I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to look around my garden, dreaming of sunnier, warmer days. As in planting tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. We’re getting close. But in the meantime, whether you have a garden or are shopping for produce, you can’t help but be grateful for the gorgeous greens and root vegetables that are bountiful right now.
One of my favorite local farmers is Maciel Family Farms in Bonsall. Go to the Little Italy Mercato or San Diego Public Market and you’ll probably find Anthony Maciel, a great friendly giant of a man, and his carefully arranged harvest. Big bunches of colorful carrots compete visually with brilliant red and white radishes, huge creamy fennel, and a variety of greens. I ended up going home with the carrots, fennel, and a couple of heads of butter lettuce. I’ll be back for more soon!
We tend to take carrots for granted, but if you have clay soil (as many of us in San Diego do), you can appreciate the talent it takes to grow a sweet, flawless carrot. These carrots, from a pale yellow to vibrant orange, are chunky and packed with flavor. Yeah, eat them raw, but how about slicing them, sautéing in butter and olive oil, then adding some honey and dill. Keep cooking until they’re soft and beginning to caramelize. Or, turn them in a sweet soup with a dollop of crème fraiche. $2 a bunch
Butter lettuce may be my favorite; it’s got a rich texture and flavor unlike other leafy greens. I love that the Maciels grow both green and red varieties. I’ve been enjoying them with a variety of salad dressings made and marketed by Terra Restaurant (which will appear in my San Diego Magazine column soon). Just be sure to wash the leaves carefully to get the dirt out of their hidden crevices. $2 a basket
Fennel can be a neglected root when it comes to the casual consumer. But the bulb’s crunchy texture and anise flavor are so winning when you know what to do with it. Shave or thinly slice the root, mix with shredded carrots, toasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, and pecans are terrific here), radishes, and green onions for a salad. Fennel is marvelous braised alone or with other root vegetables. You can cook them with onions and make soup. Or, do what my mom does. Slice the bulb in half horizontally, top with olive oil, parmesan cheese, and bread crumbs, and roast until they’re soft and the top is browned and crunchy. $1.50 apiece