Asparagus is great no matter what you do with it – but roasting is easy.
D and I stopped in at our town farmer’s market this AM to check out the wares since they reformed as a non-profit venture and are working to focus the market on fresh produce and local foods. After a disappointing year last year with a lack of traffic, which led to vendors leaving, which led to even fewer customers, and so on, the market is re-branding and getting back on track. While the customers weren’t yet flocking there at the 9 AM start when we arrived, the selection has improved since my last visit.
This is week two after their grand season opening last week. There were at least four vendors with produce, a local seafood vendor, several selling local honey, a local bbq sauce company, a kettle corn seller, several bakeries, and a nursery with perennial flowers and herbs. [I didn't visit every booth - so this is not an exact count.] Booths with crafts are scattered through the market, most located back toward the steps of the train station (pottery, jewelry, soaps, etc). There is a guy sharpening knives by hand for a reasonable fee (yeah!). New signs directing you to parking nearby are easily visible, which is a big issue in our busy not-so-small-anymore-downtown. This week there was even a local food truck, Sol Tacos Gourmet Food Truck, selling chorizo and eggs, as well as a variety of tacos. Produce vendors looked to be doing a good business – a hopeful sign for me.
I’m hoping that this effort by the new board and the support of the townspeople shopping there will keep a market nearby. To be fair, there is a lot of competition from other Farmer’s markets in the region as well as some local pick your own/farmer’s stands with established customer bases. If the selection keeps up, I think Apex can compete well. The next closest market for us here in the far southwestern corner of the county is either Cary, Holly Springs or Western Wake (year round), but all are 20 minutes or more away. Another option is shopping at the Wednesday market in downtown Raleigh on my lunch break – fun, but still challenging to drive, park, shop and drive back in a short time.
Having already done my grocery shopping for the week (poor planning!) we stuck with buying asparagus for dinner and rhubarb, which I sometimes have a difficult time finding in local stores in the spring. [To my annoyance, I also have a hard time growing it having lost two plants two years in a row. Our local nursery says don't give up 'til you've planted it three times - but I wonder how much of that is learned gardening advice and how much of that is getting the stupid customer to keep buying the same damn plants. Grrrr.]
On the nursery note, we also bought four perennial flowers, all new to me and my garden, from a local grower. They had a great selection and detailed descriptions with photos of the full sized plants in bloom next to the pots to help you make choices. Brilliant. Buying plants locally grown, even if they are smaller than those from large commercial nurseries, can increase the chance of the plants doing well in our climate. The best plants in my garden have come from the neighbors and the local garden club. Photos tomorrow.
Farmer’s Market Tips:
- If you are not a weekend shopper (I shop during the week when the stores are quiet), do a little research on what is in season so you can plan ahead for meals.
- In addition to staples, try buying something new that you have never tried and plan a weekend meal around it – you won’t have more time all week than a Saturday or Sunday to make a new recipe!
- Ask the vendor what they typically do with a product, if you have a chance. You will often get some great ideas for new recipes.
- Bring your own reusable bag. Sellers have typically have plastic ones but this is a great place to use your own.
- Bring cash. Some markets have ATMs or take credit, but many do not. Small bills are helpful to folks who need to make change all day.
- If local and/or pesticide free food is your focus, you may need to check with sellers on where food is sourced from and how it is grown. Some will have signs, some will not. (Those tomatoes might be local greenhouse, or they might be from Central America.) If it’s enough that your seller is local, but not the food, then typically you are in the clear.
Local Produce in the Markets Now (Mid-Atlantic region – not a complete list)
- Lettuces and greens
- Herbs – such as the first of the basil (grown in green houses or cold frames)
- Cool weather crops like broccoli
- Sweet Potatoes (from fall harvest)
Our local market also had Jerusalem artichokes, a potato like tuber with a more earthy, nutty flavor, which I assume were from the fall/winter harvest (They are in season Oct-March). They can be roasted in the oven or sauteed. I like them served with with mushrooms or in soup. Green snap beans and tomatoes were seen at one booth; a bit suspect as to being local since its early for both, but they could be from regions to our south.
Asparagus is spring to me: available locally for only a short time the edible stalks rise out of the earth as the new shoots of the plant. You are literally eating the first green to emerge from the ground. You can’t get a better sign that winter is over. Roasting adds a sweet nutty flavor that I love with meats like the pan fried steaks we served for dinner, but they are also great topping a salad, or folded into an omelette.
Roasted Asparagus (this is not really a recipe – it’s too simple)
1 pound of fresh asparagus spears
a drizzle of olive oil (a teaspoon or so)
Prepping the Asparagus for Cooking: Wash the asparagus carefully to remove any sandy soil. Bend the asparagus a few inches from the bottom to break off the woody stem base from the tender edible top part. You will lose about 1/4 to 1/3 of the stalk on most (You can save the stalks for asparagus stock for asparagus soup or asparagus risotto). Thin stems may be more tender. If the asparagus seems particularly sandy, you can use a sharp knife or fingernail to gently remove the triangular “leaves” from the sides of the stems. Sometimes sand gets trapped there. The larger ones near the wide end will contain the most sand. often this is not necessary. Check one or two. If they are ok, you likely don’t need to worry about the rest.
Roasting: Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet, place the asparagus spears in a pile close together. Drizzle with olive oil and toss around with your fingers til evenly coated. Salt and pepper the spears. Spread them over the pan and roast in the oven until your desired doneness is reached. For me about 10 minutes with average sized stalks.