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Farmers' market opening helps cooks celebrate spring
Bursts of spring flavor

Farmers' market opening helps cooks celebrate spring

After months of hearty — but largely brown — stews, who isn’t craving something crisp and green?

Thankfully, the outdoor Dane County Farmers’ Market on Capitol Square opens Saturday and soon will be flooded with asparagus, spinach, garlic and rhubarb. Not to mention meats, cheeses, plants and baked-goods galore.

And while it may take a few weeks for the full array of goodies to appear at vendors’ stands, it’s certainly not too soon to start thinking about some tasty spring dishes.

Tom Brantmeier, of Brantmeier Family Farm in Green County, said he’s often asked for recipes while manning his booth.

“I think it’s part of what we do ... help people learn more about the possibilities with what they can do with real food,” said Brantmeier, who hopes to have stinging nettles, spinach and spring garlic at market by the end of the month. “People aren’t used to being creative with real food.”

For an early spring dish, Brantmeier suggests his “instant green soup for spring,” made with nettles and fresh vegetables.

The recipe can be adapted to anytime of year, Brantmeier said. And is “quite delicious cold.”

Brantmeier said people often think soups are a big fuss to make, but his recipe takes only about 15 minutes.

“It uses seasonally available greens and you make a lot to last the week,” he said. Brantmeier also suggests adding seared stew meat (he prefers bison) or cooked dry beans as a way to vary the leftovers throughout the week.

One pricey highlight of the spring farmers’ market is morel mushrooms.

Rob Grisham, executive chef at Brasserie V, encourages market-goers to get over the sticker shock (he’s seen them reach $40 a pound) and enjoy the earthy-tasting mushroom while its season lasts.

“You don’t really need to do much with them,” Grisham said of cooking morels. Sautéing the mushrooms in butter with a little salt and pepper is one easy option. The sautéed morels also make a delicious and rich topping for a New York strip steak, he said.

Grisham also suggests a “very simple” morel ragout made with shallots and garlic, which bring out the mushroom’s flavor. (See recipe page G3).

One tip to remember when cooking with morels is to make sure they’re clean, otherwise “you get a mouthful of sand,” he said.

And if you can’t find morels, or don’t want to spend the money, Grisham said the same ragout can be made with oyster mushrooms, usually available at market.

Another option at early markets is meat, and Michael Liotta, executive chef at Merchant, encourages at-home cooks to experiment with a protein they haven’t used before.

For example, if people like making a traditional ground beef meatloaf, consider making it with fresh pork, bison or ostrich instead, he said.

“If you find something at the market that you’ve never worked with before, you have the farmer right there in front of you (to ask questions),” Liotta said.

Liotta was the featured chef at a recent indoor farmers’ market breakfast, where he incorporated emu and ostrich in a breakfast burrito.

Ostrich is high in protein and “is a very rich red with very little fat and a familiar, but rich beef flavor.” The burrito also included local potatoes, eggs and Muenster cheese; was wrapped in a locally-made tortilla; and topped with local salsa.

One item you can always count on at the first farmers’ market is fresh, squeaky cheese curds.

Sally Murphy, who runs Murphy Farms in Soldiers Grove with her husband, Tom, will be there Saturday with their curds, and for those with a sweet tooth, her maple syrup pecan coffee cake.

The coffee cake, made with vanilla yogurt and drizzled with a maple syrup glaze, can be varied by changing the yogurt flavor and substituting fruit for the nuts. (See recipe page G1).

Murphy said she’s also made the coffee cake with strawberries and strawberry yogurt and “it was really good.”

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