FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Summer Blockbuster Markets and Produce

Local produce now showing from a farm near you

Time to meet  and greet your Colorado neighbors: the beans, the greens, the melons and more. Farm to your table is big and getting better in the Aurora metro area.

The number of farmers markets across the country has more than doubled in the past decade, topping more than 8,000 in 2013. Not only that, but demand from large and small grocers alike for produce grown close to home is higher than ever.

Tomatoes are seen at the Ray Domenico Farms tent at a Farmer's Market on July 26 on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. (Heather L. Smith/Aurora Sentinel)In fact, the demand is so high, one Aurora farmers market won’t operate this year on Havana Street because local farms are already spread too thin.

It means more southeast Denver residents are going to get fresher, better vegetables while spending less time traveling in storage, and even venture out for new flavors.

Go for it

Trying something new — whether it’s an unfamiliar vegetable or an exotic preparation — can be intimidating. The best advice is to start slow.

If you like arugula, branch out to watercress. In baby form, it’s a perfect salad green, a sturdier, even more peppery alternative to the more ubiquitous arugula. It also makes a stellar pesto, says Diana Henry, author of the cookbook “A Change of Appetite.”

“I actually like it better than basil pesto,” Henry says. “Basil can be quite perfumed. This is a bit more earthy, more peppery.”

If you like cabbage, try kohlrabi. A stout bulb with a thick skin, the flesh is crisp like a radish, and as brightly flavored as cabbage.

“I predict that kohlrabi’s going to be the next big thing,” says Martha Rose Shulman, author most recently of “The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking,” noting that some companies are beginning to package kohlrabi for lunch boxes.

“Shred it to make a slaw or a stir-fry with kohlrabi and some greens,” she says. “I recently had a really great salad — feta, olives, a little diced kohlrabi. It really absorbs the dressing.”

Shulman also is a big fan of pea shoots, slender tendrils from the same plant. They taste like peas, but can be treated like greens. “Those are just beautiful,” she says. “I like to use those in stir-fries and just cook them up and serve them up as a side. They’re very good with grains.”

Cardoons, a member of the thistle family that’s a foraged food for many Italians, also can be found at some farmers markets.

“Certainly cardoons are a vegetable that people are mystified with when they do see it,” says Michele Scicolone, whose most recent book is “The Italian Vegetable Cookbook.”

“You have to blanche it and peel it and then you can bread it and fry it or gratinee it with butter and cheese, and it’s very tasty,” she says. “It tastes like artichoke hearts.”

Scicolone also champions zucchini flowers, another Italian specialty that can be chopped for a frittata, tossed in a salad, or stuffed with mozzarella and deep fried.

“It may seem like an exotic delicacy, but to a hungry Italian of a certain era, it’s a vegetable,” she says. “When I was a kid, my mom would make little fritters with them. We would eat them like that for an appetizer.”

Too shy to try? You can still set your sights on new preparations for old standbys. Henry tosses copious bundles of fresh herbs and edible flowers into salads. She thinly shaves carrots, beets and fennel and dresses them with nothing but lemon, oil and salt. Sometimes carrot is paired with a spicy Japanese radish called daikon.

“Carrot is sweet, but (daikon) has a peppery taste,” she says. “When you mix them together you get an interplay with them.”

And don’t forget about spinach, Shulman says.

“We’ve gotten so used to bagged baby spinach year round, but there’s nothing to compare with a lush bunch of spinach that’s just been harvested,” she says.

Blanch it, steam it or hit it with olive oil, garlic and herbs and toss it into a frittata, gratin or quiche. “They are so sweet, and so worth the time. it takes to get the sand out,” she says.

Cherry Creek Market

East First Avenue and University Boulevard
The largest farmers market in metro Denver. A mix of local growers and unique local gourmet food vendors, master gardeners, live music and other outdoor shopping.
WHEN: Saturdays through Oct. 31, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.; Wednesdays through Sept. 30, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Le Jardin Secret

Larimer Square, Bistro Vendome Courtyard, 1420 Larimer St.
Le Jardin Secret – the “secret garden” – not the usual market. Catering to foodies, the market boasts dairy, meat, bread, produce and other goods – and there’s wine for while you’re shopping. Unusual tomatoes, French cheeses, specialty meats and artisanal bread.
WHEN: Saturdays through Sept. 26, 10 a.m – 1:30 p.m. or sellout

Stapleton Fresh Market

East 29th Ave. and Roslyn Street
Through October 11, on the Founder’s Green, lots of produce and treats.
WHEN: Sundays 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Landmark Greenwood Village

7600 Landmark Way, Greenwood Village
Produced by Colorado Fresh Markets, features a mix of Colorado growers and unique local gourmet food vendors.
WHEN: Saturdays through Sept. 26, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Southlands Market

Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.  and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. through September. Varying assortment of vendors through the season.

Nick’s Garden
Center and Farm Market

Open daily through October,
Offering local produce grown in Colorado that has traveled less than six hours to get to the store when feasible.
2001 S. Chambers Road

DeLaney Farms
Community Market

Traditional and varied fresh fruits and vegetables across the season.
Wednesdays 10 a.m. – noon (or sell out), from July 8 until season end is announced.
170 S. Chambers Road

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