Earlier this month I spent yet another fun-packed week up in Napa visiting L and J, eating, drinking, and listening to music. When I rolled out of bed on Tuesday morning and heard that we were heading to the farmers market in downtown Napa, so we could return with our vegetables and get to Quixote winery for a 10 a.m. tour, I thought, well, OK, whatever, so long as there are snacks. But my casual attitude was totally blown away by the reality. The Napa market, located in a parking lot across from Copia, totally rocks, and not just because I was well fed in a single walk-through.
To start with, the vegetables are, as one might imagine, gorgeous and varied. One man was selling baby corn -- the size of the canned Chinese variety, but fresh and toothsome -- and paused from his reading of the new Harry Potter to give us samples. Later, L stir-fried these after I shucked them (lots of work for an astonishingly small pile of ears) and they were tasty but not mindblowing, although a good base for herbs or spices.
But it was the prepared items at this market that really woke both of us up, especially when handsome young men (L assures me they are different and even more handsome every week) offered us nonstop samples. Bolani, a Concord-based producer of "East & West Gourmet Afghan Food" has a stand that features bolani, which are flatbreads about the size of an extra-large flour tortilla folded in half over vegetable fillings. Along with these bolani, they sell a yogurt-based garlic/mint cheese and a variety of sauces, including cilantro pesto and many varieties of hummus. The young men spread the cheese and cilantro pesto on the spinach bolani; the combination of an assertive green flavor and the snap of garlic exploded in my mouth. Of course, I bought some of each and am using the cilantro pesto as a spread, a sauce, and a marinade. All items are available on their website.
Two more great sources at the market were Ridgecut Gristmills from Arbuckle, where I scored some stone ground cornmeal (they have a website, too, although I don't see the cracked corn there), as well as Humble Beginnings Napa Valley (no website yet), a family operation from Fairfield, where the dad and daughters made a very good case for their hot pepper jelly, which we ended up using to glaze the grilled duck breasts that evening.
Finally, I found nirvana, which foodwise often translates for me into The Products of the Pig: The Fatted Calf Charcuterie. Their Petit Jambon, a tiny ham about the size of a large fist, is flavorful but not oversalty, and has hundreds of uses, as I am working to prove. Their Mortadella is liverwurst-sized and tasty, although not so peppery as I would like. (I was thwarted in my mission to try the artisan mortadella at Dean and DeLuca in St. Helena by the snotty clerks who clearly thought that L and I were not worthy of their fine products -- ha!) The charming and much-tattooed Fatted Calf lad also had small dried sausages, like healthier Slim Jims, that were $1 and irresistible.
As you might imagine, I was practically overcome by the goodies at this market. But wait, there's more -- freshly roasted coffee beans, fresh eggs, and a tamale lady who gave us samples. Is there anything better than a tamale for breakfast at a farmers market in California? I don't think so.
Napa will be getting a higher toned, year-round location for the charcuterie and some other producers when the Oxbow Public Market opens this fall. But there's even more! Fatted Calf will sell Steve Sando's Rancho Gordo beans. If you haven't tried Steve's "New World" beans yet, by all means go to his website and wander around (his recipes are great). L and I visited Steve while I was in Napa and I picked up a variety of beans, including a new one called Pebbles that comes in multiple colors from the same plant. Steve, whose cookbook is in process, threw in some Mexican vanilla and his new "Gay Caballero" hot sauce, which I think he ought to be selling in West Hollywood.
Photo from Metin.Sozen via Flickr.