Friday, June 26, 2009
You know you're a food geek when going to a grocery store is the most anticipated event on your calendar. Such was the case with me last week, when I had the chance to stroll, ogle, sample, drool, imagine, and yes, shop, at the brand spankin' new Berkeley Bowl West.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the Berkeley Bowl, suffice it to say that it is no ordinary grocery store. Sure, sure - there are aisles of food, and it's arranged as one would expect... you know - deli over here, frozen foods there, bulk bins somewhere in between... but the produce section is what sets this market apart from pretty much any other you've ever frequented. To say that it is massive is putting it lightly (the photo above is but one teeny tiny corner). To say that there are items stocked there that you have no earthly idea how to use and never will is an understatement. To say that it's tempting to become a vegetarian simply to eat more of the gorgeous, unusual, dizzying bounty of fruit and veggies is not really doing it justice.
I counted no fewer than 11 varieties of eggplant, and seven types of green beans. A great deal of the produce is local and/or California grown, but if you wanted to pick up some mushrooms from Serbia, they have those too (every last item is labeled as to its origin).
And the new store is not only bright, open and huge, it fixes the one thing that made stopping at the original location such a chore: no parking woes!
At any rate, I raided the produce section with an eye toward bringing home some unique and unusual items - things I knew I would never find at the chain store in my neighborhood. And here's a sampling of what I found, and how I used (or plan to use) it. So if you live in the Bay Area, pay them a visit. And if you don't - don't you wish you did? :)
Fiddlehead Ferns: I was pleasantly surprised to find these in stock, since I thought the fiddlehead fern season had long since passed. But nope - there they were, all coiled and tightly wound, ready for a turn in my saute pan. I cooked them in a bit of olive oil and crushed garlic, and finished them off with salt and spicy red pepper flakes. They have a wonderful crunch - similar to that of green beans - and a flavor a bit reminiscent of brussels sprouts (but not nearly as strong). They made for a perfect lunch.
Green Heirloom Tomatoes: I don't know the exact variety of these tomatoes, but they're among the first of the heirlooms making an appearance this season. Couldn't pass them by.
Result- Fried Green Tomatoes, of course: Sliced em up thick, dredged them in flour/egg white/panko, seasoned them with salt, then quickly pan-fried them with some olive oil until golden. Topped them with a sweet and spicy jalepeno pepper jelly. Delish!
Blue Velvet Apricots: That's right - these are not plums. They are apricots in a royal wrapper. Their skins are a deep purple blue, but the inside flesh is the same gorgeous orange color of regular apricots. No fancy plans for these babies other than to pop them right into my mouth.
Mushrooms Galore: They had fresh mushrooms in dozens of varieties. I carted home with me morels, porcinis, chantrelles, baby shiitakes, and the cutest little baby erynghi mushrooms you ever did see. I plan to make a funghi grilled pizza - stay tuned.
Oca Potatoes: Looking at this picture on my monitor, it doesn't really do these spuds justice. The reason I picked them up is because they were a striking, bright orange color. And by bright, I mean as vivid as a carrot. Their shape was intriguing as well....
Result- Smoky Oven-Roasted Fries: Cut the colorful spuds into thin wedges, dusted them with a combo of garlic powder, salt and smoked paprika, and then roasted them in a hot oven (400 degrees) until they were crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The taters didn't really keep their vibrant orange hue, but rather, mellowed to a color more akin to a yam (funny - some subsequent research tells me these Andean tubers are also called New Zealand yams). They had a really nice creaminess to them, and were surprisingly sweet and tangy - a great counterpoint to the smoky spice.