This year, I eagerly awaited the opening of the Napa Farmers Market. I missed the fresh produce as much as I missed the friendly atmosphere and buzz of the marketplace. It’s an enjoyable way to spend time kibitzing with the farmers, sharing recipes and techniques with fellow shoppers.

Shopping at the farmers market regularly builds a relationship with the farmers. They happily tell you how to select the freshest produce, and maybe how to store it. These useful tips help you get more for your hard-earned money.

The next time you’re in the grocery store, take a good look in the produce aisle. How fresh is the produce compared to what you see at the market?

At the Napa Farmers Market, the farmers make mental notes of what you like. Some will take orders so you don’t miss out on a limited supply of zucchini blossoms, for example, if you don’t get to the market early. When was the last time a grocery store thanked you for your business by popping an extra tomato in your bag?

The year’s first cherries have arrived, and they are fantastic. The strawberries are so flavorful, you may eat them all before you get home. The stalls are bursting with baskets of fava beans, asparagus, green garlic and spring onions. To me, these items are the glories of spring produce. At the farmers market, you can squeeze, sniff and often taste the produce before you buy it, plus you can talk with the farmer about it.

In the weeks to come, there will be more farmers and more variety of produce at the market. With cherries here, apricots can’t be far behind. I plan to continue my ritual of visiting the farmers market on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and hope to see you there.

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Ricotta

This salad is one of the best ways to enjoy local asparagus. The vegetable is paired with ricotta, toasted almonds and an herb vinaigrette. Local asparagus has superior flavor and is one of the first green vegetables we can enjoy after a winter of root vegetables.

Serves 4.

Finely grated zest of 1/2 small lemon

2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tsp. white wine vinegar

2 tsp. minced shallot

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh mint

1 Tbsp. thinly sliced fresh chives

1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh tarragon

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2 tsp. finely chopped fresh oregano

1 pound thick asparagus spears, tough bottoms removed

3 Tbsp. toasted sliced almonds

1/2 cup ricotta

3 Tbsp. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, vinegar, shallot, 1/8 teaspoon salt and several grinds of black pepper in a small bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk in the olive oil. Add the mint, chives, tarragon and oregano. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed.

Using a vegetable peeler, thinly shave the asparagus lengthwise into strips and place in a large bowl. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, almonds and dressing and toss. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Put a spoonful of ricotta in the center of four salad plates. Arrange the shaved asparagus around the ricotta and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve immediately.

The Napa Farmers Market takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., May through October, in the parking lot of the South Napa Century Center, 195 Gasser Drive, Napa. For information and upcoming events, visit NapaFarmersMarket.org or visit the market on Facebook.

Julie Logue-Riordan is a private chef and cooking teacher inspiring home cooks by building their techniques here and in Italy.

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