We’ve got a taste of Spain, a taste of France, and just a great taste of nature.
 
 Label Rouge Chickens
You might think a chicken is a chicken is a chicken, but I’ve been trying everything from your basic supermarket poultry to air-chilled organic chicken and locally raised birds. The latter two offer a delicious flavor and texture you just can’t get with the packaged supermarket brands. Now we have a new local entrant: Label Rouge chickens. I was told they were an heirloom chicken, but no. Label Rouge refers to a very specific way of raising chickens that the originators claim is respectful of animal welfare and protects the environment. It’s a traditional French production method that’s been around since the ‘60s and has now been adopted by Carl Hempel and Tamara Hartsen of Descanso Valley Ranch. Pastured on their 20-acre farm, these chickens know how to forage and catch bugs. They’re also processed at between 81 and 110 days – twice the age of conventional chickens.
 
I bought a four pounder and roasted it. It tastes like real chicken, not some indistinguishable piece of meat. But, it is pricey at $6 a pound. Of course, we pay much more for beef and lamb, and we’re talking, as Hempel says, about a bird "raised locally, ethically, slowly and with love." Do chickens raised with love taste better? Try it yourself. You can find Hempel and Hartsen with chickens and eggs at the Little Italy Mercato and Rancho Santa Fe farmers market. Unlike many farmers market vendors, they take credit and debit cards.
 
Date and India Sts. In Little Italy
Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
 
Del Rayo Village Center (16079 San Dieguito Rd.)
Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
 
Padron Peppers
If you visit the restaurants of Spain, it’s likely you’ve enjoyed fried, salted padron peppers. These small, wrinkled bright green peppers are the basis of a favorite tapas dish that we can now recreate in San Diego. Grown locally at Suzie’s Farm, you can find them at their farmers market stands and at Specialty Produce. As chef Melissa Mayer explained to a group of us at a recent Collaboration Kitchen event at Catalina Offshore Products where she prepared them, "Nine out of 10 peppers are mild. But that 10th…" Well, none are so hot you can’t eat them and most tend to be on the milder side with a bright pepper flavor. The best technique for frying them is to toss them first in olive oil and sea salt, then put them in a hot pan with plenty of room, letting the skin sear. That’s it. Serve with a cold apertif or an icy local beer while the rest of your dinner is on the grill.
 
1856 Saturn Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92154
619-662-1780
 
1929 Hancock St., #150
San Diego, CA 92110
619-295-3172

Squash Blossoms
When you plant zucchini or other summer squash, you may think what you want to harvest is the squash. But, you’re missing out on a wonderful treat if you let all those blossoms turn to fruit. Now squash has both male and female flowers – and only the female, of course, produce fruit – but many cultures traditionally pick the open male and female blossoms before the fruit fully develop and eat them chopped in quesadillas and omelets, added to soups, or – my favorite cooking method – stuffed, battered, and fried in olive oil. You’ll see squash blossoms in Hispanic markets and at the farmers markets. Most tend to be just a few inches long but at a visit to Suzie’s Farm I saw blossoms that were perhaps eight inches. Look for fresh flowers, not wilted, and when you get them home wrap them in moist paper towels, and put them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook them. But commit to using them promptly – they’re fragile and their shelf life is quite limited.
 
Last week I made a batch, creating a stuffing with French feta cheese, mint, toasted pine nuts and just a little honey – all mashed together. I used a demitasse spoon to fill each blossom at the bottom (don’t overstuff them). Then I made an easy batter, whisking beer and flour until it was smooth and loose. Heat a pan with about an inch of olive oil. When a little droplet of the batter shimmies and shakes in the oil, carefully hold the stuffed blossom by the stem and dip it into the batter. Shake off the excess and place it carefully in the pan. Do this with as many as will fit in the pan but don’t crowd them. Turn the blossoms so they brown on both sides then remove to drain on paper towels. You can sprinkle salt – or sugar – on them at that point and serve immediately.

 

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