Market To Table

Harvest produce tips from the farmers market pros

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  • Written by
    Bonnie Graves

As a former New Yorker, I can say with confidence that there are few things more glum than the January farmers market in Union Square, where hardy souls clutch steaming cups of cider while picking through dusty rutabagas, apples and turnips. It’s a lot harder to catch the subtle changes of season in a place like Southern California, where our local farmers markets offer a colorful array of amazing bounty month after month after month.

This fall, we asked two local foodie experts to share some ideas and recipes that celebrate September in Los Angeles. It’s a transitional month where the very last apricots, plums and peaches nestle next to dazzling mounds of heirloom tomatoes and white corn at their peak. From bestselling author and market guru Amelia Saltsman (Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook) to Latin fusion chef Monty Salazar of D’Cache restaurant in Toluca Lake, enjoy these insider tips designed to help you make the most of the season. 

What do you most look forward to arriving at the markets in September, and how will you use it?

AS: There are so many terrific ingredients that start showing up in early fall; it’s hard to choose just one! I’d have to go with ingredients that capture the spiced flavors of the season: persimmons, apples, pears and Concord grapes.
MS: With LA having such a strong heat wave this year, I’m really looking forward to the selection of squashes. Butternut, acorn and white squash will have exceptional flavor this fall, especially in a vegetarian-style paella with complements of baby carrots, eggplant and a variety of peppers. 

When you’re buying produce at the market, what do you look for in terms of quality?

AS: The answer is the same whether you are a chef or a home cook: flavor. It takes great skill and passion to grow and harvest for flavor first, so it’s the most important and obvious clue to the quality of produce and the quality of the farming itself. Sample where you can, and where you can’t—with raw potatoes, beets or squashes, for example—look for enticing visuals and aromas such as healthy green leaves, glistening skins with no bruises, bright colors and the heady fragrance of healthy soil clinging to the vegetables.

Haggling at the market—is it okay, or do you find this awkward?

MS: Haggling can be okay at times. If you’re constantly buying from the same farmers and understand their way of doing business, then it can be all right. If you are new to a local market scene, it’s best not to appear cheap when bargaining with farmers who are sincerely trying to bring you the best quality. Sometimes you need to stretch the budget a little, knowing that you’re getting quality rather than quantity.

Monty Salazar


Recipe courtesy of Monty Salazar

Fresh peas
Heirloom tomatoes
Yellow sunburst squash
Acorn squash  
Baby zucchini
Baby carrots
Roasted red and yellow bell peppers
Tomato base
Salt and pepper
Vegetable stock
Olive oil
Truffle oil
½ of a lemon 

Preheat oven to 375o. Sauté all the vegetables with a little olive oil. Apply a pinch of garlic, saffron, paprika, and salt and pepper; simmer for about 5 minutes. Add tomato base and vegetable stock; simmer for another 5 minutes. Add rice and stir it all together. Place in oven for about 25 minutes. Garnish with truffle oil, lemon and chopped chives and serve.

Roasted Autumn Fruits

Courtesy of Amelia Saltsman

Fill a paella pan, cast-iron skillet or roasting pan with an abundance of seasonal fruits. Mix and match firm-flesh and melting-flesh fruits for interesting texture and use a mix of sweet and tart flavors to get a balance that makes you happy. Peel some or all of the fruits or none. You can roast the fruits in the oven or on the grill when the coals are low. You will be surprised by this dessert’s natural, autumn spiciness.

4 pounds apples and Bosc or Anjou pears (about 6 apples and 3 to 4 large pears), including some firm-flesh and some melting-flesh apple varieties such as Pippin and Golden Delicious
1 to 2 pint baskets of ripe figs, about ¾ pound
2 Fuyu persimmons
2 cups Concord, Autumn Royale or wine grapes
2 ounces dried fruit (plums, apricots or apples), snipped into small pieces
¼ cup honey
1/3 cup Muscat dessert wine, such as
Beaumes de Venise
Thyme sprigs, optional
Crème frâiche, Greek yogurt, ice cream or heavy cream for serving, optional

Preheat oven to 400º. Peel fruit, if desired. Core and cut apples, pears and persimmons into large wedges or chunks. Cut figs in half. Place all fruit in a large, ovenproof pan and use your hands to mix them a bit. It’s okay if you need to mound fruit in your pan. Warm the honey and wine together and pour over the fruit. Toss in a few sprigs of thyme, if desired.

Roast until fruit is bubbling and well browned in places, about 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 10 to 12 servings.