Spring Onions

IMG_0137Spring onions are a variety of green onion or scallion with a strong flavor. They look almost like a green onion, except that their white bulbs are larger and more defined. All of the spring onion is edible.

They can be used interchangeably with green onions, but add a stronger flavor. They can be diced or chopped and added to sauces, stir fries, and other dishes. They can also be grilled, roasted and served as a garnish or side vegetable. They can be caramelized in savory tarts to bring out their natural sweetness and complex flavors and used in eggs or quiches.

When purchasing, look for crisp green leaves with no wilting or yellowing and firm, well-formed bulbs. Store in the refrigerator for no more than a few days or they will lose their distinctive strong flavor.

Try Roasted Spring Onions for a savory taste of the season! Just wash, then trim root end and a bit of the green end. Place them on a foil-lined cookie sheet in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to distribute oil. Add salt and pepper and roast at 400 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes, depending on your oven. Delicious!

Spring Pickled Asparagus

Asparagus is abundant right now and the season won’t last long. So enjoy the taste of spring asparagus in the middle of winter with this tangy recipe for canned pickled asparagus.

canning asparagus1 (2)Spring Pickled Asparagus
3 pounds asparagus, trimmed to fit your jars
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups filtered water
2 tablespoons pickling salt
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
12-ounce tall quilted jelly jars

Prepare a boiling water bath canner and jelly jars.

Combine apple cider vinegar, water and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

Fill a pan with several inches of water and bring to a boil.

While the blanching pot heats, wash asparagus and trim to fit in your jars (trimmed 1/2 inch from rim).

When water is boiling, blanch asparagus for 60 seconds. When time is up, transfer asparagus to a colander and rinse with cold water.

Remove jars from the canning pot and drain. Divide garlic cloves and crushed red pepper flakes evenly between jars. Pack asparagus spears into jars.

Pour pickling liquid over the asparagus, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Tap jars gently to remove any air bubbles. Add more liquid to return headspace to 1/2 inch, if necessary.

Wipe rims, apply lids and rings, and process jars in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.

When time is up, remove jars from canner and let them cool on a folded kitchen towel.
Let them cure for at least a week before eating.

A Bit o’ Irish Food History on St. Patrick’s Day

From prehistoric times up until the introduction of the potato, ancient Celtic Ireland’s diet was mostly made up of milk, cheese, meat, cereals and some vegetables. The Irish gathered wild onions, wild leeks, sorrel, nettles, and watercress, made cheese from livestock, and gathered wild grains for breads. They began farming vegetables around 800 to 1100 A.D. A vegetable called cainenn, possibly a member of the onion family, was widely cultivated. The bulbs and stems were eaten raw or placed in a stew. Immus (celery), meacan (carrots), and cerrbacan (parsnips) were also grown.

Mystery of Irish Potato FamineA major impact to the Irish diet arrived in the form of the potato from South America. Potatoes became a staple of the Irish diet by the late 1600’s. The potato was primarily eaten by the poorer population because it was cheap, easily grown and easy to store. This reliance on the potato for sustenance led to the Great Potato Famines in 1845 and 1846 when a fungal disease raced through the Irish potato crop, causing widespread famine that killed millions of people in Ireland. Many more millions immigrated to the United States to avoid starvation. The population of Ireland declined by over 50%, but the potato, the cause of all these deaths, still remained an important Irish food commodity.

In addition to potatoes, oats and barley were grown to add to the diet of both family and livestock. Breads and porridge were made from this. And being surrounded by water, fishing was important to the coastal communities. Halibut, salmon, herring, and cod were staples, as well as trout and other fresh-water fish along inland rivers and streams.

Apples have been grown in Ireland for at least 3000 years. St. Patrick is said to have planted a number of apple trees in Ireland. They were used for making cider and for cooking.
The early Irish did not eat much bread, but later, breads like soda bread, scones, and hearty oat breads were a staple.

Soups, stews, and “boils” made up a large part of the diet. The traditional beef boil made of cabbage, potatoes, and a beef brisket roast, an inexpensive cut of beef, is probably where the American version of “corned beef and cabbage” came from.

Colcannon is a very traditional Irish dish, made of mashed potatoes, chopped cabbage, cream, and butter. The recipe first appeared in print in 1775 and is still made in Ireland today.

So enjoy St. Patrick’s Day with a dram o’ Irish whiskey or a Guinness, a mound of colcannon, or some Irish stew, soda bread and a cake made with apples, and you’ll be well on your way to being Irish for the day!

One Potato, Two Potato…..

Few foods are as versatile, delicious, or as nutritious as the potato. They are members of the night shade family and once thought to be poisonous. We can thank Sir Walter Raleigh for debunking this superstition by planting them on property he owned in Ireland. The Irish began growing and eating potatoes in big quantities, and today, hundreds of varieties are grown around the world.

potatoes 09 017Russets: Russet Burbank is the workhorse of potatoes. It is oblong, russet brown in color with netted or somewhat rough skin. It is primarily used for baking and for French fries because of its high starch content which makes it fluffy when cooked. Rosset Norkotah, Centennial Russet, and new russets such as the HiLite Russet, and Ranger Russet, are other varieties that give the name more versatility in boiling, mashing, and roasting.

