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A springtime star returns

FARMERS MARKET

March 28, 2007|Russ Parsons

Just in

Fava beans: In San Juan Capistrano, spring is heralded by the arrival of the first swallows. In Santa Monica, it's the first fava beans. One of the most popular of all farmers market vegetables, the fava has ascended to culinary stardom contrary to all reason. They're expensive (the first ones at Valdivia Farms are $3 a pound -- in the pod). And you have to buy a mountain to wind up with a molehill (it takes more than 3 pounds of pods to make enough for two respectable servings of beans). And then you have to peel them a second time to remove that fine pale skin that surrounds each bean. On the other hand, is there any taste that promises spring as much as that bright flash of green you get from a fava bean? The best way to enjoy favas is also the simplest. It's the old Roman favorite: Buy the smallest pods you can find (diameter, not length) and the beans won't need a second peeling. Then set them out raw with a bowl of moist sheep's milk feta cheese (fresh pecorino would be more traditional, but it is hard to find). As the season progresses, the beans will get larger and starchier and they'll need the second peeling and cooking as well. Braise those beans with bacon and cream -- and enlist a couple of kitchen workers to help.

Valdivia Farms, $3 per pound.

Peaking

Radishes: Markets are aswarm with radishes these days -- and for a very good reason: They're among the fastest growing of all of the vegetables (as any veteran of elementary school science fairs will surely attest). Radishes can go from seed to table in slightly more than a month. Farmers can plant them as soon as the ground warms and be selling them while other vegetables planted at the same time are just beginning to push up shoots. There are many different varieties of radishes at markets, including Icicle (pure white), Easter Egg (multicolored), and French Breakfast (white-tipped blushing to a deep pink at the stem). Radish varieties differ in how pungent they are -- Icicle and French Breakfast tend to be particularly sweet and mild. But radishes of the same variety can differ depending on growing conditions -- irrigation tends to cool them, sulfurous soils tend to heat them. If you're sensitive, taste before you buy.

Various vendors, $1 per bunch.

-- Russ Parsons

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