When it's hot and steamy and you don't want to spend time over a hot stove, a big salad is a great summer dinner idea. Chef DJ Nagle of Briar Common Brewery + Eatery shared his panzanella recipe and techniques using farm-fresh ingredients at the Union Station Farmers' Market for the chefs' demo on Saturday, June 16.
"Panzanella is a pretty easy and cool dish for the summer," said the chef, who came to the market with some ideas about what he might make, though wanted to garner inspiration through the vegetables available. "You don't have to cook all day and can even put the bread on the grill if you want."
There was no grill at the market booth, but Nagle did have a few burners to work with, so he began by heating up some olive oil in a pan, and then in went the ingredient of the week: garlic scapes.
"Garlic scapes are the shoot the garlic flower comes off of," the chef explained to the crowed gathering to watch him. "It's like a green onion but with a garlic taste."
The chef found these curly green beauties at the Boulder-based Cure Organic Farm stand, one of his first stops on our market tour. He also picked up a bag of arugula speckled with holes, something, said Nagle, that's common to see when you deal with organic produce. But, he added, don't shy away from it; just because the bugs had a bite that doesn't mean you shouldn't do the same.
As the garlic scapes sautéed, the chef cut up bread from Raleigh Street Bakery, a cottage shop that specializes in rustic loaves (which earned a Best of Denver award this year). In fact, Nagle used three kinds of bread from baker David Kaminer's selection: a sunflower rye, a seeded wheat and Turkey Red, a type of sourdough made with heirloom wheat. Once the bread had been neatly diced into bite-sized pieces, he removed the sizzling scapes from the pan and added the bread to the hot, flavored oil to toast every piece.
While the chef did this, Kent Dawson, co-owner of Briar Common in Jefferson Park, pitted four pounds of yellow-orange Rainier and deep-red Bing cherries from Morton's Orchards in Palisade.
"I think mixing this with the cherries gives the salad a great flavor," said Nagle. "That, with the fresh bread and arugula, is a great way to complete the whole thing."
But Nagle didn't stop there. Once the scapes and bread were cooked, he chopped up Brandywine and gorgeous purple Cherokee heirloom tomatoes (his favorite) from Rocky Mountain Fresh, located in Bailey. These he mixed with cherry tomatoes and chiffonaded Italian basil, also from the farm. The idea, he said, is to help give the dish an umami essence, which comes from the meatiness of these types of tomatoes.
"Doing this brings me back to summer in Long Island when I had to weed the garden because I was being a..." reminisced the New York-born chef, who moved to Denver in 1997. "Basil, I like to use this almost as a salad green, and the stems are a little fibrous, so cut them up as tiny as possible."
The basil, arugula and tomatoes went into the mix, along with crisp sunflower sprouts from Micro Farms, a collection of tiny metro gardens. The chef tossed all the ingredients together and added a dash of sherry vinaigrette and more olive oil. The final touch was a crumbling of applewood-smoked goat cheese from Haystack Mountain Cheese.
"Your hands, in my opinion, are one of your best tools," said the chef as he mixed up the medley of farmers' market ingredients.
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And with that the dish was done. This salad showcased not only the day's haul of local bread, fresh cheese and seasonal produce, but also something Nagle is working on for the beginning of July, for the brewpub's Chef + Brewer menu. The lineup will offer three seasonal small bites paired with the Briar Common's own beer. While the panzanella might not be on the inaugural menu, you can expect other fresh dishes made with the best of what's coming from Colorado farms.
As for that giant pot of panzanella, it quickly disappeared as Nagle dished out samples to onlookers. By 10:30 a.m., the chef was done and ready for the day's next adventure — working the brunch rush and the egg station at Briar Common.
Next week expect to see Jason Brown from Coohills (June 23), then Chris Starkus from Urban Farmer (June 30), and Nick Kayser from Vesta (July 7). All demos start at 10 a.m. For more photos, see our complete Union Station Farmers' Market chef's demo slideshow.