Veggie of the Week - Avocado
sponsored by Coleman Farms
Ask a California Roll and it will tell you "No fruit says 'California' like the Avocado". It's late now for the main crop of local avocados, which come on stream late September or so and run for six weeks to a couple of months. These fruit are the Hass variety, which accounts for about three quarters of California commerical production. As their tide recedes, you'll be more able to spot other varieties, such as the Reed, Zutano, Fuerte and Bacon, which have different seasons (which are mirrored six months later, since the trees generally produce a secondary crop).
For several reasons having to do with marketability - appearance, slow ripening, ability to endure the rigors of shipping - the Hass has pushed these other varieties aside in the last thirty years or so. They are still grown, but in relatively small numbers, and some, like the Bacon, don't ship at all well, so the Farmers Market, with local produce often grown by cultivar collectors, is the perfect place to look for them.
If you like Avocados at all, it's worth trying the minor varieties. It's a bit like wine or cheese - they're all recognizably avocados, but there are differences, both fairly major and in nuance, that distinguish them one from another. For example, the Hass is a very rich fruit, about as rich as Camembert cheese, and the richness in any quantity can be overpowering. A Bacon, on the other hand, contains much less oil, so the flesh has a less spreadable consistency, but it will not overwhelm the palate with richness, and the flavor is 'brighter', with hints of leaves and grass that you won't find in a Hass. If you want avocado as accent, in a salad or sandwich, then Hass is a good choice; if you want an avocado sandwich, you can fill it with half a Bacon, and no regrets.
As the California Roll suggests, Avocados are open to almost any culinary proposition. They're generally thought of as something to eat raw - on their own, in salads or sandwiches, or whatever, but they're excellent in cooked dishes: I've made quiche and fritatte including avocados. I've never tried it, but suggest Avocado souffle. Avocados combine well with nuts and cheese, and all sorts of vegetables, fresh or cooked. Because of their richness, they can substitute for other oily things - butter or cheese, say - in sandwiches and as a condiment or dressing: try a baked potato garnished with wedges of avocado and lightly toasted walnuts (and crushed chile, salsa or Tabasco sauce, if you like that). This time of year, you might try a sweet instead of a white potato. A warm salad of broccoli florets topped with diced avocado and pineapple might also be worth a try.
If you love the Hass avocado, you needn't feel bereft because they've pretty much left the market for now. Keep a look out through the Winter for the minor varieties of avocado (some so minor they're not on our reference pages), which will pop up here and there for a few weeks at a time at different vendors.