from the Napa Valley Register

by Greg Cole

Spring has sprung in the Napa Valley and the first two weeks of the Napa Farmers Market season are successfully behind us. The turnout for the first few markets has been great, and we’re pleased with the support for the later market hours and the return of live music.

Personally, I have had a whirlwind start to this year’s market season. For nine days before the first market I was in Barcelona and Granada with my family visiting our daughter, a third-year college student in Granada. We returned to Napa just in time for the first market. Thank you to everyone who attended. It was really nice to see familiar faces from past years and a market full of spring greens, delicious baked goods, artisan items, prepared foods and fabulous live music.

We rented an apartment in Granada with a large (by Spanish standards) grocery store down the street. I loved seeing different products displayed with prices in Euros, amazing fish, and an extensive meat counter with a wide selection of jamón Ibérico (Spanish ham) and beautiful produce. The produce section looked like our produce sections, but I quickly learned a lesson: Do not touch the produce with your bare hands!

Shoppers must wear plastic gloves when selecting produce, even fruits with thick protective skins like bananas and pineapples. Fortunately, I saw other shoppers using gloves, so I was able to avoid a scene. My family appreciates when I avoid a scene.

You select your bananas, put them in a plastic bag, weigh them on an electronic scale, print out a sticker and put the sticker on the bag. At the Napa Farmers Market, we are constantly striving to make our market as green as possible, so it was strange to see the mandatory use of disposable plastic gloves and plastic bags in the produce section.

The produce highlight of spring in southern Spain is definitely the fresh-squeezed orange juice from Valencia oranges. Unlike our California-grown Valencia oranges, these were actually grown in Valencia, on the southeastern coast of Spain. The juice was much less expensive than fresh-squeezed orange juice in California, as were many other food items. The squeezed-to-order juice was bright orange and unbelievably sweet.

Citrus is really one of the treasures of springtime in our area, and you can find several varieties at the Napa Farmers Market. If you attended my cooking demo at the market on opening day, you may recall that I made chilled asparagus with Cara Cara orange mayonnaise. All the necessary ingredients are still available at the market. Zuckerman’s Farm has amazing asparagus.

Farmers’ Market Cooking Demo: The cooking demo on Saturday, April 28, will feature chef Mauro Pando from Grace’s Table in Napa preparing Asparagus and Nasturtium Salad with a Crispy Egg. Mauro is a true friend of the market and one of our favorite local chefs. The demo he did last season of a chilled corn soup will go down as one of the most memorable of the year. Mauro can cook and he can really entertain. You don’t want to miss this one. The demo starts at 10 a.m. Recipes and tastes will be provided.

Farmers’ Market Kids Activity: Join us at the market on Saturday, April 28, at 10:30 a.m. for Earth Art. Kids learn about the environment from local partners. Join us for a creative art activity. All ages welcome.

The recipe I’m sharing this week is from the well-worn pages of my favorite cookbook, James Beard’s American Cookery. Using fresh oranges from our market, you can make icebox cookies dressed up with the addition of fresh grated orange zest — a great accompaniment for a dessert of Napa Farmers Market strawberries.

Orange Icebox Cookies

1 cup salted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

2 large eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment cream the butter on medium speed. Add the sugar gradually, then the orange zest, and beat until fluffy.

Sift together the flour and salt and add to the creamed butter mixture. Mix on low speed until just blended. Divide the dough in thirds and form into cylinders. Wrap tightly in wax paper and refrigerate until firm.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. With a sharp knife, slice the cylinders 1/8- to 3/8-inch thick. Place the slices on the baking sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes depending on the thickness. Transfer the cooking to a rack and let cool. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 4 to 5 dozen.

The Napa Farmers Market takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the parking lot of the South Napa Century Center, 195 Gasser Drive, Napa. The market participates in the Market Match program, doubling the value of CalFresh benefits purchasing power for all eligible food products. For more information or a schedule of upcoming events, visit

Greg Cole is the former chef-owner of Cole’s Chop House and Celadon restaurants. He is on the board of the Napa Farmers Market.