Of the many (many, many) things I love about not-winter, aka May through October, in Chicago, finally getting fresh produce and kitchen inspiration from the farmers market is just about at the top of my list, not far behind dinner on my porch, lunch on the beach, snacks in the park….basically anything food+outdoors.
That’s one of the reasons I was so excited to try the Green City Market Cookbook for June’s cookbook club meeting. I bought this book from one of Chicago’s most iconic farmers markets when it first came out, but honestly only made a dish or two before it fell off my radar and sat, sadly neglected, on my bookshelf. The other reason I was excited to pick this book? Perfect excuse for a field trip.
I could write a whole post just about Chicago-area farmer’s markets, but I’ll (attempt to) summarize my two favorites:
Green City Market has some of the best of everything Chicago has to offer when it comes to food, from the produce (obviously) and the food vendors (yes always to Nomad Pizza, Cookies and Carnitas, Co-op Hot Sauce, and Italian cider doughnuts, please) to the location smack in the middle of Lincoln Park.
It’s my favorite market to take out-of-town guests and show off the food of my adopted city, or to bring friends for some shopping and brunch. Oh, and I go to Green City Market for the cheese (Prairie Fruits Farms is my favorite).
That said, nearly every Saturday morning from spring through fall, I head north to the downtown Evanston farmer’s market to stock my fridge.
Not quite as picturesque as Green City, but it has everything I want: a favorite fruit stand (which I will forever be grateful to for introducing me to damson plums), a handful of go-to vegetable vendors (my 10-for-$1 zucchini/pepper/eggplant/cucumber guy in mid-summer, Theresa’s and Henry’s for some of the best vegetable plants–and best vegetables–anywhere); a honey guy, a favorite bread lady. amazing empanadas for when I need a shopping snack… It also feels less packed than the city market with fewer double-wide strollers and no dogs–and you can’t beat free parking.
So, a week before our dinner, a few of us got up bright and early for a trip to the Green City Market (and, a few weeks later, the Evanston market) for inspiration and…let’s call it “research.”
After wandering the market, picking up a few provisions, we all left sufficiently inspired (and stuffed). With the fifteen dishes that we made, we ended up with a nearly vegetarian (two dishes with fish and one killer brisket) feast:
Strawberry jam with balsamic, rosemary, and basil–It’s almost unimaginable to have a cookbook of recipes inspired by the farmer’s market and not have a great jam recipe. I loved this take on traditional strawberry jam since it uses two of my favorite summer herbs and was a perfect complement to a cheese plate.
Watermelon, Arugula & Feta Salad–The sweet/salty combination of feta and watermelon isn’t new, but I loved the addition of bitter arugula. I usually see a version of this salad with mint, but, not being a huge mint fan (I think it tends to overpower everything else), I love this variation.
Tilapia Ceviche and Tomatillo Salsa–Yes, you can “cook” raw fish in citrus juice. I love ceviche, but have never made it myself, and this version with tilapia (which would have never have occurred to me to use) and sweet corn was delicious. Also, you can never go wrong with a recipe for salsa from Rick Bayless.
Wisconsin Blue Cheese Dip–This was easily in the top three dishes of the evening. You have to like blue cheese, but if you do, you will find yourself fighting the other blue cheese-lovers for the last few bites. Get a great, flavorful honey (I love basswood linden honey for its slightly peppery kick).
Eggplant Bites–Great little nibbles, though you may need to play around with the recipe a bit to get the “bites” to stick together before cooking.
Smoked Trout Salad–This is one of those dishes I’m glad someone else made because I would never have tried it otherwise–and I *loved* it. I mean, it should be obvious considering how much I love smoked salmon, but who knew smoked trout would be so good in a salad? Turns out the salty, smoky flavor is a perfect complement to a salad of green beans, cherry tomatoes, radishes, baby squash, and goat cheese dressing with fresh herbs.
Roasted Asparagus Lasagna–As delicious (and cheesy) as it was beautiful. This is a perfect centerpiece dish for an early spring dinner.
Not Your Aunt Ruthie’s Brisket–I think I’ve only had brisket once, and it was the slow-smoked barbecued kind. I don’t know what kind of brisket Aunt Ruthie makes, but this–this was delicious. Tender, but not completely fall-apart, with just the right amount of spices to keep it interesting.
Cauliflower Cake–Several of us were considering making this out of sheer curiosity. Kind of a cross between a cauliflower-studded frittata and a savory quick bread, this was beautiful and is on my list for easy picnic fare or lunches this summer.
Asparagus and Mushroom Strata–Cheese and eggs and bread and vegetables? Oh, twist my arm. (It was delicious, in case that wasn’t clear.)
Seasonal Vegetable Stuffed Zucchini–God bless Scott for going to the trouble to hollow out and stuff all those little zucchinis. We all agreed: delicious, gorgeous…and probably equally good if you sliced zucchini in half length-wise, scooped out the middles, and stuffed zucchini boats instead.
Fresh Pasta with Sugar Snap Peas and Asparagus–This is one of those dishes that is perfect for showing off the best of the season–and if you make the pasta yourself, so much the better (or, if you’re lucky enough to have a favorite pasta vendor at the market). Yum.
Tart Cherry Crisp–Tart cherries are hands down my favorite summer fruit. It should be no surprise, then, that was was my favorite dessert of the evening without question.
Holiday Honey Cake–My contribution was interesting. The cake itself was gorgeous, but a little on the dry side (I might have over-baked it a bit) and pretty sweet, though both issues were remedied with a good amount of the (unsweetened) raspberry sauce (raspberries–and a few strawberries thrown in for good measure–macerated with a few tablespoons of amaretto) and topped with creme fraiche whipped cream.