Local Bounty: October 8
Chef’s Choice: Miguel Valdez of The Red Door and The Wellington
It’s still unofficial but in the future, the Wednesday farmers market at the San Diego Public Market will be geared toward meeting the needs of our region’s chefs, along with the public. Already, though, chefs are showing up at the market. Last Wednesday, I saw Trey Foshee, Amy DiBiase, Dawn Parks, Amy Finley, Adam Lowe, and several others. But I was there to meet with Miguel Valdez of The Red Door and The Wellington in Mission Hills. I’ll be collaborating with Valdez on Oct. 17, when The Red Door holds its monthly Chefs Market Harvest Dinner. Valdez will do the cooking of course; I’ll be leading a tour of the Wednesday evening Mission Hills farmers market with him before the dinner.
But in the meantime, Valdez and I decided to meet at the Public Market to get some inspiration and it occurred to me that it would be a great opportunity to get a chef’s perspective on great farmers market finds. So, I’m starting with Valdez’s picks this week and will periodically meet up with chefs at the Public Market to see what’s exciting them and how they’d use these finds. What struck Valdez, and me this week, was the bounty of organic farmer Gilbert Quintos of Fallbrook, who has been farming since 1987 after a 23-year career as a postal worker.
If you’ve ever eaten a rose hip or are familiar with rose-infused sweets from the Middle East you’ll recognize the seductive scent and flavor of these petite fruits. They look at little like loquats and have one to four medium hard seeds inside, which you don’t want to eat. Native to the East Indies and Malaysia, rose apples have a variety of possible applications. Valdez suggests slicing them into a salad and baking them into a pie. Pick them up quick; they have a short harvest window of about a month. $2 a basket
Last week, I wrote about Fuyu persimmons. This week we saw gorgeous Hachiyas. Most people advise waiting for Hachiyas to fully soften before eating, but the ones grown by Quintos are still firm. He peeled away the skin and cut us slices, which were firm and crisp—but with a delicately sweet flavor, not at all astringent. So Valdez and I say you don’t have to wait for shriveling skin and squishy flesh. Hachiyas are great for baking into cakes, but Valdez is toying with cooking them down into a sauce for tacos or fish, particularly halibut or cod. $2 a tray.
This fruit by far is one of the most unusual I’ve come across in awhile. Quintos calls them jelly dates but I couldn’t find a reference to them. Then I tracked it down to the fruit of palms, and to a specific palm the “butia capitata” or pindo palm or, aha, jelly palm, native to South America. And, finally we get to the fruit, these little button-sized mouthfuls of tropical flavor—think a very sweet, powerful mix of pineapple, apricot, and maybe vanilla. I’ve been popping them like candy, despite the pit in the middle. Snack on them like me, cook them into a sauce for ice cream, or try this idea Valdez suggests: make lollipops for Halloween. Cook them down, spread the reduction on a Silpat-lined baking sheet, add a little stick and let harden. $2 a tray
The macadamia nuts are just starting to fall and you’ll be seeing them in the farmers markets for the next few months. This is the produce with which Quintos started his farm in San Marcos. He sells his in the shell, but it’s recommended you husk them as soon as possible so the nuts don’t retain moisture and grow rancid. You can air dry them or, when I buy them, shell them and put them in a 250-degree oven for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally until they just start to brown. Remove from the oven. Sprinkle with a little salt while they’re hot and oily, then enjoy. Valdez likes the idea of blanching them when raw, and pureeing them with a little salt and olive oil to make a sauce. $2 a tray.