New pennants went up recently on the lamp poles at Gateway Market. One of the pennants displays the words, “We Cater to Local.” If timing really is everything, then this particular message was perfectly placed. Finally, we have arrived at the dawn of Iowa’s farm-to-table season. I know I have blogged about local before, but this is something I believe in. Buying ingredients when they’re in season gives you a huge advantage in the kitchen. You can create the simplest, yet best tasting of recipes with ease.
Growing up, I knew that summer had arrived when my dad’s garden would come into maturity. We celebrated with the season’s first Italian tomato salad – most Italian-Americans know this one. A simple recipe of tomato wedges, sliced onions, peppers, chopped garlic, fresh basil, a pinch of dried oregano, salt, pepper and oil. We usually left out olive oil because it would harden when it gets cold, but we have changed that part of the recipe. And we would devour a whole loaf of bread tearing it piece by piece and dipping the bread in the juice that naturally occurs in this salad. It always amazed me that the longer the salad sat, the more sauce seemed to appear!
You can get all those ingredients (and some great bread for dipping) at Gateway Market. The Gateway team works hard to provide customers with high quality local produce and products. Not everything, of course, is all local all the time. But Gateway is proud to be a Des Moines-area leader in buying and promoting local. The reasons for this are twofold: First, fresh, local produce simply tastes better. Second, buying from Iowa farmers helps the local economy.
Chefs and serious home cooks know there’s a link between the quality of ingredients used in a dish and the flavor profile of that dish. It’s pretty simple math. As soon as a vegetable comes out of the ground it starts to deteriorate. It is as if the flavors begin jumping ship instantly.
Something as simple as a grilled asparagus panini with cheese and herbs is great! Here’s an instance where less can be more. The same idea works with the other local vegetables. Slice them up lengthwise and toss them with a little olive oil, salt, seasoning, garlic, thyme, basil, or whatever, and pop them on the grill right next to the steak.
Squash blossoms are one of my favorite things in the garden. A simple recipe is to wash them in water, dredge them in seasoned flour, then into beaten egg, followed by grated Parmesan cheese. Shallow fried in oil until crispy, squash blossoms can be magical.
This is a also a happy time for our restaurants. We are committed to local products whenever we can get our hands on them – we buy more sustainably raised pork then any restaurant group in the state, and contract with local farmers to raise goats and lambs specifically for our restaurants. At Centro, Chef Derek Eidson is currently using raspberries grown by Khanh and Neil Hamilton at Waukee’s at Sunstead Farm.
“These early raspberries are perfect. Not too sweet, not too tart,” Chef Derek says. “I puree them with Lindemann’s framboise to make sabayon filled tarts.”
Derek’s also looking forward to baby leeks, fennel and beets. “Their sweetness is great this time of year, before they get too big.”
Chef Derek’s favorite: Red Tropea onions from Cleverley Farms in Mingo. “Their sweetness, flavor and appearance is unmatched. They are perfect for pizzas, pastas and salads,” Chef Derek says. “They are also great salt-baked and finished with a nice olive oil.”
Corn, corn, corn! Our Iowa sweet corn is a few weeks away now. But once the season begins, some people will eat corn on the cob several times a week. No need to get fancy with fresh Iowa sweet corn – it’s too good to mess with!
Also, salads should be in the same “keep-it-simple” mode during the farm-to-table months. Get some local lettuces or greens and dress them with a fine olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, shallots, your best vinegar and spoon of Dijon mustard. Pair this salad with some bread from South Union Bakery and you have the perfect warm weather snack.
A lot of Iowans grow tomatoes. So do local farmers. Whether from a backyard garden or a farm, these tomatoes will make a huge difference in sandwiches. BLT, or just T with mayo. Here’s an idea worth repeating: Toasted South Union Bakery bread, Ceverley Farms or Sunstead Farms arugula, Niman Ranch bacon, mayo and tomatoes (local tomatoes straight from the vine will taste so much better; pretty soon they’ll be everywhere and you gotta use them).
As the summer transitions to fall, the taste of the season changes and you’re in prime vegetable-roasting and soup season. More on that later. Right now, I’m just happy we’ve reached the time of year when we can finally “cater to local!”