When it comes to eating locally, it can get downright depressing here in Washington from November through March.  Sure, there are plenty of greens to be had and the apples that were picked in the fall tend to last all the way through, but your choices for fresh veggies tend to get pretty slim.  Thankfully, that all changes round about April, and by the time May rolls around we’re already awash in fresh asparagus, ramps and even strawberries from local farms.

For us, however, the real sign of spring isn’t the profusion of new produce – it’s the reopening of some of the more seasonally-oriented farmers’ markets around the city.  This year, the District’s market scene reaches critical mass over the next week, starting with a pair of openings tomorrow and continuing through next Thursday and Friday.  We’ve got your guide right here, complete with a Who’s Who of producers at each market.

Opening Tomorrow (Saturday, May 1, 2010):

H Street NE FreshFarm Market
625 H Street NE (parking lot directly across from the H Street Self Storage between 6th and 7th Streets, NE)
Saturday, 9 AM – noon

Returning vendors: Atwater’s Bakery, Blueberry Hill, Cedarbrook Farm, Clear Spring Creamery, Dolcezza Gelato & Sorbet, Garden Path Farm, Keswick Creamery, Quaker Valley F&O, Richfield Farm

New this year: Dangerously Delicious Pies (weekly); Red Apron Butchery (first Saturday of every month)

Chef at Market this week: Casey Patten of Taylor Gourmet

14th & U Farmers Market
Reeves Center plaza sidewalk (corner of 14th & U Streets, NW)
Saturday, 9 AM – 1 PM

Returning vendors: Truck Patch Farms, McCleaf, Garner, Kuhn, Copper Pot Food Co., Pecan Meadow, Panorama Bakery, Keswick Creamery, Cherry Glen Farms, Dolcezza, Mountain View,

New this year: Chez Hareg (actually returning after a year’s absence)

After the jump, find out who will be cooking at the FreshFarm Market by the White House and the Capital Harvest on the Plaza. (more…)

canning logoTim Carman at the Washington City Paper tipped us off to Kim O’Donnel’s “Canning Across America” effort with a write-up over at Young & Hungry yesterday evening, and it put us in a thoughtful mood.  Though we don’t have the equipment to do full-on long-term storage canning, we try our best to prolong the flavors of summer here at Capital Spice.

We can’t get enough of our homemade half sour pickles (and apparently neither can you!).   We’ve even tried our hands at quick-pickling a variety of other vegetables to make our our giardiniera-style snacks.  And we’re very popular around the holidays when handing out jars of bourbon-soaked cherries and peaches.  While we may not be raising our tongs in solidarity with canners across the country this weekend, we definitely support the cause.

As much as we might enjoy making smoky, tangy gazpacho (using both heirloom AND hybrid tomatoes from the farmers’ market…Jane Black would be proud), it can get a bit pricey to go around throwing 5 or 6 pounds of tomatoes into the food processor each week when you’re shelling out $3, $4, even $5 per pound.  Thankfully, there’s a way to make your share of season-stretching recipes without breaking the bank – even if you don’t have your own backyard garden or orchard to pick on.  They’re known as “seconds,” but they’re the first thing I go for at the market.

The joy of “secs” after the jump. (more…)

Favas with Pancetta and FriseeHere it is – the moment you’ve all been waiting for!  With this recipe from Fresh from the Farmers’ Market, we have officially posted each and every one of our culinary efforts over the past month.  This is the final recipe from our June Cookbook Challenge.

How fitting, then, that we end with a recipe from a cookbook that purports to offer “year-round recipes for the pick of the crop” as we transition from a month of concentrated cooking to a year-round relationship with the books we’re holding onto. 

We’ll post a recap with some of our biggest surprises and some final thoughts soon, but for now enjoy this recipe for a quick and easy salad that has a decidedly upscale feel.  It works great on its own (and it could easily support a poached egg if you wanted to make a real meal out of it), but it would certainly stand up as a tasty first course for a dinner party.

The first step for any dish that involves fava beans is to double-peel the beans by removing them from their outer shells and then boiling them briefly until their whitish skins can be pinched and slipped off.  Remember, these are the legumes Elizabeth refers to as “the beans of diminishing returns” so it takes a lot to get a decent volume of edible beans together.  In this case, you’ll need two pounds of fava beans still in their shells (or 1 to 1 1/2 cups shelled beans).

Meanwhile, chop up two ounces pancetta (bacon will do in a pinch) into 1/4″ pieces and sautee it in one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil for five to ten minutes over moderately low heat.  This will allow some of the fat to melt away from the meat and the meat to crisp up a bit.  When that happens, add one minced shallot and sautee it for an additional minute or two until softened.

Pancetta Favas and FriseeTake 1/4 pound young frisee lettuce and tear it into small pieces in a serving bowl.  Pour the pancetta, oil and shallots over the lettuce and add two tablespoons minced fresh parsley and 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar.  Toss everything together until well mixed and then add in the shelled fava beans from before.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve while still warm.