Red potatoes: Round red potatoes have a rosy red skin with white flesh. Red Norlands, Pontiac, Red Lasoda, Sangre, and Larouge, are the main varieties. Chieftain, Viking, and Red Ruby are less common. Their waxy texture makes them perfect for boiling but they can be used for any cooking purpose. Cook them unpeeled, and mash, or use in a potato salad for a different look.

White potatoes: Round whites such as the Superior are light to medium brown in color, and are an all-purpose potato used mostly for boiling and baking. Long whites such as the White Rose are grown in California during the spring and summer. They have an oval shape with a thin, light tan, almost translucent skin and are good for boiling and roasting as well as in potato salads.

Yellow-fleshed potatoes: Yellow-fleshed potatoes such as Yukon Gold seem richer and less in need of butter than others.

Fingerlings: These are about the length of your pinkie finger and are wonderful for roasting.

Desiree: Desiree has pinkish flesh, and is good for roasting and steaming.

New potatoes: These are a variety of young potatoes that haven’t had time to convert their sugar fully to starch. They have a crisp waxy texture with thin, undeveloped wispy skins. Their small size makes them perfect to cook whole boiled or pan-roasted. They are excellent for potato salad because they retain their shape after being cooked and cut.

Blue potatoes: Blue potatoes are somewhat of a novelty, although they’ve been around for thousands of years. The outside is deep blue or purple and the flesh ranges from blue to white.

For more information on selection and storage of potatoes, visit your farmers’ market info booth for a brochure.

Kumquats, You Say?

Tasting sweet and juicy on the inside and bitter on the outside, the kumquat is a small oval fruit from the citrus family. They’re here through April and offer a lively flavor to spring dishes.
Buy kumquats with bright, smooth skins that feel a bit heavy for their small size. Avoid kumquats with bruises, cuts, or blemishes of any kind – the edible skin is more delicate and tender than that of other citrus fruits, and also more susceptible to damage.

mandarinkuatsEat or use kumquats as soon after purchasing as you can – unlike other citrus fruits, kumquats don’t have a long shelf life. If you do need to store them for a few days, keep kumquats in a paper bag or loosely wrapped in plastic in the fridge.

Kumquats make a great snack or light dessert eaten out of hand, or added whole or halved to fruits salads. They are also a great addition to crunchy winter salads like Endive Kumquat Salad. They can also be canned and preserved and delicious over ice cream or plain yogurt.

There are various crossed varieties now appearing at your local market. Mandarinquats are obviously a cross between a Mandarin orange and a kumquat. There are also tangy limequats and other small, brightly flavored crosses. Taking into consideration their inherent flavor differences, these little gems make great additions to your recipes, just as kumquats can. They also are good when eaten right out of the bag.

Mandarin Oranges

Mandarin oranges are part of a group of citrus fruits. They include Satsuma, Clementine, Dancy, Honey, Pixie, and tangerines in general. They are smaller than oranges, come seedless or with seeds, and have easy-to-peel rinds, inner segments that separate easily and are a little sweeter than oranges. Mandarin oranges are tangerines but not all mandarins are tangerines. Tangerines are the most common variety of fresh mandarin orange found in the U.S.

mandarinsDuring Chinese New Year, mandarin oranges and tangerines are considered traditional symbols of abundance and good fortune. During the two-week celebration, they are frequently displayed as decoration and presented as gifts to friends, relatives, and business associates.

Mandarin refers to the bright orange robes worn by the mandarins, public officials of the ancient Chinese court. These delectable fruits were often reserved strictly for the privileged class in the Far East, another distinguishing reason why they are called mandarins or mandarin oranges today. Although cultivated for over 3,000 years in China, mandarin oranges did not reach Europe and North America until the nineteenth century. The first mandarin oranges to be exported were shipped from the city of Tangiers in Morocco, hence the moniker tangerine.*

Mandarin oranges provide up to 80% of your needed daily intake of vitamin C. And the antioxidants they contain can help lower bad cholesterol. They have 3 grams of fiber, calcium, and phosphorous, too.

Pick up a bag of mandarins and enjoy them in salads, sides, main dishes, salad dressings, and just as a healthy sweet snack.

*aboutfood.com

March 2015 Market Thymes Newsletter

3 - March 2015-13 – March 2015 1

The drought seems to be continuing this year with little rain in sight. Farmers are doing their best to bring you the season’s best fruits and vegetables. Read about how Cecchini & Cecchini Asparagus Farm is coping with, not just the drought, but with cheaper imported asparagus.

This is the month to look for that fresh earthy asparagus. Winter’s citrus is still available so look for tiny kumquats, Meyer and Lisbon lemons, mandarins, tangerines, and navel oranges. Baby spring root vegetables are divine right now, small and sweet. Spring lettuce, spinach, arugula, and other greens are perfection. And spring onions and garlic are at their peak.

