The Cream of the Crop

Incredible ingredients from the Farmers' Market lead to unforgettable New Mexico meals.

NEED TO KNOW
SANTA FE FARMERS’ MARKET
WHERE: 1607 Paseo de Peralta, near the intersection with S. Guadalupe St.; (505) 983-4098; santafefarmersmarket.com, farmersmarketinstitute.org. Southside market is open Tues. from July through Sept., 3–6:30 p.m., at the Zafarano Drive entrance to Santa Fe Place mall (off Cerrillos Rd.).
HOURS: Open year-round on Sat. from 8 a.m.–1 p.m., Tues. market from May through Nov., same hours. Farmers’ Market Shops open Sat. 8 a.m.–2 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Tues. 8 a.m.–2 p.m. May–Nov.
PARKING: Paid street and surface lot parking, and $1 market-day underground parking.

ALL AROUND THE COUNTRY, farmers’ markets have sprung up like mushrooms after a rain. Here in the high desert of New Mexico, the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market is over 50 years old, and has distinguished itself as one of America’s best. Some 110 vendors strong, the market spills out of its handsome pavilion onto walkways and plazas throughout the heart of the Railyard District, surrounded by throngs of up to 5,000 shoppers, often strolling with an apple cider slushie or a green chile–chicken tamale in hand. I revel in the chattering blend of English, Spanish, and Spanglish, and the live musical mix of bluegrass, marimba, and bluesy sax.

The scene is a photographer’s dream, a community party, and an inspiration for the city’s culinary pros. Chefs Matt Yohalem of Il Piatto, Andrew Cooper of Terra at Four Seasons Rancho Encantado, Mu Jing Lau from Mu Du Noodles, and Josh Gerwin of Dr. Field Good’s Kitchen are among the many who regularly handpick produce and other items for their menus. You might spot authors of award-winning cookbooks—perhaps Deborah Madison, Lois Ellen Frank, or, well, me—stocking up on the gorgeous offerings.

The market’s downtown location hums year-round, but no time is more colorful and flavorful than late August and September, which mark the nexus of high-summer crops, like sweet corn and tomatoes, with the beginning of fall’s best, too. Bushel baskets of green chile start to yield space to bright crimson pods. Cute scallop-edged summer squashalitos are mounded beside the first deeply lobed pumpkins, looking for all the world like a mini-parade of Cinderella’s coaches. Summer root vegetables, carrots and beets, are piled high by fat parsnips and alien-looking celery root, both at their very best when kissed by a touch of frost.

I like to stop by the small table of the very quiet man from Kewa/Santo Domingo Pueblo selling flour tortillas and puffy loaves of his family’s horno oven bread, perfect for French toast. By contrast, Matt Romero of Romero Farms is anything but quiet, a gregarious marketing wizard who somehow simultaneously manages to roast sacks of chile in a big gas-fired drum while sautéing his La Ratte potatoes and overseeing the market’s largest and most diverse stand at this time of year.

DEEP ROOTS
The market sprang to life in the late 1960s with a handful of farmers, encouraged by the League of Women Voters. The group gathered in a parking lot across from what is now Payne’s Nursery on the west side, where I found it when I moved to Santa Fe this time of year in 1980. The growers brought pretty much identical bushels of zucchini and green chile. I still purchase copious amounts of both each season, but today’s market incarnation offers hundreds of choices beyond those crops, and even the zukes and chiles can be found in a dozen eye-popping varieties.

The burgeoning market has become one of the most widely recognized and praised in the United States. Kudos come for many reasons, but first and foremost in my mind is that the market does not allow reselling. The people growing and harvesting are the same smiling folks you purchase from directly. That means you won’t find any pineapples here, though you will find pine nuts (piñones). Long before “local” was the buzzword, this was the epitome of the term, with items from northern New Mexico farms only.

Given drought and dirt that might be considered better as a building material than for growing, our farmers are nothing short of magicians—very hardworking magicians. Fresh vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, cheese, eggs, honey, breads and other baked goods, pasture-grazed poultry, grass-fed meat (lamb, beef, pork, bison, even yak), jams and jellies, nursery plants, herbal tinctures and treatments, and body and bath products all come from within 15 counties more or less surrounding Santa Fe. The processed foods, crafts, and items such as willow furniture also have to be created with at least 80 percent New Mexican materials.

