Monthly ArchiveMay 2009
NYC Greenmarkets 31 May 2009 05:04 pm
There’d been rumors (notably over at Greenmarket Report) that strawberries had arrived in some NYC farmers markets. I’d yet to see any with my own eyes though.
Last Tuesday, a dreary, cool gray day, I stopped by the East Village greenmarket at St. Mark’s Church, on 2nd Avenue and 10th Street (one of a few markets open on Tuesdays), to pick up some asparagus for soup. I hadn’t visited this market before, and so I strolled around even after I had my asparagus in hand. And there they were – rows of the familiar green cardboard quart-sized containers, filled to the top with shiny-red, seed-speckled, green-stemmed strawberries. Summer has arrived.
The berries were brought in from Kernan Farms, in far southern New Jersey, near the Delaware Bay. In the sweep of seasonal produce, it makes sense that, and as I reported recently, farms north of the city are still a few weeks away from a ripe crop. Which only means that we have weeks and weeks to come to enjoy ripe seasonal strawberries!
NYC Greenmarkets 22 May 2009 08:46 pm
At the greenmarkets the selection is growing. Already there are lots of great fresh things to be found, with new foods and new vendors appearing each week. At the Greenpoint and Borough Hall markets last weekend I found the early season’s offerings on full display, and as usual more than a few surprises.
In Greenpoint, at the Garden of Eden booth, I treated myself to some pea shoots, and indeed they were a treat, with a delicious, pea-like and very spring-like flavor. The shoots are harvested from the tender tips at the tops of the pea stalks, above where the older part of the stem thickens and becomes fibrous. Where they’re pinched off the stems will branch into multiple new stems, and of which will eventually flower and produce pods full of shelling peas.
Also at Garden of Eden I picked up some Thumbelina carrots – also known by the less cheerful name ‘Parmex carrots.’ They were knobby and round, some of them hardly bigger than a walnut. They’d been wintered over – in the ground since last fall and pulled up only recently to be brought to market. Wintering over concentrates the sugars, making the carrots sweeter and more intensely flavored.
A tableful of dried beans was on display at the Cayuga Organics booth. Cayuga is a newcomer to the market – this is their first year at the NYC Greenmarkets, and only their second week at the Greenpoint market. And dried beans are themselves something of a newcomer too, and are seen pretty rarely at farmers’ markets. Kate, at the Cayuga booth, explained that the few farmers who have brought dried beans to market have had to sell them at discouragingly high prices because they’ve processed the beans by hand. Producing beans on a large scale requires a fairly high level of mechanization for shelling, sorting, etc. Cayuga has invested in the equipment for processing of their crops, and so can sell them at a friendlier price.
They’d also brought whole wheatberries and spelt berries, but had sold out of them earlier in the day. Cayuga and a neighboring farm have invested in a grain mill, and soon will be bringing freshly-milled, whole grain bread flour to the market. (They haven’t determined yet whether they’ll also be producing all-purpose whole grain flours, which require additional processing to remove some of the proteins). By bringing beans and grains to the market, Cayuga is expanding the notion of the greenmarket beyond produce and farm-raised meat to include staple farming. I look forward to visiting their boot throughout the summer to see what they’ll bring!
NYC Greenmarkets 22 May 2009 08:12 pm
The Fishkill Farms booth is at the Borough Hall market is so small you might overlook it, but be sure you don’t. Last week I found a bunch of beautiful, multi-colored radishes – red, purple, and white, sitting next to bunches of equally gorgeous purple-bulbed chives. The radishes had a lovely, spicy bite to them, and paired nicely with the tiny, peppery arugula leaves I also bought. Fishkill is a broadly diverse farm, and over the course of the summer they’ll be selling chard, kale, artichokes, cherries, nectarines, apples, berries and brown eggs from their pasture-raised flock of hens.
Phillips Farms already has an impressive variety of veggies on display, including bunches of flowering cut chives (along with plenty of other herbs), broccoli rabe, kale, scallions, lettuces, and forests of asparagus, to name only a few. This early in the season I expected that some of it must have come from a greenhouse but in fact everything on display is field-raised.
