Friday Mornings At Venice Farmers Market + A Market Salad
The first time I started regularly visiting a farmers market to do my weekly shop was when I lived in an apartment on Glendon Avenue in Westwood Village on Los Angeles’ Westside. Our farmers market ran (and still does run) every Thursday afternoon from 12pm through to 6pm on Broxton Avenue, and I used to go there to buy my strawberries, lemons, beef and whatever else I happened to need that week, every Thursday without fail. Often, I also grabbed a bite for lunch from the Southern barbecue truck at the end of the street.
Venice Farmers Market, about 5 minutes walk from the apartment I’m currently renting runs every Friday from 7am through until 11am, and I’m going to try my best to make it there every single week too. The first Friday I visited it was raining a little (it was one of the few days a year where ‘weather’ actually happens in Southern California) so the mood was a bit subdued, but this Friday just past it was in full swing, full of locals picking up their groceries for the week, and vendors explaining how all the food is grown to a group of school children who were visiting with their teacher and wandering around the market with their assignments on clipboards.
I’ve recently written about my method for developing recipes and how the food I produce both for this blog and my various columns comes to be: this salad was one of my occasions where it came together perfectly in my head while I was walking around the market for the first time, seeing what was available and becoming introduced to a few new ingredients that I’d read about, but were actually quite new to me to taste. Having the salad recipe scribbled down on the back of a receipt in the apartment all week, I went back last week to pick up the ingredients, throw something together for lunch and shoot it on my balcony.
I’m hoping to post another salad recipe soon featuring these beautiful and rosy California cherries, but don’t be surprised if you never see it; the chances of any cherries I may purchase this week or next actually making it as far as my kitchen are slim. Cherries have always seemed like an indulgence to me. With the exception of the Summer when I first moved back from Los Angeles and our trees on the farm were heavy with them (usually the pigeons get to them before we do!) and they were in abundance, the brown paper bags of them purchased on Canterbury High Street are always fought over in our house. Cherries held a similar position in the hierarchy of soft fruit in my home when that home was in California; while I saw farmers market strawberries as an essential (I ate them for breakfast almost every single morning either with my oatmeal or with some Greek yogurt, honey and fresh mint), the cherries sold alongside them were a treat when I felt like spending a few more dollars on something purely indulgent. I’d put them in a bowl on the counter, and keep getting up from my computer across the room and going back for more. They’d all be gone by dinner time.
With this salad, I wanted to use ingredients that I usually don’t have access too, but at the same time I wanted to create something that was easily adaptable so that it could be made by everyone who does not have a California farmers market a stones throw away from their front door.
I’ve used a mix of slightly spicy leaves which were pleasantly heavy on the rocket/ arugula (which also had some pretty edible dandelion petals mixed in to add a bit more sunshine and colour), with the smaller, more delicate leaves from a couple of sprigs of lemon basil tossed in. Lemon basil is a herb that we do have in the UK, but is not as everyday as the Italian and Thai versions, so I’d never actually tried it or cooked with it before. It has a wonderful, lemon balm aroma which comes through alongside the flavour we’d usually associate with basil, and I can’t wait to experiment with it a bit more, tossing it with some pasta and leftover market vegetables for dinner one evening, perhaps?
I tossed the leaves in a large bowl with a little sea salt, extra virgin olive oil (you want to use the really great quality stuff here) and a few good squeezes of juice from a Meyer lemon. Now, Meyer lemons are something I have seen in so many American recipes before, but I never actually knew much about until I was holding one in my hand at the market. Meyer lemons are much smaller than the lemons we in Europe are used to. They also have a thinner, softer skin, that has more in common with a tangerine than their waxy, Italian style counterparts. However, the thing that makes me really understand why they’re regarded as such a gem of American produce (though it is native to China) and cuisine is their taste. There is no doubt that you’re tasting a lemon when you sample the juice of a Meyer lemon, but there is a sweetness and perfume that I’d never encountered before, even on the streets of Sorrento. There is an aftertaste that is both familiar and unique; as if you were enjoying some sort of creamy lemon sweet or dessert that has been enriched with some sort of blossom or nectar, rather than the plain fruit itself.
After arranging the leaves on the plate (this salad would make a great Summer starter, or accompaniment to grilled or barbecued meats) all that is left to do is scatter across some fresh mozzarella (another market find) and some chunks of ripe peach; white or yellow both will do, whichever you can find the ripest. If you’re making this outside of California, aside from using regular lemon juice and adding just a pinch of sugar to add a little of that Meyer lemon sweetness, I’d recommend waiting until peaches are in season to really make this dish sing. However, if you have a special occasion you’d like to prepare this for you can find good peaches to ripen for a few days on the counter in a warm place at home at the supermarket; I picked up a couple from Waitrose last month for a photo shoot which were surprisingly delicious for the beginning of the season.
Finish with a few good grinds of black pepper (for both flavour and visual effect) on each plate, and enjoy with a nice chilled glass of white wine. Going back to my accompaniment suggestions, if you’re looking for a little something from my archives, I’d recommend pairing this salad with either my Skinny Sticky Storecupboard Barbecue Chicken, or for a total lemon hit my Whole Lemon & Honey Barbecue Chicken Skewers.