This post originally appeared in Satellite Magazine
Fresh matters. You can ask any cook worth her salt and she’ll tell you the same thing. Fresh, whole ingredients impart even the simplest dishes with deep, rich flavor. However, since most grocery store produce travels an average of 1,500 miles to get from the farm to your plate, getting fresh produce can sometimes be a challenge. Lucky for all of us, Gainesville is full of farmer’s markets. The Union Street Farmer’s Market in the Sun Center is open every Wednesday, rain or shine, and features fresh, seasonal ingredients grown by local farmers.
While buying locally will give you the freshest food, it can also limit your choices. You won’t get oranges in summer and you won’t get asparagus in fall. But then, eating seasonally is a wonderful exercise in menu planning and can connect you to the local land and community.
Lucky for us, summer is here, which means many produce items such as cantaloupes, blueberries, chicory, tomatoes, swamp cabbage (water spinach) and leeks are at the height of freshness and are readily available:
With just a few other ingredients, these items can be cobbled together to make for some wonderful dishes, from refreshing fruit salads to delicious savory entrees:
Grilled cantaloupe with chicory and blueberry vinaigrette
For the dressing:
- 1 4.4oz container of blueberries, mixed variety (approx. two large handfuls) – most juicy berries will work with this recipe: raspberries, blackberries, and others. Avoid cranberries as they’re probably too tart, and strawberries won’t provide enough juice
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar (you can substitute honey, also available at the farmer’s market)
- A pinch of salt
For the salad:
- 1 large cantaloupe, seeded, cut into wedges and peeled
- 1 bunch chicory, stems removed, rough cut
Begin by pureeing the blueberries. You can use a food processor, blender or hand blender. If pressed, you can juice them in a bowl by grinding them to a pulp with the back of a large, heavy spoon. A slow process, but infinitely gratifying.
Once the blueberries have given up their juice, whisk in the vinegar (for brightness) and add the water. Toss in the salt, and slowly add the sugar, tasting and whisking as you go. Don’t be afraid to stick your fingers in the dressing and taste it! Some people like sweeter dressings while others like their dressings more sour or bitter. Don’t be afraid to experiment and feel free to alter the ingredients’ ratios to get it to your liking.
This is a rustic dish, which is a fancy way of saying you don’t have to be too careful with the cutting.
Begin by heating a large skillet over medium-high heat. While the pan heats, sprinkle the cantaloupe wedges with just a bit of Kosher salt (optional) Once the pan achieves temperature—it should feel hot when you’ve got your hand about two inches above the pan—place the cantaloupe wedges in the pan, cut side down. Let them sear about 45 seconds on each side. When it’s done, set the cantaloupe aside to cool.
*The salt will draw out some of the melon’s moisture and help concentrate the sugars in the cantaloupe. Searing the cantaloupe will caramelize some of the sugars that have been brought to the surface and will give it a deeper, richer sweetness.
Once the melon has cooled, cut it into bite-sized pieces and mix it with the chicory in a large bowl. Store in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. When you’re ready to serve, plate the cantaloupe salad and drizzle liberally with the blueberry dressing.
Alternative: Once the cantaloupe has chilled, mix with fresh, whole berries and sprinkle with powdered sugar or drizzle with honey for a deliciously sweet, healthy dessert.
Pan seared tuna with balsamic glaze and crispy leeks
The real star of this dish is the sauce, which can be used to top any number of proteins, from tuna or chicken breast to extra firm tofu or tempeh.
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 3 medium fresh tomatoes* @3/4 of a pound, diced
- @1 cup water spinach leaves
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
- 1 table spoon olive oil
- 1 table spoon brown sugar
- 2 large leeks cut to matchsticks (pieces 1/4 inch wide, 2 inches long)
- Peanut, canola or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 Tuna steaks
Begin by heating a skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, wait for it to heat and then add the garlic cloves. Let them cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. While those cook, you can whisk together the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar (the sugar will provide a sweet counterpoint to the vinegar’s acidity and will also help the sauce come together as more of a glaze). You could also add extra ingredients to enhance the sauce, such as lemon or lime juice, white wine, or sherry. After the garlic’s cooked, add the spinach and tomatoes--holding some of the diced tomatoes in reserve for a garnish. Let them cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the vinegar mixture. Increase the heat to medium-high and let the sauce cook until it begins to bubble. Then reduce the heat and let simmer for about 20 minutes.
When you’ve got about 10 minutes left you can start on the final pieces of your dish. For the leeks, you need to put about a half-inch of peanut oil in a sauce pan and bring it up to 350 degrees. One it reaches that temperature, drop in the leeks in small batches and let them cook until they’re golden brown (about 30 - 45 seconds, probably). Use a slotted spoon or a fork to transfer them to paper towels to drain.
For the tuna, rub the tuna steaks with garlic (one clove each) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a hot pan with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, sear the tuna on each side--about two minutes. To plate, put down a bed of the fried leeks, top with the tuna steak, and then spoon on some of the sauce. Finally, top with some of the reserved tomato pieces for a dash of color.
This dish is deceptively easy and mighty impressive when plated.
While you could make any of these dishes with ingredients that have traveled half-way across the country (or farther), why would you? Fresh ingredients taste better, and you get the satisfaction of supporting your local growers and being a part of local community. Plus, everyone I spoke to at the farmer’s market was knowledgeable, friendly, and even had a cooking tip or two.
*Fresh tomatoes far outshine grocery store tomatoes in taste and versatility. If you’re not buying fresh tomatoes, you might as well be buying them canned.