Alongside their tables of garden-ready tomato, jalapeno, and herb plants, Wilkow orchards had gorgeous piles of red and pale green rhubarb, and will have for weeks to come. When I visited last week, Fred Wilklow told me that the strawberries and peas were just then in flower, and so should start appearing at the market in a few weeks. Fred also tells me that this year he’s expanded his herd of steers, good news for us lovers of his pasture-raised beef.
Seasonal Cooking 19 May 2009 10:22 pm
Since moving to Williamsburg I’ve really missed the pillowy homemade ricotta from Caputos Deli in Carroll Gardens. The stuff is like edible clouds – light, sweet, moist, fresh. I swore off of grocery store ricotta forever once I’d had a taste of its delicate flavor.
I haven’t been able to find anything like it in Williamsburg yet. I’m certain though that somewhere, hidden among the Italian markets and delis along Graham Avenue perhaps, it exists.
So I determined last weekend to begin a quest for the best ricotta in the neighborhood. I needed some to help me use up a bunch of good farmers’ market spinach in my fridge. The spinach, stemmed, steamed, squeezed dry, and chopped, gets stirred into the ricotta along with some freshly-grated parmesan and salt to make a great bread spread – when the ricotta is fresh, no other ingredients are needed (though some chopped fresh herbs can add a nice touch). The ricotta-spinach-parmesan spread is perfect ‘fridge food’ for times when I want something that’s homemade and healthy but quick – just pull it out of the fridge and spread it onto a slice of good Italian bread.
The first stop on my quest was Mario and Sons Meat Market, at 662 Metropolitan. I picked this shop simply because it’s closest to my apartment and because I’d been there once before. The proprietor, conversing in Italian when I entered, needed a couple of tries before he understood my bland, American, schwa-laced request for “riCODda.”
“Oh ree COTE ta,” he said, and motioned to his man behind the counter to fetch me some. “It’s very good,” he said. “If you mix it with a little salt, it’s very good.”
What he sold me indeed was very good, though it wasn’t really ricotta – it was something called “Basket Cheese” from a place called Liuzzi Cheese, which according to Google is in North Haven CT. This cheese, in it’s little white plastic basket, was cool. It had a mild, crisp flavor, and tasted very fresh. I quickly found though that it wasn’t going to work for my quick ricotta spread. It was a drier, crumbly cheese, with all of its whey obviously pressed out through that cool little basket. I puzzled for a while how I could make this cheese spreadable – add milk? Melt it into a béchamel?
Finally though I gave up and happily took this cheese for what it was. I crumbled it up and mixed it with the chopped spinach and Parmesan. Then I pressed this onto slices of bread and ran them under the broiler. They came out toasty and browned on top — a departure from my usual ricotta spread, though absolutely a delicious one.
But the rest of the basket cheese / spinach mixture went into a lasagna, which I rightly decided would be a more suitable home for it. Soon I’ll venture out again on another journey in my quest for the Best Ricotta in Williamsburg.
And somewhere along the line, I’m going to solve a mystery. Near my apartment, at the corner of Leonard and Metropolitan, there’s a sign above a door claiming that something called “Pecoraro Dairy” is inside, and that mozzarella and ricotta are made there. So far, though, I’ve seen no evidence to support this – no Pecoraro cheese in any of the neighborhood shops I’ve visited. Does this very local ricotta exist? The plot thickens, and the hunt is on.
NYC Greenmarkets 08 May 2009 02:42 pm
This past Sunday I decided to venture down to the Carroll Gardens Greenmarket for an event I’d seen on a flyer called “All About Ramps.” Since it was rainy I decided to drive, a trip that ordinarily takes about fifteen minutes. But I failed to consider that the five-boro bike tour was on that day, and large section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway was closed for it, creating a solid backup all the way to my neighborhood. By the time I finally made it to the market, over an hour after leaving home, the farmers were all packing up to leave.
So, with no story to report from Carroll Gardens, I appealed to my friends on Facebook to send me everything they know about ramps – Lore, facts, recipes, happenings, — anything I could use to post my very own version of “All About Ramps.”