Another reason the market is considered a national leader is its key role in bringing life to the heart of Santa Fe’s Railyard District. It’s hard to believe that a decade ago this neighborhood, just blocks from the Plaza, was underutilized and pretty much blighted. The market, through its nonprofit, tax-exempt Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute, raised $4.5 million in public and private funds for its building. Opened in 2008, the building was the first market pavilion in the country to be LEED-certified for ecological efficiency, with a Gold level certificate for its materials, lighting, water, and energy use. The structure’s combination of two-toned adobe-colored stucco with sheet metal both echoes the past warehouses of the Railyard and helped set a new architectural style for this section of downtown.

Among the retail enterprises is a charming collection of Market Shops, open during the market and selected other days too. Bob Ross’s Gardens sells well-curated garden accessories and unusual plants. Taste and purchase Vivác wines from the Dixon-based winery’s tasting room, or chocolates and other delectables from the ChocolateSmith, or high-quality loose-leaf teas from ArtfulTea. The market’s own shop sells global gift items. You can sit down in a petite café too, for an organic espresso or a small selection of farm-fresh foods.

Of course, the soul of the market, the reason for its very existence, is the remarkable collection of farmers and their kaleidoscopic produce and other foods. Many of the farmers are certified organic, but many others eschew that status because of certification’s expense and paperwork. Virtually everyone here grows by true sustainable principles—chemical-free—and holds a higher standard for their crops and livestock than many major corporations that purport to sell “natural” or “organic” produce.

Let’s meet a selection of top purveyors.

PAT MONTOYA’S FAMILY ORCHARD
The Montoya family’s core business is fruit—cherries, apricots, pears, but mostly apples. In spite of this year’s late freezes in the Velarde area, Pat and Juanita Montoya will have at least Red and Golden Delicious apples, as well as Romas, great for baking. No one is more enterprising with their apples. The family dries some of the crop for tasty snacking, and they turn trimmings from their trees into wood for the grill or barbecue. They sell cider, and turn it into the snow-cones carried by seemingly everyone on warm days, and heat it for sipping by the steaming cupful when temperatures fall. Daughter Victoria expects that they will also have 10 varieties of chile along with plentiful tomatoes and cucumbers.

MONTE VISTA ORGANIC FARM
David and Loretta Fresquez had successful careers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and still found time to farm several acres surrounding their La Mesilla home and other family property. The native New Mexicans began bringing produce to market in 1994. Now retired from the lab and devoted to farming full-time, David and Loretta are assisted by daughter Jennifer and cousin Brenda. I enjoy the family’s exotic array of pumpkins and tomatoes, their garlic, sweet onions, shishito peppers, and their raspberries, a succulent, sweet variety called Carolina. One of their more recent crops is Floriani Red Flint corn, which makes a deeply golden cornmeal flecked with burgundy. The corn was taken from this continent to Italy, then it pretty much disappeared here. In Europe, though, the corn became a staple for polenta, before being returned to the United States in recent years and grown once again. It is guaranteed to be free of controversial genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

TRUJILLO FAMILY FARM
Rose Trujillo has been with the market since its inception, and may be the market’s most senior farmer. The wiry octogenarian, however, can certainly beat me at hoeing a row and whipping up a tamale. She’s there every market day, aided now by three generations. The Trujillos offer one of my favorite fresh New Mexican chiles, already roasted and peeled, in season, and lots of salsas, dip and salad dressing mixes, and—oh yes—some very tasty tamales.

SANCHEZ FARMS
In his weekday life, Clyde Sanchez is a mild-mannered Española CPA. At the market, though, I think of him as the Superman of chile. I buy chile from several farmers from different areas, but in the last couple of seasons I have found myself buying Clyde’s most often. He sells chile fresh or pre-roasted, in green or red. With the pre-roasted, customers can choose from whole pods or pay a little more for it already peeled and chopped. Clyde has a half-dozen varieties of New Mexican chile, from the tame to the incendiary, as well as bell peppers, yellow hots, and jalapeños. All are available to taste on crackers before you buy. Clyde freezes a portion of the chile crop so you can purchase from him out of season.

OLD PECOS FOODS
Mike and Diane Jaramillo make high-quality mustards seasoned in Southwestern style. Diane actually made the initial green chile mustard at the behest of her father, who was a market vendor in the 1990s. These days, her husband, Mike, whips up the mustard and Diane jars it and labels it at their own commercial kitchen in Glorieta. My favorite of the mustards is the green chile, which outsells the others by three to one.

MR. G’S
Gary Gunderson, the “G” in Mr. G’s, farms with his wife, Natasha (pictured), in Medanales, just north of Española. The couple came here in 2001 from Kauai, where they grew ginger for Whole Foods nationwide. Much of their produce looks like it comes from lush Hawaii. Part of the Gundersons’ secret is that their acreage sits at a higher altitude than their surroundings, making it slightly cooler and just right for the many greens. Their crisp bulbs of fennel burst with anise flavor. I always make this an early stop in my market wanderings, because the line forms quickly and the Gundersons sell out much of their abundant supply early.

