Do you too dream of sugar snap peas and cauliflower? Well then, you’re either a garden fairy, or a vegetable enthusiast like myself. Take a trip to the Union Square Farmer’s Market and prance alongside rows of gleaming fruits and vegetables. This time of year, the selection is grand... piles of fuzzy peaches, sweet strawberries, heirloom tomatoes, organic cuts of beef, plump free-range chickens, pickled vegetables and more. The variety of produce that makes its way from the farm to our tiny little island is astounding, and so are the men and women selling it. One man sells wooly hats and lamb innards — no lost cost there. A couple of guys with chiseled features and a little fur on their faces sell at least 12 flavors of organic yogurt. And then there is the super-outgoing root vegetable guy with cooking tips on just about everything. What impresses me most is that these people make a living selling their crops. Many of Manhattan’s residents are out of touch with this kind of honest lifestyle. Up before the sun, soil embedded in your fingernails, working at the whims of the seasons and weather patterns.
And the prize of it all: an ear of corn, a basket of berries, a summer squash blossom, not a Christmas bonus. Have those of us living an urban lifestyle lost touch with our provider? I’m not talking about God people. I’m talking about the earth and its natural elements. You ask a city kid where milk comes from and they’re more likely to respond “a grocery store” than a cow.
Thankfully local farmers are becoming increasingly recognized for their devotion to artisinal production (small scale farming that uses traditional methods). Menus now feature dishes prefaced with the words “New York state” and the names of small farming towns in the Tri-State area. So next time you’re in Union Square on Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Saturday before 5pm, tip your hats to the vendors.
Farmer’s Market Salad (serves 2)
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
2 heirloom tomatoes, diced
Handful of green or purple picked basil
1 clove garlic
1 bunch arugula
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
In a small bowl, sprinkle the garlic cloves with salt and mash it up with a fork. The salt will help break it up and transform it into a paste. Then add half of the basil and mash it up using a rolling pin or a big, heavy, blunt object. Add the tomatoes and stir everything up. Now you’ve got a tomato crudo, which can be served on its own. In a separate bowl, combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, Dijon and red wine vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, creating an emersion. (This means that once fully incorporated, the olive oil and vinegar won’t separate.) Toss the arugula and cucumber in half of the dressing and pour the tomato crudo on top. Garnish with the remaining whole basil leaves and fresh ground pepper.