fruit

Does Your Market Have Live Opera?

MUCH AS I LOVE NEW YORK CITY’S GREENMARKETS, the farmers’ market closest to my heart will probably always be Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market, perhaps because it’s the first one I got to know as a grownup doing her own cooking. I’d learned the farmers’ market habit early from my parents: Most Saturday mornings we headed to the market in the small southern Ontario town where I grew up. When I lived in Montreal I don’t think I realized how special Jean-Talon Market was, although I loved shopping there.
 
Marché Jean-Talon is located in Montreal’s Little Italy. Perhaps that helps explain this.
 
 
Thanks to Bruce for passing this on. And to the Opéra de Montréal for the fine performances.
 
The market has been operating since 1933 and in summer it has some 300 vendors, mostly farmers from the surrounding country. But it’s open year-round, thanks to enclosed sheds, with shops selling cheeses, spices and all the beautiful products of the Québec terroir—fish from the Gaspé, organic meat and game, mushrooms, you name it. (The market has a long tradition of selling organic products.) Definitely worth a visit if you’re traveling that way.
 
 
Some imported produce is sold at the market, too. (Those winters get long.)
 
 
When you go, don’t overlook the neighborhood’s Italian coffee bars and shops. And be sure to book dinner at Kitchen Galerie, a tiny and very special restaurant overlooking the market, whose chefs prepare the meal from what they’ve found at the market that day, doing all the shopping, cooking and serving themselves. Délicieux! (Sorry, no pictures—I was too busy eating.)
 
Jean-Talon Market
7070 Henri-Julien Street, between Saint-Denis and Saint-Laurent
Montréal, Québec
 
Kitchen Galerie
60 Rue Jean Talon Est
Montréal, Québec
514.315.8994
 
 
 
 

RECIPE: Watermelon and Tomato Salad

I WAS SORRY TO HAVE MISSED NEW AMSTERDAM MARKET in NYC this Sunday. The only consolation was that I was actually in farm country enjoying the harvest firsthand. 
 
 
A visit to Millbrook Market in Dutchess County is always a great way to while away a Saturday morning, tasting and chatting and filling your bags. This week, we found lots of heirloom tomatoes and had a great talk about them (and Italy) with grower Gino Ianucci. Breezy Hill Orchard (coincidentally, also a vendor at New Amsterdam Market) had perfect white and yellow peaches, and there were lovely small round watermelons (and more tomatoes) from Sol Flower Farm.
 
We also managed to nab the last peach tart from Art of the Tart—made with fabulously buttery puff pastry in true French rustic style. I’d made the mistake once before of circling the market before buying one of these confections. This time I knew to take immediate decisive action the minute I set eyes on it. 
 
Most of what we bought was devoured in recipe-free eating—tomato slices on prosciutto sandwiches, peaches any time we wanted. But I’d been hearing about watermelon and tomato salad for a while, and now I had the ideal fresh-picked ingredients. So I decided to make one.
 
 
When I first heard about the pairing I thought it sounded unlikely. All summer when I was growing up, we ate watermelon just chopped off in lovely half rounds, which would get you soaked up to the ears. (Preferably, it was eaten outdoors so you could shoot the seeds off  “to plant another watermelon” or bop your brother.)
 
But the more I thought about the textures and tastes of tomatoes and watermelons, the more I liked the sound of it. The taste didn’t disappoint—sweet and tart, crisp and juicy, all combined to make a delicious salad. Here’s how I made it. I didn’t have any feta around, but next time I’d crumble it over the salad for a nice salty zest.
 
Watermelon and Tomato Salad
 
1 cup watermelon chunks
3 medium tomatoes, cut into similar size chunks
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp balsamic or red wine vinegar
salt to taste
 
Combine the watermelon and tomato chunks.
 
Whisk together 2 tbs olive oil and 1 tsp balsamic or red wine vinegar. Pour dressing over watermelon and tomatoes. Toss lightly. Salt to taste. Crumble feta cheese over salad.
 
Happy Meatless Monday!

Enough with the Ratatouille. What's for Dessert?

I’d like to say “a plate of figs” but that’s the kind of answer that apparently can lead to culinary combat. (After taking pot shots at just such a dish, one New York chef got into quite a bit of trouble himself.) I’m pretty sure I can fly below the radar on this one, though. And seriously, the dessert you’re most likely to find on a Mediterranean table is a plate of figs—or peaches, or plums, or whatever the orchards and fields and markets happen to be spilling out that week.
 
