Friday, September 19, 2008

Seattle Farmers Market Cooking Demos

This week I did a couple of farmers market cooking demonstrations. I always love to do these events, because I can give myself a challenge by arriving with just my knives, cookware and a curiosity about what’s available at the market.

On Wednesday, I was inspired by the warm and sunny September weather at the Wallingford Farmers Market. I set up my gear at the demo booth and began to wander around the market. The neighboring stand was occupied by my dear friends at Alm Hill Gardens and Carrie from Growing Washington drew my attention to the freshly shucked beans on display. I recognized (and love cooking) the Vermont Cranberry beans and Jacob’s Cattle beans but next to them was what looked like a fresh flageolet bean. Carrie informed me that the bean was actually a WSU research product that was a cross between the flageolet and the white cannellini bean. So Zach Lyons, the market demo coordinator quickly brainstormed and aptly named the new bean “flageollini”.

Because I knew this afternoon was going to be one of the final sun-drenched days we’d be seeing in Seattle for some time, I looked to the freshly harvested ingredients of the late summer to make a dish with the beans. I found some super-ripe heirloom tomatoes from Billy’s Tomatoes, sweet red bell and red lipstick peppers, corn, and red onions from Alvarez Organic Farm, and I used some of Alm Hill’s garlic and basil. My idea was to create a stew with the peppers, onions, and tomatoes, and cook the flageollini beans in the juices that came from the tomatoes.

The real inspiration, however, came from the beautiful, just-caught coho salmon brought from the coast by Wilson Fish. I’ve been lucky to develop a relationship with these fish mongers and they’ve always been excited to provide fish for me to play with. David offered me a side of glistening salmon and I demonstrated to the market-goers the simple process of deboning, filleting and cubing the fish. My intent was to quickly sear the fish and then let the warm bean and corn stew gently finish cooking it through. I grabbed a loaf of Tallgrass sourdough bread, sliced it into bite-sized pieces and fried them in a little olive oil. I served the stewed salmon with the beans and corn atop a single crunchy piece of bread. A delicious afternoon snack!

At Thursday’s Queen Anne market I was really thrilled to see some of my favorite farmers had set up stands – Oxbow Organic Farm and Local Roots – both from Carnation. I came with a little plan to this market. I had cooked some emmer farro earlier and wanted to prepare a tasting for the market as a way of promoting my restaurant, as you know, called emmer. Emmer farro is an ancient whole wheat grain. It is considered to be one of the first domesticated crops but over the centuries it lost favor to higher-yielding wheat crops. Recently this grain has been recultivated in the organic fields of eastern Washington.

I wandered down the market lane and I picked up the following ingredients: from Local Roots – purslane and shallots, from Oxbow – purple haze carrots, purple cosmic cauliflower and white cauliflower, from River Valley Ranch – fresh chevre, and from Billy’s Tomatoes – purple and red bell peppers. The emmer farro, of course, was from Bluebird Grain Farms but they were not at this market (look for them at the Saturday University District farmers market).

I made a very simple preparation for the salad I had in mind. First, I sliced and browned the cauliflower florets in a little oil with salt and pepper, and then I cut a brunoise (small dice) of the peppers and carrots. I tossed this with the prepared farro and with a vinaigrette I made with the shallots, Dijon mustard, blueberry vinegar and olive oil. Finally, I crumbled the goat cheese and tossed it into the salad. I served the farro mix on top of the succulent purslane leaves. Many people at the market had never tasted purslane before. It is a plant (actually a weed) that has typically grown as a cover crop by farmers between seasons of successions. It has a lemony bite to it and it has a nice texture that complements many salad ingredients. You can pickle the stems!

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