Shopping the Farmers Market: Why Blog

After years of frequenting the farmers markets in NYC, but only buying a few supplemental ingredients here or there, I decided to be experimental and work dishes around what is in season or looks particularly mouthwatering at the market that day. Green seems to be the buzz word these days from NYC to the White House, and the eat local movement is in full swing. My attempt here is to buy as many ingredients as possible from a the farmers market, and then occasionally supplement with locally produced ingredients from chain markets around the city. Most of the recipes I post (except for the baking recipes) are either things I created myself, or variations on recipes I've found elsewhere. I hope that you take the recipes and shopping tips here and they inspire you to do your own local cooking.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Gnocchi Just Like My Imaginary Italian Grandma Used to Make

I actually made it to two outdoor markets today. The first one, the Hester Street Market at Essex and Hester Street isn't actually a farmers market. Instead, it's more of a craft market where food vendors from around the city often sell their concoctions in small portions. Luke's Lobster is often there, as well as White Slab Palace. I like it because sometimes there's an amazing spice vendor. Today I went because it was Guerrilla Ice Cream's last day at the market for the season. If you haven't heard of Guerrilla Ice Cream check them out, They make small batches of ice cream in unique flavors that I've never seen anywhere else. I'm on their mailing list, so I was informed that today they would have duck ice cream with plum sauce and mooncake. I thought that was too bizarre to pass up, so I made a bee-line for the market as soon as I made it out of my apartment today. I wasn't sure what it was going to taste like, but I thought I'd dive in anyway.

I think the guy selling the ice cream was a little shocked that he didn't have to sell me on it, because when I asked for a small scoop he said "really? Without even tasting it first?" I had duck last night for dinner, and I'll have to admit, that this tasted nothing like that, but still gave off a slight essence of duckiness. It was much sweeter than I thought it would be, maybe hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, and the tart plum sauce was the perfect accompaniment. I thoroughly enjoyed eating it as I perused the cuff bracelets and necklaces.

Sated by my scoop of poultry ice cream, I headed up to the farmers market at Tompkins Square Park. Now, when I used to like in the East Village, this was my local market, so I knew what was probably going to be there going in. The Tompkins Square market is small, but has a lot of charm...i.e. is very crowded. Despite the 80 degree weather, I really saw the shift to fall today in the produce. Lots of apples, and the start of some pretty looking gourds.

I've had the idea to make gnocchi with porcini mushroom sauce for the whole summer, but I always felt that it was too hot to make. Now that fall is almost officially here, I felt like it was time.

I didn't buy much at the market today. Just 4 russet potatoes and 3 Yukon golds. All for about $1.50/lb. Sometimes you can get dried mushrooms at the market, but not today. I usually see a lot of mushrooms at the Grand Army or the Union Square markets. I could have also bought a couple of dozen tomatoes here to make my own tomato paste, but this recipe was long enough already, and two dozen tomatoes at $3.50/lb seemed very expensive compared to the 2 cans of tomato paste I bought at Whole Foods for $0.89 each. If you do want to make your own paste here's a recipe to try (

Today I purchased:

At the farmers market
4 russet potatoes
3 Yukon gold potatoes
Small yellow onion
Flat leaf parsley

At Whole Foods
1.5 oz. of dried porcini mushrooms
unsalted butter
2 6oz. cans of tomato paste

Supplementary ingredients I had at home
Olive Oil
All Purpose Flour

Optional ingredients that I might use next time
Full bodied red wine

Recipe: Potato Gnocchi with a Porcini Mushroom Sauce

4 lbs of potatoes
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
Freshly grated Parmesan

Porcini Mushroom Sauce
1.5 oz of dried porcini mushrooms
12 oz. of tomato paste
1/2 small onion chopped
2 cups of loosely packed flat leaf parsley
5-6 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of chopped sage (optional)
1/2 cup of red wine (optional)

I got this recipe from a post on Chow Hound. A woman said that this was the recipe that her Italian grandmother taught her. I changed it very slightly, but it's pretty true to the original.

Start with the porcini mushroom sauce. I made everything at the same time, but this made me have to multi-task too much. I'd make the sauce ahead of time if I were you, then you can just concentrate on the gnocchi.

Soak dried mushrooms in a bowl of cold water for a minute shaking a bit. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the mushrooms into a small pot. Cover the mushrooms with 1 1/2 cups of water and turn on low heat until the liquid simmers. The recipe said that this could take 45 minutes, but it started to simmer for me after only 25-30. Once it begins to simmer turn the heat off and scoop the mushrooms with a slotted spoon onto a cutting board. Chop. Strain the remaining liquid into another bowl a couple of times.

Next, take the parsley, garlic, and onion and put them in a food processor and pulse 10 times. My stuff is in storage for another two weeks until my new apartment is ready so I'm food processorless at the moment. I tried to use the blender, but without any liquid it really didn't work. I ended up chopping everything up finely. A pain, but you can do it if you don't have a food processor.

