When in doubt, ask the farmer. Wondering about the name of a strange-looking vegetable or fruit? Unsure how to prepare some produce you only bought because it looked too beautiful to leave behind? Concerned about properly storing your precious purchase? Ask the farmer.
Farmers love the products they grow and bring to market, and I have always found them eager to talk about them. What do I ask farmers? I like to know the name of the variety of produce I buy. As a writer, I spend a lot of time looking for the right words and I feel a kinship of sorts with people who name things, like new varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Frederic Diekmeyer of Luna Farm knows about this innocent idiosyncrasy of mine so he often provides me the information before I ask. This happened recently when I picked up a basket of pretty yellow cherry tomatoes, the first ones he had brought to market. "Esterina," he announced before I had opened my mouth. "Sweet," he added. And into my shopping bag they went.
Being a passionate cook means I usually have a plan when I purchase an item. But farmers cook, too, and I started wondering about their favorite dishes that use produce available this time of the year. So I asked, starting with Diekmeyer.
A dish he loves to prepare is a roasted vegetable salsa with tomatoes, tomatillos, fresh garlic and onion. He gave me a couple more indications — any kind of tomatoes, oven at 400 F for 20 minutes or so, fresh parsley and cilantro at the end — and off I went. When I tasted the first spoonful, my only thought was, Why have I not tried this before?
The next farmer I asked was Ginger Sarvinski of Sarvinski Family Farms and The Corn Crib farm stand. Besides produce, she brings pastured eggs and pork to market.
Tomatoes feature prominently in her favorite fare as well. She never eats mayonnaise — "ever" — but during heirloom tomato season, she reaches for it to prepare her lunch: a tomato sandwich. When we had this conversation she didn't yet have any tomatoes for sale, but I knew exactly what she meant, having photographed and purchased them in past years.
I am also a fan of the tomatoes-and-mayonnaise combination, the latter homemade, because I like to see the creamy condiment come to life before my eyes with the help of an immersion blender.
Ginger Sarvinski uses whole-wheat bread, mayonnaise and a thick slice of heirloom tomato.
Possible variations on this theme are endless, including turning the sandwich into a tomato and mayonnaise salad with bread on the side. I add a couple of fresh basil leaves, shredded.
So, you see, I asked the farmer and got two very nice summer recipes. I will do it again and share the results here.
My rendition of Frederic Diekmeyer's recipe makes 1 ½ cups.
4 ounces tomatillos
6 ounces fresh onion (preferably red), clean weight
8 ounces tomatoes (cherry, heirloom, slicing or a mix), ripe but firm
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 fresh garlic head with a dozen cloves
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
1 pinch of freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
Fresh parsley and/or cilantro leaves
Heat the oven to 400 F. Line a cookie sheet with a silicone baking mat that is wider and longer than the sheet.
Prepare the vegetables and place them in a bowl. Remove husks and rinse tomatillos under warm water to remove stickiness. Cut them in half crosswise. Cut onion(s) into ¼ to 3/8 inch dice. Wash tomatoes. Cut cherry tomatoes in half lengthwise. Slice larger tomatoes. Drizzle the olive oil over the vegetables and toss gently, then spread them on the prepared sheet. Place the garlic head on a corner of the baking sheet.
Bake for 20 minutes, then let cool. Peel the garlic cloves. Transfer all the vegetables and their juices into a food processor. Add the salt and pepper. Pulse to chop the vegetables, but leave a bit of texture.
Transfer salsa to a bowl. If you make this ahead, refrigerate until 30 minutes before serving. Add ½ tablespoon of minced fresh herbs of your choice and stir. Create your own variation.
Here's where to find the farmers in this story. See the Journal's Calendar for farmers market times and locations.
Luna Farm (Willow Creek)
Farmers' Markets: Arcata Plaza (year round), Old Town Eureka, McKinleyville, Arcata Wildberries
Sarvinski Family Farms
Farmers' Markets: Arcata Plaza (year round, produce in summer and fall), Fortuna, Henderson Center
The Corn Crib farm stand in summer-fall (open now)
Avenue of the Giants, Pepperwood
Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Simona Carini also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog www.pulcetta.com