The recipe was delicious (with these ingredients how could it be otherwise), but we’re still a bit torn on the future of the book.  One strike: it was surprisingly hard to find a recipe in this book that really jumped out at us, despite the abundance of produce at our local farmers’ markets.  Two strike: it’s written from a California perspective, so the growing seasons and the variety of available fruits and veggies are a bit different from ours.  As a result, the book is less and intuitive resource and more another trove of fresh recipes to be tried as the spirit moves us.  We’re just not sure if we think enough of this book to keep it around for just that purpose.

One of Inked's Many Great Market Shots at frozentropics.blogspot.com

One of Inked's many great market shots from http://frozentropics.blogspot.com

The weather is getting warmer, local ramps and asparagus have started to show up at markets (if you get there early enough to snag them), and we’ve already had a few days hot enough to make think about turning on the air conditioning.  For those of us who live in the H Street neighborhood, that means it’s farmers’ market time again!

Sure, you can find farm-fresh produce all year ’round at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market…but if you’ve been there on a snowy January (or even March) morning you know that H Street isn’t missing much by waiting until the first weekend in May to open up.  Don’t get me wrong – apples, kale and root vegetables are especially delicious when they’re local – but the ‘wow’ factor that comes from colorful fruits and vegetables just isn’t there.

Tomorrow morning at 9 AM, the opening bell will signal the start of the H Street FreshFarm Market’s fifth season.  That’s right – the market has been doing H Street since 2004 – way before H Street was cool.  Located in a parking lot on H between 6th and 7th Streets, NE, this producers-only market is open until noon every Saturday morning from now until November 21st.

Some coming attractions for this season – including the two new vendors who will be participating this year – after the jump. (more…)

blog-for-the-bayIn honor of Earth Day, local bloggers FoodieTots and Arugula Files have organized something they’re calling “Blog for the Bay.”  It’s an effort to support clean water in the Chesapeake and to urge the EPA to move forward on Bay clean-up efforts.  They’re also encouraging anyone who’s interested to sign the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s petition.

As part of the project, we here at Capital Spice are happy to share one of our favorite things about the Chesapeake: Chris’ Marketplace and their delicious crabcakes!

If you’ve ever walked through the Dupont Circle or the Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market, chances are you’ve been drawn to Chris Hoge’s stand.  It’s a simple setup – just a few tables and coolers with a pair of butane stoves and a dry-erase board – but it’s been known to draw lines of people queued up to enjoy some of Chris’ delicious seafood specialties.  Chief among them are his jumbo lump crab cakes, made from Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.

It should come as no surprise that Hoge knows what he’s doing: he captained a commercial fishing boat for a time before settling into his current role as a vendor of “value added seafood products.”  With his connections to top-quality wholesalers and his knack for bringing out the natural flavors of his raw materials, his crabcakes (not to mention his shrimp refresco and his empanadas) put the competition to shame.

Details on where and when to find Chris – and what makes his crabcakes and other seafood dishes so damn addictive – after the jump. (more…)

canned

“We should totally try to make these at home.”

In a lot of cases, as frustration mounts and the joy of recreating something you’ve loved in a restaurant falls victim to repeat failures, this phrase soon turns into “Whose stupid idea was this anyway?”

But a helping hand from a pro like Alice Waters can go a long way toward preventing such disappointment, as I learned this weekend when raw-materialsI attempted to make pickled vegetables like the ones we enjoyed at The Spotted Pig in New York last month.

While looking for another recipe in Waters’ newest cookbook, The Art of Simple Food, I came across her oh-so-easy directions for making quick-pickled vegetables.  I knew I had to give it a shot, to see if it even came close to the tangy goodness of the green beans, beets and other veggies we had in New York.

Details on produce, prep, pickling and palate after the jump. (more…)

As it turns out, gazpacho is one of those dishes that everyone seems to have a recipe for, but none of them even come close to matching.  I learned this the hard way this weekend while staring down several pounds of beautifully ripe heirloom tomatoes that I picked up at the H Street FreshFarm Market on Saturday.

If you’ve been to a farmers’ market recently, you know that we are finally enjoying the bounty of late summer produce that our area puts forth: tomatoes in all shapes and sizes, peaches, peppers, summer squash, and watermelons are out in force.  This is the BEST time to visit your local market, as the prices are good and the produce is better.  And with the cost of conventional groceries on the rise, shopping farmers’ markets for your fruits and vegetables is becoming a truly viable option for most Washingtonians.

On my visit, I found myself picking up a bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes along with some peppers, squash and eggplants.  I knew that I wanted to make my favorite cold soup, but I was uncertain how best to proceed.  What I found when I consulted some of our more trusted cookbook resources (Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food, The Bon Appetit Cookbook) and several internet sources was something of a consensus on ingredients but no clear winner in terms of process.

Rather than following any one recipe to the letter, I opted to take in their combined wisdom and turn it into my own version of gazpacho.  And – in the interest of perpetuating the Babel-like proliferation of gazpacho recipes on the internet – I’m about to share it with you.

Ingredients, process, and an insider’s tip after the jump. (more…)