Food & Drink

Relish the radish: Making the most of Santa Cruz’s bounty in this soggy spring

a salad from La Posta Italian restaurant in Seabright
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Memorial Day is in sight, and with it the return of eating outdoors, protein on the grill and making stars of veggie-laden salads. Taking her cue from the “cook locally, cook seasonally” approach of Seabright Italian standby La Posta and delving into a pair of new cookbooks, Ashley Spencer offers some ideas and recipes to make the most of local produce even at a time when the effects of climate change on our food scene couldn’t be more apparent after a disastrous winter.


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Memorial Day, the traditional starting bell of the summer cookout season, will soon be upon us. The weather is warming up, the Scotts Valley and Felton farmers markets are open, and the table on our deck is finally drying out. After long months of rain that demanded soups, stews, comfort food and takeout, what I most crave is inspiration for the salad and grilling season. What we all need is adaptable recipes — climate change is on our plates this summer.

Gathering inspiration to cook is a happy task in Santa Cruz. I swung by Bookshop Santa Cruz for two new cookbooks and talked with local chefs, farmers and the doyenne of La Posta, founder and owner Patrice Boyle. Her beloved restaurant on Seabright Avenue embodies a primary Italian sensibility — cook locally, cook seasonally, and pickle or can the overflow. This mindset is particularly appropriate in Santa Cruz County, where fresh produce, seafood and pasture-raised meats have long been readily available year-round. But this year, climate change has flooded local fields, and three years of drought have posed a dire threat to the West Coast Chinook population, canceling the salmon season.

With the help of newly released cookbooks “Salad Freak” and “Horn Barbecue,” the yen to try out recipes and invite people over to sample kicked back in. I roasted radishes for the first time and made three salads with snap peas this week, leaning into ingredients other than little gems and arugula to round out the platters. They are both available, but not yet plentiful. I look forward to sampling black cod and Fogline Farm chicken on the grill, with salmoriglio or lemony marinade. We are expanding our list of go-to ingredients and flavor profiles, adapting as we must to change.


“We can’t dance, and it’s too wet to plow”

This farm saying has never been more appropriate than it is this spring. It suggests that the fields are too wet to work in and there is no time for frivolity, so we might as well get on with it. Our enthusiasm to scour the farmers markets for spring produce must be tempered with an awareness that this year, most spring crops will be at least a month late. Asparagus, arugula and lettuce are in short supply. We, the summer tomato-demanding public, must be patient and buy the produce on offer — we’ll learn to make magic anyway.

Blue Heron Farms baby lettuces.
(Via Kelly Brown)

Lori Perry of Blue Heron Farms, a 20-acre Corralitos organic farm known for its little gem and butter lettuces, carrots, kale, radishes and flowers, said she was “completely flooded from the sky” this winter. Most of the farm’s flower crop of tulips and ranunculus was lost. Perry estimates that the farm is two full months behind in planting due to waterlogged soil. It aims to be back to all local markets this week, with a limited selection of lettuce and carrots. Normally this time of year, Blue Heron would be abundant with kale, green onions, radishes and mixed bouquets. Similarly, Flowers at the Sea, a sustainable cut-flower farm near Moss Landing, has missed the entire spring growing season and is making do with the perennials that were already in the ground and survived. Owner Kaysea Cook is pulling together enough product for two (Westside and Live Oak) of the five markets her farm usually supplies, with hopes to get back to all of them by June.


Spring recipe roundup

And so we will embrace radishes, heralded by “Salad Freak” author Jess Damuck with a bit of timely wisdom: “I love them mostly because they grow so fast, and they keep me entertained and hopeful until everything else begins to catch up.” The spring section in “Salad Freak” showcases radishes and more — every recipe I tested was stunning, simple and delicious. These standouts are tailored to Santa Cruz produce at this exact moment (click the link to jump to each recipe): roasted little potatoes and radishes with chive butter and peas and prosciut (not a typo). Grab this cookbook; Damuck’s recipes are easy to make, innovative and wildly well received.

