Monday, January 9, 2012

Winter Farmers Markets

Yes, we are having some crazy warm days for January. But it’s always at this time of year when I start to feel a little “food envious” of those in more temperate climates who enjoy year-round local produce. Unless we have spent a large portion of the summer months stocking the pantry and freezer, we in Massachusetts are not able to live 100% locally all year and still enjoy variety in our diet. But things are getting a bit easier with the proliferation of winter farmers markets. A few years ago farmers markets didn’t go past November — this year there are 30 winter markets operating around the commonwealth. Arlington doesn’t have its own winter outlet, but there are several choices nearby. 

The Cambridge winter market boasts a large number of vendors and live music. Somerville has a market in an old Armory building on Highland Avenue, and Woburn has its winter farmers market at Spence Farm. Several communities house their winter markets in local garden centers (a creative repurposing of space in the fallow months): Russell’s Garden Center in Wayland has been hosting a winter market for a few years and Mahoney’s in Winchester is starting up a winter market on January 14.

I went to Wayland this past weekend in search of ingredients to make a big pot of some kind of stew, and I found them. Carrots, potatoes, onions, apples, hearty greens, and root vegetables were plentiful. I splurged on some locally raised beef short ribs, and found a mix of organic salad greens. I decided to turn my ingredients into a pasta sauce when I found fresh spinach tagliatelle. But for the meat, the cost was comparable to shopping at the grocery store for similar items. 

A number of vendors are offering ready-to-eat products, like granola, baked goods, jams, but the longest lines by far at Wayland were at the fresh produce stands. It’s clear that we Northeasterners are craving our veggies. Almost all of the winter markets are open for business on the weekends. The vendors are different at each market and in some cases vary weekly. Check Mass Farmers Markets for specifics, and get out there and hunt for some local goodies!

My Winter Market Ragu

3 lbs bone-in beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
2 28 oz. cans diced tomatoes, plus more if needed
½ bottle red wine of your choosing
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 lbs carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 lbs potatoes, cut into one inch pieces
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy pot (like a Dutch oven), over medium-high heat, brown the short ribs on all sides. Remove ribs. Drain off excess fat, and add onion and garlic to the pan. Stir onion and garlic until they begin to brown, then add wine to the pan to deglaze. Add tomatoes, and return the ribs to the pan. If the ribs are not fully covered by liquid, add more tomatoes and/or wine. Add bay leaves, and bring the liquid to a simmer. 

Cover the liquid directly with parchment, and put the lid on the pot. Braise ribs for a minimum of two hours until meat is tender and falling off the bone (disclosure—I left them braising for six hours while accomplishing a number of post-holiday errands, and they only got better). 

Remove ribs from the pan, and bring the liquid to a boil. Add carrots and potatoes, leaving the pot uncovered. Cook vegetables until tender, about 30-40 minutes. At the same time, the liquid will be reducing until thick. If the liquid reduces enough before vegetables are done, put the lid on to finish the vegetables.

While the vegetables are cooking, take rib meat off the bones and shred with your hands. When vegetables are done, return the meat to the pot, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over your choice of pasta.