, chives, mint, oregano, rosemary, ruby streak mustard greens, sage, tarragon, thyme
There comes a moment in late April when the earth seems to rustle from a cold, white winter. A pair of my favorite spring signals—asparagus and rhubarb—recently appeared at the farmers market. Here is one way to marry them in a dish, served with warm cornbread.
Roasted Asparagus with Rhubarb Sauce
Inspired by a handful of sources
Serves 4 and costs about $6
1 pound or so of asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 tablespoons butter
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tablespoon of grated ginger
4-5 stalks of rhubarb, diced
1 tablespoon of local honey
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place asparagus in an even layer in tin foil and coat with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Wrap the foil around the asparagus, creating a tent with a small opening in the top if you’d like. Roast on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes.
As asparagus roasts, melt butter in skillet over medium heat until it caramelizes. Add garlic, ginger, and rhubarb, cover pan and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in honey and lower heat.
Remove asparagus from oven and divide stalks on plates. Spoon rhubarb sauce over asparagus, and add a dash of salt or pepper, if you’d like.
Rhubarb stalks may be red or green, and frequently somewhere in between.
Skillet Corn Bread
Adapted from Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook
Makes one skillet and costs about $5
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 tablespoon organic sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon local honey
1 stick of butter
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place 10-inch cast iron skillet in oven while preparing the batter. (Do this step first if making with asparagus recipe.) Whisk together all dry ingredients in large bowl. Combine wet ingredients (including honey) in a small bowl.
Remove skillet from oven and add butter. Add sizzling butter to wet ingredients. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Scrape the batter into the hot skillet and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Oven mates: roasted asparagus and skillet cornbread.
I’ve read that asparagus is costly because it must be harvested by hand. Conjures a handsome image of farmers stepping lightly near hedgerows. After you’ve purchased your bundle of asparagus, eat it quickly, as its flavor begins to flatten immediately.
Happy Earth Day. Mother Earth is celebrating with cold rain showers in Manhattan. Yesterday, my friend Chad bit the bullet and rented an apartment in Hudson Heights. (My secret plan to have all of my friends migrate to my neighborhood is working.) We celebrated over dinner, where I prepared stuffing using the ramps I picked up at the Inwood Greenmarket.
In case you haven’t heard of them, ramps are early spring leeks with a bold onion-garlic flavor. Folks forage for them and even have ramp festivals. The white bulb and the green leaves are equally edible and delicious.
Inspired by Food52
Serves six and costs about $7
6 cups of French bread, cubed and stale
12 ramps, minced, using green and white parts
1 tablespoon chives, minced
Handful of local mushrooms
1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
Dash of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups homemade chicken stock
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread, ramps, chives, and mushrooms in mixing bowl. Pour melted butter over top and mix well. Season with thyme, salt, and pepper. Add eggs and mix until bread is evenly coated. Add chicken stock a half cup at a time until you reach your desired consistency.
Dump stuffing into a greased, two quart casserole dish. Cover with lid or foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 15 minutes. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan if desired.
The original recipe called for 2/3 cups of celery, which I don’t like. Add it if you’d like a bit of a crunch. Or maybe rhubarb?
Last night, I watched a girl trying to make a snow angel on floor of the 14th street subway station. I saw another misjudge the distance between the street and a taxi. And another in a prom dress flirting with a police officer.
Just another Saint Patrick’s Day in New York.
Here’s an easy recipe for Irish Soda Bread using local-when-possible ingredients you probably have in your cupboard and refrigerator.
Irish Soda Bread
Slightly adapted from Cook this Now
Serves four and costs about $5
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 cup raisins (I used gold)
Up to 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a pie pan. In a large bowl, sift together flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In a small bowl, combine yogurt, eggs and butter. Slowly fold the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined. Add raisins and caraway seeds.
Pour batter into pie pan, cut a cross in the top and bake for 45-50 minutes. Drizzle with honey and a cup of Earl Grey tea.
Slowly combine wet and dry ingredients.
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Another winner from the cookbook Plenty. I modified the herbs to fit what I had, used the cheese I had left in the refrigerator, and added a handful of peppery arugula.
Mushroom and Herb Polenta
Modified from Plenty
Serves two as main course, and costs about $7
4 tablespoons of olive oil
4 cups of mixed mushrooms, halved
3 minced garlic cloves
Few tablespoons of favorite herbs (I used rosemary, oregano, thyme)
2 1/2 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 cup of polenta
3-4 ounces of grated Parmesan
2 1/2 tablespoons of butter
4-5 ounces of cheese (recipe called for Taleggio)
Handful of arugula
Heat half of the olive oil in pan and saute half of the mushrooms for a few minutes. Remove mushrooms, add remaining oil and mushrooms and saute. Turn heat down to low and add garlic and herbs.
