Solving the Mariquita Mystery

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Success! I've picked up my Mariquita Mystery Box from Mariquita Farms near Watsonville, a supplier of specialty vegetables to some of San Francisco's most celebrated restaurants. The first thing I noticed as I neared the pickup location, which in this case was Piccino (801 22nd St.), was that it's not a box at all. Instead, it's a giant, heavy plastic bag with a lot more produce than I ever bargained on getting in one shot, which goes to show you how much value there is in buying direct from farmers.

I raced home to blog all about it, tearing into the container just as soon as I was able to haul it up the stairs and photograph it. And while my kitchen always has a relative abundance of produce in it, this bundle brought about such a tantalizing aroma of freshness and health to it that I had to postpone this humble writing duty in order to get started on the more important job of eating this bounty personally delivered to my city by the talented people who grew it.

A breakdown of the evening's loot includes adorable baby Russet potatoes, tentacly parsnips and Parisian round carrots, all of which soon took a sauna in the oven with some Filipino sea salt and black pepper. There's also purple, white and Minicor baby carrots, all in celebration of what Mariquita informs us is National Carrot Month; black Spanish and watermelon radishes; lettuces in baby and Amazonian sizes; collard greens, mizuna, Pan de Zucchero radicchio and curly parsley.

010820091709.jpg010820091705.jpg010820091708.jpgIt was most exciting to see a bag full of orach, the purple cousin of spinach featured in this week's installment of Mariquita's The Ladybug Letter, because proprietor Andy Griffin weaves a fascinating tale about how, despite its high nutritional value and hardiness to hot climes, orach is a rare find because of the high cost of the seed.

010820091712.jpgIts raw bitterness mellowed out considerably once it took a hot bath with some olive oil and garlic. I actually prefer it to the taste of cooked spinach, which makes it a bit of a shame that it might not be so easy to get again unless I can correctly solve another mystery in advance. And my roast of potatoes, round carrots and parsnips came out perfectly tender and full of flavor. I honestly feel better than I have all day, thanks to this infusion of goodness.

I've got enough veggies to play with for another week, and would welcome any suggestions on what else I can make with them (especially the radishes). -- Tamara Palmer

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