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Janet Fletcher

Janet Fletcher 

It’s salad time, right? The past few weeks have been filled with excuses to overindulge. And while I don’t regret a single cookie, I know it’s time for a reset. If you have resolved to develop more wholesome eating patterns this year, the Napa Farmers Market is the place to start.

I think New Year’s resolutions get tossed by the wayside so quickly because people make them too ambitious. Here’s an easy one: Resolve to shop at the Napa Farmers Market on Saturday mornings and take home a fruit or vegetable you’ve never tried before.

One advantage of shopping at the farmers market is that the vendor can advise you how to select, prep, store and cook whatever you’re buying. If you’ve never cooked leeks, or turnips or fennel before, ask the farmer for advice, or the shopper next to you who is buying the vegetable you’re eyeing.

January at the farmers market is peak time for sturdy leafy greens like kale, chard, mustard greens, beet greens, and turnip greens. The more of these greens you mix together, the better they taste. Trim away tough kale ribs and beet stems if they’re raggedy. Chard ribs take longer to cook than the leaves do, so I cut them out, slice them and give them a head start when I’m boiling greens.

My favorite method is to bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. I add the chard ribs first and, after a few minutes, add the greens in reverse order of tenderness. Tuscan kale is typically tougher than chard or mustard greens, so it goes in before them. When all the greens are tender — maybe 3 minutes — I drain them and shock them with cold running water, then gather them up and squeeze them to remove excess water.

Then I chop them up and reheat them in a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil with sautéed garlic. A pinch of chili flakes is a good idea, although we use my husband’s homemade giardiniera to spike the greens at the table. When the greens are hot throughout and well-seasoned with salt, I’ll transfer them to a platter and crumble feta on top.

You could serve these greens with pan-fried sausages from the farmers market, or some baked halibut. Or go meatless and serve them with baked sweet potatoes. On occasion, we toss the garlicky cooked greens with orecchiette and a lot of grated pecorino romano for a one-dish meal.

As far as eating kale raw, I came late to that party. Kale salads had been popular for a long time before I decided to give them a try. Now that I know the secret (see the recipe below), I am as big a fan as everyone else.

Kale Salad with Red Grapes, Walnuts, and Feta

The secret to an irresistible kale salad is the pre-dressing massage. Rubbing the sturdy leaves with salt and lemon breaks down cell walls, softening the greens and allowing the dressing to penetrate. If you find more than one variety of kale (such as Tuscan or Russian kale) at the Napa Farmers Market, choose the type with the most tender leaves. Feel free to improvise with this recipe, replacing the grapes on occasion with figs, persimmons, or apples. From Wine Country Table by Janet Fletcher (Rizzoli).

Wine suggestion: Rosé or Riesling

¼ pound Tuscan kale leaves (no ribs), chopped coarsely

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

Kosher or sea salt

2-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup halved red seedless grapes

2 green onions, white and pale green part only, thinly sliced or finely chopped

1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill

1 small clove garlic

1 small heart of romaine, about ¼ pound, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced crosswise

½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

2 ounces feta, finely crumbled

In a large bowl, combine the kale, lemon juice, and ½ teaspoon salt. Massage the kale, kneading it vigorously with your hands for a couple of minutes to soften it. It will shrink in volume. Add the olive oil, grapes, green onions, and dill. With a rasp grater, add a few scrapings of garlic, or a pinch of finely minced garlic. Toss well with a fork and let the kale relax for 15 to 30 minutes.

Just before serving, stir in the romaine, walnuts, and feta. Toss well, taste for salt, and add more lemon juice if desired. Serve immediately.

Serves 3 to 4

Kids activities at the Napa Farmers Market: Bring your youngsters to the market Education Station on Saturdays for Story Time at 10:30 a.m. There might be coloring, matching games or other fun activities too.

On the KVYN Music Stage: On Saturday, Jan. 18, Oscar Reynolds will be performing.

Harvest of the Month: Through January, enjoy comparative tastings of citrus and chard at the market’s Education Station at 11 a.m. or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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Janet Fletcher is a Napa Valley food writer and the author or co-author of 30 cookbooks. She is on the board of directors of the Napa Farmers Market.

The Napa Farmers Market takes place on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., in the parking lot of the South Napa Century Center, 195 Gasser Drive, Napa. The market also participates in the Market Match program, doubling the value of CalFresh benefits purchasing power for all eligible food products. For more information or a schedule of upcoming events, visit www.napafarmersmarket.org

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