Spring is now in full bloom. The time to freshen up your meals with greens, nuts, cheeses, fruit and other great California products is now. And the farmers market is the best place to ge them.
Start a salad with great greens
Baby salad greens are delicious right now, especially the organic variety from Nuñez Farms. It's a mix of different young salad greens.
Mixes usually include arugula, mizuna, tat soi, frisee, oak leaf, red chard, radicchio and mustard greens. They combine to create a colorful array with different tastes and textures -- some sweet, some bitter, some crunchy, and some smooth.
No matter what lettuce mix you choose for your salad, be sure it is thoroughly rinsed, dried and served chilled.
Sweeten with fruits
Balancing well with tangy vinaigrettes and salty cheeses, sweet fruit really pulls a salad together. Try sliced strawberries or raspberries.
As the season progresses, toss in cherries, peaches or apricots.
Add flavor with California cheeses
Cheese such as feta, blue cheese and Gorgonzola work best crumbled into salads, while others like Brie and goat cheese are best served in slices and rolled in fresh herbs such as parsley or chives.
These fine cheeses not only taste great but will add to the presentation.
Create texture and crunch with nuts
Nuts can add a great dimension to salads with their texture. Roasting and toasting nuts will really bring out their flavor and crunch.
With a little sugar you can also create candied nuts, which balance wonderfully with a tangy vinaigrette.
Get creative with other ingredients
Salads are great because of their versatility. Depending on the ingredients you choose, they can work well as an appetizer, side dish, or as the main course.
If you want to keep it light but add some extra flavors to the mix, use red onion, celery or shallots.
To make your salad suitable for the main course, add creamy avocado, marinated shrimp or grilled chicken.
Spring farmers market salad
2 to 3 ounces pea shoots
2 pounds asparagus (blanched, cut in 1/4 inch discs)
3 pounds fava beans (shelled, blanched, peeled)
2 to 3 ounces pecorino cheese (coarsely grated)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Squeeze of lemon
Blanch asparagus until bright green, then plunge into ice water bath to shock it and prevent further cooking. Drain well: use towels if needed to dry the stems. Cut stems into 1/4" pieces, leaving tips intact. Set aside
Shell the fava beans, and blanch them for 2-3 minutes. Cool quickly in ice water, and drain well and set aside
Coarsely chop the pea shoots into thirds and put them on a platter. Add the extra virgin olive oil and the grated Pecorino and toss ingredients to together in a small bowl. Add a small amount of cracked pepper, and the dressed vegetables on top of the pea shoots on the plate.
-- Recipe: Chef Mario Hernandez
Farmers markets are open rain or shine.
Danville: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday year-round, Railroad and Prospect avenues.
Dublin: 4-8 p.m. Thursdays through September. Emerald Glen Park at Central Parkway and Tassajara Road.
Livermore: Sundays year-round, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at South L Street and Railroad Avenue.
Pleasanton: 9 a.m. -1 p.m. year-round, Main and W. Angela streets.
San Ramon: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays year-round, Bishop Ranch 2 parking lot, Bollinger Canyon Road and Sunset Drive.
The Time is Ripe is a monthly column written by Debra Morris, promotions coordinator for the Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.