Feast on St. Louis Farmers' Markets

You'll find everything there for a fantastic gourmet dinner party.

In the great Venn diagram of "eating" and "socializing," summertime occupies that sweet slice right in the middle. No one ever exclaims, "Whooo, it's eighteen degrees; let's gather 'round the goulash!" — but people do get excited about sharing food and drink on a warm summer evening. And while it's perfectly acceptable to fire up the Weber and grill a metric ton of pork steaks, why not try something a little more gourmet? The St. Louis area boasts fantastic farmers' markets, places where you'll find everything you need to throw an amazing dinner party. Buying locally sourced food is healthy for you and for the local economy, so take advantage of this win-win situation. And feel free to modify the following recipes to your taste — our feelings won't be (too) hurt.


Eat Your Greens

Cheese fiends, rejoice: Every week, you can buy Goatsbeard Farm's fresh goat cheese at the Maplewood Farmers' Market (7260 Southwest Avenue, Maplewood; open from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday). This award-winning cheese (recipient of top honors from the American Goat Dairy Association) has long been available at fabulous restaurants like Harvest and The Crossing, but once you taste it, you'll want to cook with it all the time. All. The. Time. Goatsbeard's creamy chèvre is delicious by itself, and is astronomically good atop a fresh green salad.

Mixed Field Greens with Warm Goat Cheese

Serves 6

12 ounces mixed field greens (endive, radicchio, arugula, etc.)

8 ounces (2 round packages) Goatsbeard Farm fresh goat cheese

3/4 cup fine breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon fresh oregano

1 teaspoon fresh basil

2 large egg whites

1 tablespoon olive oil

Fresh black pepper and sea salt, to taste

Raspberry vinaigrette, to taste

In a medium-size bowl, combine breadcrumbs, oregano and basil. In a small bowl, beat egg whites with a whisk until foamy. Slice each goat-cheese round into thirds (for a total of six slices). Dip each slice of goat cheese first into the egg, and then into the breadcrumb mixture. Set aside on a plate. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high until hot, but not smoking. Transfer cheese slices from plate to skillet, and cook for two to three minutes on each side (or until golden brown — keep an eye on them!). Toss field greens with raspberry vinaigrette (store-bought is fine if you don't have time to make your own) and divide the greens among six salad plates. Place warm goat cheese on top of greens and finish with fresh black pepper and sea salt, if desired.

Soup for You

Ain't no law that you can't have soup in summertime — particularly when it's cold soup, and super-particularly when it's made using the luscious tomatoes from CJ's Produce stand at the Kirkwood Farmers' Market (150 East Argonne Drive, Kirkwood; open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday). One of the best things about gazpacho (besides its summer-perfect, refreshing qualities) is that you can make it a day in advance. It tastes even better that way — and you don't have to stress about scorching the soup while you entertain your friends.

Gazpacho

Serves 6 to 8

1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (6 to 7 tomatoes), diced

1 small red pepper, seeded and diced

1 medium green pepper, seeded and diced

1 sweet onion, chopped

1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup tomato juice

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Hot sauce (if desired)

Fresh black pepper and sea salt, to taste

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. For a smoother soup, place all ingredients in food processor and blend until the desired consistency. (Note: If the soup is thicker than you'd like, gradually add 1/4 cup water until you're satisfied with the results.) Serve gazpacho in small soup bowls with toasted bread on the side.

The Main Attraction

While the phrase "farmers' market" might conjure images of bountiful produce (fair enough), most markets in town also offer farm-raised, preservative- and hormone-free meats and eggs. At a time when a national debate rages over meat and dairy safety, it's comforting to know that local, healthful options are available. One of the best sources is Prairie Grass, a lamb farm run by Dave Hillebrand and his family. Prairie Grass' products are available at the excellent Tower Grove Farmers' Market & Bazaar (in Tower Grove Park off of Arsenal Street, west of the Pool Pavilion; open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday).

The Hillebrands' lamb is so tender and savory that it never needs a complicated marinade or a heavy sauce — just rub the chops with fresh herbs and throw 'em on the grill. And maybe get a friend to keep an eye on the lamb while you prepare an out-of-this-world risotto, using the Ozark Forest mushrooms available at the Maplewood Farmers' Market.

Perfect Grilled Lamb Chops

Serves 6

6 lamb chops, 1 inch thick

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (use the good stuff!)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

Heat the grill. Using a pastry brush or your fingers, brush both sides of each chop with olive oil. Rub each chop with the salt, pepper and rosemary. Grill the chops for about five minutes on each side (for medium rare — six minutes for medium. If you want your lamb well-done, you shouldn't be eating lamb, bro). Serve immediately.

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