Eating through Sonoma County’s Farm Markets

Tasting through the farmer's markets in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol

berry.jpgIt’s a milestone, I suppose, when fresh zucchini and rainbow broccoli become the stuff you daydream about. When filling a market basket with heirloom tomatoes and local olive oil gives you a significantly bigger thrill than your birthday. As the bountiful season approaches, we (okay I) rush to the markets to see what the harvest gods have left this week. Call it a sort of Christmas morning for the foodie-set.

So, okay, maybe kale and honey is still a hard-sell for a six-year-old. But as April meanders into May and piles of kale and radishes become berries, lettuces, beans and citrus fruit, it’s hard not to get a little giddy. Maybe even a little overwhelmed by all the choices. How does one cook dandelion greens, anyway? Which is why local markets are evolving from simply offering produce, fresh eggs and just-picked lettuce to more convenient ready-made baked goods, freezer-friendly dishes and ethnic meals that feature that best of the county’s bounty.

Regardless of your kitchen ability, now’s the best time to familiarize yourself with your market. It’s as simple as grabbing a basket, some cash (many stands don’t take checks or credit cards), a hearty appetite and exploring your way through, one stand at a time. Get there early because the good stuff goes fast and if you love a vendor, ask when and where they’ll be next week, because they sometimes move around to different markets. Right now, the Sonoma (Depot Park), Santa Rosa Farm Market at the Veteran’s Building and Sebastopol Markets are in full swing, with Santa Rosa’s Wednesday Night Market, Windsor, Healdsburg and Petaluma set to open in May.

What’s on the menu? Come along for an early taste of the markets…

fish.jpgFaraway Flavors
Prepare to queue up for Mateo Granados’ tamale stand. The former Dry
Creek Kitchen chef serves up seasonal tamales wrapped in banana leaves,
stuffed with suckling pig, lamb and goat cheese. Or, fuel up with a
plate of Huevos Rancheros and fresh agua fresca at the communal table
(a perfect spot for comparing notes on what’s best at the market
today). Saturdays at the Santa Rosa Veteran’s Hall Farmer’s Market,
Sundays at the Sebastopol Farm Market and May through November at the
Healdsburg Saturday market.

Ethnic home-cooking doesn’t get much more authentic than the
mom-and-pop stalls that line the markets. Among my favorites is Lata
Pagare, who does double duty in Santa Rosa on Saturday and Sebastopol
on Sunday serving up impossibly light Indian samosas, coconut milk
curry and homemade lassis at Lata’s Indian Cuisine. Also worth a stop
are Mommy’s Yammys homemade beef and lamb gyros with couscous salad or
fish tacos on fresh tortillas (and posole) at Nellie’s BBQ Oysters.

Fish and Meat
One of the most entertaining spots at the Santa Rosa Market each week
is the ever-expanding fish stall of Santa Rosa Seafood. One week, fresh
(as in still wiggling) sea urchin and crabs amused onlookers while the
line for smoked salmon and sushi-grade tuna snakes around the tubs of
fish on ice. Don’t miss their prepared spreads and (as the weather
cools) chowders. Saturdays in Santa Rosa, Sundays at the Marin Farm
Market. Santi Restaurant (which will soon relocate to Santa Rosa) sells
their housemade salumis in both Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, its newest
creation a spicy Cajun boudin.

Dip It Good
The first things we crack into on the car-ride home are the myriad dips
and cheeses that grab our tastebuds each week. Favorites: The Hummus
artichoke hummus; bolani (Afghan bread) with garlic mint cream
cheese from East & West Gourmet Afghan Food and lemon quark (a kind
of cream cheese) from Spring Hill Cheese. A perennial fixture at the
Santa Rosa Saturday market, Leon Day is constantly concocting new
condiments to add to his already impressive lineup. Newest is
mint-cilantro chutney, but my fridge always has a bottle of his peanut
sauce to dress up chicken and ho-hum noodles. A new find: Santa Rosa
plum jam, Green Tomato Conserve and Satsuma Mandarin Marmalade from
DeVero Olive Oil (Saturday, Santa Rosa).

Get Baked
Baked goods are a staple of the market, because really what goes better
with all that fresh cheese, butter and produce than a hunk of fresh
sourdough? Best bets: Gorganzola Walnut bread from Bennett Valley
(Saturday, Santa Rosa), veggie hand pies from Flour Creations,
and pretty much anything Full Circle Baking Company has left (they sell
out early). Looking for something heartier? SisterPie serves up
seasonal savory and sweet pies to take home and bake yourself (and of
course take credit for) on Saturdays in Santa Rosa.

Sweet Tooth
Brownies from Rohnert Park’s Killer Baking Company were my top reason
to visit the Wednesday night market through the long hot summer, but
doubly so since Chef Michael recently released his new maple, brownie
bit and pecan ice cream. Sate a raging sweet tooth with a salted
caramel from Gandolf’s Fine Chocolate (Santa Rosa, Saturdays) or
newcomer Sonoma Chocolatiers at the Sebastopol Market.

Still hungry? Stay tuned for even more delish finds as the farm market season continues.

Where to go:
Santa Rosa Market – Veteran’s Building: Year round, Saturday mornings
from 8am to noon. Santa Rosa Wednesday Night Market, May 13 through
August 12, 5 to 8:30pm.
Sebastopol Farm Market: Town Square, April through November, Sunday from 10am to 1pm.
Healdsburg Certified Farm Market: Vine & North St., May through
November, Sat., 9am to noon; Tuesdays in the plaza from 4-7pm, June
through October.
Sonoma Farmer’s Market: Year round, Friday, 9am to noon in Depot Park
Windsor Farmer’s market: May through November, 10am to 1pm, May through Nov, Thursday nights 5-8pm on the Town Green.
Petaluma Farmer’s Market: May through October, Saturdays, 2-5pm, Walnut Park.