Early summer is an exciting time at Baja Arizona farmers’ markets. Hardier greens and root vegetables will continue to be available from farms located at higher elevations, while farmers growing in lower elevations start bringing warm weather crops to market. Alex Atkin from Tucson Village Farm, located in central Tucson, says, “In May and June we harvest the onions, garlic, and potatoes that were planted in the fall last year. Squash is one of the first summer crops to appear, along with cherry tomatoes, followed a bit later by larger slicing tomatoes, basil, and small sweet peppers like the Jimmy Nardello.”
Early summer is a good time to get tomatoes at local markets, as most tomatoes don’t produce during the hottest months of the year here. “Some of our cherry tomatoes continue to set fruit through the summer, as well as a few varieties of desert adapted tomatoes from Native Seeds/SEARCH,” says Atkin, “but most tomatoes stop producing during the hottest months of summer.” Tucson Village Farm is primarily a demonstration farm, offering educational programs for Tucson kids. In June, during their summer camps, kids harvest some of their own produce. This year, the farm has doubled production; when surplus produce is available, the farm offers a U-pick market on Tuesdays from 5 to 7 p.m. If you want to harvest your own tomatoes and other delicious summer veggies in a beautiful (and partially shaded!) farm, visit Facebook.com/TucsonVillageFarm.
For many cooks, garlic is a kitchen staple, used year-round. Luckily, garlic stores well, and decent garlic is available at local markets for much of the year. But in the spring, local garlic is hard to come by; so when garlic returns to our farmers’ markets, as it does in May, it is an occasion to celebrate. Nearly all of the mature garlic harvested in Baja Arizona is pulled from the ground sometime in May or June. After garlic is pulled, it needs to cure for a couple of weeks before it will be available at market. “Curing garlic helps to move sugars from the leaves down into the bulb and dries the stem and papery skin to ensure proper storage,” say John Rueb of Forever Yong Farms, who cures his one and a half acres of garlic in bunches hung in the shade. “Our hot, dry southern Arizona climate is ideal for curing garlic,” he says.
Garlic can be divided into two main types: softneck and hardneck. Hardneck garlic generally has large cloves that are easier to peel. Softneck varieties have tighter skins and thus store longer. Local farmers grow a wide variety of garlic adapted to our desert climate. Ajo rojo garlic is a particular favorite with local farmers. This creole garlic, a distinct variety of hardneck garlic, is prized for its hot and sweet flavor. Ask your farmer to help you choose a variety, or experiment with several types. Roasting is one way to celebrate the abundance of garlic this season and is perfect for softneck varieties which are more difficult to peel.
To roast garlic, rub each bulb with oil and wrap in foil. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. When garlic is cool enough to handle, slice off the stem and the top ½-inch of bulb to expose the inside. Pinch the bottom of the cloves to easily squeeze out the roasted flesh. Since roasting mellows the flavor of garlic and intensifies the sweetness, you can use what seems like an absurd amount in a variety of dishes. Blend an entire head of garlic with 6 ounces of chèvre or cream cheese for a delicious dip. You can use roasted garlic to thicken sauces and gravies, season mashed potatoes, and add depth to stews.
Shopping at local farmers’ markets this time of year can make meal preparation a breeze. When you start with fresh, ripe produce, simple recipes are sometimes the best.
Lightly steamed asparagus, green beans, and new potatoes, along with slices of fresh tomatoes and cucumber are great served with fresh garlic aioli or bagna cauda sauce for dipping (use roasted garlic for extra flavor). These veggies lend themselves to an easy sandwich, salad, or pasta.
May and June also mark the beginning of the summer fruit season. Apricots, raspberries, and blackberries make a brief appearance, followed by peaches, plums, and the earliest melons. A combination of fruits and vegetables will make for an interesting sweet and savory salad, which is especially delicious garnished with fresh mint or basil. Stone fruit like apricots and plums are perfect sliced and topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream. Galettes, free-form rustic pies, are perfect for highlighting the freshness of the season. You can use a pie crust dough or pre-made puff pastry as the base for sweet and savory galettes.
Simple and delicious, making pan con tomate is the perfect way to savor the arrival of tomato and garlic season. Just make sure you use the best quality ingredients you can find. You will need crusty bread and a very ripe tomato. This typical Spanish breakfast is great served with a few olives and some feta cheese. It is also great as an appetizer or served with soup or salad for a light lunch.
The ridged Costata Romanesco zucchini are ideal for this recipe, but you can use any long straight squash available, ideally under eight inches long. These rolls can be made with either very thin slices of raw squash (use a mandolin or vegetable peeler) or ¼-inch thick grilled slices. ✜
Sara Jones is a longtime employee of the Tucson CSA.