Bring stock to a boil and stir in polenta. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Stir in butter and season with salt and pepper.
Spread polenta over heatproof dish and top with cheese. Place under broiler and cook until cheese bubbles. Remove, top with mushrooms and arugula and return to broiler for 2-3 minutes. Enjoy!
Rainy Leap Day evenings should be spent on the couch, finally catching up on The United States of Tara. As we head into March, all I can think about is asparagus. Meanwhile, red lentils will have to do the trick.
Like coffee and wine, with spices I start with what’s grown close to me, but quickly venture off in the sweet and savory name of globalization. In this case, a favorite blend of curry adds layers to a dish that would otherwise taste like, well…lentils.
Curried Lentils with Spinach
Adapted slightly from Chez Us
Serves 2-4 and costs about $6
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 cup red lentils
2 teaspoons of your favorite curry
3 cups of vegetable stock (see my recipe below)
1/2 cup of crushed or diced tomatoes, preserved from summer
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups spinach, chopped
¼ cup sour cream
Heat oil over medium heat in soup kettle or Dutch oven. Add shallot and cook for a few minutes. Then add garlic, lentils and half of curry, and cook for a few minutes more. Add stock, tomatoes, cover with a slightly tilted lid, and cook for 25-40 minutes. While lentils cook, mix remaining curry and sour cream. Remove lentils from heat, stir in spinach, and add a spoonful of sour cream.
Grab your favorite seasonal vegetables. In this case, I had a potato, parsnip, two onions, two carrots, two garlic cloves, broccoli stem, and some cloves. Wash if dirty, cut into 2-in pieces, then put in a large soup kettle filled with water and salt. Bring to boil, then simmer—slightly covered—for a few hours. Strain through a cheesecloth, and freeze in 2-cup containers.
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Umbrella photo by Unlimited
A couple weeks ago, I received a tweet from Chez Us proclaiming that I’d won their cookbook giveaway. A couple days ago, Plenty arrived in the mail, and I’m enthralled.
Of the many vibrant recipes coloring the book, the Surprise Tatin was my immediate favorite. The tatin in the photograph seemed almost unreal, impossible. I never saw anything like it.
I prepared the tatin for a dinner with friends on Sunday, and the dish came together in less than thirty minutes. With a few hours before our guest would arrive, I slid the tart in the refrigerator and went for a run through Fort Tryon Park. Nestled high on a ridge near the northern tip of Manhattan, the 65-acre park once sustained the colossal estates of some of the wealthiest New Yorkers. A lifetime later, the quiet archways still stand, and rusty succulents stretch up the rocky edifices.
The colors and shapes of the park followed me home, and it seemed only fitting to name my version of the dish the Fort Tryon Tatin.
Fort Tryon Tatin
Slightly modified from Plenty.
Serves 2-4 and costs about $12
1 cup of sun-dried tomatoes (I used tomatoes dehydrated and frozen from last summer)
1 1/2 tablespoons of butter
1 pound new potatoes or the smallest red potatoes
1 medium diced onion
3 tablespoons of sugar
Salt, pepper, oregano, rosemary, and thyme seasonings
4-5 ounces of goat or feta cheese
1 puff pastry sheet
Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 20-25 minutes. Carefully drain and cool. Trim off the tops and bottoms of each potato, and then slice into 1-inch discs. Saute the onion in 1 tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt for about 10 minutes.
Grease a 9-inch cake or pie pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Using a small pan, cook the remaining butter and sugar until caramelized. Quickly pour the caramel into the cake pan and spread to cover bottom. (Don’t burn yourself..) Scatter seasonings around the parchment paper.
Lay the potato slices close together, cut-side down, into the pan. Press onion and sun-dried tomatoes into the gaps between pieces and use any leftover to cover the rest of the tart. Slice and layer the goat or feta cheese evenly over the potatoes. Cover the potatoes with the pastry, and tuck the edges down around the potatoes. Trim away any excess. At this point, the pastry can be chilled for up to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake for 25 minutes. Reduce to 350 degrees and cook 15-20 minutes more. Remove from oven, gently slide a knife around the rim of the pan. Hold an inverted plate or service dish firmly on top of the pan and carefully/quickly flip. Peel off parchment paper and serve. Pairs well with sauteed winter greens.
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