I was really excited when the Piedmont Park Farmer’s Market opened up this past weekend. Last fall, the market was something of a Saturday morning ritual. We’d wake up as early as possible, haul the dog into the car, and park the car as close to Piedmont Park as we could get. Once at the market, we’d share a cup of iced almond coffee from our favorite vendor and buy a little bit of whatever produce looked good. Even little Riley got to sip water and sample dog biscuits from one of the stalls.
It’s very easy to get overwhelmed at the farmer’s market, much more so than at a grocery store. When you walk into the Publix or Pathmark closest to your house, there’s tons of fruit and vegetables to peruse. While the offerings might look shiny and inviting, it’s mostly smoke and mirrors creating an illusion. Have you ever gotten strawberries in November? They’re watery and tasteless. They were picked unripe so they’d hold up for transport, gassed with ethylene to give them color, and then shipped across the country for you to buy at a ridiculously high price. Yum.
On the other hand, at the farmer’s market, you can be reasonably sure that everything came from the ground very recently. If you see strawberries for sale, it’s because they’re actually in season. Therefore, they are probably delicious. This makes me want to go nuts and buy everything I see.
But it’s best to not go nuts, especially when it comes to fresh and highly perishable produce. My goal for this season is to keep my purchases limited to staple items and a couple of things that I’ve been craving, or want to experiment with. At least on this first weekend I was able to stick to this. We left the farmer’s market with a relatively light load: eggs, strawberries, kale, and green garlic.
I was intrigued when I saw something that looked like somewhat like leeks, but had a thicker bulb at the end. The vendor told us it was green garlic. When we cut into the bulb at the bottom, he said, pieces of garlic would be inside. I’d never seen garlic looking like anything but a bunch of cloves bound by papery membrane. In the spirit of adventure, we brought some home.
I brought it home to investigate. The greens on top still looked somewhat like leeks. I sliced them off and saved them for later use.
Cutting into the head yielded whole cloves of garlic, nestled within the layers.
Of course I tasted the baby garlic to compare it to the cured garlic that we see in stores. It was surprisingly delicious. It definitely had a garlicky taste, but it was milder, sweeter, and not at all pungent. The next question was, what should I cook with it?
My significant other has an extremely sensitive nose and is quick to show it off. Whenever I eat garlic out of his sight, he knows. Even if I brush my teeth and chew tons of gum, he can always tell that I had falafel for lunch that day. While this is charming in its own way, my top priority was to take advantage of the garlic’s delicate flavor. I decided that I would make pesto. It was a breeze: the garlic, basil, walnuts, parmiaggiano, olive oil, salt, and pepper went for a spin in the food processor. I used more garlic than I would usually would, and the resulting pesto was delicious. Its flavor was bright, garlicky but not overwhelmingly so. Furthermore, it went completely undetected by Xavier, so that was fun.
With the rest of the fresh garlic, I decided to riff from a New York Times recipe. The author originally envisioned a gratin fashioned from beet greens, green garlic, and barley. A bit of Gruyere cheese was to deepen the flavor. Mine used farmer’s market kale and arborio rice, and mozzarella. Sometimes you just have to use what’s already in the fridge. Regardless of the changes, this dish was amazing. I’m excited to obtain beet greens later at some point – I’ll make a gratin the way Martha Rose Shulman intended.
I’m really excited that the farmer’s market is open again, and I can’t wait to experiment with more new vegetables as spring and summer continue. And for the record? The strawberries that we bought were the tastiest that I’ve ever had.