PHOTO by MATT FUKUSHIMA
A quick chat this week with Russ Parsons, the L.A. Times writer and author of How to Pick a Peach. Parsons (previously profiled by the District here) will be serving up some sagely advice at this weekend’s University by the Sea. Only a couple quotes could be squeezed into the piece, so hit the full Q+A after the jump.
What fall produce are you most looking forward to? What is the best way to pick it?
This is such a tough question because it depends on what part of fall you’re talking about (the late-summer, tomato, eggplant and fig fall) or the early winter (the apples, pears and winter squash fall). It also depends on how I’m feeling that particular day and what looks good at the market. I’m notoriously promiscuous when it comes to fruits and vegetables. I even love cauliflower when it’s prepared well. That said, when it comes to selecting produce, there are all kinds of rules and tips, but most of them come down to taking an extra minute to look closely and then buying what looks and smells best.
Is there another frontier that needs to be crossed (other than eating locally/seasonally) before the American kitchen returns to a more natural state?
I think the main “frontier” that needs to be crossed is the realization that good food is something that you can enjoy three times a day; it’s not something that should be reserved for the once-a-week dinner out. If you shop well, good cooking is really easy and incredibly rewarding.
How much of a role do you think fuel prices will ultimately play in turning Americans (and us here in LA, more specifically) back onto local and seasonal cooking?
I’m not sure fuel prices are going to have that much impact on us here in Southern California, particularly in the short run. Most of the fruits and vegetables we get, especially in the winter, come from fairly close by (Central Valley and Northern San Diego County produce a lot). I think meat may become more expensive, not just because of fuel to carry it from the Midwest, but because of the fuel-related costs of feed, etc. So maybe the main impact will be eating less meat, but hopefully better meat.
What advice do you have for those who might find the local/seasonal transition overwhelming?
My advice would be not to obsess over it too much. Cooking and eating should be pleasurable, not punishment. Go to the farmers market as often as you can to learn what’s in season and wherever you’re shopping, buy what looks best – that’ll put you pretty much on the right track. Also, make an effort to try one new fruit or vegetable every month. So many of the problems we face in food today stem from the mindset of “I like strawberries, so that’s the only fruit I’m going to eat.” That’s how we’ve wound up with the sorry state of strawberries we have today.
What is your most essential autumn dish? Why?
That’s another incredibly hard question to answer. Roast meat, braises and stews, gratins … I really look forward to all of them. I suppose if I had to choose one dish, I’d choose braised greens (mustards, kale, collards, chards, etc). That’s a bit of a cheat because it can be adapted in so many different ways – you can serve it as a side dish, you can cook it with more broth to make a soup (really good with some rice in it for body), you can use it as a pasta sauce or even folded with ricotta as a filling for a savory tart. On the other hand, there’s dried beans … mmmm.