One of the major passions I think everyone at Food Junta shares beyond just food is a focus on sustainability, and on buying locally. I suspect that the idea of going to a farmers’ market is intimidating to a lot of people, especially aspiring chefs our age; the uninitiated often expect the produce to be expensive, the selection to be limited, and the market to be a hassle to get to. Oh, you poor misguided souls who are avoiding the famers’ market for those reasons. In the words of the great Mr. T (who surely shops locally himself), I pity the fool who doesn’t go to the farmers’ market.
I’m sure this will be the first of many a post lauding, and explaining, local food, so right now I’ll just stick to some basic farmers’ market myth-busting.
- Myth #1: It’s expensive
That is just not true. Certain items, indeed, are more expensive. I still haven’t brought myself, for example, to buy any meat or seafood, sent into sticker shock by the prices (as much as I am sure the quality justifies them). Produce, however, is usually the same price as in a major supermarket, and often cheaper. Not to mention better quality. Prices also depend on the location of the farmers’ market. The major NYC one is in Union Square, where prices are still lower than the average supermarket trip, but higher than I’d like for a farmers’ market. I go to the one in Tompkins Square Park, which is less frequent (only on Sundays) and smaller, but with more reasonable prices.
- Myth #2: The selection is limited
Okay, this is actually partially true. You will not be finding zucchini in the middle of February at the farmers’ market, unless they’ve been grown in a greenhouse. But why would you want to be cooking zucchini in the middle of February? Or roasting a butternut squash in the middle of July? Those foods were not meant to be eaten at those times of year, that is why they are not available without having been shipped across the country or across international borders. I’ll admit to giving in; I like to have tomatoes and avacadoes year-round. But boy, do I suffer for it, paying for my sins with either mealy or rock-hard flesh. Point is, the farmers’ market has enough selection, and the right selection.
- Myth #3: Farmers’ Markets are Inconvenient
Unlike grocery stores, farmers’ markets aren’t open every day. On the days they’re open, they’re not even open all day. Farmers tend to set up shop early, and that’s when the best stuff is available. That said, even for a late, late, late sleeper like myself, I can always manage to get whatever I want at one (okay, two) in the afternoon on a Sunday. I know people who go to the farmers’ market on their way to work and keep their produce in the work fridge. I go on the weeks I can go, and I don’t go on the weeks I can’t go. It’s not a draconian decree. But on the whole, I’d much rather be out in the open air, interacting with the people who actually grew my food (!) than wandering the cramped aisles of the Associated Supermarket, trying to find a head of lettuce that isn’t already half-rotting.
Tonight I made a beautiful dish of sauteed fingerling potatoes and oyster mushrooms, both from the farmers’ market, both bought just because they were so irresistably beautiful, with no recipe in mind. They both needed to be cooked and cooked tonight, because I was going out the next and wanted to use them. So I thought why not cook them together? Fried potatoes set off mushrooms in a really nice way, not overpowering their often delicate flavor. I added some thyme and shallots, because mushrooms love thyme and shallots. Thyme and shallots make mushrooms blossom. And despite a brief flirtation with frying them in olive oil, I eventually fried it all up in some good butter (and lots of it), because mushrooms also love butter, which gives them an unctuous quality that olive oil can’t match. When I bought the mushrooms, the man — the man who had grown them himself — advised me to cook them even less than I would a normal mushroom, so I just threw them in at the last second. This is the kind of advice you can only get when you talk to the person who grew what you are about to eat.
So anything approaching a recipe would be: Melt a generous amount of butter, add minced shallot and cook til transparent. Add sliced (and optionally peeled) fingerling potatoes, cook almost through, browning the outside. Add sliced mushrooms and minced thyme. Cook until potatoes are soft all the way through and mushrooms are tender.
I served the whole melange with some sauteed turbot (a firm white-fleshed fish that I had bought at the supermarket — see, I’m really not draconian at all, though it was wild, for the record), an excellent hard goat’s cheese (from the farmers’ market), and a couple slices of nice crusty bread (from Balthazar). A delicious, and mostly local, meal.