Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's not spring yet

A couple of interesting veggies popped up in Iovine Brothers' bins this week.

First, asparation. No, not as in a small burst of air, or the entry of secretion into the lungs. That's aspiration. I'm talking about asparation, which is the trademark name for broccolini, a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale. Didn't see a price, but given that it's a trademarked-veggie, I would expect it not to be cheap. But it did look interesting: a stalky broccoli, but of daintier proportions than broccoli rabe.

In the same bin could be found cardoon, a southern European winter vegetable. At first glance it looked like a giant, dull bunch of celery stalks, but botanically it's closer to the artichoke, as it is a kind of thistle. That means it takes a bit to prepare properly: trimming and de-ribbing, cutting and dipping in acidulated water to prevent browning before braising. It's $1.99 a bunch, which looks like it would be enough for four or five servings as an appetizer or side. Bet it would be good in a cream sauce after preliminary cooking.

The Mexican avocado crop has arrived, and that means lower prices. Iovine had medium-sized ones at 50-cents apiece. Limes, alas, are the same price. Outside of the various greens (I picked up some escarole to braise with raisins, capers, pine nuts and olives this week), one of the better veggie values was the frying peppers, $1.49/pound.

I'm still impressed with the South American late summer fruit at Iovine, especially the plums. Domestically, nice navel oranges, medium sized, were selling at 20 cents apiece.

With enough daylight at dinner time to fire up the grill, I picked up some beef (chuck with some short rib) ground to order at Harry Ochs yesterday, but when I passed Wan's Seafood I couldn't resist the sardines. They had already been headed and gutted and were selling for $2.99/pound. I was a tad wary, because other fish mongers were selling them whole for a buck more, but these were firm and smelled fine. They cooked up even better. I had a few right off the grill yesterday as an appetizer, but ate most the rest for dinner tonight after concocting a curry sauce for them to bathe in, trying to duplicate a curried pickled herring I tasted at Aquavit. It tasted delicious but, because of the textural delicacy of the grilled sardines, turned into a spread. Next time I'll also add some beet for color, because when sardines get mashed up, they are decidedly gray. I'll also start with pickled herring: the flesh is firmer and doesn't break up as easily.

I've gotten so used to microwave popcorn that I've forgotten how easy it is to make the old fashioned kind; the pot cleans up easily enough. Ben Kaufman has a couple of different varieties; the "red" popcorn I bought last week popped up fluffy white, with just a speck of red left in the nearly hulless hull.

According to a new video, 16 of the 73 shops at the Reading Terminal Market are owned by immigrants. That's the crucial fact behind the message of a video produced by the U.S. State Department aimed at foreign viewers. Featured are the owners of Nanee's Kitchen, Profi's Creperie, De' Village, and Tokyo Sushi Bar. You can find the two-minute video here.

Want an egg broken over your head? It will bring you good luck and go to a good cause. It's the cascarones tradition, which has been growing in popularity in the Mexican community, especially at Easter. The hollow eggs are filled with confetti then "cracked" over your noggin by a friend. The cascarones decorated by local children will be sold at the market March 19-22 to benefit the Cascarones Por La Vida Art Fund, which benefits children with HIV/AIDS. The project is led by local artist Marta Sanchez.

RTM General Manager Paul Steinke will be co-host with Sonny DiCrecchio of the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market when the National Association of Produce Market Managers holds its annual meeting at the Loew's hotel at the end of the month. Members of the 60-year-old association come from not just public markets and year-round farmers' markets, but wholesale markets, too. Among the speakers will be David O'Neil, who as RTM manager under the Reading Company helped plan its revitalization, and April White of Philadelphia Magazine.

Kelly Novak, the RTM's marketing and event coordinator, is leaving at the end of the month, so the search is on for a replacement. If you're interested in the job, check out the market's website for details.


Anonymous said...

Just discovered your blog - I work very close to RTM and have not made good use of it. I've now switched to buying nearly all of my produce there, but am working on expanding that to meat/seafood - I find myself a bit intimidated. But your comments will undoubtedly help me get over that! I'm still trying to figure out logistics...selection is best earlier in the day, but without a refrigerator at work, it poses some challenges!

Bob Libkind said...

Glad to be of service, Karen. Keeping stuff at the workplace with no fridge is problematic, though I find Iovine's keeps replenishing their stock throughout the day. The larger problem is that a lot of merchants start shutting down at 4:30 (even though they are supposed to be open later), so by the time you get there after work they aren't there. If you live in town, you might want to try weekend shopping: Saturday morning before 11 a.m. isn't overwhelmingly crowded, and Sundays aren't either, though some a few purveyors aren't open on Sundays, and the Pennsylvania Dutch aren't there Sunday either.

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