Every Tuesday I have a certain amount of anxiety that finally loosens its grip when our guests file in that evening for the Farmers Market Dinner Show. The fact that I'm not sure what we will be presenting until the market opens earlier that same day is just a bit nerve-racking. I liken it to the challenge of the Food Network show, "Chopped." The pressure of dreaming up recipes and racing the clock to get it all set for dinner is making me sweat every Tuesday. Yet some of our best recipes come from these nights, so I'm eager to share them with you.
The way I work it out is to call farms and vendors ahead of time to find out what they are bringing to the market. Most are able to tell me something. Others leave it open. If I cannot nail down the proteins (for at least two entrees), I usually look at my other local options, especially for salmon. Our guests are a mix of out-of-towners, many in the Northwest for the first time, and I really want to showcase our great salmon.
Since we serve the market dinners buffet-style, we have a favorite presentation of a whole side (about five pounds) crusted in a bread and cheese topping and baked. It goes over really well with our guests. When none of my fish resources are bringing in salmon because halibut is getting the best price, I change to halibut and add a layer of Dungeness crab under the breaded topping. Both preparations are a big hit.
Buffet service is not unfamiliar to most chefs but admittedly not my favorite. I guess I am a bit of a control freak because I really like organizing how the food looks on the plate. Lenore insists that the platters also be beautiful and help to inspire our guests with ideas for their next family get-together or potluck, so we compromised by plating up a starter course, then two "waves" of dishes served buffet-style, and last, a plated dessert. Among the favorites from our cold "wave" are the pickled veggies we make. Most of these are about a week in the brine so what we get this week becomes next Tuesday's pickle dish. We've done cucumbers, of course, carrot, onions, radish and kohlrabi.
Every dinner includes our Pane Pugliese, an Italian sourdough, or what the staff calls Bob's Daily Bread. I make it every day for sale in the store as well as to use in our dinners, and it is the one I like to teach in our Artisan Bread class. Lately I have been using 100-percent spelt flour and find the results just a bit more sour and interesting. Along with that, we make a batch of butter. It is made from local 40-percent heavy cream, which we flavor with whatever inspires us, such as chives, rosemary garlic, and even truffle salt. I have to give credit for these butters to Lisa Jacobs, who sells her hand crafted cheese and butters at Tuesday's market and who challenged me to make butter as good as hers. So I gave it a shot. Who hasn't made butter accidentally when whipping cream? So we now do it on purpose, and the method is included below.
One of the objectives of our market dinners is inspire people to shop their local farmers markets, to try new things and to encourage them to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to help local farms. We also want to show different recipes for the ingredients that we find in abundance in those CSA baskets. Because we committed to eating in season we use and eat as much as we can until the season is over!
Take strawberries for instance. We love them fresh and though we do freeze them at peak for later, our hope is we can come up with new preparations that our guests like. This summer we started macerating them in a bit of 10-year-old balsamic vinegar with cracked black pepper! Added to a platter of cow's milk Willapa Hills Pluvius cheese and we have an easy recipe guests tell us they will repeat! Other berries work as well, even blueberries!
The majority of dishes on the menu are vegetable. And often I throw in pasta, bean or other starch dish or two. One favorite is the linguini and fresh sautéed beet greens with roasted fennel and onions. Of course we emphasize the beets since they provide two recipes, one using the beet roots and one using the greens.
On the cold side, we frequently have many lettuce varieties that I lightly coat in a peppery EVOO and lemon zest; toss in some grated cauliflower, julienne kohlrabi, and top off with edible flowers. Nasturtiums, for example, are great right now and very versatile-as a garnish for sure, but even alone in soup or as a vessel for cheese for an appetizer. They impart a spicy, almost peppery flavor. Often we add a slaw to the cold offerings, using shaved raw fennel, fresh raw beets, and kohlrabi. This season I have mostly roasted fresh beets, chilled them, and tossed them with a dressing of horseradish and cream, horseradish being another one of Oregon's major crops. I remember getting Beaver Foods horseradish, grown and made in Beaverton Oregon, while growing up in Cleveland when my mom would make borscht. And now I live here!
Two new hot veggie dishes that are this summer's customer favorites so far are worthy of mention. Almost equal amounts of sautéed broccoli & garlic are finished with grated dry aged Parmesan Reggiano cheese. And a stewed carrot with oven-roasted cherry tomatoes dish has customers saying we created a "new" flavor for carrots. When veggies are this fresh, keeping the preparation simple, simply gives the best results.
A last a word about market dinner desserts. A lot of times it is the last thing I create on Tuesdays, so it has to be quick. We choose to feature stone fruit like apricots in crisps and cobblers because they are quick and delicious summertime desserts that work really well in the morning at breakfast too. It is especially important to use apricots when you see them fresh in the market because they are often only available a few weeks. Since they don't ship well, most are dehydrated or canned by major food companies and they often don't even make it to supermarkets at all.
I happily share a few of these recipes here, but remember Lenore puts them online in our cookbook so you can also see them at www.evoo.biz .