Place a heavy 4 quart pot with a lid over medium-low heat. Melt the butter and add the oil. When the butter begins to bubble add the garlic/onion/parsley mixture. Sautee for about 6 minutes until the onions become translucent. Add the chopped mushrooms and mix in. Add the tomato paste and mix in. Slowly add the remaining mushroom liquid while you stir. The original recipe calls for you to take one of the 6 oz. tomato paste cans and fill it with water 4 or 5 times stirring as you add the water in. I think it might be an even bolder flavor if you use a full bodied red wine instead of the water here. I also think adding some chopped sage or a couple of bay leaves would be nice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Once everything is mixed in, turn the heat down to low, cover, and let simmer for an hour to an hour-and-a-half. Remember to check the sauce every 20 minutes or so to make sure that the sauce isn't too thick. If it is add a little water.

When the sauce seems like it's the right consistency for you, add more salt and pepper to taste.

For the gnocchi, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. I made gnocchi once before over a decade ago. My friend Janice had recently come back from Argentina and her host mother had taught her how to make it. We boiled the potatoes. They turned out well, but this recipe called for roasting the potatoes. After tasting the gnocchi I think roasting is a good idea. The potatoes don't retain as much water when you roast them, which makes for lighter, fluffier gnocchi. Place the potatoes directly on the rack and cook for 45-55 minutes, until they seem soft when you prick them with a fork.

Once the potatoes are roasted pull them out and cut them lengthwise. Be careful, they're hot. I used rubber gloves to handle them. Scoop the inside of the potatoes into a bowl. Next, push the potato through a potato ricer. A lot of people don't have one of these, but I think they're worth it. They really create a much better texture for the potato. I picked mine up for $7 as the Met Grocery Store, so no excuses! Rice the potatoes onto a sheet pan, making sure you're spreading them out so they cool.

Once the potatoes are cool put them into a large bowl and add some salt (maybe about 1 tablespoon). Mix in a 1/2 cup of flour with a fork. Then mix in another 1/2 cup. Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface. Work in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour. I did this 1/2 cup at a time, making a well in the center of the dough and mixing it in from there.

Once the flour is mixed in, knead until the dough is soft and elasticy, about 7 minutes total. Shape into a 6 x 4 inch loaf. Cut into 1 inch strips, and roll each strip until it's 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut the cylinder into 1 1/4 inch pieces. Roll each one off the end of a floured fork to make the dimples that gnocchi are famous for.

While you're doing this you should boil a large pot of heavily salted water (3 or 4 tablespoons). When the water boils, throw 2 or 3 gnocchi in to make sure they stick together in the water. If they don't, add more flour to the dough. Boil for 2 or 3 minutes until the gnocchi begin to float to the top. Remove with a slotted spoon. You should be boiling these is small batches of 15-20 gnocchi at a time. You can cover the gnocchi with a towel while they're waiting to be cooked. After 4 hours you can freeze the remaining gnocchi and cook at another time.

To serve, place 15 or 20 gnocchi on a plate. Spoon the porcini mushroom sauce on top, sprinkle with fresh pepper and Parmesan. Serve right away.

These came out very well. They were definitely the texture I was looking for, not too heavy or mealy. Gnocchi can often feel like lead if you overwork the dough, or cook them for too long, so be careful. The sauce had a really nice earthy flavor that went well with the potato in the gnocchi.

This is my last post for a couple of weeks. My furnished summer sublet in Brooklyn is coming to an end, and my apartment is being packed up as we speak. I'll reemerge in my new apartment in Astoria in a couple of weeks with all of my own cooking equipment back. New borough, new places to shop. I must admit I'll miss the Brooklyn farmers markets, but this gives me a new opportunity to explore. Join me in October when gourd season will be in full swing. Do I hear pumpkin muffins?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cold Day, Warm Soup

So, I'll start off by saying that I didn't actually make it to a farmers market today. My day was taken up by running my first 5K race in just over 30 minutes! I know 5K isn't that far, but for someone who couldn't run a mile 3 months ago it was a big deal.

So instead of making a meal from ingredients I bought at the farmers market, I decided to make a dish where it was possible to get most of the ingredients at a typical farmers market.

One of my favorite dishes on a cold day is soup, and there's no other soup for me than my mom's cream of mushroom soup. The earthiness of the mushrooms blends well with the complexity of the sherry, warming your insides. I think the original recipe actually came from a cookbook that my mother got for her engagement to my father in the 1960s, but I'll always think of it as my mom's creation. Here's the recipe with a couple of minor personal tweaks.