GREEN TRACTOR FARM
Like the Fresquez and Montoya families, the Dixons are a multi-generation farming clan. Mary and Tom Dixon were joined earlier this season by their daughter Rachel, her husband, Ned, and three-year-old granddaughter, Isabella. They farm together on property in La Cienega that has been in the family since Tom was about Isabella’s age. Top local chefs like Martín Rios seek out their many greens, tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupes, tiny turnips, French breakfast and daikon radishes, and other impeccable ingredients.

CAMINO DE PAZ SCHOOL AND FARM
The students at this private Montessori middle school in Santa Cruz get hands-on work experience with farming as a business and a communal enterprise. The school operates a USDA-certified Grade A goat dairy. The students bring to market their raw and pasteurized goat milk, goat yogurt, fresh cheese, feta, and cajeta, a delectable goat-milk caramel sauce. Because the students have a commitment to reducing plastic in the environment, their products are sold in reusable glass jars, for which customers pay a deposit. These kids and their products are great.

DE SMET DAIRY FARMS AND CREAMERY
When a farm’s animals all have names, it’s a pretty good sign that the critters are well treated. Erica De Smet rattles off the names of her 20 Jerseys, Holsteins, and a Guernsey with a smile on her face. “We have Bambi, Delilah, and Snooki. She’s a Jersey girl.” New to the market late last season, Erica and her husband, Michael, came to Bosque Farms, where earlier generations of Michael’s family had been in the large-scale dairy business. While working in Vermont, Michael and Erica saw small dairy farms where the cows grazed in fields, calves stayed with their mothers, and the milk wasn’t pasteurized, as Erica says, “to death.” They vowed that they would come here and open a similar operation. They sell raw cow’s milk, which is allowed in New Mexico if a dairy has its federal and state certifications. De Smet raw milk goes through what can be described as a cold pasteurization, bringing its temperature down to nearly freezing, which keeps its vitamins, probiotics, and other nutrients intact. I learned from Erica that many people who are lactose intolerant can drink this milk. (Traditional pasteurization turns lactase into lactose.)

THE OLD WINDMILL DAIRY
The market once had as many as four dedicated cheese vendors, but only the Old Windmill is in business today. That says something about the challenges of being an artisanal cheese producer. Owners Ed and Michael Lobaugh were put to the test earlier this season when a tornado touched down on their property in Estancia, completely destroying a barn. They are still making their fresh and aged cheeses from their own herds of dairy goats and cattle. They offer a rotating selection of cheeses, and some, like their mozzarella, are seasonal. Look for everything from squeaky fresh cheese curds to creamy chèvre to a crumbly blue called Manzano Blue Moon. Some weeks, they have freshly churned butter. Nothing’s more elementally scrumptious with a loaf of Cloud Cliff Bakery bread made from New Mexico wheat.

MOUNTAIN FLOWER FARM
It’s sometimes hard to spot Anne Sommariva this time of year. You’ll definitely notice her booth, but you have to look for Anne behind her effusive bouquets, strings of marigolds, and other gorgeous cut flowers. Vegetable authority Deborah Madison and I were chatting recently about Anne’s lovely produce, and how Anne offers selections that are often not available from other vendors. Deborah and I adore her celery root, a creamy tuber hidden inside a gnarly bulbous exterior. Deborah always comes to Anne for Costata Romanesco zucchinis, a distinctive Italian ridged heirloom variety, known for its excellent taste. I never miss the Alibi cucumbers or canary melons, which are about the size of coconuts.

Menu: Market to Meal
These recipes utilize some of the best Santa Fe Farmers’ Market products.

JIM HAMMOND’S WINE PAIRINGS
SHISHITO PEPPERS
There are three main choices: craft beer, white wine, and sparkling white wine. A Marble Pilsner would be a good starter, or the Marble IPA, with citrus notes and biting hoppy flavors, will work well into the next course.
LAMB CHOPS
The Vivác 2012 Nebbiolo V Series, with Pinot-like notes and firm tannins, is made for this dish. Vivác is the only local winery currently doing single-varietal Nebbiolo.
CORNMEAL CAKE
Don Quixote’s Calvados apple brandy is a serious after-dinner drink, but the magical kiss of apples will harmonize with this cake.

Jim Hammond is the author of Wines of Enchantment: A Guide to Finding and Enjoying the Wines of New Mexico (available at mynm.us/nm-shop).

