In March, when the pandemic put a stop to dining out, it triggered a second quake: the collapse of the local farm industry, which relies heavily on restaurant accounts. Josh Alsberg, owner of Rubinette Produce inside Providore Fine Foods on NE Sandy, did not stand idly by. The ebullient veg wrangler (known by the Instagram monikers @fruit.monkey and @rubinetteproduce) hunts down Portland-area small farms, learns everything he can about their most obscure crops, and displays the bounty in eye-popping clusters. Now, Rubinette’s Discovery Boxes—something like having a personal vegetable shopper—prop up many of the farmers who’ve lost revenue by selling their veggies directly to the produce-starved, quarantined masses. If, like the rest of us, you’re sick of hoarding tubers and frozen spinach, try Alsberg’s shopping list for the season’s wildest, must-have market finds.
Everybody is familiar with garlic and onions, but these spring alliums get harvested early. The bulb is only about the size of a silver dollar, but the flavor is tremendous. Then there’s calçot, a spring onion grown in Spain, where they have big festivals: all of the farmers will cart their onions into the middle of town and light the whole thing on fire. Everybody grabs a roasted one, squeezes it out of its shell, and dips it into romesco sauce.
So lovely, but hard to find. I haven’t seen purple asparagus outside of Oregon and Washington. It’s a mutation of the green asparagus. But when you do find it, it’s much sweeter, a bit more fragrant, and so much more eye-pleasing. If you boil or blanch any purple vegetable, it’ll turn back to green—the antioxidants leech out with the water. You can roast or grill it and it’ll keep that color—or shave it raw into a lemony salad. Season: Mother’s Day–June
Everyone is gunning for Hoods in summer; they’re the sweetest. But they have a short shelf life and growing season. “Everbearing” strawberries have three or four different harvest periods. The Albion is dense, almost crunchy for a strawberry, so it’s really great for slicing and fruit salads. The seascape, on the other hand, has a more dynamic flavor. It’s robust—rolls over every bit of your tongue and sings out loud. Great for fresh eating or cooking.
Golden and Rosé Raspberries
These raspberries have a bigger, earthier, more complicated taste than the common red ones and are a lot more eloquent than the ones that are grown in Mexico and shipped when they're still green. The paler the raspberries, the faster you need to eat them—the raspberry timeline here is incredibly short. Delicious over ice cream, cereal, or as a granola topping.
Season: Early June
Stick Cauliflower a.k.a. Fioretto
Picture broccolini with its long, thin stalks and tender heads, but cauliflower. The wedding-bouquet vegetable with sparkly firework-like florets is a recent varietal developed in Japan as a cross between traditional cauliflower and broccoli. It’s like cauliflower candy that you can eat all the way down to the end of the stalk. Spice it with turmeric and/or paprika and give it a sauté, and it will pick up the spice’s color.
Season: Mid to late June