Today I purchased:

Ingredients that could be bought at the farmers market:

3/4 of a pound of mushrooms (the original recipe calls for button mushrooms, but I like to mix button and crimini)
1 medium onion
Heavy cream

At a supermarket:

Celery (if you're lucky you might be able to find this at the farmers market as well)
Chicken Stock

Supplemental ingredients I had at home:

Salted butter
Dry sherry or sherry cooking wine

Recipe: Mom's Cream of Mushroom Soup

1/2 lb. of button mushrooms, diced
1/4 lb. of crimini mushrooms, diced
4 tablespoons of butter
Medium onion, minced
1 celery stalk, diced
3 cups of chicken stock
2 tablespoons of parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons of butter
A pinch of paprika
A grating of nutmeg
2 tablespoons of flour
1 cup of heavy cream
4 - 8 tablespoons of sherry (I usually add 6, but I like a strong sherry taste)

Saute the celery, onion, and mushrooms on medium-high heat in the 4 TBS of butter until the mushrooms begin to release their juices, and the onion begins to soften.

Add the stock and parsley, simmer covered for ½ hour.

Puree the soup in the blender or food processor. I usually find that there's too much liquid to puree the soup all at once, so I usually do it in 2 batches so the hot liquid doesn't shoot out of the top of the blender. Unfortunately, that was a learn by experience lesson. Once the soup is pureed, poor it into a bowl and reserve.

Melt the 2 TBS of butter in the original pan, add the salt, pepper, paprika, nutmeg, and flour. Cook for two minutes, whisking constantly. Add pureed soup, cream, and sherry. Whisk until smooth.

I like to let it cool a few minutes before serving. I feel that the flavors come out more when it's not piping hot. I served the soup in a bowl with a parsley garnish. I hope this soup reminds you of your mother's soup, or maybe it will be like the soup you wish your mother made. Welcome to fall!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Trip to Jersey

As reported in my last post I took a trip to Jersey to visit a friend on Sunday. I took the 9:10am NJ transit train so that I could get out there early enough to make the farmers market. A good portion of the fruits and vegetables that we get in NYC come from the farms in New Jersey, so I thought why not hit them right at the source. Almost every community in the state seems to have its own market. My friend lives in Milburn, but their's is mid-week, so we drove twenty minutes to the Morristown market.

Located in a parking lot behind a Dunkin Donuts, the Morristown market was small compared to the Union Square market, but I thought it still had plenty of variety. They also had a couple of stands that I haven't seen in NY like the Pirogi and sausage stand. I should mention up front that this isn't going to be a normal post. My friend did most of the cooking and I didn't get a chance to take photos of the dish, but I'll post the recipe anyway. We had decided to make a linguine in clam sauce as well as a salad. Right away I notice these wonderful purple peppers for the salad. Peppers come in so many different varieties. These were basic, but they came in a variety of colors. That, plus some lettuce, a jersey field tomato, and some fresh lettuce created a basic salad with some oil and balsamic dressing that hit the spot.

While still at the vegetable stand we purchased some of the largest jalapeno peppers I've ever seen! I'm always buying the small ones that could fit in your hand, and I find they have better flavor, but these couldn't be beat if you wanted to have some impressive looking peppers with a little kick in your dish.

I'll admit to you that we didn't end up getting our clams at the market. For some reason they were very expensive there. A bag of little necks was $20. We ended up getting a dozen for about $5.00 at Whole Foods, but I have seen them for close to the Whole Foods price at the farmers markets in NYC. Maybe the inland location was affecting the cost. But if you are willing to buy the $20 bag, they do have them at this particular market.

I rounded out the market by getting a container of new pickles that I am terribly sad I forgot at my friend's apartment at the end of the day, and a great crusty baguette. That concluded our trip, but I must admit it was nice getting out of the city for a change.
Today I bought:
At the farmers market:
1 head of lettuce
1 Jersey field tomato
1 basket of cherry tomatoes
1 purple pepper
1 large jalapeno pepper
1 pint of new pickles
1 baguette

At Whole Foods:
1 dozen little neck clams

Supplementary ingredients my friend had:
White cooking wine
Olive oil
3 large mushrooms

Recipe: Linguine in Clam Sauce
1 lb of linguine
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
1 dozen little neck clams
1-2 dozen cherry tomatoes, halved
1 shallot, minced
3 mushrooms sliced
1/2 cup of white wine
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme

Start the water for the pasta, cook as directed on the box. Heat the oil on medium heat in a large saute pan that has a cover. Add the garlic and shallot and saute for a minute until the shallots begin to sweat, but before the garlic browns. Add in the pepper and saute a minute more. My friend sliced the pepper into large chunks, but I don't like my spicy peppers to be that big so I would dice it. Add the mushrooms and saute until they begin to brown. Add salt and pepper to taste. Put the clams in the pan and add the white wine. Throw in the tomatoes and the thyme. Cover and let simmer until the clams open up. If it doesn't look like there's enough liquid you can add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water. Once the clams are open toss the pasta into the sauce. Turn off the heat and serve. Sometimes I add a little lemon juice to this dish and garnish it with a little flat leaf parsley. You can also add differnt types of seafood such as shrimp or baby octopus.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Labor-less Day Dessert

Alright, maybe this dessert isn't completely labor-less, but it's pretty easy to make, and would be great for your Labor Day BBQ. Sorry my posts have been a little less frequent lately, but I'm back working full time again, so my farmers market visits will mostly be on the weekends from now on.

