Farmers Market Primer

Shop like a chef, with a little help from Sanford Restaurant owner Justin Aprahamian.

Summer’s bounty of produce is like no other season’s – lush, vibrant and heady. And what’s available comes in cycles through the course of the season. How does one best take advantage of this time of fleeting freshness? Sanford Restaurant’s Justin Aprahamian, a strong proponent of cooking seasonally and locally, is an avid farmers market patron. He makes weekly visits to the West Allis Farmers Market (6501 W. National Ave.) and meticulously plans how he will utilize each ingredient he buys.

Aprahamian has market know-how to spare. Here he shares strategies for maneuvering through the market stalls, tips on what to look for in specific summer months, and ways to incorporate the ingredients into a meal. The West Allis market – open May-Nov.; Tues-Thurs 12-6 p.m. and Sat 1-6 p.m. – keeps National Avenue traffic snarled Saturday afternoons. That’s one of the reasons Aprahamian – often with his wife, Sanford co-owner Sarah Mudrock-Aprahamian, and their young son – plans visits for Tuesdays. To avoid crowds, they arrive shortly before the market opens and make a first walk-through. Vendors can set products aside for customers to purchase later. You can sometimes pre-order, too.

For especially perishable produce, such as strawberries, Aprahamian suggests bringing along individual plastic containers (to help protect items from getting crushed) and a small cooler for storing the perishables until you can get them home.

Here is Aprahamian’s list, sorted by the month the produce is typically in season.


Local Produce Almanac

Strawberries – to use fresh and for batches of preserves. Same goes for rhubarb, which he’ll also pickle and use in cocktails.

Turnips – Aprahamian likes the “healthy greens” on these roots, which he adds (as he does other greens) to sautés, as a filling for stuffed pasta, etc.

Pattypan squash – sweet, compact little summer squash; sautéed, roasted or pickled

Broccoli – Sanford chefs ferment the leaves and use them in pasta dishes; also braised and sautéed

Beets – all varieties; the greens are key ingredients, as well, for sautéing or fermenting and serving as an entrée component

Corn – folded into summer soups, roasted or grilled and served in salads; preserved for future use

Eggplant – all varieties; a component in caponata, grilled and served on their own or as a garnish to grilled fish

Tomatoes and tomatillos (and into August) – for salsas, salads, roasting and sautéing


Grapes – made into preserves and sorbets, mingled into sauces both sweet and savory

Apples – generally small varietals at this point in the season, but good for eating on their own or served on salads

Seckel and Asian pears – The Seckels can be poached, roasted, pickled or stuffed; the Asian pears are ideal for salads and kimchi.

Fresh herbs, peak time (rosemary, mint, basil, chervil) – garnishes, pestos and other sauces

Prep Plan

Justin Aprahamian shares simple how-tos for utilizing some of his favorite summer ingredients, from June to August.

Photos by iStock.
Photos by iStock.


JUNE: Pattypan squash
Cut in half, sauté in olive oil over medium heat. (Include chopped onions and bell peppers, if you’d like.) Add garlic, chili flakes. Deglaze with a little vinegar (red wine or balsamic). Add cooked pasta, some fresh herbs, cheese and a touch more olive oil.

Photos by iStock.
Photos by iStock.


JULY: Yu choy
Chop the leaves and stalks of this Chinese leafy green in 1-inch pieces, dress with oil (olive or sesame), chopped garlic, lemon, ground ginger and fennel. Serve as a side with your choice of grilled meat.

Photos by iStock.
Photos by iStock.


Brown bacon, onions and garlic. Add a plethora of chopped tomatoes (any size and color combination), along with a handful of mint and/or basil. Layer in some whole Italian sausage links. Roast low and slow.

Photos by iStock.
Photos by iStock.


AUGUST: Tomatillos
Char tomatillos quickly in a pan over high heat. Add chopped onion, jalapenos, poblanos, garlic and/or cilantro. Cook two minutes. Add a few spritzes of fresh lime. Blend the mixture in a food processor. Add more lime to taste. This salsa can spice up tacos, fish or steak.

‘Farmers Market Primer’ appears in the 2016 City Guide issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the May issue on newsstands beginning May 30, or buy a copy at

Be the first to get every new issue. Subscribe.



Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.