CELEBRATE THE SEASON with recipes using market ingredients—but don’t feel the need to stick with a preconceived list of fixings. Try parsnips instead of carrots if they look or sound better to you. For a market-driven meal, combine a couple of these ideas, maybe the shishito peppers and the celery root soup (mynm.us/recipes914), and add a loaf of Cloud Cliff Bakery Nativo bread and a fresh tangle of greens on the side. The lamb dish would pair well with one of the ciabattas from Intergalactic Bread Company and a dessert of fresh berries. Don’t forget to stock up on plenty of green chile for the freezer after you’ve eaten your fill of it fresh, with just some garlic salt on a tortilla, as part of a breakfast burrito, in an enchilada sauce, or in calabacitas.

SIMPLE FRIED SHISHITO OR PADRÓN PEPPERS
Shishito peppers are something of a sensation at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market these days. Small green frying peppers, they are most simply sautéed and nibbled off the stem, just a bite of mild peppery goodness. Slightly plumper padrón peppers can be treated in the same fashion, but can be spicier. You really don’t need much of a recipe for this. Simply buy the quantity that you want and sauté them up as described. When I want to get more elaborate, I toss these with grilled shrimp and chunks of chorizo. Enjoy as a pre-dinner snack with a glass of wine or craft beer.
Serves 8 as an appetizer

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound shishito or padrón peppers
  • Lemon wedge, optional Kosher salt or coarse sea salt

Warm oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the peppers in a single layer and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes. The peppers will begin to darken and blister. Turn them with tongs or toss with a broad spatula, to color evenly. The peppers should soften before they start getting blackened. Turn down the heat a bit if needed. Remove from the heat and toss with a squeeze or two of lemon juice and salt to taste.

NEW MEXICO LAMB LOIN CHOPS WITH GREEN CHILE MUSTARD AIOLI
For an almost instant dinner, I always like to have some of the field-grazed lamb from Antonio and Molly Manzanares stashed in my refrigerator. The couple’s Shepherd’s Lamb, based in New Mexico’s northern high country, is certified organic (read more about them in “For the Love of Lamb,” p. 58, April 2012, mynm.us/sheplamb). If you can’t get to the Farmers’ Market, you can order their meat from organiclamb.com or pick it up at La Montanita Co-op in Santa Fe. Chef Matt Yohalem, longtime local farm-to-table champion, created the dish’s sauce, using market eggs, garlic, and chile. Matt serves the aioli with lamb or beef at his downtown Santa Fe restaurant, Il Piatto Italian Farmhouse Kitchen. I love the tang of the sauce with succulent lamb loin chops, the type that resemble little T-bone steaks. For the fullest flavor and juiciness, grill or sauté the chops no more than medium rare.
Serves 4

GREEN CHILE MUSTARD AIOLI

  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons chopped roasted fresh New Mexican green chile (1 fresh chile)
  • Zest and juice of
  • 1 medium lemon
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
  • ½ teaspoon ground dried New Mexican red chile
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

LAMB CHOPS

  • 8 grass-fed lamb loin chops, ¾ to 1 inch thick
  • 1 teaspoon ground dried New Mexican red chile Kosher salt or coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil spray or 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon high-quality extra-virgin olive oil

Make aioli up to several hours ahead of the meal: Combine mustard and egg yolks in food processor. With processor still running, add through the top chute the green chile, lemon zest and juice, garlic, horseradish, and red chile powder. Purée. With processor continuing to run, slowly drizzle in oil. When smooth and thick, add salt and pepper to taste. Feel free to adjust seasoning with a bit more lemon juice or mustard. Chill right away.

For lamb chops: Sprinkle chops on all sides with red chile and a dusting of salt and pepper. Spray with olive oil to coat on all sides. Let chops sit at room temperature 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, fire up a grill for a two-level fire capable of cooking first on high heat and then on medium. (Use the hand test to measure the grill’s heat. Placing your hand about 2 inches above the cooking grate, a high-heat fire will require you to pull your hand back and away from it within 1 to 2 seconds. With a medium fire, you can keep your hand in the same position without pulling it away for about 4 seconds.) Grill chops over high heat for 1½ to 2 minutes per side. Move chops to medium heat, turning them again, and continue grilling for about 2 minutes per side for medium rare. Rotate a half turn each time chops are turned for crisscross grill marks.

