I have been wanting to visit the University District Farmer’s Market for a long while now. It is the oldest and largest farmer only market in the area, and many of our existing and potential suppliers vend there every week. This is a hub for Seattle’s chefs to pick up orders from suppliers, as well as for anyone else to walk in and get a bounty of wonderful items. Mark and I finally got to go on Saturday! The market is a block long and a half a block wide, and very impressive. The vendors set up with umbrellas, awnings, tables and even deli cases to show their wares! It made me think of the Union Square market in NYC, though it was nowhere near that size and abundance. We saw many friends from the Chef’s Collaborative, (likeToboton Creek Goat Farm) some of whom we cannot use as suppliers because they don’t come anywhere near Silverdale. A couple of them are actually based on the Olympic Peninsula and they travel to this market every week, but won’t come to Silverdale. I am their only demand and it would not be worth it to them, financially, to come this way just for me. I am patient and we are trying to find others who want to use them, but that is proving to be a bit more difficult than I thought it would be.

We had a great time visiting the market! Here is a sampling of the folks there, all of whom we have used as suppliers at least once if not regularly:Nash’s Organic ProduceWooly Pig FarmEstrella Creamery (you may remember I blogged about our visit to that farm in June) Appel Farms Farmstead CheeseBluebird Grain Farms, and Taylor Shellfish Farm. If you have a Saturday free to go to the other side, you should definitely visit this market. I was in heaven! There are many more vendors than that, and we bought all sorts of good stuff to help us create a wonderful dinner for our 17th wedding anniversary on Sunday. We just finished up our leftovers and it was Yummy!

When I was in Italy 2 years ago I brought back some wine. I had my first taste of Brunello di Montalcino and I have been saving the bottle I brought from the Santa Giulia Winery. I decided to build a menu around the wine for our anniversary dinner, and finally share this bottle of loveliness with Mark. While at the market we bought all the components like veggies, meats and bread, that we would need to create the meal, and I know it all made a huge difference in the flavors that each dish had.

This menu is very simple. I needed to keep it that way since I am still far from 100% on my feet with this healing ankle. Besides, nearly all of our cooking is simple, since we are fairly simple ourselves! Here are the dishes that I made and some basic instructions in case you want to try any of these. You can do it, believe me!

Braised Pork (from Wooly Pigs)
I trimmed the fat and cut the meat into cubes, about an inch or so square. I threw some salt and pink peppercorns into my doufeu (a Dutch oven) and poured a bottle of sangiovese (read below about why) in. It was just enough to cover the meat completely, and I brought that to a boil. I dumped in all the meat and bones along with some chunks of onion and garlic, brought it down to a low simmer, and covered the pot. I left it on the stove for about 4 hours.

At the end of 4 hours I pulled all the solids out of the pot and turned it up high to begin reducing the sauce. I skimmed the top layer of fat off and let it reduce way, way down. I pulled the meat out of the solids pile and set it aside, including what other meat I could pull off the bones now that they were cooked. After the sauce was done reducing (it took a while to get it down to a nice, thick consistency) I tossed the meat back in and warmed it all together.

Swiss Chard
I brought a pot of water to a boil and cooked 2 bunches of rainbow chard for about 15 minutes. I pulled it out and drained it well. I diced some onion and let it caramelize lightly in olive oil. Once that was done I through in a touch of garlic, some salt and pepper, pepperoncini (the little red pepper flakes that many people put on pizza) and the chard. I sauteed the chard for a couple of minutes and when it was finished I doused on some aged balsamic vinegar that is SO scrumptious!

Gnocchi with browned butter sauce
I was still trying to decide between garlic mashed potatoes, polenta or risotto as the starch, when I walked by the handmade pasta booth at the market. Hello! Gnocchi screamed easy since I didn’t have to make it, and I instantly thought of how good it would be with the other dishes.
I brought a pot of water to boil and then salted it. I cooked the gnocchi until it floated, about 4 minutes maybe. Meanwhile I threw some butter in a pan and let it brown. When it was about done I added truffle salt, a touch of garlic (yes, I do love that garlic) and then I tossed in the Gnocchi. I topped it all with some fresh flat leaf parsley, and some freshly grated pecorino Romano (the only thing I didn’t buy at the market! I tried, but no sheep cheese. I got this at the Italian market within the Pike Place Market.) Mark is not normally a huge fan of gnocchi, but then again I had never made it for him. Now he loves it!

We also bought a couple of grass-fed beef New York steaks from one of the vendors. Most of it went into the freezer but we cooked up a bit just so we could see how it would make the wine taste. Remember, this meal was all about the wine! Mark seared it a nice medium rare on the outdoor grill and the flavor was fabulous.
Side note: I don’t like the taste of corn-fed beef and it is only recently that I discovered what my dislike was. Grass fed (which is the cow’s natural diet; don’t see too many cows munching corn if they have a choice) beef tastes like beef tasted when I was a kid. Good! Corn/grain fed has an ‘icky’ (I am SO technical) metallic like flavor that I just cannot get past, no matter how fancy the aging or cooking is. I thought I had lost my taste for all beef until I was in Italy and had their grass fed beef. It was so good and it made me try it again when I got home, but I had the same taste that I did not like. Then I tried the grass fed and found out that I am such a food snob, I don’t even know it most the time!

We also bought some Italian peasant bread at the market. We warmed it in the oven and drizzled it with fabulous olive oil and used it to sop up the juices. MMMMM!!

So that was our wonderful anniversary dinner. Mark said he could feel my love in every bite! That is what I cook for. The wine was as good as I remembered, and Mark loved it too.

Oh and I can’t forget! In case you don’t know about Brunello, it is made from a clone of the original sangiovese grape. (In wine, cloning is fine!) That is why I braised the pork in the sangiovese, so it would echo the flavors of the bottle we were drinking. The cooking bottle was another bottle I had sent back from Italy, and while I would normally not cook with that bottle, I felt it was significant to the meal and the wine behind it. You can cook with any wine, but NEVER buy a ‘cooking’ wine. You must cook with wine that you would drink; after all it is imparting important flavors to your food. You want it to taste good, but it certainly does not need to be expensive. Follow your instincts and play around, you will find what is good. I did not find any recipe that braised pork in red wine-only broth or white wine. I wanted to try the red wine braise; I thought it would taste good so I did it. And it DID taste good! I also did not brown the meat first, as I normally would do for a braise, because I wanted the wine to permeate every cell of the meat and not have any competition for flavor, even if that flavor was good. It may or may not have been better to brown it, I won’t know and it doesn’t matter since we loved it!

So try one of these cooking ideas, or make one up on your own. Let us know how it turns out! Remember, you can never make mistakes in the kitchen; you can only have learning experiences… and LOVE, of course!