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Into the Wild: Chelsea’s Weird Finds at the Farmers’ Market

From Chelsea Rinnig. Email her at chelsea[AT}borderstan.com

"Weird Finds"

Chelsea’s cucuzza – one of the weird finds at the famers’ market. (Courtesy Chelsea Rinnig)

Some of the farmers at the market have unconventional offerings at their stands. I call on you, shoppers, to stray outside your comfort zones and pick up something new this week to try. Start a dialogue with the stand workers; as a vendor myself, I can tell you we are more than happy to share our recipes and ways to enjoy your new, unfamiliar bounty!

In the height of summer’s lushness, here’s the best of weirdest that I’ve found:

Cucuzza – the weirdest thing I have found at the market lately (pictured), cucuzza is a type of squash that is sweet and almost reminds me of cucumber. Slice it in half down the middle, brush with olive oil, and grill on high heat. Slice and serve. Or, cut it into chunks and roast at 425° for 25 minutes or until browned. It works great with fennel in a salad. Move over paddypans, because cucuzza is way weirder.

Canary Melon – yellow and vibrant as the name suggests, canary melon is like a cantaloupe on steroids. The meat is juicier and sweeter than other melons, which I often find bland and disappointing. They are also relatively inexpensive and can be used in typical melon recipes. Try it with feta, mint, and balsamic vinegar for a light, summer treat. The best melons for picking have a spot of discoloration on one side – it means the melon has sat still and had plenty of time to ripen in the sun without rolling around.

Mushrooms – while button mushrooms may sound weird, other varieties can definitely rank high on the weirdness scale. However, their umami flavors do wonders to any dish. Mushroom stands at the markets often will sell a mixed carton with different types to try. Give them a whirl and sauté them in your next pasta or risotto dish. To avoid rubbery, undercooked mushrooms, cook on medium high heat in olive oil until the mushrooms seem to have expelled their water – this means they are fully cooked. I like to then deglaze the ‘shrooms with about a quarter cup of white wine and scrape off any burned bits from the pan.

Japanese Eggplant – narrow and bright purple, Japanese eggplants are like any other eggplant. I find them to be slightly more flavorful and sweeter than normal, round eggplants. Taste test and compare for yourself – or give it a try in this recipe from a couple weeks ago.

Quark – completely unrelated to science, quark spreads like cream cheese and tastes sharp and sour. Vendors who sell quark often also make different flavors. My favorite lunch after the market is to buy a bagel from Atwater’s, dill quark, and a cucumber from my stand. It’s so delicious!  Not to mention, it’s lower in fat than most cheeses.

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Rinnig moved to Borderstan in Fall 2011 from Baltimore and hails originally from Los Angeles. Her dedication to the local food movement and commitment to eating simply and nutritiously have led her to both develop her culinary skills and write about her tasting new dishes both in her new city as well as her own kitchen. You can find Rinnig working downtown on weekdays, selling stone fruits and berries at the Dupont Farmers market on Sundays and splurging at fine restaurants here and there in-between. Email her at chelsea[AT]borderstan.com.

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