My Favorite Farmers’ Market Tip

Big Red Onion_June Marin Farmer's Market by A Little Yumminess Farmer's Market Collage_Tomatoes Apricots and Artichoke Flowers

Seasons last cherries by A Little Yumminess

This is the time of year when we do less “cooking” and more “not screwing up beautiful ingredients”. My mind is starting to wander towards little composed salads, whatever looks good piled onto crusty grilled crostini and golden fruit galettes. We heeded the call of the farmers’ market this weekend and nabbed our first juicy tomatoes of the season, deep red pluots, the last cherries (short season — we even missed our U-Pick tradition), and lots and lots of apricots. My kids go especially nuts for apricots and the good ones can be hard to find — so many of them can be mealy, bruised, or flavorless. I feel like when you come across truly great apricots you should always buy twice the amount that you think you should and throw in a little happy dance to celebrate your good luck.

My Favorite Farmers’ Market Tip…..

After years of buying gorgeous (and sometimes expensive, but worth it) summer fruit at the farmers’ market only to come home to find it squashed and bruised from transport, now I always bring a flat cardboard box to transport delicate items. My favorite fruit box is one that came with a flat of peaches I bought at Trader Joe’s. This one has been saved from the recycling bin numerous times, but it keeps on ticking. (Perhaps we should give it a facelift inspired by Ria’s Fruit Box). What’s great about it is that it’s super sturdy, has a plastic insert which cups each fruit, a loosely fitting plastic cover, and high enough sides that allow you to stack another box on top. In this box, your fruit will travel in the lap of luxury and will arrive home as beautiful as when you bought it. While this is perhaps the Mercedes of recycled fruit boxes, any shallow, study box will do and be sure to tuck in some scrunched up paper towels to provide a little cushion for your fruit. Also in my farmers’ market essentials kit is a small paring knife (tucked into an edge guard which totally worth the couple dollar investment) and plenty of napkins. It’s impossible not to want to dig into a big juicy peach when you have one in hand and it’s so much nicer/easier/neater to share when you can hand out slices to your hungry fruit lovers.

Farmer's Market Fruit Carrier_by A Little Yumminess

Ria's Fruit Box by A Little Yumminess

Late Summer Farmers’ Market, Lake Tahoe

Enjoying a few late summer days at Lake Tahoe. What a nifty surprise to find such a great farmer’s market up here. Plethora of tomatoes, corn, beans and (our favorite) wild blackberries… lots to salivate over! We grabbed some deliciousness to augment our week of picnics and bbqs, but we’re leaving the fresh black eyed peas for home because shelling them just seems like too much work right now. Hope I find them at our market back home, I’ve never worked them and I’m imagining a nice little succotash.

I love comparing notes….What’s good at your local farmer’s market or in your CSA box?

Eldorado County Farmers’ Markets
Tuesdays 8am until 1pm, June through October
2732 South Lake Tahoe Blvd (Hwy 50), American Legion Hall Parking Lot, South Lake Tahoe

A Food Hug: Tomato Soup

Summer in San Francisco means lots of fog, but it still means lots of tomatoes. We snap up early girl tomatoes at the beginning of the season and grab cheap boxes of “ugly” tomatoes at the farmers’ market at the end of the season in late September/October. After a bumper backyard crop last year, Luca and I made a go at growing our our own again this summer, but the unusually cool summer has taken its toll.  [BTW: for you gardeners, it’s too late to plant this year, here’s a great guide from Love Apple Farm on growing tomatoes for your future reference.]

Seems like tomatoes show up on our table just about everyday during their season. We love them in salads, sandwiches and sauces. We stock our freezer with homemade conserva di pomodoro (tomato paste) and  the ultimate simple sauce Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion. If you haven’t tried this recipe, you must. Using fresh or canned tomatoes, it’s great as is — especially on gnocchi. And because it’s so simple you can use it as a flavorful base for other pasta sauces. [I usually use a little less butter and rough chop fresh tomatoes, removing the seeds and skin by passing the sauce through a food mill after it’s cooked. My husband and son prefer a less chunky sauce which is another reason I like the food mill. Using fresh tomatoes will require more cooking time because of the higher water content].

