Category Archives: Produce

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Ground Cherries

About a month ago, I became obsessed with ground cherries, members of the nightshade family.  Looking like tiny golden cherry tomatoes wrapped in the papery husks of tomatillos, these tasty little bites have a flavor profile reminiscent of pineapple and other tropical fruits.   Ground cherries are a good source of Vitamins A and C, and a cup contains only about 75 calories.  Some people turn them into pie or jam.  I prefer just to turn them inside out and pop them in my mouth.

Ground Cherries

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Hold the Sauce

During the cold winter months, we make homemade pizza almost every Sunday evening.  This time of year, however, the heat of summer generally keeps us from cranking up the oven to the necessary 550 degrees Fahrenheit.  Of course, there’s an exception to every rule, and the surplus of ripe, miniature tomatoes at the farmers market these days triggers the exception to our No-Homemade-Pizza-in-Summer rule.  Fresh mozzarella, sharp garlic, sweet onion, and minty basil are almost mystical compliments to the sweet and savory little tomatoes.  But, please, hold the sauce.  With tomatoes like these, sauce would only interfere with the magic.

Hold the Sauce

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Summer Isn’t Over Yet!

The passing of Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer.  And though that means that most of us will have to wait until 2015 for our next day at the beach, picnic in the park, or weekend away at the lake, the news is not all bad.  The farmers markets are still filled with summer fruits and vegetables, and it only takes a knife and a blender to turn tomatillos into salsa and cantaloupe into juice.  With flavors and colors like those, summer isn’t over yet!

Summer Isn't Over Yet

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Smile!

The fact that I can get locally grown peanuts in New York City never ceases to amaze me.  I had to go without them last year because of an exceptionally wet spring.  But this year, fresh local peanuts are back in my farmers market, thanks to organic farmers Zaid and Haifa Kurdieh of Norwich Meadows Farm.  And that makes me SMILE!

SMILE!

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Size Doesn’t Matter

New York and New Jersey farmers are seem to be geniuses when it comes to growing foods that one doesn’t associate with the northern half of the East Coast.  One of those foods is artichokes.  Native to the Mediterranean region and climate, most artichokes grown in the United States come from California.  The East Coast variety are much smaller than those grown on the West Coast, but they’re every bit as delicious.  In fact, because their chokes — the fuzzy, inedible part at the top of the heart — is underdeveloped, they’re far easier to clean and eat than their western cousins . . . proving once again, perhaps, that size doesn’t matter.

Tiny Artichoke

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Surprise!

I was away from home last week, working on the other side of the country.  When I returned, a visit to my farmers market was very near the top of my “To Do” list.  Once there, I found the summer produce season at its peak, and amaranth, corn, lemon cucumbers, sweet onions, green garlic, chilis of every variety, baby eggplant, carrots, zucchini, okra, edamame, sugar snap peas, English shell peas, cranberry beans, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, cherries, blueberries, and countless varieties of tomatoes, all found their way into my cart.

I still have no idea what I will do with most of it, but I can hardly wait to find out.  I love a surprise!

Surprise!

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Jerusalem Peace Beans

One of the gifts I received this past holiday season was a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s cookbook, “Jerusalem.”  Both Ottolenghi and Tamimi grew up in the city of Jerusalem, and, though Ottolenghi is Jewish and Tamimi is Arab, they became — in their own words — “close friends and then business partners.”

When string bean season started here in New York a couple weeks ago, I turned to Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s book for ideas.  There I found a wonderful recipe using a variety of string beans, garlic, onion, fresh herbs, cumin, and coriander seeds.  When tossed together, this hodgepodge of flavors create a beautiful and harmonious dish. 

With the conflict rearing its ugly head in Israel again, I can only dream that Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s friendship will become as inspirational  for the world as their cookbook has become for me.

Peace Beans

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Only the Biggest Ones

One summer morning, when I was about 10 years old, my mother  — before she left for work  — gave me instructions for the day.

“Keep an eye on your sister, and make her lunch,” she said hurriedly.  ”Oh, and I bought some blueberries last night; they’re in the refrigerator.  Please wash them so they’re ready for dessert tonight.  You can have a few, but don’t eat too many.”

Then off she went to her job, and off I went to my “work” washing the berries.  My sister, four years my junior, was soon on my heels, so I pulled a chair up to the sink and told her to help me.

“Can we eat some?” she asked.

“Mom said not to eat too many,” I replied. 

