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Eat more artichokes!

ArtichokesItalians love artichokes and I know why! They’re healthy, surprisingly sweet, and easy to prepare at home.  They pair well with my favorite flavors and ingredients of Italy like lemons, garlic, olive oil, and fresh herbs like mint.  Artichokes are great in salads, risotto, pastas and even open-faced sandwiches–try one with a spread of fresh cream cheese and herbs!

I often see folks with looks of amazement and curiosity when they see a bountiful display of baby artichokes at Bi-Rite Market. They’re beautiful to look at, but some can be confounded about just how to approach enjoying them. Next time you find yourself pondering how to prepare and eat an artichoke, let us know and we’ll be happy to introduce you to this amazing flowering thistle with an incredible taste. They’re delicious and  ready to eat raw, but it seems like sometimes the biggest obstacle to enjoying artichokes is knowing how to peel and cut them properly. This can actually be done in a few simple steps; let me take you through it.

peeling

First turn the artichokes in your hands, peeling down the pale leaves as you go.

topping stem

Next, peel and trim the stem…

topping stem 2

…taking off any woodiness or tough skin. Remove any of the tougher tips that are left.

halvin' the choke

Now you can half the artichoke…

halvin' the choke 2

…by cutting down the middle.

quartering the choke

If you like, you can go another step and quarter it by cutting the halves.

You can also easily shave the artichoke into smaller pieces. If you do this over a salad with arugula or radicchio, the raw bits of artichoke will make a great topping that you can mix right into the salad as you would with shaved fennel. You’ll find that the baby artichoke tastes slightly bitter at first, but its sugars will quickly lead to a finish with a surprising sweetness.

Italy grows more than ten times the quantity of artichokes than we grow here in the United States. California provides nearly 100% of the U.S. crop, and about 80% of that is grown in Monterey County, close to our Markets.  Artichokes are generally green but many of my favorite farmers, like Bluehouse Farm in Pescadero, CA, grow purple chokes which have a stronger flavor–wilder with a more pronounced bitterness.

After I prep and trim up some baby artichokes, my favorite way to enjoy is to roast them in the oven, which really concentrates the flavor. Half the trimmed chokes and toss them with olive oil, chopped garlic, and herbs. Roast in a 400° F oven until tender and golden. Once they come out of the oven, season with a nice pinch of Maldon Sea Salt, a squeeze of lemon, and a bit more olive oil.  Enjoy!


Spring Inspiration – one head of Little Gem lettuce at a time

little gems

Little Gems from Fifth Crow Farm

I make a lot of raw salads with my dinner every week for a few reasons. First of all, they’re easy to make and fun to share. Secondly, they’re healthy and satisfying. And finally, they give me a great outlet to use crunchy mini-head lettuces, a kind of produce I love so much that I’ve planted every inch of my own city garden with them.

Three months into every year, a switch gets flipped on the wet-racks in the produce aisles at Bi-Rite Market 18th Street and Bi-Rite Market Divisadero. Farm Direct and Organic Spring baby head lettuces, like Little Gems, become the highlight of the wet-racks and open up a range of new options for hungry and imaginative salad-crafters. These beauties liven up our produce sections, and we love to sample and share their baby lettuce leaves with our guests to help you appreciate how buttery-smooth and satisfyingly crunchy they are.

little gems 1Because baby or mini-head lettuce varieties like Little Gems make such great-tasting and gorgeous salads, we make sure to bring in a large variety as soon as they come into season. This gives our guests a range of options and showcases how many unique lettuce varieties farmers are growing these days – from Breen to Mottistone to Australe to Speckles and, of course, to Little Gem. Young, energetic  farmers like Teresa Kurtak and Mike Irving from Fifth Crow Farm in Pescadero, CA grow beautiful Little Gem hearts and really have the mini-head lettuce situation dialed in. They plant round after round of small starters every week and start harvesting about thirty to forty days later. Next time you’re in one of our produce sections, keep an eye out for the beautiful produce grown by Teresa and Mike; they’re perfectionist farmers and their hard work and dedication really shows in the beautiful products they supply to us.

little gems 2

Little Gems at home on the wet-rack at Bi-Rite Market 18th Street

Mini-lettuces have to be picked at the proper time to allow for maximum crunch. Look for heads that are super fresh and have deep and intense colors of red and green. Some varieties, like Little Gem, should be dense and feel heavy for their size. On the other hand, Mottistone and Breen can be a tad leafy and can add amazing color to a dish. To add a personal touch to your next salad bowl, try mixing different varieties of mini lettuces to build your own salad mix base. Then add your personal favorites, such as avocado, radishes, beets or carrots. You’ll love how fun, healthy and satisfying these greens and salads can be. But you don’t have to take my word for it  – stop by our Markets for a taste and let this beautiful produce speak for itself. Happy Spring!

 


The Early Girls are Here!

Early Girls right off the vine at Tomatero Farm

Get ready for the best tomatoes you’ve ever had…

Dry Farmed Early Girl Tomatoes have arrived to our produce section!  Happy Boy Farms and Tomatero Farm, both amazing organic growers in the Watsonville area, will be supplying these vine-ripe bright red globes of juice and flavor.  The unique growing conditions of dry farming (these farms are close to the coast, with cool enough temperatures and rich enough soil for extremely minimal irrigation) lend to an extra flavorful piece of fruit. These super sweet tomatoes are the best we’ve found, and really enhance the eating experience whether you use them for a raw tomato salad, a rich tomato sauce or even just eating out of hand as a snack.

Happy Boy and Tomatero are now delivering these to us twice a week, and we’ll offer a 10% discount if you want to buy a whole case and share with some lucky friends. We should have a steady supply from now until late October or early November if we’re lucky….don’t miss out, the flavor and sweetness can’t be beat!