Jess Damuck's cookbook "Salad Freak."
(Ashley Spencer / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Chef Rodrigo Serna of La Posta, known for his flair with fresh produce, suggested a range of spring crostini: fava beans and parmesan, figs with ricotta, and pesto and burrata to show off this season’s best. He has been working with Boyle since 2006 when he came to work at downtown Santa Cruz’s Soif as a dishwasher. She lauds his light touch aesthetic and keen sense of flavor: “He doesn’t look for big food, and his palate is quite amazing.” They share a clear perspective; La Posta delivers Italian food through the lens of the Santa Cruz farmers markets, sustainable farms and fisheries. When it comes right down to it, Boyle’s approach to food is interwoven with her passion for Italian wines that tell a clear, well-grounded story about where they are from and how they are made. Her deep faith in local farmers and suppliers determines what shows up on the restaurant menu each night; vendors deliver best in season and Serna coaxes a subtle, delicious highlight from each. Curious about what produce is at its peak this week at the farmers market? Check out the La Posta menu here.


What? No salmon?

We will miss versatile, plentiful salmon this season. Serna uses black cod, grilled or roasted, as a versatile, similarly fatty alternative. It is local, highly sustainable and full of omega fatty acids. He pairs it with a simple salmoriglio sauce, this version made wildly popular by Marcella Hazan. Chef Emily Beggs of Kin & Kitchen is using spot prawns from H&H Fresh Fish as a sustainable alternative to salmon, grilling them on kebabs and adding a chunk of feta at the last moment. Showered with a bit of lemon juice, flaky salt and whatever herbs are to hand, this is an easy, crowd-friendly solution, and, as she wisely points out, “Food on sticks is always fun.”

Plating chicken from Fogline Farm at La Posta.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Chicken came up as a popular protein to grill in every conversation. Interestingly, everyone I spoke with mentioned chicken and went on to point out that they use only one supplier: Fogline Farm. Boyle remembers a time when Fogline Farm didn’t supply chicken in the dead of winter, so La Posta took it off the menu. Chicken simply wasn’t in season. Production has ramped up at the Año Nuevo-area farm to make Fogline’s larger range of products available year-round (downtown, Westside, Scotts Valley and Live Oak markets). Serna uses a simple lemony marinade for roasting or grilling.

Caleb Barron, owner of Fogline Farm, notes that the pandemic saw a huge increase in demand at the farmers markets, which he hopes will continue this summer. “I’m grateful that customers have been fine with price increases due to feed and fuel increases,” he said. “We are just working to raise the best chickens we can, and be a positive part of this incredible food community.”

Breakfast at the Westside farmers market to vino with a view to dinner al fresco in Boulder Creek and Soquel, summertime...

Looking for something a little more traditional in the way of barbecue? Matt Horn’s eponymous “Horn Barbecue” cookbook is full of luscious pictures, no-nonsense advice and a straightforward approach to great results. I have no patience for recipes that require overnight basting, demand a fancy smoker or call for half a pig to be wrestled into the backyard. Horn offers real-world food with flair and practicality — and he’s a chef from Oakland. I highly recommend, as a starting point, his recipe for tri-tip rub.

Over the past two weeks I have talked to a dozen people about farming and flood recovery, late harvests and summer menus. Without exception, people are grateful for the quality and variety of ingredients, as well as the tight-knit network of support that thrives in Santa Cruz County. We are an adaptive, creative food community and will continue to evolve together as the weather dictates and in hope that the effects of climate change can and will be mitigated by collective effort.

Bring on the radishes.




