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The dish: Top of the crops
Story by Julie Hession and
Photography by Brent Holmes
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Local. Organic. Sustainable. These are hot-button words in today’s culinary community. Sure, everyone likes the idea of eating locally and supporting the small specialty farmer, but when you live in Las Vegas, is that even possible? It is, with a little bit of effort — and some loose interpretation of the word “local.”
In many cities across the U.S., farmers markets boast vendors who produce within a 25-mile radius. If you’ve driven 25 miles in any given direction from Las Vegas, well … you get the idea. It’s not that we don’t have outstanding local vendors; we just don’t have enough local growers to supply a bustling farmers market with fresh fruit and vegetables. So, in exchange for trucks bearing a rainbow of seasonal produce, we’ve stretched our “local” descriptor a bit further to California and other neighboring states, bringing their farms to our tables.
In the past few years, the Las Vegas farmers market community has gone from non-existent to relatively impressive. Relatively. Those who’ve shopped at New York’s Union Square Greenmarket or the Santa Monica Farmers Market might brush ours aside as too small or inconvenient. But give us a break. Our markets may be small, but the quality and the variety are solid — and you’ll find an energetic vibe and passionate vendors who are proud of their products.
But when it comes time to break open your wallet, what do you buy? Here are our recommendations for the freshest, most flavorful eats, no matter the market.
Bet on the Farm Farmers Market
Started by dynamo restaurant partners Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich (B&B Bistro, Carnevino), Bet on the Farm Farmers Market has had a tough time finding a permanent home in Las Vegas. Their current location, requiring a bit of a meander through the Springs Preserve, is a good fit, linking farming communities and small producers with the Springs Preserve’s emphasis on sustainability and education.
I’ve long lamented that Las Vegas has no options for those interested in a community-supported agriculture program, so I was excited to meet the owners of Quail Hollow Farm, which offers customers a share of their local, organic and sustainable harvest. Starting Jan. 3 (perfect timing for that “healthy eating resolution” you intend to keep!), you get a weekly basket of seasonal produce, everything from buttercrunch lettuce to heirloom melon, delivered to eight locations around Las Vegas or picked up directly from the farm.
China Ranch is a family-owned and operated small date farm, located about 75 miles west of Las Vegas in the southern end of Death Valley. While tempted, I decided against their moist date nut bread and cookies in lieu of their specialty hybrid “China Ranch” dates, one of several varieties they sell. Plump, chewy and sweet, these dates begged to be wrapped in bacon and baked. (I regret purchasing only one container.) Bloomin Desert Herb Farm specializes in 50 kinds of organic and medicinal herbs and edible flowers. After chatting and sampling with owner Randy Gibson, I opted for their alder-smoked sea salt, which adds the perfect finishing touch to grilled fish, and their potent habañero sugar, which I sprinkle (sparingly) into hot cocoa. (Thu 10a-1p, Springs Preserve,
Downtown 3rd Farmers Market
Downtown 3rd is the newest addition to the Las Vegas farmers market community. Although its location in a bus station is certainly unconventional, somehow it works perfectly for Las Vegas. Its well-lit, domed interior is perfect for displaying vibrant fruits and veggies, and its long hallway accommodates both local vendors and sample-hungry customers.
My favorite find here was not a “what” but a “who.” As I took it all in — fleshy red, yellow and green heirloom tomatoes, delicate salad greens, fragrant herbs, fresh berries — Kerry Clasby, aka the Intuitive Forager (intuitiveforager.com), approached and enthusiastically pointed out her top picks. “Try this persimmon — isn’t it fantastic?” (It was.) “Have you ever tried a Mountain Rose Pink Apple?” (She cut me a slice; I bought three.) Kerry is the number one advocate for bringing produce she gathers from California family farms to Las Vegas, and she spends a good part of each week sourcing items for an impressive roster of discerning chefs on and off the Strip. (In other words, arrive early, or those shishito peppers you plan to grill will be gone.)
