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OK, California, Your Produce Totally Rocks

April 1, 2010

I live in NYC, home to some amazing farmers’ markets, most famously the Union Square Greenmarket, not to mention countless specialty food stores where pristine produce can be had (albeit usually for a price). And it’s not like on previous visits to California I didn’t have the change to purchase and sample their fruits and veggies. But having never been at this very moment in late March, the week I just spent in Northern CA knocked my socks completely off.  And, to make matters fabulous, for the first chunk of our travels, I didn’t have to just ogle the produce and repeat over and over to my numb family, “Oh my God I can’t believe I don’t have a kitchen,” because I DID have a kitchen, as for the first part of the trip we were staying with our excellent friends in their excellent house in Los Altos.  So we could shop and shop and and cook and cook.

What’s in season?  So much.  To name but a few things, there were artichokes:


Gorgeous slightly flat fennel:

Crazy good citrus: oranges, pomelos, grapefruits, teeny tiny little sour oranges that made me wince, but Charlie ate with gusto:

Leeks that made me want to weep, in all thicknesses:

Some huge, cheap type of spinach, the name of which escapes me (Bueller? Bueller?).  This:

became this, sauteed with leeks and garlic:

Mushrooms like this:

became mushroom crostini:

And not just produce, other stuff, too, like these mussels and clams, which were dinner at first sight.

These became, with white wine, parsley and garlic, a perfect topping over pasta:

And on and on it went, the happiness of highlighting some perfect ingredients with a few other perfect ingredients into simple dinners.

So yesterday, back in NYC, I was hanging out my great old friend Christopher Idone (who’s going to read this and say, “Old? Thanks a lot.”) at the farmers’ market in Union Square, chatting with the amazing Rick Bishop, owner of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, and the guy whose image should be grinning out at you when you look up gentleman farmer on Wikipedia.  Rick was standing behind a counter with nothing but a few varieties of small potatoes for sale: Butterballs, Purple Peruvians, Pink Fingerlings, Ozette Indians — that’s all.  But there was a line to buy these pretty little tubers, each variety had a story (Ozettes came from Spain!), and as we stood there Rick was painting some pretty vivid pictures of the peas and lettuce and the strawberries and the beans that were just around the corner on his farm.  He also pulled out two little bunches of early ramps from his truck, one for each of us.  In my mind the whole exchange looked quite like a produce drug deal, with Christopher and I trying to look cool, and not show how elated we were to get out hands on the really good…stuff.

So, California’s produce rocks, but we’ll be in the game soon.  And meanwhile I can’t wait to figure out what to do with these potatoes.

Ozettes on the left, Pink Fingerlings on the right

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