 
Even if you’re “just” serving figs, as David Tanis points out (pre-controversy) in his aptly titled book A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, you do need to know your figs.
“Are they sun-ripened and bursting with jammy sweetness? Are they succulent enough to eat as is, or do they want a sprinkling of salt, a drizzle of good olive oil, perhaps a thin slice of prosciutto? A dab of fresh ricotta and honey to heighten the flavor?”
For the last month in NYC greenmarkets, the bounty has been stone fruits: plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines, which are packed with the antioxidants and phytonutrients associated with disease prevention. (Antioxidants are thought to be central to the health benefits of the traditional Mediterranean diet.) Stone fruits have been plentiful and good this year, which isn’t always the case. 
 
 
 
I grew up in southwestern Ontario where August brought baskets and baskets of peaches that we ate freely—with every meal and in between. Cornflakes and peaches for breakfast, juicy peach eaten standing over the kitchen sink, sliced peaches with sour cream. And just like apples have names—Macintosh, Granny Smith, Northern Spy—these peaches all had names, too. (Red Haven is one I remember.) I thought that’s the way the world was—full of wonderful peaches. Then I moved away and spent the next decades being disappointed by peaches—pulpy ones, tasteless ones, green ones—until I practically gave up. But hope springs eternal and so it’s a happy day when the local peaches arrive and the crop is a good one and you can bite into a sweet, juicy one—or two—or three.
 
 
So, yes, peaches on a plate is a perfect dessert right now.
 
Or plums in a bowl.
 
 
And if you’re looking to fancy things up a bit, here are three other simple ways to serve fruit.
 
Shower berries (or cut fruit) over a big dollop of Greek yogurt (I know, dollop is not a technical term; let’s say 1/2 cup)  in your bowl. Add a drizzle of maple syrup if you’re a girl like me who likes to be reminded of home. (It tastes wonderful without, too.)
 
Macerate the fruit: Cut it up, removing any nasty bits (this method is a good way to deal with fruit that’s either side of the tipping point of ripeness). Sprinkle with 1 to 2 tbs sugar (I use turbinado) for every two cups of fruit, and let sit for half an hour or more. The juices from the fruit will emerge, making a wonderful sauce (and flavoring the yogurt if you use it).
 
I was introduced to eating fruit this way years ago when my brother John, who was just back from months spent traveling around Italy and the Mediterranean, served me the most beautiful bowl of oranges—sliced into rounds and steeped in their own juices: my first taste of Macedonia di Frutta.  I find that combining fewer different types of fruit works better than more; use ones that complement each other (peaches and blueberries are a winner at this time of year).
 
There are hundreds of variations on this basic idea, often inspired by products that grow together—like the wild strawberries outside of Ferrara and the balsamic vinegar from nearby Modena (as Babbo pastry chef Gina DePalma describes here). Wine or liqueurs are often involved.
 
So... add a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar to a pint of strawberries, or a 1/4 cup of Prosecco or Cava. Add white or rosé wine to peaches, a tablespoon or two of Grand Marnier to a bowl of orange macédoine. Or use lavender-flavored sugar or sprinkle crystallized ginger or fresh mint on top. (But perhaps not all of the above at once!)
 
What are your favorite combos? Let us know via the comment box below.
 
Poach the fruit: One of my favorite examples of this—made with pears—is from nouveau Greek chef Michael Psilakis. Poaching is a good method if the only fruit you can find is a bit hard, which is frequently the case through the winter months in NYC.
 
Peel, quarter and core 2 pears. Cut each quarter into thirds. Put in a saucepan with one cup water and ½ cup sugar (the recipe calls for a cup but I find ½ cup works just fine). Add 4 peppercorns, a star of anise and a cinnamon stick. Bring to a gentle boil, then turn down and simmer for 10 minutes.
 
Remove the spices. Put ½ cup of Greek yogurt in each of four bowls. Divide the pears and juice among the bowls. Top with toasted, chopped walnuts. (Or not, if you prefer.)
 
Et voilà, a fruit dessert fit for kings and queens. 