I have vowed to someday learn to make my own linguini, but after bringing home Parma by Chef Marc’s wild mushroom and butternut squash artisan pastas that he sells at the market, I think I’ll leave the task up to him. Make it a meal with his homemade sauces and meatballs, also for sale.
I rarely admit to finding a pesto better than my homemade version, but I have no problem giving Hydro Greens Fresh Hydroponic Herbs this accolade. Rather than being overpowered with garlic, basil takes the lead in their arrestingly fresh-tasting pesto. Bunches of the herb on display are as fragrant as they are bright green, reinforcing the importance of quality ingredients when creating a recipe.
(Fri 9a-2p, 300 North Casino Center Blvd., downtown3rdfarmersmarket.com)
Fresh 52 Farmers Market
Held on weekends at three convenient spots, Fresh 52 outdoor markets offer an array of products not limited to local and “semi-local” produce. Not only can you grab your strawberries and Gilcrease cider, but you’ll find handmade aprons, zucchini bread and kettle corn to keep the kids happy while you shop.
Described as the “Hummus King of Las Vegas,” Jarod Upham of 86’d Eats prepares a variety of dips in small batches for his growing legion of “hummus heads.” Flavors range from roasted garlic and herb to sun-dried tomato with cracked black pepper to the less common roasted red beet, which is quickly developing a cult following. Upham is more than willing to take ideas for innovative new flavors, but don’t suggest peanut butter and cookie dough — they were discontinued after lack of demand. (For the record, I would gone for the peanut butter.)
I happen to love jerky, but it wasn’t until I tried a buffet of Jo Jo’s Jerky samples that I realized I had eaten a lot of bad jerky. Varieties from mild Turkey Teriyaki to try-it-if-you-dare spicy “Hell on Earth” and (my personal favorite) carne asada are vacuum-sealed, ensuring a moist and very flavorful product. Buy at least two bags — you’ll go through it quickly.
The goods offered at Zuckerman’s Farm Fresh Produce (out of Stockton, Calif.) is always picked the day before being offered for sale. Perhaps this was the key to their flawless selection of green beans, which tasted so delicious raw I almost felt like it was an insult to cook them. Be sure to visit their booth from February to the middle of May, when their popular green, purple and white asparagus are in season.
(Starting Jan. 11, Fri 9a-2p, Whole Foods Parking Lot, 6689 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; Sat 8a-1p, Tivoli Village, 302 S. Rampart; Sun 8:30a-1p, Sansone Park Place, 9480 S. Eastern; fresh52.com)
Wild mushroom and thyme soup
Serves 8 to 10
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large shallots, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
10 cups assorted sliced wild mushrooms (I recommend shiitake, Portobello and oyster)
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 cup dry sherry
3 tablespoons flour
5 cups beef stock
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
Melt butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add shallots, onion, celery and garlic; sauté until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and thyme and sauté until mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes more. Add the sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has almost completely evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, mix flour with 3-4 tablespoons water, enough to form a smooth paste. Add to the mushroom mixture, stirring to blend. Slowly mix in the beef stock, stirring constantly, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until slightly thickened, 15 minutes.
Using an immersion (stick) blender, puree the soup until smooth. Alternatively, puree the soup in batches in a blender then return it to the pot. Stir in cheese and season generously with salt and pepper. Return the soup to a simmer for 10-15 minutes, allowing flavors to blend. Serve hot sprinkled with additional cheese.
Roasted Tomato, Arugula and Burrata Salad
3 cups Early Girl tomatoes, stemmed and halved
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 cups (loosely packed) baby arugula
10 ounces fresh Burrata cheese, cut into large bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.
In a medium bowl, toss tomatoes with 1/4 cup of the olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Roast tomatoes, stirring occasionally, until softened, 25-30 minutes. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and balsamic vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Add arugula and toss to coat.
Divide arugula among four plates. Top with roasted tomatoes and Burrata. Sprinkle salads with pine nuts and serve immediately.
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Also available at Clark County and Henderson libraries.