“Okay, let’s only eat the biggest ones,” came my little sister’s response.

So we ate only the biggest berries, happily discovering that other berries — which only moments earlier had not been big enough to eat — were now the new biggest ones in the bowl.  So we ate those, too.  

That evening, when my mother returned home from work to discover that we’d eaten all the blueberries, I defended myself and my sister by describing exactly how we’d eaten only the biggest ones.  It was an exasperatingly logical and convincing defense when I explained it just so, and my winning argument not only won us a reprieve from punishment, but it reinforced my newly burgeoning dream of becoming a lawyer. 

It was a long, long time, however, before I was again permitted to wash berries unsupervised.

Blueberry

 

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Shell Peas Shelled

I love eating fresh English shell peas.

And when I see them at the farmers market,

I always buy a big bagful.

Then I get them home.

And I look at them.

And I remember how long it will take to shell them all.

And I wonder what I was thinking when I bought so many.

But I sit down at the table,

Or I stand at the kitchen counter,

And I start removing the tiny peas from their protective shells.

And it never really takes as long as I fear.

And when I’ve blanched them in salt water,

And tossed them in a little butter,

And popped them in my mouth,

I remember exactly what I was thinking when I bought so many.

Shell Peas Shelled

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Edible Stonecrop

One of the things I love most about going to the farmers market is discovering new things to eat.  My latest discovery comes courtesy of Lani’s Farms, which sells edible stonecrop, commonly known to the average gardener as “sedum.” 

Slightly lemony and a bit astringent, these beautiful little plants are a surprisingly pleasant addition to any salad, and make a striking garnish on any fresh fish filet.  While not inexpensive, it takes only a few tiny plants to make your dinner guests wonder aloud, “Can you eat these?” And, when they try them and proclaim them delicious, you can enjoy hearing their praise as much as you enjoy eating the stonecrop.

Stonecrop

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Arugula Flowers

If I told you this was some kind of exotic bug, you might believe me. 

If I told you that it was some kind of prehistoric plant, you might believe me. 

If I told you that it’s my dinner, you might tell me I’m nuts. 

And I might be. 

But that has nothing to do with the fact that arugula flowers are delicious.

Arugula Flowers

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Less Can be More

Once upon a time, I would spend days preparing a dinner for friends.  A typical meal at my home included six courses served on my great-great grandmother’s bone china, and could take three hours to eat.  I spent more time working in the kitchen during dinner than I spent with my guests at the table.

When I moved from a single-family home in Chicago to a small New York City apartment, I left my heirloom china behind in my brother’s custodial care for my niece. As a result, my friends  now enjoy eating simpler dinners in my home, and I enjoy having more time to spend with them during the meals. 

The focus of a meal is no longer on the culinary skills I worked so hard to acquire and perfect.  Instead, our attention is on the incomparable produce and heirloom grains grown by local farmers, and the fresh fish or succulent piece of meat sold to me that morning by a local fisherman or rancher.  After all, a good cook without talented and dedicated farmers is like a writer without an alphabet.

It took me years of study and decades of practice, but I now understand that — more often than not — less can be more.

Swordfish & Sorrel Sauce

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Ugly Kohlrabi

When I was a kid, my father would periodically decide to plant a vegetable garden.  He didn’t plant one every year, and he didn’t even plant it in the same spot in our suburban yard each year.  But, when he did, it always meant we’d soon face the prospect of weeding, watering, and eating things we’d never heard of before.

The first year, he disassembled our swing set so that he could plant his crops and, needless to say, this didn’t endear us to his farming endeavors.  In subsequent years, though, he’d find a place along some ratty-looking shrubs, dig up the sod, and stick some stakes in the dirt.  Then he’d plant lots of seeds, most of which would grow into the mysterious produce we’d later come to know as “slimy okra,” “crazy kale,” and “ugly kohlrabi.” 

Why, I wondered, couldn’t he just be a normal dad and plant normal things like carrots, corn, and tomatoes?  Why couldn’t he just leave the science experiments to Dr. Frankenstein?  Nonetheless, despite the still-apt monikers, I learned to love the varied look, feel, and taste of vegetables rarely found on the plates of typical Midwestern kids during the Vietnam war era

Today, I find myself smiling as I think back on those gardens.  And I’m grateful to have been part of a generation that was required to clean our plates, no matter what kind of mysterious produce found its way there.

Ugly Kohlrabi