I had a whole list of errands to attend to today, so I stayed close to home and went to the Grand Army Plaza market. Often I go to the market with an idea in mind, but today I wanted to see what was there, and make my mind up on the spot. I noticed right away that we're really starting to move into autumn produce. A variety of apples were all over the market. Unfortunately, I'm allergic to raw apples, so you won't see many apple recipes from me on here.

I thought about making a fish dish, but as you can see from the picture, the line at the fish vendor was longer than any line that I had ever seen at the farmers market before. Maybe the change in season was causing a mussel craving, (which were only $2.95/lb by the way if you want to wait on the line.)

In the end, I decided to go with a dessert. I spotted some mint that smelled wonderful for $1.50/bunch, and since I rarely mix mint into a savory dish (except with certain lamb dishes), I decided to pick up some fruit that would go well with the herb. I grabbed two packages of blackberries, which would have been about $8, but for some reason, the guy decided to take pity on my lack of cash, and charge me half price. I'll mention that you can get 5 containers of berries for just $10. It's a real deal, I just didn't have another $10 on me this morning. I thought blackberries weren't enough, so I decided to add some peaches. I was having a hard time deciding between the peaches and nectarines, but the peaches were a bit riper so I went with them.

At this point I decided to make a trifle. I could have made my own pound cake, but they had slices of buttered pound cake for just $1.50 which I thought would probably be better than anything I could make, so I bought two pieces.

On the way home I had a thought that I wanted to make whipped cream, so I picked up a pint of whipping cream at the supermarket, but often you can get that at the farmers market as well.

Today I purchased:

At the farmers market:
2 cups of blackberries
1 bunch of mint
2 peaches
2 slices of pound cake

At a supermarket:
1 pint of heavy whipping cream

Supplemental ingredients I had at home:
Superfine sugar
Confectioners sugar
Agave sweetener or honey (either will do)
Apricot brandy

Recipe: Grilled Peach and Blackberry Trifle

Ingredients (for 2 trifles)
2 peaches
1 piece of pound cake
2 cups of blackberries
1/4 cup of superfine sugar
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup of mint, chopped
1 pint of whipping cream
4 tablespoons of confectioners sugar
Apricot brandy
Agave sweetener or honey

First, before you start anything, put a metal bowl and the blades from an electric mixer in the freezer. This will make it easier to whip the cream into soft peaks later.

Cut the peaches in half, then each half into quarters. If the peaches are really ripe, you can add them to the trifle raw. Mine were a little under-ripe, so I decided to grill them. First, after I sliced the peaches I drizzled agave sweetener on them. You could use honey instead, but I used the agave because it's a little neater and easier to use. Heat your grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Grill the peaches for about 2 or 3 minutes on each side.

Add the blackberries, superfine sugar, water, and chopped mint into the blender. Mix until smooth.

Slice the pound cake into cubes.

Now, to make the whipped cream. It's actually much easier than one would think. Take the bowl and blades out of the freezer. Pour the pint of cream into the bowl. Mix on low speed until the cream begins to thicken a bit and no longer splatters. This should take a couple of minutes. You can move it up to medium speed at this point. Continue to mix the cream until soft peaks just begin to form. I found this took me about 3-5 minutes from the time I started. Once it's thick enough, add 4 tablespoons of confectioners sugar to the cream and mix on low for another 15 seconds. The cream should be slightly sweet, but not too sweet.

Assembly time! I decided to use wine glasses, but you can really use any type of liquor glass (Margarita, Brandy, etc.). First, start with a layer of the pound cake. I put 4 or 5 little cubes in the bottom, but this will depend on what kind of glass you're using. Next, take the apricot brandy and pour just a little over the pound cake. Cut the peach slices in half and add a layer. Next, pour some of the blackberry mint sauce on top until you have a thin layer. Add a scoop of the whipped cream.

Repeat all steps one more time, and top with a mint sprig and maybe a blackberry or two. I'd suggest refrigerating this for about a half hour so that all the flavors meld together, but I couldn't wait, so I ate mine right away. This is the perfect end of summer dessert. It was very delicious and only took me about 20 minutes to make.

Tomorrow I'm off to Jersey to go hiking with a friend and make a Jersey farmers market meal. Maybe I'll blog about it later in the week. Enjoy your holiday weekend!