Winter vegetables are outstanding at local farmers’ markets. You can combine several of them in one dish, as did Alain Giraud, chef/owner of Four Stars Private cuisine at last Wednesday’s Farmers’ Market. Chef Giraud combined baby artichokes, asparagus, fava beans, English peas, tomatoes, basil and a dollop of finely pureed black olive tapenade on a toasted black olive baguette. The offering was topped with some virgin Mission olive oil from Adams Ranch and a sprinkling of sea salt – about ten ingredients in one bite. Delicious, according to market patrons who stopped to watch and chat with the chef at work. Chef Giraud also created a blood orange, strawberry and honey salad, topped with chopped raw pistachios from Santa Barbara Pistachios. Monthly Farmers’ Market cooking demos, entitled “Buy It Fresh, Make It Now” feature local chefs who prepare produce from the market right on site. Chefs are assisted by students from the Art Institute of California – Los Angeles Culinary Arts Program. Chef Giraud’s recipes are available on the Farmers’ Market website: www.farmersmarket.santa-monica.org.
Strawberries are at their peak. You can choose from several varieties that are found exclusively at Farmers’ Markets, including Gaviota, Seascape, Chandler, Diamante and Galante, as well as the standard commercial Camarosa. It is a good idea to taste test berries each week as their flavor varies considerably depending on weather conditions.
Rainy weather has prevented some farmers from harvesting for markets. Late season Satsuma Mandarins are practically finished, but the very late few that remain are very sweet. Check tangerines for signs of interior drying – if they seem excessively light or if the skin shows signs of saturation or discoloration, it is best to sample before buying them, even if they are in a sealed bag. Ask the farmer if you can check out one or two pieces of fruit in a bag before you commit to buying the whole thing. Or, you can individually select your fruit one piece at a time.
Navel oranges are super sweet, and a wonderful, seedless snack. You can also find a pink navel, called a Cara Cara, which is even sweeter. Check out both kinds of Kumquats, the familiar, football-shaped ones or the rounder Meiwa variety. Kumquats are tiny, thin-skinned citrus fruit that is eaten whole – the tart juice giving way to the sweetness of the skin as they become thoroughly chewed. Meiwa kumquats are almost all sweet, and have a deep, delicious citrus taste. Just be sure to remove the hard little stem at the top before popping the whole fruit in your mouth and chewing like mad.
Healthful greens such as spinach, chard and kale are in their prime. Bunch spinach should be bought by the bale, because once it is rinsed, cleaned and steamed, it reduces in volume to about a tenth of its original bulk. Spinach takes just a few minutes to boil, drain, press dry and dress with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. It is an excellent accompaniment to any dish, or can be eaten as a salad with hard-boiled egg wedges. Chard also cooks down dramatically, while kale holds most of its size and shape. All of these greens are rich in iron, B vitamins and other nutritional factors. So – no kidding – eat your greens.
For those of you who prefer not to deal with lots of sand and water – and I refer to washing your winter greens, not hitting the beach – you can buy pre-washed, tender greens and salad mixes from Maggie’s Farm. Baby greens from Tat Soi to Arugula, Baby Mustard to Romaine are available pre-mixed or separate for you to create your own salad mix. Edible flowers are also available to add beauty to your creations. Maggie’s Farm always has at least fifteen different greens and herbs on hand at every market.