Roasted Little Potatoes and Radishes with Chive Butter

Roasted little potatoes and radishes, prepared according to the recipe in "Salad Freak."
(Ashley Spencer / Lookout Santa Cruz)

From “Salad Freak” by Jess Damuck

  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
  • 2 bunches radishes
  • 1 pound small new potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons high-quality unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Make the chive butter by mashing 2 tablespoons of chives with the butter and salt and pepper to taste. Trim the radishes and cut them in half, along with the potatoes. Place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes, stirring around about five minutes in as the butter melts. Serve sprinkled with the remaining fresh chives, flaky salt and pepper.


Peas and Prosciut

Peas and proscuit salad, prepared according to the recipe in "Salad Freak."
(Ashley Spencer / Lookout Santa Cruz)

From “Salad Freak,” by Jess Damuck

  • 1 pound fresh English peas (shelled one cup; it’s OK to use frozen peas)
  • 1 pound sugar snap peas
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 handful roughly chopped fresh mint
  • 1 handful chopped fresh dill
  • 1 cup fresh or store-bought ricotta
  • 5-6 thin slices of prosciutto

Cook the fresh peas in a pot of heavily salted, boiling water for two minutes and transfer immediately to a bowl of ice water; cool, drain and dry on a paper towel. De-string and cut the snap peas on the bias and thinly slice the scallions, including tender green parts. Heat a skillet, add a glug of olive oil, and cook snap peas without stirring to get a little color on them; add scallions, kosher salt and pepper, and stir for two to four minutes until crisp-tender. Zest a lemon over the pan and juice half of it. Stir until incorporated and transfer mixture to bowl with the cooked peas. Use the same skillet to fry the prosciutto, about one minute a side. To assemble: Spread a cup of ricotta on a platter, season with kosher salt and pepper, toss mint and dill with the pea mixture and arrange over the ricotta. Top with crispy prosciutto and flaky sea salt, as desired.


Crostini with seasonal toppings

Chef Rodrigo Serna at work at Seabright's La Posta.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

From Rodrigo Serna of La Posta
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut up a baguette into quarter- or half-inch-thick slices, brush with a little olive oil on both sides, sprinkle salt on top and bake for about five minutes on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Flip and repeat until golden.

  • Fava beans: Shell, blanch, peel and cool a pound of beans. In a bowl, mash them up with a tablespoon of olive oil, a minced clove of garlic, salt, pepper and the juice of half a lemon juice, or to taste. Serve on crostini with a little shaved parmesan or pecorino cheese on top.
  • Figs are coming! Cut them in half and sauté face-down in a sliver of butter, or sear them on a grill. Serve room temperature on crostini, on top of a swipe of ricotta, and a few leaves of arugula, garnished with a drizzle of balsamic and flaky sea salt
  • Basil pesto: 2 cups basil leaves, 2 tablespoons pine nuts, 2 cloves garlic, process until fine, drizzle in half-cup extra-virgin olive oil with the motor running, then and add half-cup freshly grated parmesan, mix just to combine. In a shallow bowl, serve a bed of pesto with a ball of burrata on top and crostini arranged around.



From Marcella Hazan

  • 2 tablespoons thyme leaves
  • 1½ tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Combine in a small food processor or blender to make a paste, then add a pinch of salt and the unsalted butter; process until smooth. Add the olive oil in a steady stream to emulsify. Set sauce aside and serve with grilled or roasted fish or chicken.


Lemony marinade for chicken and fish

From Rodrigo Serna of La Posta

  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 4 teaspoons ground fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon paprika,
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper

Combine all ingredients and marinate for at least an hour (chicken) or 15 minutes (fish).


Rub for tri-tip

Matt Horn's cookbook "Horn Barbecue."
(Ashley Spencer / Lookout Santa Cruz)

From “Horn Barbecue” by Matt Horn

  • 2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
  • Olive oil

Combine dry ingredients. Rub a 2-pound tri-tip with olive oil and apply the rub all over. Note: Horn offers clear instructions about how to smoke the meat, which can also be grilled, or baked in a 375-degree oven for 40-50 minutes.