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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Urban Foraging

Michael and I live downtown, play downtown, and try to shop downtown.

So,  is it really  feasable or possible to rely exclusively on urban markets to fulfill shopping needs for food and supplies? 

Last weekend, we gave it a shot.  As an experiment, we decided to skip  the larger supermarkets on Saturday morning and only hit the farmers' market  before heading across the street to Shorty's grocery to pick up other things we needed.

Granted, it's early in the growing season for the farmers' market vendors. Homegrown pickings were slim, but an abundance of lovely fresh local produce was available.  We strolled through the stalls drinking coffee, bumping into friends, and buying stuff.  I wanted honey, specifically Abigail's Wildflower  honey.  She had it, but only in quart jars. Nobody needs that much honey. We opted for a smaller jar of clover honey.  

We picked up purple-tipped fresh asparagus from Blue Moon Farm, Anderson County spring baby turnips, Madison County greens onions, and Scott County dirt-covered radishes.

As we passed the Cookin' Up Kentucky tent, I yearned for the heavenly smelling smoked lamb burgoo. It was 9:30 a.m.  Too early.   The burgoo was ready.  I wasn't.

We took a short break before moseying over to Shorty's grocery.  There were quite a few people milling about the store. It was hard to tell if they were shopping or snooping.  Didn't matter.  We were there to shop.  While Michael waited on shaved maple honey ham from the meat counter, I loaded our basket with catfood, windex, carrots, peruvian purple potatoes, miniature bell peppers, and a disc of 7 grain Boule bread from Blugrass Bakery.

I was quite taken with gorgeous  fresh morel mushrooms that were matter-of-factly piled onto a plate in the produce section.  Morel mushrooms?  Really?  They were $39.99 a pound.  Yep.  Morels weigh nothing.  The whole plate probably would have cost $3.00. I didn't buy any, missing my opportunity for morel magic. Maybe next week.

We headed home with everything we needed.  It was a successful shopping excursion for what we needed on  that particular day.  Could it happen every Saturday?  Probably not, but last Saturday it was possible and fun.

I usually hoard fresh produce as if it will never be available again, spacing it out over the course of a few days.  Sunday night, I decided to cook up the whole farmers' market  kit and caboodle by using angel hair pasta primavera as my vehicle.
I washed and trimmed the baby turnips and radishes, leaving snippets of green stems intact.  For variety, I sliced a few in half, leaving  the remaining ones whole.  I sliced the tender asparagus and green onions on  severe diagonals to offset the bulbous shapes of the baby spring root vegetables.

Wanting to saute the vegetables before tossing them with the pasta, I knew I needed to blanch the radishes and turnips to promote even cooking for all the vegetables.  After bringing water to a rapid boil in a large stock pot,  I tossed in a handful of kosher salt before dropping the radishes and turnips into the salty cauldron for 5 minutes to cook and soften.  Within a short 5 minute blanche, their vivid bold shapes and colors softened into faded demure translucent jewel tones.  They were beautiful.
Mise en place. Done....almost.

I had a small pork tenderloin that I wanted to pan-fry as an accompiamnet to the pasta primavera.  It was Sunday supper, after all.  I sliced the tenderloin into medallions, placed the medallions between plastic wrap, and pounded them into 1/2 inch cutlets. Using a dry breading method, I dredged the cutlets in a mixture of panko bread crumbs, fresh minced parsley,salt, pepper, and grated parmigiano reggiano cheese.  I parked the breaded tenderloins in the refrigerator and  joined Michael in the parlor for a glass of wine....finally.

After several glasses of wine, I made my way back to the kitchen and cranked the burners.  While waiting for the water to boil for the pasta, I sauteed the pork tenderloin medallions until well browned, topped them with lemon zest, and set them aside to rest. I dropped the angel hair pasta into the heavily salted boiling water and turned my attention to the vegetables.  When equal parts butter and olive oil sizzled in a large saute pan, I tossed the vegetables into the pan.  I let the vegetables slightly caramelize before  adding salt, pepper, and minced garlic. 

After deglazing the pan with chicken stock and white wine, I pulled the pasta from the boiling water and dropped it into the saute pan to finish cooking with the vegetables.  A shower of parsley and fresh squeezed lemon juice finished it off.

The piquant bite of the radishes and turnips mellowed from cooking. Their edible tender green stems added slight texture with subtle flavour.  The delicate angel hair pasta nests lightly entangled the vegetables, allowing a few to tumble free onto our plates. Subtle lemon acidity cut through the buttery texture and mild peppery undertones of the radishes and turnips.  Fabulous. While the green onions totally melted into the pasta,  the slender tender asparagus batons  poked through with tiny bites of spring freshness.

Although the jucy parmigiano reggiano-encrusted pork tenderloin medallions were pratty damn tasty, it was all about the early spring vegetables.

Last Saturday, we foraged and shopped for food and necessities without leaving the downtown area.
When it was all said and done,
we had our stuff,
our cats had food,
and our housekeeper had windex.

Not a bad haul. 
Mission accomplished.

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