We also make sure to cook up as many batches of  tomato soup as we can. It’s become a summertime tradition. For my family, it’s the perfect comfort food especially with a grilled cheese sandwich — and it puts a smile on our faces on even the foggiest summer day. I shared some with a friend recently, and she served it cold, sort of gazpacho-like, which is an interesting idea.

Classic Tomato Soup

This is a hybrid of various recipes we’ve tried over the years. We like the combination of roasted and fresh tomatoes. It’s very tomato-y and the brandy gives it a nice boost.

  1. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Slice 2 pounds of tomatoes and lay them on the cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt and a little sugar, then drizzle with olive oil. Roast in a 375 oven for 30 minutes or until the tomatoes are a bit wrinkled and the much of their moisture has cooked out. Set aside.
  2. Saute 1-2 large shallots in butter in a large pot, then add a small pinch of ground allspice.
  3. Add 2 pounds of sliced (uncooked) tomatoes to the shallots, then add the roasted tomatoes, and enough chicken of vegetable stock to cover (about 6 cups).
  4. Simmer on low for an hour or so.
  5. Put the soup through a fine setting on a food mill, which will strain out the skins. You could use a blender, too.
  6. Return to the stove and taste for seasoning, adding salt or pepper to taste. Swirl in a TBL or sherry and 1/4 cup of half and half or cream.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Last summer we had a bounty of tomatoes in our backyard. I know — seems impossible in the fog, but there they were in all their glory! Almost “Little Shop of Horrors”-like, but in a good way. We made sauce, paste, fresh tomato salads, and tomato soup (which we definitely plan to repeat this year, supplementing with some boxes of “ugly tomatoes” from the farmer’s market as necessary). But most exciting, at least to me, were the fried green tomatoes.

I love all the great produce we have access to in the Bay Area, but I really haven’t found green tomatoes available anywhere… and  I don’t mean the green varietals, I mean mature, but un-ripe tomatoes. It seems the only way to ensure your supply is to make friends with a farmer or grow your own.

I trace my little fried green tomato obsession to my stint last summer at Split Pea Seduction with chef Christian Noto. A particularly carve-able sandwich showed up on the menu one week: fried green tomatoes on a toasty housemade bun, with crisp romaine lettuce, fresh mint, swiss cheese, dab of dijon and a squeeze of lemon. I was hooked. We don’t make too many fried foods at home, but as in the rest of life, you must make exceptions — especially where fried green tomatoes and squash blossoms are concerned.

We made a few variations last year and ever since summer has rolled around again, I’ve been itching to get back to it. Luca and I check the progress of our backyard tomato crop everyday. There’s a good amount of fruit that has set, but nothing even close to being ready to cook with. So when we happened upon some under-ripe, but other-wise decent looking heirlooms at the market today, we decided to get our tomato season officially kicked off. Not exactly real-deal “green tomatoes” but close enough. Luca was very intrigued by the whole breading process and was also pretty excited about trying them, too. (Witness the little fingers sneaking into my photo.) To that I say “hurrah” let the games begin!

Fried Green Tomatoes

Green tomatoes will be full-sized with jelly-like pulp and maybe just a hint of ripeness, but still very firm. Once picked they last for several weeks and will slowly ripen. They usually don’t get too juicy, but still I avoid too much salting of the raw tomatoes, to minimize the amount of water they release.

Shopping List: Green Tomatoes, eggs, fresh mint and chives, lemon, panko (Japanese bread crumbs), flour, paprika, garlic powder, salt & pepper. Plus your favorite dipping sauce!

  • Whisk 2 eggs. Season with pepper and finely chopped mint and chives.
  • Pour flour into a bowl, season flour with salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder and set aside.
  • Pour panko bread crumbs into a bowl and set aside.
  • Cut green, un-ripe tomatoes into 1/4 inch thick slices. Pat dry.
  • Dredge in flour, shake off excess.
  • Coat with sides with egg mixture then into the panko!
  • Fry in very hot oil until crispy and golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels.
  • Salt generously with kosher salt. Serve with lemon wedges.
  • You can hold the fried tomatoes in a 200 degree oven on a rack for about 30 minutes.

