Two of my favorite activities are shopping for produce at the farmers market and growing my own food. It might not seem like it, but at this time of year the two hobbies go together quite nicely.
Some time ago, I determined that trying to grow all of the produce my wife and I consume was a noble idea but not a practical one. Growing your own food is a sensible goal if you are a homesteader and eat primarily plants. But my wife and I can eat just so many zucchini. Plus, some fruits and vegetables are best left to professional growers, in my opinion.
On my most recent foray through the farmers market, I bought cauliflower, cabbage, strawberries and asparagus — all foods that I no longer choose to grow myself but for different reasons. If you plant a six-pack of cauliflower or cabbage starts, they will all mature at the same time. Not good unless you are craving both. I’d rather buy cauliflower and cabbage from the farmers market when I want it, which is maybe three or four times a year.
My wife and I eat a lot of strawberries. So several years ago I planted a four- by 10-foot bed. Nice try, but the strawberry bed could not keep up with our demand. We were still supplementing our home production with strawberries from the farmers market, so we decided to toss in the towel and purchase all of our strawberries from the market. Truth be told, the strawberries from the market looked and tasted much better than our homegrown ones. The same can be said for asparagus. I planted two four- by eight-foot beds and harvest could not keep pace with demand.
What I do grow at home are the vegetables we love most, both fresh and preserved. When I walk through the Napa Farmers Market, I see beautiful tomato, pepper, eggplant and zucchini starts just waiting to be planted. Morningsun Herb Farm and Big Ranch Farms started seeds in January and February so that we would have all of these tempting seedlings to choose from.
Morningsun has my favorite canning tomato, San Marzano Redorta. It is much larger, sweeter and juicier than the familiar San Marzano. Enjoy it fresh or preserve it as tomato sauce, whole tomatoes or oven-dried tomatoes.
Both Morningsun and Big Ranch also have my favorite chili pepper, Numex Big Jim, the largest of the New Mexican varieties. This pepper has pods up to 12 inches long that weigh as much as 4 ounces Their size makes them a favorite for chiles rellenos when they are green. When they turn dark red, they are medium-hot, great for drying and grinding into chili powder.
Morningsun and Big Ranch Farms have the best chili pepper varieties for grilling. Drizzle padrón or shishito peppers with olive oil and sprinkle with a little coarse sea salt. After just a few minutes on a hot grill you will have a superb appetizer.
If you enjoy ratatouille, pick up some seedlings of bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini at the Napa Farmers Market. Then you can make this French dish all summer. Grab a bottle of olive oil from Atlas Peak Olive Oil, then stop by Achadinha Cheese Company or Dacheva Son’s Cheese for a grating cheese and you are all set.
Whether you grow your own produce or purchase it from the Napa Farmers Market, fresh-picked fruits and vegetables are one of the highlights of summer.
Cooking demonstration at the Market: Paul Franson, publisher of Napa Life, will demonstrate a frittata with spring vegetables at the Napa Farmers Market on Saturday, April 14, at 10 a.m. Get the recipe and a sample.
Kids’ Educational Activity: Bring your youngsters to the Napa Farmers Market on Saturday, April 14, at 10:30 a.m. for “Power Play,” part of our weekly Youth Education Program. Activities include stretching, yoga, hula hooping, dancing, walking and more. All ages welcome. Meet at the Education Station next to the Info Booth and across from the musicians.
Roasted Cauliflower with Parmesan
1 medium head of cauliflower, broken into florets
3 tablespoons roasted garlic olive oil
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Preheat an oven to 450 degrees Farenheit. Lightly oil a baking dish. In a bowl, toss the cauliflower florets with the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the baking dish and bake for 20 minutes.
Top with the cheese and bake until browned, 5 to 10 minutes longer. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.