Ramps are, if you don’t know, wild leeks that are foraged in the early spring. They’re prized for their flavor, which is often described as a cross between onion and garlic. They’re also celebrated, in my opinion, because they’re among the very first truly seasonal vegetables of the growing season. Their appearance at the greenmarkets heralds at last the start of the parade of summer and fall produce.
They’re a member of the lily family, and they look it: they have long, lily-like leaves that taper to a slender stalk, at the end of which is an oblong bulb. Once the roots are cut off, they’re edible in their entirety – leaves, stalk and bulb. Some recipes recommend cooking the bulbs and leaves separately, particularly if you’re sautéing them, since they’ll cook at different rates.
In fact, they can be cooked in many different ways – sautéing, boiling, grilling, pureeing – or can simply be eaten raw. Here are some ideas for preparing them, along with a bit of ramp lore, that I collected from friends this week:
Jane recommended Bitten, Mark Bittman’s blog at the New York Times. A couple of interesting-sounding preparations found there: a risotto with ramps as the only ingredient, and in which the bulbs are left whole and the greens are pureed to give the whole dish a spring-green hue; and spaghetti, tossed with toasted breadcrumbs and ramps that again are pureed.
Jane also reminded me to check Epicurious (of course), where interestingly there is also a recipe for risotto, and one for spaghetti tossed with pureed ramps and breadcrumbs. Hmm…
Jane also sent me this link to a page about the Richwood, West Virginia Ramp Fest. Apparently they’re crazy about their ramps in West Virginia. The page lists 33 festivals, dinners, suppers and events devoted to ramps, across West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and even into New York and Pennsylvania. “God, Country, Ramps, Ramps, Ramps.”
Megan, a member of the Epicurious editorial team, gave me this fantastic tip: “they’re GREAT on pizza. Put some over and some under the cheese. You don’t need to precook. They get a nice char when you bake the pizza.” I can’t wait to try that. Megan’s bit of ramp lore: “they smell a lot stronger than they taste.”
My Brother Joe, sometime contributor to this blog, sends these notes:
“I sautéed some garlic in olive oil then added asparagus, green peppers and snow peas. Ramps went in last. I added some white wine and cooked it down a bit then mixed in some parmesan cheese. Eaten over linguine – awesome!”
“I’ve also eaten ramps the traditional way – with eggs. At a local fancy restaurant ramp – potato soup was on the menu. I’ve heard about ramps with pinto beans but haven’t found a recipe yet. “
David Sherman, market manager for the Brooklyn greenmarkets, says that he thinks that for the most part, ramps at the Brooklyn markets are finished. This week at the Wilklow Orchards booth I was told the same thing: the hot spell we had a couple of weeks ago finished off the local crop.
But check your local greenmarket, because there are indications that there still are ramps to be found this year. My friend Karol, local billiards maven and winner of this past week’s guacamole mash-off tipped me off that at Paisley Farm, you can join one of several excursions throughout the month of May to forage for ramps. Paisley farm is a little further upstate, where possibly this year’s crop is still flourishing.
My brother Joe lives in Vermont, and tells me he knows of a few secret ramp-foraging spots, and he expects no trouble finding them for a few more weeks. I’m visiting him this weekend and hopefully he’ll bring me to one of them, though probably he’ll have to lead me in blindfold to protect his secret.
And me? What will I do with ramps this year? Last year I tried making this slightly fancy dish I found on “Adventures in Shaw,” a D.C.-area food blog. It came out good, though a bit heavy on the butter due to my complete lack of experience with Phyllo. (The photos I took of this dish are tragically locked away in a recently-deceased hard drive. Hope is dwindling they’ll ever be recovered.) This year I wanted to make something simpler, more unadorned, to allow the flavor of the ramps – at once pungent and delicate – to come through. Taking inspiration very loosely from this recipe for Alsace Onion Tart, I made simple quiches of ramps, spinach, and goat cheese. They’re in the oven now – hope they taste as good as they smell!