Bizarre produce at The Farm at Fairplex gives chefs, gardeners tasty ideas

POMONA, Calif. (KABC) -- The Los Angeles County Fair has rides, games, animals and lots of crispy food, but wander further out to the gardens and you'll find some crazy produce.

"We're doing a California specialty grant project that we got from the State of California Ag department," said Don Delano, head horticulturist for the L.A. Fairplex.

The 5-acre, year-around Farm at Fairplex received over $400,000 to grow things found in soil around the world, showcasing unusual plants to create a very specialized organic garden.

"A lot of it goes to our educational purposes here at the fairgrounds. To educate to the children and adults, what they can do with their diet," said Delano.

Delano said an over-sized chalky melon is a prime example.

"These are called Japanese wax melons. They're really funny because when they start to grow, they're prickly and have these little hairs on them," said Delano.

Picked, then stored for three to six months, this melon tastes like honey dew.

One tiny little pepper grown here packs big heat.

"These are called bird peppers. They're a type of piquine pepper and they're one of the hottest pepper known in the world next to habaneros," said Delano.

Another plant called Jews mallow has a spinach like leaf but gets an almost gooey consistency that is used to thicken soup.

The Fairplex asked Italian chef Antonio Cagnolo to make culinary magic with its bizarre bounty.

"My challenge today is to create some incredible Italian dishes with some incredible vegetables from all over the world," said Antonio Cagnolo, chef of Antonello restaurant in South Coast Plaza.

He met the challenge, making Yemen squash soup with a peppermint Swiss chard, along with UFO squash, which he sliced, cooked and topped with parsley, Parmesan and bread crumbs.

Remember the big chalky squash? Cagnolo suggests using a melon ball scoop to serve that squash with prosciutto and mozzarella.

If you're not much of a chef, try experimenting with a finger lime. The chef says these are great for squeezing over your fish dishes or used in a refreshing drink.

While the fair ends Sept. 28, The Farm 'grows' on at the Fairplex in Pomona. So why not head out and see if anything inspires?

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