Frequent shoppers of the Union Station Farmers' Market may have seen Coperta's tall, bearded chef, Russ Fox, walking around the stands most Saturday mornings. This past weekend Fox was easy to spot; he was the featured chef at the market's weekly cooking demo, along with his colleague, chef Kenny Minton of Pizzeria Coperta in the Broadway Market.
Most of the previous demos have highlighted a specific seasonal ingredient, but after the sub-freezing temperatures last week, paired with snow and heavy wind, shoppers and chefs weren't sure what would be available. Luckily, farmers received plenty of warning of the season's first winter storm, and many of them harvested as much as they could, making this past weekend's market bountiful with tomatoes, turnips, beets, peppers and eggplant. Fox took advantage of this and made a dish with Mile High Fungi chestnut and oyster mushrooms, frills mustard from Ollin Farms, garlic from Rocky Mountain Fresh, goat cheese from Haystack Mountain Cheese, Honeycrisp apples from Ela Family Farm and thyme from Croft Family Farm.
"This time of year is great because everything is changing," Fox explained as he tore apart meaty blue oyster mushrooms and tossed them into a pot of simmering olive oil. "With the frost last week, it was all up in the air, which is fun for planning a restaurant menu. We love to come to the market and shop just like everyone else."
The dish Fox landed on was a mushroom conserva, or basically, preserved mushrooms. He poached the three pounds of fungi in olive oil, with a sachet of fresh thyme and garlic. It's a concoction, says Fox, that only gets better with time, and you can keep a conserva for about six weeks and add it to salads, pasta dishes, toast, stew, and just about anything you want to give an herby, earthy and olive-tinged flavor.
For the demo, Fox mixed his mushroom conserva with bright, spicy and somewhat delicate frills mustard from Ollin Farms, carefully julienned apples and a dash of goat cheese at the end.
"Mark's greens are the best," Fox said of farmer Mark Ollin. "Most mustard greens end up really strong and bitter, but his are super-balanced without being too spicy. I spend a lot of my week dealing with farmers and ranchers, since the menu changes each month."
Fox enjoys the thrill of finding new things to eat at the market and learning who grows the best radishes, tomatoes, greens and other produce. For his cooking demonstration, he really wanted to showcase as many of the farms as he could, and he did a fantastic job. So good, in fact, that I copied his purchases, taking home the same ingredients so I could re-create the slightly salty, spicy, umami-rich and hearty mushroom conserva salad for lunch at home.
As for the farmers, the snowstorm certainly had a big effect on their presence at the market. Michelle Cockroft of Croft Family Farm said they were selling the last of what could be harvested, and in the next two weeks market-goers could expect a large lettuce bar to be available. Over at Ela Family Farms, all the apples and fruit were picked save for Fuji, which tend to get better with a cold snap (which was less harsh on the fruit thanks to big fans on the farm that keep the chill off, similar to what vintners do with wine grapes) and hopefully some storage apples. Mark Waltermire of Thistle Whistle Farm noted that it was a big job to harvest all the peppers and other frost-sensitive vegetables, but it wasn't total devastation.
"We got in everything that was vulnerable, and what we have is what we have," he explained while peddling his piles of peppers. "The root crops are fine, and the cold actually makes them taste better, since they produce more sugar in freezing temperatures."
Go see what will be available at the end of season during the last two weeks of this market, and possibly pick up some of Waltermire's superb root vegetables. Josh Olson of ACRES at Warren Tech will be leading the cooking demo next Saturday, October 19, followed by the final demo, hosted by Franco Ruiz of Woodie Fisher on October 25. Both run from 10 to 11 a.m. and are free to the public.
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