Appreciation for our farmers markets
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 18, 2013 at 2:19 p.m.
There's nothing like travel to make us appreciate home.
Last week, I made a quick trip to San Diego, easy to do now that we can fly direct from Santa Rosa, to visit an old friend. Once there, I looked for farmers markets, as I always do wherever I find myself.
Several friends insisted that the Hillcrest market was the one to see, the biggest and the best, so early on Sunday morning, off we went in search of seasonal glory and deliciousness.
The market is indeed huge, with two long rows of vendors and several shorter rows. But I noticed something different about it from the start. Mounds of gorgeous citrus and perky greens soon gave way to produce — pineapples, mangos, colorful cherry tomatoes — that had traveled a great distance. You could quench your thirst with watermelon agua fresca, offered by several vendors.
I soon realized that this was not a certified farmers market but, like so many similar markets throughout the country, simply an outdoor market with a mix of local foods, foods from wholesale produce marts, crafts and many prepared food vendors. It serves one of the most important functions of a farmers market, that of a community gathering place, but it doesn't offer a lot in the way of local farmers and their local crops.
A bit of research uncovered six certified farmers markets in San Diego, but none that I could get to on this trip.
We're lucky here in Sonoma, where in the middle of winter we have seven certified farmers market days each week. At the height of the season, we have 30 market days a week, all certified. Over the years, a few non-certified markets have opened locally but they have never lasted long.
What San Diego does have is an old Italian market, Mona Lisa on India Street, in the heart of Little Italy. As I walked through its narrow aisles, I thought of Traverso's and how much I miss it.
There were bins of dried salt cod, something our local health department nixed years ago, and legs of prosciutto hanging above the deli counter. Handmade ravioli, house-made tomato sauce, Italian cheeses, three types of rice for risotto, a huge array of olive oils and vinegars and scores of Italian pastas lined the shelves. There were even three types of aceto balsamico tradizionale, the real thing, in authentic bottles with authentic — i.e., three-digit — prices to match.
The selection of Italian wines was plentiful and inexpensive; I've never seen more Italian wines in one place, ever, except in Italy. The deli case was filled with handmade sausages, cotechino and all the salumi I've missed these last 14 months or so. Mona Lisa even sells the little end pieces, which I always nibbled as I drove home from Traverso's.
Yet we do not live by soppressata alone. For the one dinner I was able to cook while in San Diego, I had to go to three markets to find the vegetables I needed.
As the plane made a remarkably gentle landing at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, I felt so grateful. I resisted the temptation to kiss the tarmac and instead eagerly anticipated my next farmers market excursion.
A Husky, Lusty Soup for February
Makes 10 to 12 servings
1 pound dried white beans of choice, preferably from Phipp's Ranch or Rancho Gordo, soaked in water overnight and drained
1 bay leaf
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 leek, white part only, trimmed and cleaned
1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
2 carrots, scrubbed and cut into chunks
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 prosciutto or ham bone or ham hock
— Salsa Verde (see Note below))
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, cut into small dice
1 carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
6 garlic cloves, minced
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
— Red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons double-concentrated tomato paste
1 whole pastured chicken
4 lamb, pork, goat or beef shanks
1 pound, approximately, cotechino or other sausage
2 bunches Lacinato kale, trimmed and cut into ½-inch wide crosswise slices
1 pound small-shaped pasta, such as ditalini
1 cups, loosely packed, chopped Italian parsley
1 loaf country-style hearth bread, cut into thick slices
— Best-quality olio nuovo
— Large chunk grating cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Dry Jack
Put the soaked beans in a large soup pot and cover with water by at least 2 inches. Add the bay leaf, onion, leek, celery, carrots, whole garlic cloves and prosciutto bone. If all the ingredients are not fully submerged, add more water until they are. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently until the beans are tender, about 40 to 90 minutes, depending on the type of bean. Skim off and discard any foam that forms on the surface.
While the beans cook, make the salsa verde and set it aside.
Use tongs to remove and discard the bay leaf, onion, leek, celery and carrot.
Remove the bone and set it aside.
Strain the cooking liquid into a large bowl and set both the beans and the cooking liquid aside.
Set a large clean soup pot over medium heat, add the olive oil, diced onion and diced carrot and saute until the vegetables are softened and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Do not let them brown.
Add the garlic and saute 2 minutes more. Season generously with salt and pepper, add a generous pinch of two of red pepper flakes and stir in the tomato paste.
Put the chicken, the shanks and cotechino into the pan, pour in the reserved cooking liquid and add enough water to completely cover everything.
If there is any meat left on the prosciutto bone, ham bone or ham hock, remove it, set it aside and add the bone to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently, partially covered, for 1 hour.
Gently remove the chicken, the shanks, the sausage and the bone from the pot, add the kale and pasta and simmer until the kale and the pasta are both tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the Italian parsley, taste and correct for salt and pepper.
Working carefully so as not to burn your fingers, cut the chicken into pieces, remove the meat from the shank bones and cut the sausage into 3/8-inch-thick rounds. Return all the meat, along with any reserved previously and the reserved beans, to the pot. Discard the bones.
To serve, put a slice of bread into large soup bowls and ladle the soup on top. Drizzle olio nuovo over each portion, grate some cheese on top, add a generous dollop of salsa verde and serve immediately.
Note: To make Italian salsa verde, crush a few garlic cloves and a couple of anchovy fillets in a suribachi or mortar and pestle. Stir in a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and a tablespoon of capers or brined green peppercorns and then fold in about 3 cups of chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves. Add the juice of 1 lemon and ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil. Taste, correct for salt and acid and set aside, covered, until ready to use.
Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM.
E-mail Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You'll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
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