Alternatively, chops can be seared in a heavy skillet on stovetop. Warm skillet over high heat, then add 2 teaspoons olive oil and swirl around in skillet. Add the chops and sear for 1½ minutes on each side. Turn heat down to medium and cook to medium rare, about 1½ minutes more per side. Plate chops and season each with a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil, just enough to make them glisten. Add a spoonful of aioli to each plate or drizzle it over the chops. Serve immediately.

JENNIFER FRESQUEZ’S CORNMEAL CAKE
This tender almond-scented cake comes from Jennifer Fresquez, one of the family members behind Monte Vista Organic Farm, in La Mesilla, north of Santa Fe. I first met Jennifer when she was a student at UNM, coming back to help on the farm during school breaks. It’s been a pleasure to watch her mature from shy teen to confident young adult, a graduate not just of UNM but of the Culinary Institute of America. Jennifer makes this gluten-free cake with meal ground from the family’s Floriani Red Flint corn. The red-and-yellow-speckled cornmeal has a scrumptious toasted flavor and is free of genetic modification. Jennifer cracks eggs from her own chickens into the cake, too, and serves it with her own raspberries this time of year. Heaven!
Serves 6 to 8

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup Greek-style yogurt
  • ¼ cup full-fat ricotta cheese
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon orange or lemon zest
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup almond meal or flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine-ground sea salt
  • Fresh raspberries
  • Softly whipped cream

Preheat oven to 375° F. Butter a 9-inch springform baking pan or a 9-inch round cake pan. A springform pan allows for easier removal.

In a large bowl, beat butter until light and creamy, then add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in yogurt, ricotta, vanilla, orange juice, and zest. Mix cornmeal and almonds with baking powder and salt, and fold into wet ingredients.

Pour into prepared pan and bake 35 to 40 minutes or until set, golden brown, and just beginning to pull away from the pan’s edge. Remove from oven and allow cake to cool fully. Cut into wedges with a serrated knife and serve with berries and whipped cream. Wrap any remaining cake tightly and eat within another day.

Note: At altitudes lower than 5,000 feet, reduce the orange juice by 1 tablespoon and add an extra ¼ teaspoon baking powder to the recipe.

Read Cheryl Alters Jamison’s blog at nmmagazine.com/tastingnm. See more of Douglas Merriam’s work at douglasmerriam.com.

Celery Root Soup with Walnut-Celery Salad
No one writes with more passion and eloquence on vegetable cookery than my friend, Galisteo-based author Deborah Madison. This recipe comes from her James Beard award-winning Vegetable Literacy (2013, Ten Speed Press). I love the silky combination of humble celery and celery root, and the added crunch from the salad topping.
Serves 4 to 6

  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 celery root, about
  • 12 ounces 3 or 4 celery stalks with pale leaves
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme, or several sprigs of fresh thyme
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley, plus more to finish
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • ½ cup white wine Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 cups vegetable or chicken stock or water, plus more if needed Extra stock, milk, or cream for thinning
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, lightly toasted in dry skillet, and chopped Roasted walnut oil
  • 3 tablespoons finely slivered celery heart

Have ready a large bowl of water to which you have added the lemon juice. Scrub the celery root and slice off the gnarly skin. Cut the celery root into ½-inch cubes and immerse them in the lemon water as you work.

Trim the pale leaves from the celery stalks and chop enough to measure 1 tablespoon. Set aside the rest for a garnish. Drain the celery root and measure it. Chop the celery stalks and add enough to the celery root to total 4 cups.

Heat the butter and oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the celery and celery root, onion, thyme, and parsley, and cook until the vegetables take on some color, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, wine, and 1teaspoon salt and cook until the wine has reduced to a syrupy consistency. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to a simmer, cover partially, and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Puree the soup until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and reheat, thinning with additional stock, if needed. Mix together the reserved celery leaves, the walnuts, and the celery, toss with walnut oil to moisten well, and season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Spoon the walnut-celery salad on top, and serve.

Roasted Carrots with Chile, Mint, and Orange Glaze
Serves 6

  • 2 market bunches of long slim carrots (about 2 pounds), tops trimmed off
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt, or more to taste
  • Zest and juice of 1 large orange
  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Preheat oven to 375° F. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone (Silpat) mat or parchment paper for easy clean up.

If carrots are of differing lengths and thicknesses, slice them as needed to have them close to uniform size. Toss carrots with oil and salt. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast carrots for 15 minutes, until somewhat tender. While carrots roast, whisk together the orange juice, vinegar, and chile flakes. Remove baking sheet from oven, pour juice mixture over hot carrots and toss together. Return to oven and continue roasting until carrots are tender and juice mixture has reduced into a glaze. Timing will vary, depending on size. When ready, sprinkle carrots with orange zest and mint, and serve right away.