Labor Day Farmer's Market Vegetables and Fruits

The farmer’s market is still awash with the bounty of late summer and though it was crowded with neighbors and friends, I was still disappointed.

The San Marzano tomatoes weren’t ready for harvest, “next week, we hope”  –but I’ve heard that before. Please God, just a hot day or two would do it.

But all was not lost. See that big golden red heirloom in the picture? It weighed in at about 1 1/2 pounds–turned out to be the best I’ve had this slightly disappointing heirloom tomato season–meaty with rich sweet flavor.

So what else is in the picture? The jar holds Rusty’s Farm Daly City Wildflower Honey. Yeah Daly City–don’t laugh, it’s delicious. The purple fingerling potatoes are for a salad and the heirloom, cuke and onion for another. Sweet white corn may end up on the Labor Day table. I’ll bake a crostata (open tart) with the yellow-purple Tulare Giant plums. The white Calimyrna, striped Panache Tiger and Black Mission figs were picked yesterday and are at their peak. The sesame braid and the rolls are from the Italian-French Bakery (Grant at Union).


You gotta grill on Labor Day right? Here’s the single plate menu.

A Jersey Italian Labor Day Plate

  • My burger mash-up inspired by Venice, Jersey diners and meatballs
  • Heirloom tomato cucumber salad
  • Italian purple potato salad

Venice and Jersey burger memories inspired me to grill my special burger and share this simple recipe for you to enjoy. You’ll never eat a dry, tough, tasteless burger again.

It was late as we made our way back to our Venice apartment. We were tired. There it was–a McDonald’s. No way I said but the crew was determined. I got the Il Mac on the controversial new McItaly menu. Leave it to the Italians to add something really good to the standard McDonald choices. Il Mac was a special grind of locally-sourced meat grilled topped with fontina cheese served on a specially baked local ciabatta roll with lettuce and tomato. It was delicious.

At diners in Jersey, such as Buff’s, White Castle, or the Short Stop you just tell them what you want—no special instructions. Cheeseburger? The counter cook with the dirty waist apron took a ball of ground beef and threw it on top of grilling onions. With a rap of his spatula he smashed the meat into the onions, some now in the burger some still frying on the grill. The burger was cooked through with a crispy crust covered by melted cheese and served on a poppyseed kaiser roll. I always had 2.

My burger recipe is inspired by Il Mac, Jersey diner burgers and my meatballs and has 2 special ingredients to keep the burgers juicy, tender and flavorful. I top the burgers with Italian fontina sprinkle on sauteed cipollini onions and serve the big juicy burger on a toasted soft rosette roll.

The accompanying tomato cucumber salad with diced onion and fresh basil is sprinkled with sea salt and EVOO. It marinates for a while to form its own dressing. The boiled purple potatoes just get some EVOO, parsley, shallot bloomed in a little red wine vinegar and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Il Big Mac Jersey Style


  • 1 pound 80 percent ground beef
  • 1 slice stale bread crust removed
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 clove garlic finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • sliced Italian Fontina cheese (or your favorite)
  • sea salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 onion

Cooking Directions

  1. Cut off the crust of the bread. Cut into cubes. Put it in a bowl with the milk. As the bread softens mash it with a fork to make a paste. This is a panada that Italians have always used to keep meatballs tender.
  2. Put the beef, panada, garlic, Worcestershire Sauce and salt & pepper in a big bowl. Mix gently to blend all the ingredients well.
  3. Saute the sliced onion in some EVOO and add a sprinkle of sea salt. Saute until the onion becomes translucent and begins to caramelize. Set aside.
  4. Put a cast iron grill pan on the stove over high heat or on your well heated gas or charcoal grill. (If you are cooking indoors as I did you can use a cast iron skillet or other frying pan. The caramelized crust on the burger from the flat pan is even better than the grill marks.)
  5. Toss a tennis ball size of meat between your hands. When the ball is firm loosely form a patty about 1 1/2 inches thick. With your fingers press down the center of the patty to ensure even cooking.
  6. When the grill pan is really hot toast the buns and set them aside.
  7. Put the burgers on the hot grill and reduce the heat to medium-high. Grill the burger to form grill marks--about 3 minutes or so. Turn the burgers over, top with the cheese and grill for 2-3 minutes more. You want the burger cooked well. To help the cheese melt put a cover over the burgers. (No worries the burgers will still be tender, moist and full of flavor without any potential bacteria danger.)
  8. Place the cheeseburger on the toasted bun and top with the caramelized onions.
  9. Serve immediately.
  10. Serves 4.

Gigi the Giraffe from Woolbuddy

Retail Update–Upper Grant is exploding with new shops. I finally got a chance to visit Park & Pond and Therapy (Grant between Green/Union). Park & Pond is loaded with “Goods from Near”. A few weeks ago Bay Area sisters Jessica and Abbey Herman realized their dream to open a business of their own. They decided upon this unique shop when they realized a coffeehouse was not for them. Lucky for us. The shop is full of artisanal goods–jewelry, stationary, ceramics, soaps– all produced within 100 miles of North Beach. I was in the back of the shop with my new friend Gigi Giraffe when I espied the NT salted chocolate dipped bacon caramels. We ate them immediately. These Nosh This chocolates from Kai Kronfield are delicious.  We left with some great Olivina soap and my personal treasure–NT’s Bacon Crack. I’ll be back here soon.

Therapy is just across the street. It features an interesting mix of goods from clothes to toys. It’s a fun shop. I was surprised to learn that Therapy is a small chain. How did it open in North Beach where chain stores with more than 11 outposts have been banned since 2005? The controversial ordinance is designed to maintain the unique character of our Village by keeping out businesses that you can find anywhere. Therapy has 8 locations scattered around the Bay Area. Welcome to North Beach Therapy! Happy to have you in the Village.

Coming up this week–my plum crostata and all-in-one-pan pork chops with crispy potatoes and vinegar peppers.

Belated Happy Labor Day to all–especially in this difficult and tumultuous year. Good food with family and friends will help you get through it.