This past Saturday morning, chef Ian Wortham of Tavernetta (1889 16th Street) refused to let a little rain dampen his mood, and apparently, plenty of other people felt the same way, because the Union Station Farmers' Market teemed with shoppers and farmers.
"The variety at the farmers' market these last few years is greater than it has been in the past, and everything is super-delicious," says Wortham, who's been shopping the Union Station market since it launched in 2015. "The food we cook [at Tavernetta] is not about being super-flashy; it's simple and delicious, and it helps our food to start with good raw ingredients."
The chef was getting ready for the morning's cooking demo, and his feature ingredient was cherries, which have just come into season and can be found at the Morton's Orchards stand. As the chef di cucina of Tavernetta, located adjacent to Union Station, Wortham is an expert in Italian cuisine. So he decided to take those plump and perfect cherries and pair them with equally sublime trumpet and chestnut mushrooms from Mile High Fungi for a classic conserva, a type of condiment or side dish that involves preserving the food in olive oil with salt and vinegar.
"Cherries are great for dessert, but also for a lot of savory dishes," the chef explains while plucking stems from the ripe fruit. "Mushroom with cherry or other fruits is a classic combo in Italy."
Saturday, June 22, was the second day of summer, but bundled in a pullover like many others at the market, Wortham agreed it sure didn't feel that way. Luckily, farms are producing plenty of good stuff, and between bins of crisp spring greens and hearty beets, shoppers found the first carrots, crunchy kohlrabi and bright Swiss chard. To go with the cherry and mushroom conserva, Wortham picked up tangy goat cheese from Haystack Mountain Cheese and peppery watercress from Croft Family Farm, one of the newer purveyors this year.
Back at his booth, the chef pitted cherries, cut up the trumpet mushrooms and then cooked the fungi in a bath of fruity Italian olive oil and kosher salt. As those sautéed, he sliced the cherries in half and crumbled the cheese into manageable chunks. Once the mushrooms had cooked down enough, Wortham splashed white-wine vinegar into the mix, a technique, he says, used to lock in the flavor and add a bit of acid. Next the raw cherries and cooked mushrooms were mixed together, scooped into paper bowls (the farmers' market stocks compostable products) and topped with the goat cheese and sprigs of watercress.
"This is incredibly easy to do — but not something people really think about," says Wortham of the dish.
The Italian-style salad certainly proved one of the more unusual dishes to grace the market, but, says Wortham, it's a popular way of cooking in Italy. Though some of the observers were hesitant at first, all of the bowls were claimed and eaten, and by 11 a.m., Morton's had sold most of its cherries.
Not only did the shoppers get to try Wortham's tasty food, but the farmers' market was handing out "rain check" cards that get punched any Saturday when there's wet weather. Six punches earn $10 in market bucks to spend on fresh eggs from Jodar Farms, flowers from the Fresh Herb Co., truffles from Cultura Craft Chocolate or anything else at the market.
Visit the Union Station Farmers' Market at 1701 Wynkoop Street every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through October 26. The next chef's demos will be hosted by Matt Vawter of Mercantile Dining & Provision on June 29, Thach Tran of Ace Eat Serve on July 6 and Sheila Lucero of Big Red F (JAX Fish House and Lola) on July 13.
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