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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!

 


How favas won me over

I was in the dark on favas for too long. It took me a while before I contemplated growing fava beans in our Noe Valley garden, and even then I didn’t have the slightest clue about how much I would come to enjoy them. 

I have to say, I was impressed from planting the seeds all the way through harvest; fava seeds sprout and grow vigorously in the most depressing conditions, no problem!  These plants stand tall and proud through the dark and wet of winter.  Their roots add nutrients to the soil.  Their flowers and leafiness attract and provide habitat for beneficial insects.  If you let them grow to full size, they can produce large quantities of the edible beans, which have become a spring time culinary staple. Now that favas have passed the SF city garden test, I plan to have a crop in constant rotation.  I’ll plan on a big planting in October/November, and then again in the early Spring.

My favorite way to cook and eat favas is simple if you have fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme, a buttery extra virgin olive oil,  fresh picked young favas, and just a little patience.  Here’s what I do:

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil

2. While the water heats up, shell 3 lbs. of mid-season favas; discard the pods (or save them to make a fava stock!)

3. Parboil shelled beans for 1 minute, then drain and immediately toss them into an ice bath for a few minutes

4. Drain again and remove their pale green skins by piercing outer skin with your thumbnail and popping out the bright green bean with a pinch

5. Warm 1/2 cup of olive oil in a shallow, heavy bottom saute pan

6. Add beans and a pinch of salt

7. Add 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped very fine

8. Add a sprig of thyme, one of rosemary, and a small splash of water (just enough to cover the beans and prevent sticking)

9. Cook at a slow simmer, stirring and tasting frequently for about 30 min, until they become completely soft, pale green and easy to mash into a puree; if needed add more water to prevent sticking

10. When the beans are done, remove herbs and mash the beans into a paste with the back of a wooden spoon

11. Taste for seasoning and add more olive oil and a squeeze of lemon to taste.  If the puree is still too thick or dry, add more olive oil.

Spread your bright green puree onto a piece of toasted country-style bread with a healthy shaving of Parmesan for a special springtime snack.  Or I love to leave the puree a bit chunky, crumble in some Ricotta Salata and use it as the ultimate Springtime ravioli stuffing!

As you can see, I’m sold :-)


Orach from Mariquita Farm: What is it, how do we cook it?

Orach is a darkly-colored, less common variety of hybrid spinach, great in salads and cooking. Mariquita Farm is not only awesome enough to give us this nutrient-rich veggie (I would bet that we are the only retail market in the city that has it!) but they also post great recipes on their website to teach their community about how to use it. Thanks to Mariquita’s hard work, we can spread the love! Here are some cooking ideas they recommend for Orach:

Recipe 1: Orach Salad

1 clove roughly chopped garlic
pinch salt
1 teaspoon (scant) dijon mustard
2 teaspoons plum jam or any other jam available
4 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Washed orach leaves

  • For the Dressing, whirl all ingredients besides the orach in a blender until emulsified.
  • Dress washed orach leaves with dressing; add other chopped vegetables as desired.

Recipe 2: Orachy ‘Green Sauce’

Green sauce is a common and age-old early spring recipe, adaptable to what you have on hand! This sauce can be a soup embellishment, a potato topper, a risotto flavoring, and more– experiment and enjoy.

2 cups orach
1 clove garlic or 1 shallot or 3 scallion bottoms, chopped fine
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream
Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste

  • Put all ingredients in a mortar and pestle or a food processor and mash/whirl until desired consistency is reached.

Orach Pasta

2 cups cleaned and lightly chopped orach leaves
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil to taste
2 cups hot cooked pasta (shaped pastas work better than long noodles)
Optional additions: roasted pine nuts or walnuts, crumbled blue or other cheese, grated parmesan

  • Saute the onion & garlic in the moderately hot olive oil (about 1-2 Tablespoons) until soft.
  • Add the greens and the salt & pepper.
  • Cook until the greens are wilted, about 2 minutes, depending on how hot your pan is.
  • Mix with the hot pasta, and optional additions if you’re using any of them, and serve.

Heirloom Navel Oranges: Brazil–> Washington–> Riverside–> Bi-Rite–> Our Community

I want to tell you about an amazing heirloom navel we’re getting from Bernard Ranches (50 acres in Riverside County, about 430 miles from Bi-Rite). But first, a little background on how we arrived at the navel on our shelf today:

Navel orange trees in general, and Washington navel orange trees in particular, are not very vigorous trees. They have a round, somewhat drooping canopy and grow to a moderate size at maturity. The flowers lack viable pollen so the Washington navel orange will not pollinate other citrus trees. Because of the lack of functional pollen and viable ovules, the Washington navel orange produces seedless fruits. These large round fruits have a slightly pebbled orange rind that is easily peeled, and the navel, really a small secondary fruit, sometimes protrudes from the apex of the fruit. The Washington navel orange is at its best in the late fall to winter months, but will hold on the tree for several months beyond maturity and stores well.

The introduction that led to adoption of the name Washington and to its commercialization in California occurred in 1870, when twelve budded trees were received from the Bahia region, on the Atlantic coast north of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil by William 0. Saunders, superintendent of gardens and grounds for the U.S. D.A. in Washington.  These trees were planted in a greenhouse and immediately propagated for distribution.

Several years later, trees were sent to a number of people in California and Florida.  Among those who received trees were Eliza Tibbets of Riverside, CA.  Before leaving Washington, Eliza Tibbets, a friend of Saunders, persuaded him to ship two of the navel orange trees that originated in Brazil to the Tibbets home in Riverside. The trees were planted in 1874-5. Anecdotes have it that Eliza nurtured the little trees with her dishwater!

Upon maturing the fruit was found to be superior in every way. Bud sales were brisk, and the two trees, ringed with barbed wire, became famous. Although officially called the Bahia, the fruit was soon dubbed the Riverside Navel, and its popularity eventually made Riverside a citrus center and prosperous showplace.  In fact, one of two original Navel Orange trees planted in 1874-5 spawned California’s entire citrus industry. Navel oranges have no seeds, so cuttings from original trees were used to start navel orange groves across southern California, and an industry grew. Every navel orange grown and eaten in California is a descendant of this tree, which still stands as a historical monument in a small park at the corner of Magnolia and Arlington in Riverside.

Now, zoom in on Bernard Ranches:

Vince and Vicki Bernard pride themselves on the superior flavor and sweetness of their citrus fruit, which they attribute to the combination of their rich soil and suitable climate, as well as the use of seaweed as a fertilizer. They began farming their land in 1979 and have been bringing their produce to market since 1980. They work their farm together and sell their fruit themselves. They farm their land sustainably, from the use of hand weeding, to the release of beneficial insects (parasitic wasps, lady beetles, & lace wigs), to hand trapping gophers (they do not use synthetic pesticides).

At Bi-Rite we are blessed to have Bernard Ranches’ fresh picked heirloom navels on the shelves in the market, which are descendants of exactly the same heritage line as those originals from Brazil. We are just getting started with them and hoping they are around all throughout spring just like last season.  Already they are easy to peel, super juicy with a soft silky texture that just melts.  Additionally the flavor is AMAZINGLY SWEET like honey or nectar that goes great with acid to make what is probably the most classic tasting citrus on our shelves.  My experience is that it is almost hard to eat just one.