MARKET & MENU WATCH / Spring produce bursting into markets
Farmers' markets and produce bins around the Bay Area are filled with fleeting joys of spring.
At Draeger's on the Peninsula, we've spotted half-pound bunches of impeccable watercress, with the roots attached, curlicue fiddlehead ferns and sea beans.
Berkeley's Monterey Market, mecca of chefs and other vegetable lovers, had good-quality morels at $28 a pound over the weekend. Beautiful big squash blossoms were 75 cents each.
At Alemany farmers' market in San Francisco, fenugreek greens are abundant from the Filipino growers, as are sweet and Thai basil and baby gai lan. Fenugreek greens are beloved by East Indians, who strip the tender leaves off the stalk, roughly chop them, then saute with diced, sauteed potatoes and black mustard seed, or a good masala. The greens are slightly bitter and full of flavor.
At the Grand Lake Farmers' Market in Oakland and the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market in San Francisco, cherries are making a strong showing. Strawberries continue to be plentiful, including small but wonderfully sweet berries from Lucero in Lodi.
Balmy weather means that stone fruit season is arriving early this year. Early-ripening white peaches were making their first appearance, along with apricots and apriums at Berkeley Bowl and the farmers' markets. For some vendors, like Hamada, the unusual weather means it's like spring and summer all at once -- the Kingsburg farm is selling both cherries and Murcott mandarins.
The San Rafael Civic Center market also straddled seasons. Stalls brimmed with springtime asparagus and strawberries, as well as summer squashes and even squash blossoms.
Fresh garbanzos' all-too-brief season is upon us. Shuck these bright green gems like peas, blanch in salted water and add to salads or make into an oh-so-springlike spread with a little good olive oil, salt, pepper and some chopped fresh herbs. Find the legume at farmers' markets or specialty stores like Berkeley Bowl.
At restaurants all over the Bay Area, preparations of spring asparagus abound. Medjool in San Francisco (2522 Mission St., near 21st Street) features fat spears of the crisp-tender vegetable enrobed in a flaky batter, delicately fried, then served upright in a large cup, with a bright lemon aioli.
At Nectar Wine Lounge in Burlingame (270 Lorton Ave.), chef Jason Moniz offers what might be the ultimate spring dish: a composed vegetarian plate featuring a skewer of grilled artichoke hearts, a delicate asparagus custard atop sauteed baby spinach, and a timbale of young fava beans and Yukon gold potatoes, topped with a fava bean leaf salad.
Those fava bean leaves are available at some farmers' markets, and they are just as good steamed or sauteed.