Asparagus Growers, Drought, and Imports

Asparagus 3-9-2010 (5)The green spears of spring are here. Over 65% of the asparagus grown commercially in the U.S. is grown in the Sacramento River Delta. Some is grown in the Central Valley. But acreage is dwindling steadily because of cheaper imports from Mexico, according to Barbara Cecchini of Cecchini & Cecchini Farm.

Asparagus growers are somewhat concerned about the drought – last year’s crop was not as good as in previous years. But they’re not as concerned with the drought as they are with the increase in cheaper imported asparagus from Mexico. Barbara’s family has gone from 1000 acres of asparagus down to 50 in the last few years.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has laid the foundation for more imports from Mexico, thus leading to less expensive asparagus becoming available. Her family has grown asparagus for five generations but will eventually sell the land to developers because it is now too costly to grow asparagus. Labor costs, cheaper imported products, and inability to find workers have “cost them the farm.”

Barbara says, “Asparagus will eventually become a niche crop in California. It will still be grown, but on a much smaller scale.” So she and her daughter are in the process of creating an Agricultural Park called First Generation Farmers in place of their farm to teach others about farming.

As of the time this went to press, Barbara said, “This looks to be a decent year as far as the asparagus crop goes. It’s hard to predict right now because we’ve just begun to harvest.”
She said that it looks like the tables at the farmer’s market will be full, but the season may be shorter. The quality seems to be on par with previous years.

Visit your farmers’ market and select California-grown asparagus from Cecchini & Cecchini and other local farms because you know how it’s grown and under what conditions. As we always say, Buy Fresh, Buy Local!

Celery Root

celery rootsCelery root, also called celeriac, is an edible root vegetable in the celery family. The stalks and leaves strongly resemble celery, although they are not very good to eat. The root itself is a lumpy tuber in appearance, resembling a misshapen turnip. It is brown and lumpy, and the brown outer skin should be washed and peeled before cooking.

When picking out celery root, look for firm tubers without fleshy spots or discolorations. Smaller roots will taste better, while larger roots are woodier and more suitable for roasting or long stewing. In flavor, the root resembles a concentrated version of celery, with a spicy hint of parsley.

Celery root can be used in any recipe that calls for celery, and a variety of others as well. It can be stored in the refrigerator in a brown paper bag with stems trimmed for approximately one week before use. It is excellent when roasted, added to gratins, or added to soups and stews. It can also be eaten raw in thin slices on salads and appetizers, and it adds a zesty crunch.

Sweeten Your Day with Local Honey

Honey bees are responsible for pollinating most fruits, vegetables, and legumes. In fact, to produce a pound of honey, bees must visit some 2 million flowers. Those floral blossoms help create more than 300 varieties of honey ranging from clover and sage to blueberry and buckwheat. Floral source, location and climate factors all affect the taste, color and texture (viscosity) of honey. Its colors range from nearly colorless to deep dark browns. Each has its own distinct flavor ranging from delectably mild to impressively bold.

Tomas, Market Manager and Three Bees Beehives
Tomas, Market Manager and Three Bees Beehives
Honey is a wonderful source of quick energy and is also valued for its antioxidant properties. It is composed primarily of carbohydrates and water, and also contains small amounts of a wide array of vitamins and minerals, including niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Add it to your diet for a healthier alternative to other sweeteners.

Cooking with Honey: For best results, use recipes developed for using honey. Because of its high fructose content, honey has a higher sweetening power than sugar. This means you can use less honey than sugar to achieve the desired sweetness. When substituting honey for granulated sugar in recipes, begin by substituting honey for up to half of the sugar called for in the recipe. With a little experimentation, honey can replace all the sugar in some recipes.

When baking with honey, remember the following:
•Reduce any liquid called for by 1/4 cup for each cup of honey used.
•Add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for each cup of honey used.
•Reduce oven temperature by 25°F to prevent over-browning.
When measuring honey, coat the measuring cup with non-stick cooking spray or vegetable oil before adding the honey. The honey will slide right out. A 12-ounce jar of honey equals a standard measuring cup.

Storing Honey: Store honey at room temperature – your kitchen counter or pantry shelf is ideal. Storing honey in the refrigerator accelerates the honey’s crystallization. Crystallization is the natural process in which liquid in honey becomes solid. Honey stored in sealed containers can remain stable for decades and even centuries! However, it tends to darken and lose its aroma and flavor over time. This is a temperature-dependent process, making the shelf life of honey difficult to define.

For practical purposes, a shelf life of two years is often stated. If your honey crystallizes, simply place the honey jar in warm water and stir until the crystals dissolve. Or, place the honey in a microwave-safe container with the lid off and microwave it, stirring every 30 seconds, until the crystals dissolve. Be careful not to boil or scorch the honey.

Note: Honey should never be fed to infants under one year of age. Honey is otherwise a safe and wholesome food for children and adults.