In our spring catalog we got a sneak peek at chef April Bloomfield’s new cookbook, A Girl and Her Greens, out later this month. The book features plenty of inspiring recipes for fresh produce, but according to Bloomfield, the very first step in any recipe is a productive trip to the farmers’ market. Needless to say, Bloomfield spends plenty of time at her own local farmers’ market in NYC, the Union Square Greenmarket. Here are her tips for navigating the food stalls like a pro.
1. Arrive Early
“I try to get to my local farmers’ market by 8 a.m. so that it’s not too crowded and I have the place to myself for a bit.”
2. Scout it Out
“The first thing I do is take a brisk walk through the whole market. I mean, really go quickly and get a little wiggle on, so you can see everything available that day.”
3. Use Your Eyes
“I look for vegetables that pop out to me, like a nice jewel or a sparkly diamond would. Things that are attractive to your eye often taste great too.”
4. Ask to Taste
“A farmer who lets you taste something is a farmer who is confident that they are growing something delicious.”
5. Be Flexible
“You’re always better off cooking an amazing vegetable than something that is mediocre, so if you can’t find good beets, for example, swap them out and use great-looking carrots instead.”
“Peas are sweetest after they’re picked, but then the sugars start to turn to starch. When you find fresh peas at the market make them for dinner that night.”
“While you might be tempted by a massive carrot, keep in mind that smaller carrots tend to taste sweeter and have thin skin that you don’t need to peel.”
The Best Beets
“Look for bright beets with strong, structured leaves. Leaves indicate freshness, but can also be cooked into the finished dish.”
“Fresh herbs should be pert and vibrant, and should smell nice and clean. If you can’t find a fresh version of the herb you’re looking for, make a substitution.”
“It’s a bit of personal preference, but I don’t like spring asparagus to skinny. I think spears as thick as your index finger have more substance to them, and the best flavor.”
Once you’ve spend time selecting the perfect produce, there’s not really much left to do. “Simple cooking techniques showcase the best vegetables really well,” says Bloomfield. “Just boiling a piece of fresh broccoli from the market in water and salt can be the best thing. Especially when you cook it just right. That’s the joy of broccoli, really.”
Here, three of her favorite surprisingly simple recipes for spring vegetables.
Asparagus Quiches with Mint
Bloomfield says that when she was growing up, she ate some truly horrible quiches, both home-cooked and store-bought, packed with what seemed like a refrigerator’s worth of odds and ends suspended in overcooked eggs. However, she believes that this quiche, with its delicate, flaky crust and fluffy egg filling, is good enough to banish those bad memories forever. You could eat it piping hot from the oven, of course, but she prefers waiting it until it cools a bit.
Crushed Spring Peas with Mint
As a girl in England, Bloomfield always loved mushy peas, whether they were made the old-fashioned way—from a starchy variety of pea called marrowfat that’s dried and then soaked—or they came straight from a can. Nowadays, however, she prefers this mash made from fresh shelling peas, a twist on the British classic that actually requires less work to make than its inspiration. It’s wonderful spread in a thick layer on warm bread or used as a dip for raw vegetables, like radishes, carrots or wedges of fennel.
Pot-Roasted Artichokes with White Wine & Capers
One of the reasons Bloomfield looks forward to spring is the arrival of artichokes at the farmers’ market. Although some home cooks are reluctant to purchase them because they need to be “turned”—the barbed leaves plucked off and the other inedible bits trimmed away—she actually enjoys the process, saying, “It’s meditative and satisfying once you get the hang of it.”
All recipe photos by David Loftus.