Marin County Farmers Market is sort of the country cousin of the Ferry Building market in San Francisco. Many of the same vendors are at both venues, and you are likely to see San Francisco chefs looking for great products in Marin. The market is smaller than its San Francisco counterpart, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the same excellent selections. Because of the driving distance, there are far fewer tourists so that gives the vendors a chance provide the best products and catch up on what’s going on in the restaurants. Not only is there talk of food but also of family.
The market meets Sunday morning on the grounds of the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael. The Center itself is a Frank Lloyd Wright- designed futuristic building looking like an enormous pink space ship just landed in the parking lot.
On our last visit to San Francisco we took a Sunday break after a grueling week of restaurant preparation. Our plan was to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, visit the lighthouse on the Marin Headland, and then go to the market for the fixings for our evening meal. Our plans were changed by the heavy summer fogs at the Golden Gate, but the weather cleared completely as we drove inland to San Rafael.
Once at the market, we loaded our grandson in the stroller and started down the long rows of busy stalls. The choices were almost overwhelming. Northern California is becoming famous for producing seasonal sweet strawberries in sharp contrast to the woody flavorless ones which have come to be the standard on supermarket shelves all year-long. Berries were in abundance, so we bought more than enough for desert. Our grandson soon had a sticky red face.
Stone fruits of all sorts. Root vegetables of every color and variety. Then we saw the most beautiful display of fava beans. They were freshly picked, and the pods were thick and completely filled out. Who could resist? We bought a big sack of them.
Fresh green peas in the shell and ears of corn were in nearby stalls, so my daughter made an on-the-spot decision to make a succotash.
There was a good display of mushrooms, though not the royal trumpets I was hoping for. Nevertheless a basket of cremenis found a home in our bags.
It was surprising to me that the summer squashes were already in good supply, and one vendor had large squash blossoms for sale. Another decision – squash blossoms stuffed with a bacon, squash, and mushroom filling.
My daughter found an artistic display of Persian cucumbers with their corrugated pale green skin and twisted shapes. Baskets of heirloom tomatoes were not far away, so a tomato and cucumber salad with radishes and leaf greens made the menu.
We found some juicy pork shoulders at the Prather Ranch stall, and so my son-in-law decided to grill some.
By then the little one had fallen to sleep, and the grownups were hungry. It was hard to choose from all the food stalls: Indian curries, paella, hamburgers, hot dogs, etc, etc. We finally decided on baked-to-order pizzas. After we finished our meal, we loaded back in the car and headed home.
It had been a successful day, but we were also looking forward to the meal ahead.
If you have never had fresh fava beans, you should be aware that their preparation is labor-intensive. You start out with what looks like a huge pile of pods and wind up with a little bowl of prepared beans. It is a good idea for the cook to recruit a prep assistant. In this case, that was me. If you have never had fresh fava beans you should know that the reason folks are willing to go to all the effort is that they taste so good.
We started with about 2 pounds of unshelled fava beans.
- Shell the beans
- Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil
- Pour the shelled beans into the boiling water
- Return to the boil for one minute – no longer
- Drain the beans and chill them immediately in a previously prepared large bowl filled with ice and water. The salted water and blanching will keep the beans green and not mushy.
- Chill the beans for at least 15 minutes and then drain them
- Using your fingers and a sharp paring knife peel off the stiff, translucent husk from the bright green beans, being careful not to crush the beans
- With a small knife, remove the tiny white sprout from the beans. You can skip this step, but the sprout can give a bitter taste to the beans.
- Combine all of the husked beans in a small bowl and set them aside for later use
Fava Bean, Grilled Corn, and Green Pea Succotash
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small onion, small diced
- 1 pound fresh green peas, shelled
- 2 ears of corn, shucked, cleaned, and kernels cut off
- 1 batch of prepared fava beans
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- butter for finishing
- squeeze of lemon
- Heat a cast iron skillet over a medium-high flame. Add the oil and butter and continue to heat until the butter has stopped foaming.
- Add the diced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent. Be careful not to burn.
- Add the green peas and corn kernels.
- Cook for five minutes, stirring frequently.
- Just before you are ready to serve, add the fava beans and stir until completed heated through, another 2-3 minutes. If you add the beans too early in the process they may become mushy.
- Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in the extra butter and squeeze of lemon and serve immediately.
With two professional chefs and an amateur but eager prep cook, the dinner came together surprisingly quickly. Things got plated out. We relaxed with a glass of wine. Perfect end to a perfect day. And thank goodness for a modern dishwasher (the electric kind)