Summertime in America: a time when people turn off their televisions and head to the beach, backyard pool, or roof-top lawn chair. It's a time when attention turns to swimsuits and suntans, and families across the nation fire up their grills for the most primal of cooking methods: open flame.
But how many burgers can one person eat? How many times can we turn to hot dogs, potato salad and roasted corn? What does a person do when he can't look at another French fry? Why, fry something else of course:
Beer-battered yucca, grilled rib eye and spring salad greens
First the steak: spend; seriously. There are all kinds of ways you can doctor an inexpensive cut of beef, but sometimes you want the meat to stand (or lay) on its own merit. And if you're going to do that, you're going to have to get as far away from the hoof and the horn as possible (Thanks, Alton). Of course, the fillet is the best, but at $10354839w9.99 per pound it can get a little pricey. NY strip is excellent, too, but bang-for-your-buck wonderful is the rib eye, also known as the Delmonico in some parts. And according to my sources, Australians call it the Scotch fillet.
Preparation is simple:
- Crush a few cloves of garlic and use them to rub each steak
- Season with salt and pepper
- Wrap in foil and set it aside until you're about half-way through frying the yucca (we'll get to that in a moment)
When your grill is ready, cook the steak over high heat, about four minutes on each side (if you want to be extra fancy, rotate the steak 90 degrees--don't flip it!--after two minutes. This will give you those snazzy rhomboids of charred goodness). Because the rib eye has excellent marbling, it's going to end up tender and juicy. However, you'll have to watch out for flare-ups, as all that delicious fat has a tendency to render and drip onto the coals. Keep a spray bottle on hand to help quell some of the fire. And don't be afraid to move your steaks away from the coals for a bit to let things die down.
Once you bring the meat off the grill, wrap it in foil and let it rest for a while. Just leave it alone. This will allow all cell structure to re-absorb all the juices and will give you a tender, tastier steak.
You could easily serve this with a fresh salad of spring greens, or even pan-wilted spinach with garlic and parmesan. Those would, in fact, be absolutely delicious. But we're talking summer here, and what's summer without a little starch? And what's starch without a little potato? Why, it's yucca!
The yucca is a starchy root used often in Latin American, Caribbean and African cuisines. It's starchier than most potatoes, but has a wonderful stratified structure that gives it a flaky texture. Preparation can be time consuming, but it's not difficult.
Beer Battered Yucca
First, you'll need to cook your yucca:
If you're cooking fresh-from-the-market yucca, you're going to invest about 50 minutes. I used frozen yucca I found in the Latin American section in the frozen food isle, and I just cooked it according to the directions on the package-bonus: no additives. At all.
But let's say you went with the root. You're going to cook it much like you would potatoes:
- Peel the yucca
- Cut into section about four inches long
- Place the sections into a large pot and cover with water (about 2 inches over the yucca)
- Bring water to a boil and let cook about 50 minutes, or until fork-tender
- Remove from heat, drain, and shock in ice water to prevent further cooking
- Cut the sections lengthwise into quarters
- Important: There's a cord of woody material that runs through the yucca root. Make sure you remove this from your quartered sections.
- Set all pieces aside and meditate briefly on their future deep-fried goodness
(light your coals-for the steaks, remember?)
Then you'll need a beer batter:
- 1.5 cups flour
- 12 oz. + 2 teaspoons Light beer (for the additional teaspoons, you're going to have to open a second bottle--pity, that)
- 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon additional flavoring agent(s), if desired
- Put the flour in a big bowl
- Open one beer and slowly whisk the fluid into the flour
- Open the second beer, measure out your 2 teaspoons and whisk them in as well
- Add the salt and then add your flavoring agent*
*One of the great things about batters is that you can give them whatever flavor you'd like. For fried yucca, I might recommend a teaspoon of garlic powder coupled with a squirt of lime. Or maybe if you enjoy a little spice, you could go with black pepper or paprika. Cayenne would provide a good bit of heat, and you could even bring in some Asian influence by adding ground ginger. Like I always say, don't be afraid to experiment. If the batter ends up being horrible, you'll just have to crack open another beer and make a second batch. And that's not so bad, is it?
- Heat two inches of oil in a pan to about 370 degrees
- It's best if you set this up as an assembly line. And work in batches. If you put too many yucca pieces into the oil at once, it'll lower your temperature and you won't get a crispy finish.
- I work left-to-right, so my set up consists of my yucca, batter, oil, draining plate. I have yet to buy a cooling rack and half-sheet pan (again, thanks Alton), so go with several paper towels sandwiched between a couple brown paper bags.
To plate, put just a few of the fried yucca together with the steak and some of the field greens. If you'd like, you can make a garlic mayonnaise to dip the yucca in, though I'm sure ketchup would be fine, if you're into that sort of thing.
What to pair it with?
Few wines like to be paired with grilled meat like Australian Shiraz. Traditionally big, jammy wines with nice tannins, an Australian Shiraz will often give you enough structure to stand up to grilled meat but doesn't overpower as can sometimes happen with a European Cabernet. Plus, summertime grilling should be about fun and friends, an ostensibly Australian sensibility. For this dish I went with an exceptionally food-friendly wine, 2 Up Shiraz:
Color--Deep rich, inky red, lightening to a lush ruby at the edges.
Nose--A brash, fruit-forward nose with definite dark stone fruit and berry aromas. Plum, raspberry and blue berry are all found in the wine's complex aroma. There's also a hint of smoke, a breath of spice and a touch of leather.
Palate--A big, succulent, full-bodied wine with excellent fruit characteristics and nice tannins. The mouth feel is excellent and less overpowering than one might expect from such a big wine.
Finish--The finish is slightly warm and tannic with lingering fruits.