Fresh From the Farm – Katie Malich

Last week I stopped by the Tuesday afternoon Culver City Farmers Market around 5:30 p.m. It was already dark outside, but the market itself was well-lit and cheery. Pomegranates and persimmons were the “must haves” of my shopping list, and I was not disappointed.

Most of our farmers sell fuyu persimmons. They are the squarer, squatter kind (think of a solid slicing tomato) which can be eaten both firm and ripe. I find the smaller fuyu persimmons perfect for eating out of hand, and have been happy with the offerings at each of the stands I’ve tried this year. But if you’re looking for a giant fuyu persimmon, try the Arnett’s stand at the north east end of the market. They are useful if you are peeling and chopping persimmons for inclusion in salads or deserts.

You’re much less likely to find the heart-shaped hachiya elongated persimmons at markets these days. Make sure these persimmons are drop-dead ripe, or else you’ll find the immature fruit’s natural tannin will leave you with a funny, almost “fuzzy” astringent taste. When fully ripe, nothing matches the taste and texture of hachiya persimmons. A thin, waxy skin encloses a thick, jelly-like incredibly sweet fruit.

Both the fuyu and hachiya are cultivars of the Asian persimmon, which originated in China, not Japan as one might have thought. There are also persimmons native to America, Mexico, and the Philippines. The American persimmon, common in the Southern Atlantic and Gulf states, is much smaller than its Japanese cousins, and contains seeds. The Mexican persimmon is also called the Black Sapote. It has a green skin, and white flesh which turns deep brown and as soft as chocolate pudding when ripe.

My friend Fron introduced me to a lovely festive salad featuring the deep red of pomegranate seeds and the orange of fuyu persimmons tossed with green spinach. She called it a “Mexican Christmas salad.” I don’t know if it is authentically Mexican, but it is a beautiful and tasty antidote to the surfeit of holiday sweets we’ll be facing this season. If you are looking for salad which is both sweet and pungent, the watercress and orange salad my cousin Debbie introduced me to may do the trick. It goes great with turkey, beef and ham.

My friend Berta has been hard at work for weeks now with her holiday baking. She is part Italian, and is busy making panettones, Italian fruit cakes, for her extended network of family and friends. Panettone are growing in popularity here as well as in Italy, as they are much lighter and far less cloyingly sweet than traditional British style fruit cakes.

Watercress and Orange Salad
(serves 6-8)

2 small heads butter lettuce, or one large head oak leaf
2 bunches watercress
4 large navel oranges

6 T. lemon juice
6 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, pressed
2 t. sugar or sugar substitute
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. freshly ground pepper

Assembling this salad in a clear glass bowl makes for a stunning presentation. First, wash, drain, and tear the lettuce into pieces. Pat the leaves dry, if necessary, and place in a layer in the salad bowl. Wash and drain the watercress. Remove the large stems so you have small, tender sprigs and individual leaves. Layer the watercress on top of the lettuce. Peel the oranges, cutting off the white membrane with a sharp knife. I prefer to cut the orange skin and membrane away from the flesh in one step cutting a spiral starting at the top of the orange. Holding the fruit over a bowl as you “peel” will help contain any incidental juice. Slice each peeled orange crosswise, making thin slices. Remove seeds, if any. Cover the watercress with orange slices. Whisk all the salad dressing ingredients together. Pour dressing over the salad just before serving.

Mexican Christmas Salad
(8-12 servings)

12 c. fresh spinach leaves, carefully washed and dried
3 fuyu persimmons, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large pomegranate, peeled and seeded
optional; 2 avocados, peeled and sliced into wedges
optional: lime wedges and additional chile powder to taste

3 T. lime juice
1/2 c. oil
1 t. sugar or sugar substitute
1/2 t. salt, or to taste
1/2 t. ground pepper, or to taste
pinch Mexican chile powder

Whisk dressing ingredients together, and adjust seasonings if necessary. You can individually plate the salads, placing lettuce on each salad plate, and topping with persimmon slices, pomegranate seeds, and (optionally) avocado wedges. If using avocado, drizzle a little lime juice on the cut wedges to prevent them from browning. Alternatively, you can arrange the salad in a large bowl. Or you can dice the persimmons and optional avocado into inch dice and toss the pieces with the spinach, and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve immediately.

Berta’s Panettone
(serves 10)

1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 pkg active dry yeast
2/3 c. lukewarm water
3 egg yolks, beaten
3 1/2 c. high quality all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/2 c. raisins
1/2 c. chopped mixed candied peel
2 T. melted butter

Stir yeast and one teaspoon of the sugar into the lukewarm water. Let stand for 10 minutes or until frothy. Put beaten egg yolks into a large bowl and stir in the yeast mixture, salt and remaining sugar. Beat in 2 cups of flour and gradually beat in the soften butter, a little bit at a time. Knead in the remaining flour to make a dough. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead well until dough is firm and elastic. Place in lightly oiled bowl, cover, and leave in a warm place until it is doubled in size. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead in the raisins and candied peel. Place the dough in a greased 7 inch round cake pan, and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Leave the dough in a warm place until it rises to the top of the pan. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When the dough has risen again, remove the plastic wrap and brush the top of the dough with  melted butter. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and cook for an additional 20-30 minutes. Remove to wire rack. While still warm, remove panettone from the pan and brush the top and sides with the remaining melted butter. Serve warm or cold.

Culver City’s Farmers Markets are held on Tuesdays between 2 and 7 p.m. On Main Street between Venice and Culver Blvds, and on Saturdays between 7:30 and 11:30 a.m. at the corner of Slauson and Hannum in the northeast corner of the Westfield Culver City shopping center.

Katie Malich thinks globally and buys locally, thanks to our fine farmers markets.

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