Summer for most people starts around the time the kids are throwing the insides of their binders into the air while singing Alice Cooper's "School's Out" (they still do that right?), but for those of us who love to cook, summer comes with the first JFX farmers market. Yes, I realize that the Waverly market is open year-round, but the start of the JFX is the first hint that the crops are about to start yielding their verdant harvest. Asparagus, strawberries, kale, rhubarb, and peas are on their way to bring sensuous smells to your kitchen and lively flavors to your mouth.
The first farmers market is the harbinger of great meals to come but it's also an excuse to get out of the fucking house again! Months trapped inside with wives, husbands, kids, pets, and yourself have taken their toll and you need to get outside. Even if it's only for an hour or two, the farmers market will save you from having to watch another episode of that BBC show you've been slogging through on Netflix. The sights, smells (they do sell cooked food there), and sounds ("BEST FISH ON THE PLANET!") are worth the Hoth-like stasis you've endured since the market closed in December. But an hour or so is all you need to remind you how much you'd rather be holed up in your kitchen, making food. Bags in hand, you walk away knowing that, by the time you get home, you'll already be anticipating next week's market.
Shopping at the market is also a sport with its own etiquette. Bring your own reusable bags, bring lots of singles (the vendors will love you for this), no pets (they're illegal and the crowds scare the hell out of them), don't stop and talk in the middle of the walkway, and always be on the lookout for new produce. Recently I found a vegetable that I have never seen until this year: kale florets. The product of letting a kale stalk go to flower, these edible beauties are full of vitamins and have a very mild flavor (think broccoli). Best of all, they are cheap! I got them at the Gardener's Gourmet stand for $2 a bunch, and two bunches was more than enough to go around. If you buy a bunch, be careful to check the lower parts of the stalks for woodiness as you would with asparagus stalks by breaking them in half. If they break cleanly, they are fine, but if they bend without breaking, then you will have to look for a place higher up on the stalk to cut through. After playing around with the florets, I found that I liked this simple recipe best and also found a great use for the leftovers.
Kale florets with garlic, spring onion, and chili flake
1 bunch kale florets (about a pound), chopped into 1-inch-long pieces and washed
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 dried chili pepper, crushed (or chopped) into flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Salt for blanching water (1/2 cup per 1/2 gallon of water)
Big bowl of ice water
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil (it should taste like the sea). Blanch the kale florets in the salty water for one minute, then plunge them into an ice bath. Drain the florets thoroughly; if you have a salad spinner, use that to get as much moisture off of the florets as possible.
In a pan (or wok) over medium heat, drop in a glug of olive oil and a small pat of butter (1/4-inch thick). When butter is foaming, add the garlic, onions, and red pepper flakes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is soft, then add the florets. Cook florets until heated through, then serve immediately.
I loved this dish so much that I made it again, but this time I had leftovers. Instead of just reheating them (which is perfectly fine and still delicious), I decided to make a full meal out of them. This recipe is even easier than the original because all of the hard work is out of the way. Let the food processor do the work and all you're left with is to make the pasta. No sweat, right?
Kale floret pesto
1 cup of cooked kale florets (recipe above)
1/2 cup parsley, stems and all, washed
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Grano Padano cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1-pound box of shaped pasta (I used Cavatappi)
In a food processor, combine the first seven ingredients. Pulse in the food processor a few times to get the food to start breaking up and mixed. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while continuing to pulse. You can keep pulsing it until it is smooth, but I prefer mine a little chunky.
Immediately after draining the pasta, return it to the hot pot you cooked it in and stir in the pesto. Stir until pasta is coated and combined with the sauce. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve while hot (hopefully with buttered bread!). Congratulate yourself with a glass of wine or a seasonal beer.
When at the market this summer, remember this one tip: Be nice. It's easy to get pissed at people when it's hot and crowded, but keep your head about you and understand that not everyone is doing it on purpose. Maybe they're not as fast as you or maybe they have kids holding them up or, God forbid, they are just strolling around on a Sunday, enjoying the experience. When you start to feel the rage building, just remember that it's summer and you are lucky to be there, getting some of the best produce in the country.