One of the difficulties that arises when I cook is not being able to find particular ingredients. Most often, the item is one of a few featured in a recent issue of a food magazine I enjoy, and because the content is seasonal, one would believe that finding those ingredients might be easier.
Unfortunately, it isn’t true, and when it comes time for me to cook something new, I have to drive to several stores to find what I’m looking for — if I can find it at all. When I am able to locate that one special ingredient, I’m left wondering where it was grown, and by whom, annoyed that most often, it isn’t from anywhere near San Diego. Thankfully, I have a new venue to track down those one of a kind ingredients when it comes to fresh fruit or vegetables: Specialty Produce.
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Specialty Produce and tour their facility in Middletown, an industrial sort of neighborhood relatively close to the airport and downtown. It’s a bustling place where employees are either wheeling unique merchandise through the warehouse, or monitoring phones and computers taking orders from local chefs and other merchants.
Here was finally a place I could get chervil, or purslane, or chanterelles when no one else has them. And there’s a great section with produce from area growers with items I’ve never seen before — like Red Frill Mustard and Watermelon Radishes. It was like being in a candy shop when you’re a veggie lover like me — the only drawback is that one can only purchase so much fresh food and still be able to enjoy it within the next day or so.
The best way to utilize this great San Diego resource if you’re an avid home cook like me is to check out what’s in stock using their website. It will tell you not only what’s in stock, but what’s in peak season and at the height of quality. Nutritional information is also available which is something I always keep my eye on.
Along with the mustard and radishes I mentioned above, I brought home Black Kale, Yellow Foot Chanterelles, Green Garlic, Oro Blanco Grapefruit, and some cute little Hauer Pippin from Windrose Farm in Paso Robles.
Oh the fun I’ve had cooking with this food…
First to be sampled: Yellow Foot Chanterelles. Chanterelles are my favorite mushroom, their flavor when sauteed rich and woodsy tasting. I did read that Yellow Foot Chanterelles aren’t supposed to have as distinctive a flavor as some of the other varieties, but I truly enjoyed what I tasted. I didn’t want to add them to larger dish, so used olive oil, a bit of the green garlic, some fresh thyme and parsley, seasoning them with freshly ground pepper and salt to enjoy with bread. I could only imagine what they might taste like with pasta, or in risotto. Truly delicious.
The Red Frill Mustard was next. It was the most unusual item I brought home and loving greens as much as I do, I couldn’t wait to taste it. I thought about doing another saute or stir fry, but the delicately filagreed leaves would be more beautiful in a salad. I had some escarole I’d purchased elsewhere so combined the two with sliced forelles, toasted walnuts, blue cheese, and a simple walnut viniagrette from Jacques Pepin. Evidently, mustard is excellent for women’s health — specifically with regard to the effects of menopause such as a reduction in bone density and my very favorite: hot flashes. Note to self: eat mustard greens daily.
Watermelon Radishes ended up in our dinner. I’d already planned on a recipe calling for a pickle using red radishes, but after tasting one of the watermelon radishes, I had to use them. Much larger than regular radishes, they do have a bit of a bite, but it’s not as strong as that of a regular radish. They’re very pleasant to just munch on, so I know that they’d be spectacular in a salad.
They were beautiful in Fine Cooking’s Pan Seared Skirt Steak with Warm Radish and Red Onion Pickle. In fact, the next night, I toasted some buns and we made sandwiches of the left overs. Truly yummy!
Black Kale, or what is also known as Tuscan Kale and Cavalo Nero was perfect in a pasta dish that I’d planned to use Rapini Greens in. The Black Kale leaves are much more tender than those of regular kale, so I decided not to steam them ahead of time. Instead, I fried bacon, reserving 1 T of the fat and adding a few tablespoons of olive oil. I sliced them before adding them to the hot pan to allow them to wilt, added the green garlic, some shallots, and then the pasta. It’s a standard pasta dish I make when I don’t feel like using a recipe and I switch out the greens as well as include cannellini beans from time to time. I’d bend your ear telling you about how healthy kale is, but you can read about it here.
The green garlic was used in several dishes, but I tasted it raw to think about the flavor and its comparison to the garlic we all normally use: the bulbs in the papery skin. Its flavor is a bit more sharp and fresh, and I can see how using too much may overpower a dish, but I like it and wonder just what it would taste like if piled into a batch of fried rice, or veggie stir fry.
You’ll have to wait for the cute little pippins and grapefruit….
But in the meantime, if you’re a local foodie, then do your homework ahead of time scanning on-line what Specialty Produce has to offer. That way, you can get right to it once you arrive, allowing those hard at work to do their jobs.
If you plan to visit, bring a big sweater and your own bag to carry your goodies.