Market Matters- Walnuts & Avocados

December is nearly gone. This was my last trip to The Hollywood Farmers Market this year. There are many more gems of the December harvest. I had hoped to discuss more of them here.

Alas, it shall not be!

So this week I am taking a shortcut. I chose two ingredients for my weekly Market Matters discussion.

In case you don’t know I go to the Farmers Market every week. I look for fun, tasty and seasonal (at least seasonal to So Cal) produce to use in my kitchen.

I could not let December pass without picking up some of the gorgeous walnuts grown here in California. But walnuts are not so unusual as a food item. You probably have plenty of inspiration about what to cook with walnuts! I doubt you need my help.

Of course, they are great in baked goods like cookies and cakes. I have even used them in scones and tarts. You could make a spread with a little honey. Glob it all over baguette slices and serve it with goat cheese.

Walnuts are great partners to so many cheeses. Gorgonzola and walnut is a classic combination. I have a recipe for a cheese terrine that combines these two tastes very well.

There are unexpected ways to use walnut too. Have you had walnut and ricotta stuffed ravioli? It sings with a little red bell pepper sauce.

What would a chicken salad be with out walnuts…see I knew you had some great ideas on what to do with walnuts.

December is also a great time for avocados. Now avocados may seem like an ingredient you are perfectly familiar with already. They are available year-round right in your local grocery store.

Well, that is true. The Haas avocado has found its way into the American food palate and it’s a fav to just about everyone.

Now I love the Haas, but it’s done a disservice to avocados in general. That is why I am also choosing avocado for my last Market Matters of 2008. But because of the shortcut, I described earlier I am going to pair it with some huge lovely December harvest California black walnuts in an avocado and chevre salad. Ohhh yummy!

I endeavor to pass along information in these posts with which you may not be readily acquainted. So I am choosing the Haas – underrated and little-known cousin the Bacon avocado. Its name has nothing to do with apple-smoked pork back. It’s just a coincidence that avocados and luscious smoky bacon go together like “a horse and carriage”. But it’s equally delicious with tomato and toast. Not that you could find a Bacon avocado and a decent tomato in the same month…

The Bacon (avocado) is a thin-skinned variety, smooth and elegantly shaped. It stays green and has a yellowy flesh. It is not as buttery as the Haas. It is native to Mexico and grows well in Southern California. Its firmer texture makes it a great choice for salad and sandwiches. It makes a rather dull guacamole, however.

Because of the popularity of the Haas, the Bacon is not usually found in the market and is typically only available during its naturally occurring harvest season. Which is winter.

Although it can never replace the Haas avocado completely in my book, and because I love the Haas I believe there are reasons to explore the Bacon avocados virtues.

One of these reasons must include our need to protect biodiversity. Modern growing practices and America’s insatiable appetite for homogeny in its food has left a lot of great varieties of food out in the cold. By preserving a wider agricultural gene pool there is a better chance at maintaining long-term food security. I am sure you have read about some nasty viruses that are literally wiping out whole species of fruit. Bananas and oranges are already falling victim. Who knows what the future holds.

This is one of the reasons I love the Farmers Market. So many of these varieties would simply disappear if left to the sole discretion of the big box store consumer. Sure you can save 4 cents, but that would be a shame. So look around your market. Demand diversity. Stretch your culinary wings…try an old favorite in a new variety. Your avocado loving great grand kids will thank you!



Greg Henry