Farmer’s Market Shopping With the Chef Tom Colicchio



A stand for Lani’s farm from Burlington County, N.J., quite literally had a field of greens, including chrysanthemum greens (a staple of Chinese hot pots), komatsuna (Japanese mustard greens), and so-called Chinese broccoli (which had flat leaves that look more like smooth kale).

I sensed a theme. “It’s a season for greens, not just greens for a salad, but greens to cook,” he explained, pointing out a stack of wild dandelions. Mr. Colicchio would sauté them in butter or olive oil with garlic and then toss it all with pasta for a weeknight dinner.

As he kept an eye out, he seized on a container of broccoli rabe flowers, which have yellow petals that are not only edible but delicious. He nibbled as he went, beheading a kale flower while explaining that they taste sweeter than their namesake.

Later, he found one of his favorites: fresh chamomile. “Typically, you think chamomile, and you think tea,” he said. “This is kind of sweet, not really sweet like sugar, but really floral.”

They look like miniature daisies. After he’s braised a fish, Mr. Colicchio said he likes to break up chamomile flowers over it, yellow centers, white petals and all. “You get this beautiful floral flavor,” he said. Or alternatively, put them in vinaigrette.

“You’ll only find this stuff at a farmer’s market,” he said.

There are certain things Mr. Colicchio can’t get enough of: Beets, Swiss chard and mushrooms. “They all taste like one thing,” he said, a smile crossing his face. “They taste like dirt. They taste really earthy.” It reminds him of making mudpies as a kid and sneaking a little taste. “It just kind of sticks with you,” he said. “For me, I love those earthy flavors.”

At the Farmer’s Market with Tom Colicchio

He also had strategic advice for home cooks who want to get the most out a farmer’s market. First, do a walk-through to see what’s on offer to avoid getting overloaded. Mr. Colicchio, who has campaigned against food waste in recent years, is a firm believer in buying to cook for that night’s dinner, instead of purchasing a couple days’ worth of produce.

For those lucky enough to live in areas with several regular markets, that’s an option. “Put it into your routine, on the way home from work, hit the farmer’s market and get what you need for the night and then you don’t have to worry about storage.”

And on the weekend, bring the kids. “Bring them to a farmer’s market with you and show them what a ramp is — then it almost becomes their idea.”

It’s something my parents neglected to do (Are you reading this, Mom?), but it’s not too late for the generation coming up.

“I have a 6-year-old and a 7-year-old,” Mr. Colicchio said, explaining that the youngest “will not eat unless it’s his idea.” But he said, “If I bring him shopping and he chooses everything, then he’ll eat it.”

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