While the Market Scene is back in season on Serious Eats, we never really went on hiatus here in Southern California. Like traffic on the 405, the farmers' markets here are packed with people and produce year-round. For the past few months we've been munching on hearty Bloomsdale spinach from the South Central Farmers, tangy winter citrus like blood oranges and Murcott tangerines from Burkart Farms and creamy yet refreshing purées from Finley Farms' celery root.
But whatever we call winter here doesn't really last long. While icy weather has had a firm grip on much of the rest of the country, spring has been pushing through occasional cold fronts here like daffodils and crocuses through frozen earth. The first signs of spring appeared about a month ago in the form of pea tendrils and fava shoots at the McGrath Family Farm stand.
Like paper curlicues, these verdant offshoots offer the subtle flavor of the legumes they precede. You can eat them raw, added to a salad, or sauté them lightly with a hint of olive oil like a tender summer green. These sprouts, of course, have given way to pods stuffed with English peas that are so sweet you can unzip and eat them raw, fava beans, which may take some extra work, but will reward with a taste that is slightly herbaceous and sweet, and sugar snap peas that you can pop pod and all. Besides McGrath, Tutti Frutti Farms at the Hollywood Farmers' Market (map) also has deliciously sweet peas and favas. Look for plump pods and try to use them quickly, as the sugars that make fresh peas and favas so tasty start converting to nasty-tasting starches immediately after being picked.
Another spring treat here in Los Angeles is green garlic, which you can get from Weiser Farms (in addition to Alex's wide array of potatoes, carrots and other root veggies). More chill than grown-up garlic, green garlic plays well with others, especially its springtime counterpartsnew potatoes, the aforementioned peas and favas, artichokes and meatwith its milder, sweeter flavor. Full of youthful vim, green garlic is just a garlic plant plucked from the ground before its bulb can fully mature, and get its hard edge. Try mixing green garlic with tender leeks this time of year to give your dishes a vernal boost.
One thing green garlic definitely has an affinity for isasparagus, whose perfect, elegant stalks are like the Grace Kelly of the springtime market. Almost every farmer seems to have asparagus right now, and it really doesn't matter if they're thick or thinthis member of the fern family is tasty either way. According to Russ Parsons, fat asparagus isn't actually younger or more tender than its narrow-waisted counterpart. Fat asparagus actually tend to come from younger plants and, while they have a more fiberous base, can be sweeter and more tender on the inside. Parsons recommends using fat asparagus when you're using this spring beacon as the star and the thinner asparagus if it’s a component to a dish. Either way, trim the bottoms, which tend to be tough and, if you don't use them right away, store them in a little bit of water, like fresh-cut flowers.
Finally, we come to strawberries, everyone's favorite part of spring. Even though you can get them year-round these days, there's nothing like a delicate, springtime strawberry. As spring progresses, their aromas becomes so overwhelming and intoxicating that it follows you like a fragrant puppy dog the entire length of the farmers' market. Right now, the best berries are the unbelievably toothsome Gaviotas from Harry's Berries, though the softer, juicier Chandlers and firmer, low-acid Seascapes are quite good, too. Look for berries with bright green hulls with as few bruises or blemishes as possible, and because they're incredibly fragile and hard to store (not to mention, hard to resist), it's recommended you eat them immediately. If you can't manage to eat them all the day you bring them home, wrap them in a paper towel and put them in a plastic bag in the fridge, but don't wash them first, it will just hasten their demise.
Strawberries Asparagus Artichokes Green garlic Spring onions English peas Fava beans Sugar snap peas Pea tendrils Mustard greens Kale Dandelion greens
Garlic scapes Cherries