In the great Venn diagram of "eating" and "socializing," summertime occupies that sweet slice right in the middle. No one ever exclaims, "Whooo, it's eighteen degrees; let's gather 'round the goulash!" but people do get excited about sharing food and drink on a warm summer evening. And while it's perfectly acceptable to fire up the Weber and grill a metric ton of pork steaks, why not try something a little more gourmet? The St. Louis area boasts fantastic farmers' markets, places where you'll find everything you need to throw an amazing dinner party. Buying locally sourced food is healthy for you and for the local economy, so take advantage of this win-win situation. And feel free to modify the following recipes to your taste our feelings won't be (too) hurt.
Eat Your Greens
Cheese fiends, rejoice: Every week, you can buy Goatsbeard Farm's fresh goat cheese at the Maplewood Farmers' Market (7260 Southwest Avenue, Maplewood; open from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday). This award-winning cheese (recipient of top honors from the American Goat Dairy Association) has long been available at fabulous restaurants like Harvest and The Crossing, but once you taste it, you'll want to cook with it all the time. All. The. Time. Goatsbeard's creamy chèvre is delicious by itself, and is astronomically good atop a fresh green salad.
Mixed Field Greens with Warm Goat Cheese
12 ounces mixed field greens (endive, radicchio, arugula, etc.)
8 ounces (2 round packages) Goatsbeard Farm fresh goat cheese
3/4 cup fine breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon fresh oregano
1 teaspoon fresh basil
2 large egg whites
1 tablespoon olive oil
Fresh black pepper and sea salt, to taste
Raspberry vinaigrette, to taste
In a medium-size bowl, combine breadcrumbs, oregano and basil. In a small bowl, beat egg whites with a whisk until foamy. Slice each goat-cheese round into thirds (for a total of six slices). Dip each slice of goat cheese first into the egg, and then into the breadcrumb mixture. Set aside on a plate. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high until hot, but not smoking. Transfer cheese slices from plate to skillet, and cook for two to three minutes on each side (or until golden brown keep an eye on them!). Toss field greens with raspberry vinaigrette (store-bought is fine if you don't have time to make your own) and divide the greens among six salad plates. Place warm goat cheese on top of greens and finish with fresh black pepper and sea salt, if desired.
Soup for You
Ain't no law that you can't have soup in summertime particularly when it's cold soup, and super-particularly when it's made using the luscious tomatoes from CJ's Produce stand at the Kirkwood Farmers' Market (150 East Argonne Drive, Kirkwood; open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday). One of the best things about gazpacho (besides its summer-perfect, refreshing qualities) is that you can make it a day in advance. It tastes even better that way and you don't have to stress about scorching the soup while you entertain your friends.
Serves 6 to 8
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (6 to 7 tomatoes), diced
1 small red pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium green pepper, seeded and diced
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Hot sauce (if desired)
Fresh black pepper and sea salt, to taste
Place all ingredients in a large bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. For a smoother soup, place all ingredients in food processor and blend until the desired consistency. (Note: If the soup is thicker than you'd like, gradually add 1/4 cup water until you're satisfied with the results.) Serve gazpacho in small soup bowls with toasted bread on the side.
The Main Attraction
While the phrase "farmers' market" might conjure images of bountiful produce (fair enough), most markets in town also offer farm-raised, preservative- and hormone-free meats and eggs. At a time when a national debate rages over meat and dairy safety, it's comforting to know that local, healthful options are available. One of the best sources is Prairie Grass, a lamb farm run by Dave Hillebrand and his family. Prairie Grass' products are available at the excellent Tower Grove Farmers' Market & Bazaar (in Tower Grove Park off of Arsenal Street, west of the Pool Pavilion; open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday).
The Hillebrands' lamb is so tender and savory that it never needs a complicated marinade or a heavy sauce just rub the chops with fresh herbs and throw 'em on the grill. And maybe get a friend to keep an eye on the lamb while you prepare an out-of-this-world risotto, using the Ozark Forest mushrooms available at the Maplewood Farmers' Market.
Perfect Grilled Lamb Chops
6 lamb chops, 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (use the good stuff!)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Heat the grill. Using a pastry brush or your fingers, brush both sides of each chop with olive oil. Rub each chop with the salt, pepper and rosemary. Grill the chops for about five minutes on each side (for medium rare six minutes for medium. If you want your lamb well-done, you shouldn't be eating lamb, bro). Serve immediately.
Serves 6 to 8
8 cups chicken broth
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine (Missouri's own Stone Valley Vidal Blanc works well!)
1/2 cup Ozark Forest dried chanterelle mushrooms
1/2 cup Ozark Forest dried shiitake mushrooms
3 tablespoons butter, divided
2/3 cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Cover the mushrooms in hot water; let soak for 20 minutes. Remove mushrooms from water and place on a paper towel to drain. In a large saucepan, heat chicken broth to a simmer (not to a boil). Keep broth on a low heat. In another large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. When butter is nearly melted, add Arborio rice. Cook the rice, stirring constantly, until it is golden brown (about 4 to 5 minutes). Add the wine and stir until it's absorbed. Stir in the broth, 1 cup at a time (wait until the broth is entirely absorbed before adding the next cup). After 6 cups of broth have been added, add more broth just 1/4 cup at a time, tasting the rice with each addition. (Risotto should be creamy, yet firm to the bite.) Once the risotto has reached the desired consistency, gently stir in 1 tablespoon butter and the mushrooms. Divide the risotto among 6 to 8 plates, garnishing each with a handful of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
After serving such an elaborate and generous meal, you don't need to make a dessert that requires three assistants and a blowtorch. Instead, dish up a treat that's as simple as it delicious: ice cream with fresh summer berries. Scoop up an assortment of flavors (from local ice-cream palace Serendipity, perhaps?) and serve with strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries from the granddaddy of all St. Louis farmers markets, the Soulard Market (Seventh and Lafayette streets; open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday). If you're feeling particularly indulgent (we often are), top the whole shebang with Stinger's Honey sold by the incomparable Ms. Joy Stinger at the Clayton Farmers' Market (found in its new location, the Straub's parking lot at 8282 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday). Happy eating! Happy summer!