I had forgotten what real vegetables look like. I went to the Greenmarket in Union Square yesterday and walked past stalls where vendors, wrapped in balaclavas, parceled out apple slices and goat cheese on popsicle sticks, and every other stand sold hot cider. Walking through the Greenmarket is an exercise in maintaining your Zen, since everyone hustling in and out of stalls, vying for the biggest carrot. If you can keep breathing and let the crowd carry you instead of fighting through it, the market is wonderful.
I’ve gotten used to my Associated Supermarket on the corner and I’ve even started thinking, yeah, that’s some nice parsley. Maybe because compared to the bodegas where bunches of browning bananas and wilted bins of lettuce sit beside bags of chips and bouillon cubes collecting dust, Associated’s water-sprinkled produce glistens. Then I went to the Greenmarket and remembered what vegetables look like. And that they smell, even in brumal November. In the apple tent, giant lobes of jonagolds and pink ladys were musky perfume and there was a bunch of sage at one stall so fragrant I did a double-take just to close my eyes and smell. I found perfect red radishes, plump shallots and garden onions, goat cheese, greens, multi-hued fingerlings, sunchokes, tangy Kefir yogurt drink, and a spray of verdant flat-leaf parsley. I carried the parsley in front of my face like a bouquet of flowers just to keep the fresh smell close.
Cooking from the farmer’s market is like adding an extra layer of love to what you make, since someone has loved the rutabaga before it was a rutabaga. A farmer’s market fruit is loved in a way a supermarket fruit has never known. When you cook with loved food, there’s less work to do. Greens wilt themselves into your skillet, tomatoes only ask for a little salt, onions are ferocious and tender. An Associated vegetable is like an orphaned child, adopted at fifteen and loved by a foster family in a way that is good but where there is still the taste of fifteen years of hurt. Lettuce can have had a troubled childhood too.
Tonight for dinner, I roasted my fingerlings with onions and shallots, garlic, olive oil, thyme, rosemary, sage, and salt. Of course I cried cutting the onions. I always weep when I cut onions and for a few moments it’s embarrassing, when I cook for people, as I double over the counter squeezing tears from my eyes. But I love onions. And I don’t mind to cry for them.
I sautéed greens – a variety of mild Japanese mustard greens that I’d never heard of before – with a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, shallot, Dijon, and bacon drippings and crumbled bacon and goat cheese on top.
My plate was so green and beautiful and from now on I only want to eat real vegetables. For dessert, a shot of eggnog from Ronnybrook Farm, which made me excited for cold weather and the holidays, for the Christmas tree I’m going to get for the apartment that I’ll decorate with homemade ornaments. I’ll make cookies and string popcorn garlands and go to the market for refills of cider and eggnog.