The Best Market on Menu Monday

August 3, 2009 at 8:55 am

Rob Gardner

The other day I worked with a crew filming a locavore segment for a potential TV show on sustainable living. I gave them my shpiel that I love all farmer’s markets, but truth be told, I do have favorites.  In fact, this summer, I picked a favorite, the Dame County market in Madison, only to feel bad when I realized that some needed money could have gone to Green City Market if I picked it.  Yet here’s the thing, after a weekend visit to Madison, I’m convinced that my favorite market is not the big one in the Capital Square but a smaller one, Sunday, in the parking lot of a Pierce’s Grocery Store.  It’s called the Northside Farmer’s Market.

Like I say, I can find fun at the crappiest market.  Give me a market with some organic, with Hmong farmers selling vegetables with no English name; a Mexican farmer with equally untranslatable herbs, with squash blossoms, flor de calabeza that it killed me not to buy they were so affordable, but with the girls staying in Wisconsin I had no desire to do all that fry work just for me; with an African-American farmer I did not have the heart to admit I would not be there in a few weeks to buy his okra he went on about; milk, meat, chicken and eggs (that milk being Blue Marble Dairy); cheese, cookies, elderflower caramel made not too far away; this makes me ecstatic. 

That African-American literally could not give away his zucchini the size of footballs, but he had no problem convincing me to get his beets the size of golf balls, with vibrant green greens, nor did he have to do much to convince me to buy his blue-lake green beans.  And even though I bought those green beans, from one of the Hmong farmers, I had to buy green beans because they were the skinnier “French” beans.  We purchased carrots and a long green pepper that no one could explain to me where it stood on the Scoville scale (good thing I have a high chile tolerance to test).  We got freshly dug Yukon gold potatoes; Sungold style cherry tomatoes; one cauliflower not so large and one really large; a few other tomatoes to make a purchase an even five dollars.  Then, there was the untranslatable green, heart shaped leaf.  I am almost positive that it’s amaranth, but it did not have the purple-ish shade I associate with that edible weed.  We all agreed to saute it and that it would cook down a lot.  You can find a lot at this North Side Market.

Having Madison plans in the plans, there was not much bought at the Oak Park Market on Saturday.  I spent most of my early Saturday morning with the film crew.  They marveled at how local was Chicago Honey Coop honey.  I told them that even more local to the market was Kathy and her Catalina Garden, based in Forest Park.  Finally producing with this odd summer weather, I got rocket, cilantro and chives from Kathy that I lugged with me to Madison.

Having Madison plans in the plans as well as market shmooze needs, I spent more time at the Local Beet table at the Thursday Eli’s Farmer’s Market than I did buying.  I did get some beets and Melrose peppers from Chad and some other peppers from Piedt.  Our CSA box that came in that day also contained peppers, about eleven green bell peppers, and my wife has about one food she won’t eat and that’s cooked green bell peppers.  The box contained sweet corn, zucchini, a savoy cabbage, cucumbers, basil, peaches and blueberries.  On my wife’s second to last day at Mado, she came home with a box too, with purslane, a tiny amount of cavolo nero, and a single kohlrabi.

The corn, I slowly heated on the barbie while I was cooking fish on Thursday.  Some of the cucumbers have been marinated with sweet onions.  Another cucumber and one of those bell peppers went into a chopped salad with tomatoes and some of that purslane.  My daughter and her friend were having fun being sous chefs for me on Thursday and they finely minced some of our hot peppers into a salsa for the fish.  That fish, ocean fish, I made chermoula, or a green sauce with cumin using some of my herbs as a fish marinade.  The night before, my wife made a totally excellent pasta with a summer squash bounty and if that was not excellent enough, a gratin with the split tomatoes. 

I’m batchin’ it for at least today and maybe tomorrow.  As much as I like using up my local food, I have a hard time putting together big meals just for myself.  I’ll probably be at Freddy’s for lunch, and make some form of Greek salad for dinner.  Other than that, I have no more specific plans for all of the products obtained from the best market I know.  Check back in next Menu Monday to see where it went.