At the Farmstand This Week

Mediterraneanista has been traveling so there’s not much cooking or food foraging to report in NYC—but plenty of summer sights and tastes to enjoy along the road. Cherries in season on the Niagara Peninsula, for one. All along the Canadian shore of Lake Ontario, fruit farms and vineyards stretch for miles. Even The Great One has found a place in the growing Ontario wine business: His No. 99 Wayne Gretsky Estates bottles have been getting good reviews and raising money for his foundation. Theater buffs have always flocked to Niagara-on-the-Lake’s annual Shaw Festival every summer. Now wine country gives them another reason to linger. (Next time passing this way Mediterraneanista will do more lingering herself. Sigh.)

The urban gardens of Toronto—a city where large immigrant groups from Mediterranean-area countries have brought with them their love of vegetable gardening, fresh produce markets (and World Cup soccer!)—were bursting out of small spaces.

 

It's All Greek to Me

When I visited Titan Foods in Astoria last week, I also stopped by United Brothers Fruit Market, a wonderful greengrocer (with great prices). Until you go, this will give you an authentic feel for the place. Really.

Foraging for Olives and Feta in Astoria—and Coming Home with Way More

I went on a field trip to explore Greek Astoria this week. I’d been hearing for ages about Titan Foods—“America’s Largest Greek Specialty Food Store.” I’d even taken a virtual tour of its olive and cheese counters with Michael Psilakis, founding chef at haute Greek pioneer restaurant Anthos (and chef/owner of Kefi, Gus & Gabriel Gastropub—will Williamsburg be next?)
 
You can take the tour, too:

 
Now that I get that it’s tee-TAN foods—to rhyme with Han, as in Han Dynasty—and not tī-tn, as in “tighten,” I think I’m ready. More to the point, I have a queue of Med recipes waiting for olives and/or feta before they can be made.
 
With all the talk of how huge Titan was, I guess I’d imagined a Walmart-size Greek grocery store. Well it’s not—and that’s good thing. But with a Greek flag flying from the roof of the white stucco building and a mural of Greek monuments (think Parthenon) overlooking the small parking lot, it certainly has a presence.
 
Inside, the grocery store aisles transport you straight to the Mediterranean: rows of different olive oils in tins, grains, beans, packages of cereal with Greek labels, dried fruits, nuts, a cooler full of, well, yes, Greek yogurt. Almost none of the products here can be found at my regular NY supermarket. Even the pasta is different. The olive section doesn’t disappoint. I select some dark ones from Cyprus and Morocco—just because I haven’t tried them before.
 
 
At the cheese counter (above), which in Greece, as Psilakis points out, is really all about feta, I decide on the Arahova, a sheep’s milk feta. The EC, after some dispute, gave the Greek brine-cured cheese a P.D.O. (protected designation of origin), which means all feta must come from Greece. I learn later that Greeks apparently eat more cheese per capita than any other nation (yes, even France)—75% of it feta.
 
Also in my basket: dried apricots, orange blossom water (from Lebanon), gigante dried beans, orzo and olive oil soap. The staff I talk to are all very helpful: One man valiantly tries to explain what mastiha is—and I get that it is sweet—but I still had to look it up when I got home. I discover that the Chios Mastiha Growers Association has a whole store of mastiha products, including a cookbook, in the East Village. Clearly I’m behind the curve here; I’ll have to drop by next time I’m in the neighborhood. Maybe I’ll even be a brave taster, as my sons’ nursery school teacher used to say, and bring home a jar from Titan next time I go. Maybe.
 
Titan Foods doesn’t sell fresh produce. For that, I walk along 30th Avenue. The stretch between 31st Street and Steinway reminds me of the Italian and Portuguese neighborhoods in Toronto where the produce stands of small green grocers spill right out onto the sidewalk.
 
 
 
At United Brothers Fruit Market, I find red swiss chard—crisp and beautiful—for $1/pound; at Elliniki Agora a couple of doors down, fresh fava beans. Tinned sardines from Croatia at Cyprus Deli and I’m done. A small but satisfying haul, with a shopping list already started for my next visit.
 
Getting there: N train to Astoria Blvd or 30 Av
 
Titan Foods
25-56 31st Street
718-626-7771
www.titanfood.com
 
United Brothers Fruit Market
3224 30th Ave.
718-728-7011
 
Elliniki Agora Fruit and Vegetable
32-12 30th Ave. 

718-728-0751
 
Cyprus Deli
3410 30th Ave.
718-278-4679
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