You could eat these as is, throw them in a sandwich like Christian, or put together a dipping sauce. A simple balsamic reduction, a remoulade, or yogurt spiced up with fresh mint, chives, and lemon zest would do nicely. Tim votes for some kind of buttermilk dipping sauce and then brought up the possibility of fried green tomatillos. Possibilities, possibilities!

Guest Post: Fort Mason Farmer’s Market

My friend Liz wrote this review of the Fort Mason Center Farmer’s Market for our blog.  Liz and her husband, Mark Farrell love our beautiful city by the bay so much that he is running for Supervisor of District 2.  I love her because she has tried a bunch our recipes and reported back that her kids enjoyed them!

We’ll have to try Liz’s idea of a “treasure hunt” when we are next at a farmer’s market.

Fort Mason Center Farmer’s Market by Liz Farrell

If you are looking for a great way to spend a few hours on a Sunday morning, there is no better place for a family adventure than the farmers’ market.  In only its second week back in the Marina, the Fort Mason Center farmers’ market is already a hot neighborhood spot.

The market has 40 certified farmers offering all kinds of seasonal, locally grown goodies.  Some of our favorites are the amazing cherries from Brentwood and the strawberries from Watsonville.  Greens Restaurant, which is located in the Fort Mason Center is also featured every week selling coffee, pastries and of course their signature vegetarian salads.

The farmers’ market is a great place for families because it becomes a real hands on learning adventure.  Most of the vendors offer free samples and love when young children (or even adults) take an interest in their crop.  We came up with a game we play to keep our kids (Madison, 4 years old and Jack, 2 years old) engaged and interested.  It is a “treasure hunt” where they get to look for something new to try each week.  We are big on encouraging them to try new foods before they say they don’t like something and this is a great way to foster that.  Last weekend, after telling us for the first half hour we were there, how much she didn’t like cherries, Madison without a lot of prompting from us, decided on cherries as her “treasure pick” and sure enough we finished the basket of Bing cherries before we even left the market.  My son Jack, like most other 2 year olds is willing to try just about anything if in the mood.  Last week his “treasure pick” was one of the amazing artisanal cheeses from Nicasio Cheese –nice taste eh?

Along with dozens of wonderful fruits and vegetables this market also has a sweet side.  There are several bakeries offering delicious baked goods.  Madison is a huge ice cream fan, so it didn’t take her long to find Scream Sorbet.  They offer some very interesting flavors and are always happy to offer a taste.  I was able to get her to try the sugar snap pea sorbet before she settled on a scoop of chocolate hazelnut.  Speaking of chocolate hazelnut, Delicious Crepes is also at the market.  My husband and I shared their “special” crepe made with feta, tomatoes and spinach.  It was “delicious”.   Jack preferred the Nutella crepe, which I must warn any parent is very good but VERY messy – so make sure to grab lots of napkins.  They melt the Nutella first so the Nutella is just a gooey mess but oh so good.

Last week we also tried the whole chicken from Roli Roti.  This truck always has a long line and big following so we decided to check out what all the hype was about.  The chicken was so juicy and tender… this rolling Rotisserie truck does not disappoint.

The farmers’ market is not cheap and it is not all organic so if you are looking specifically for organic you need to shop carefully but it is a wonderful place to spend a Sunday morning with your family.  We plan to make this a weekly ritual and hope you will come out also and support the local farmers!!

Happy Spring!

It’s feeling a lot like spring around here. The weather has been fantastic and we’re diving into our first baskets of strawberries from the farmer’s market. I’m excited about the start of such a delicious time of year — eating lots of strawberries (of course!) and dusting off my favorite asparagus and artichoke recipes. CUESA has a handy fruit, vegetable and nut calendar if you want to check out what’s coming into season.