I’ll admit that, in the past, a visit to the farmer’s market has been mystifying at best. Oh sure, I’d buy peaches and strawberries and lettuce, all far fresher than what’s on my grocery store’s shelves. But once home, I made the same things with my purchases that I’ve done a million times before. Boring!
This time was going to be different. This time I had a professional chef and cooking teacher as my guide, someone who’d done demos at the market, even. Someone who knew the vendors. Someone, as I learned, who knew her way around the Vista Farmer’s Market and was more than willing to share her knowledge with a newbie like me. Chef Jenn.
With Jenn as my guide I tasted my first mulberries, courtesy of Mary at Ben’s Subtropicals. I saw duck and turkey eggs at Schaner Farms (which Jenn said would be excellent in fresh pasta). And oh, the creamy garlic pastes at Majestic Garlic made me wish for a tangy loaf of bread to smear them on!
The secret to successfully shopping at the farmer’s market is basic: don’t buy on the first pass. Take your time, check stuff out – it will be there when you go back, makeshift menu in hand (exception: fresh figs when there’s only three baskets available…don’t pass those up).
After sampling our way around the market, Jenn and I secured the last two seats at the coffee stand picnic bench and huddled together, throwing out ideas for our lunch menu that we’d prepare back at the cooking school.
Friends, it was as if we’d cracked a code. I felt like I was seeing for the first time. Suddenly those clams that looked so, well, clammy sitting in their bright red Coleman coolers became the star of our pasta. Then which pasta? That was an easy choice – lemon, to bring out the flavor of the clams.
We needed something slightly sweet to balance these flavors, so heirloom tomatoes made the list. The figs begged for a simple salad to accompany them, dressed with simple vinaigrette plus a mellow but unbelievably creamy sheep’s milk Greek cheese for smoothness.