Visiting a farmers' market with a chef is like getting a new set of eyes to view the culinary possibilities.
Last Tuesday I shadowed Manhattan restaurateurs David Page and Barbara Shinn as they visited the Toledo Farmers' Market. Not only did the local produce shine, I learned a basketful of cooking tips from the chef/proprietors of the Home Restaurant in Greenwich Village.
By the time I met them in the parking lot at 9 a.m., they had already scoped out the best buys of the day. They knew they would buy the Kentucky Wonder Beans and the regular snap beans for their Summer Three-Bean and Radish Salad. There were no fresh wax beans, but the radishes were a gorgeous red.
“You can't expect to go to the farmers' market and get everything you want,” said Mr. Page, adding that he would improvise.
“There's incredible raspberries here that we'll add to the Peach-Blueberry Crisp recipe. These are about the prettiest raspberries I've ever seen.” In other words: out with the blueberries and in with raspberries.
“The farmer even has scratches on his arm from picking in the raspberry patch,” said Ms. Shinn, equally taken by their food find.
Across the aisle, Gary Fager of the Greenlawn Mushroom Farm in Delta was displaying his beautiful exotic gourmet mushrooms. He had three varieties of oyster mushroom that were still attached in the cascading layers in which they grow, a sight new to me.
“These will work very well on the grill,” said Mr. Page. “Or toss them with olive oil and salt and pepper and roast in a very hot oven and they will come out firm.”
When mushrooms are sauteed they get weepy because of their high water content. “Each variety has a significant difference in flavor,” said the chef. “The white has a seafood taste; the grey-blue has a traditional mushroom taste, and the pink has a baked taste, which some say is similar to morels.”
Later, when roasted together, the combination added mellow, excellent flavor to the T-bone steaks the couple grilled.
Mushrooms should be stored in the driest part of the refrigerator, they advised. If you do buy mushrooms wrapped in plastic, unwrap them and refrigerate so they will keep four to five days longer.
Farther down the aisle, it was the mustard greens and collards that caught Mr. Page's eye. “These are gorgeous. That's as good as it gets, just picked hours ago. We don't cook these too long. In our cookbook, we have a sauteed greens recipe.”
Lucas Carpenter, who was manning the stand for Goodfellow Farms of Michigan, said he had been coming to the market since he was 10 years old. “It's like a circus. The farmers' market gets in your blood.”
Shoppers feel the same attraction. By the end of the visit, I, too, had purchased those magnificent oyster mushrooms and the raspberries that were so sweet that sugar wasn't needed, along with local corn, a ball-shaped zucchini, and a golden summer squash. Dinner that night was dictated by the market.
The Toledo Farmers' Market is located at 525 Market St. The big market day is Saturday, according to executive director Louise Mikesell-Wireman. “Hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or until vendors sell out Saturday. However, there are two to three farmers there everyday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.,” she said.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor. E-mail her at email@example.com.