Farmer’s Market Feast
While the dog days of summer are my absolute least favorite time of year, there’s no denying it’s one of the best seasons for delicious food. One of the highlights of my week is my Saturday morning stroll through the farmer’s market and right now is high time for the freshest produce and other farmed goods. Last week, inspired by the rainbow of local fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses and herbs, I built a positively outstanding meal that was worthy of no less than 5 Michelin stars, and the good news is, it was quick, simple and I’m here to share it with you! So get your reusable grocery bags and walking shoes ready, because you’re going to be chomping at the bits to be first in line for the market this weekend.
The masterpiece I created began with a salad course, as any gourmet meal properly should. Late July and early August is flush with juicy, ripe tomatoes so it would be a sin not to make them the star of the show. I started by quick pickling some onions, thinly slicing an onion (any color will do) packing it into a mason jar and pouring over top a saucepan of 1/2C water, 1/4C apple cider vinegar, 1/4C white vinegar, about a tablespoon of honey and some salt, pepper and red pepper flakes that I had just brought to a boil and removed from the heat. Leave opened while liquid cools and your onions will be pickled in 20-30 minutes. At the market I picked up a tub of ricotta cheese from a local goat farmer’s booth and knew that would make the perfect base to my salad. I whipped that up with a little fresh squeezed lemon juice, some grated parmesan and cracked sea salt and pepper, then spread it on the bottom of my salad plate. I sprinkled a handful of arugula over top; the peppery spice of this leafy green plays nicely with the acidic lemon notes in the ricotta and the sweetness of the tomatoes. Then I chopped a blend of heirloom tomatoes of all sizes and colors to about 1” pieces, tossed them on top of the arugula and sprinkled with fresh basil I snipped from my patio herb garden. I used whole leaves, but it would also be nice to chiffon them and sprinkle like confetti if you want a less intense flavor. Finally I added my pickled onions and drizzled with a vinaigrette I had on hand and voila! Salad is served!
For the main course I had grilled chicken thighs with carrots and Brussel sprouts, but really jazzed it up. For starters, I chose to use chicken thighs over chicken breasts because they are just as healthy but have so much more flavor. I let the thighs soak in a simple lemon pepper marinade for about an hour while I prepped and cooked my other food. For that concoction, just zest 1 whole lemon into a bowl. Then slice in half and juice that same lemon and add to bowl, along with about 2TBSP of olive oil and 1TBSP of minced garlic. Toss in 1tsp each dried Italian seasoning, brown sugar, sea salt and black pepper, plus ½ - ¾ tsp of onion powder. Whisk all ingredients until totally mixed and pour over chicken thighs in a ziplock bag or Tupperware and toss to coat every inch of meat.
While the chicken was taking a lemon pepper bath, I preheated my oven to 400 and peeled a bag of miniature carrots from a local farm and sliced in half a pound of Brussels sprouts I had in my veggie drawer. I tossed both of these in a simple mix of olive oil, salt and pepper then spread them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. After 20 minutes they were both fork tender and ready to be drizzled with honey and a few dashes of balsamic vinegar. I stuck them back under the broiler for just a minute so the honey caramelized and the outsides of the sprouts got a little crispy, but keep an eye on this because they can go from crispy to torched very quickly. Using the same ricotta from early, I made a nice little bed for my carrots to lie on, drizzling the cheese with a bit of hone before spreading the spears across the top. The sprouts were placed to the side and finally my chicken was ready for a trip to the grill.
Chicken thighs are much smaller than breasts and depending on how hot you get the grill, they should be done in about 10-12 minutes. I let mine go 5 minutes on each side, then gave them a one minute flip each at the end just to ensure they were cooked through, letting them rest about 5-10 minutes on the plate while I assembled the rest of my meal.
The perfect complement to my farmer’s market feast was a bottle of Chenin Blanc I picked up from my favorite boutique wine store. Chenin is still light and acidic enough for all the fresh produce in this meal, but it has a weightier mouth feel that stood up to the flavor of my chicken thighs without being buttery. It was a wonderful way to top off my relaxing dinner.
Be sure to get out and take advantage of all the wonderful local goods we’re so blessed to enjoy in this part of the world. East Tennessee is home to lots of farms and artisans we should support when possible over the big box grocery stores who import their produce from who knows where, sprayed with god knows what. Take a stroll and build your meal based on the treasures you find; there’s inspiration around every corner at the summer farmer’s market!