What could possibly be better than the first day of spring, 70 degrees and sun on a Portland March day, AND the opening of the Portland Farmers Market? It truly was Saturday perfection yesterday when me and my best friend Heather ventured into the heart of the PSU park blocks to inaugurate a season I hope to live and love to its fullest.
We've had this date circled in red on the calendar for a good month or so. Our plan was to go and make a meal from the local, in-season ingredients, a la Barbara Kingsolver. With a market like this, it wasn't too daunting of a task. I've been to quite a few markets throughout the Pacific Northwest - the tiny, discontinued weekly gathering in my hometown comprised of a psychic, a birdhouse-maker, and my sister's boyfriend's grandma peddling pies. The posh-and-pricey Lake Oswego Market, where rich women pile in to block your path with strollers and agonize over strawberry varietals. The Puyallup Market, where I got my first $20 free-range broiler chicken. The start-up Villebois Sunday Market just steps away from our last apartment, which was unbeatable in the convenience factor but relying a little too heavily on the kettle-korn-and-flower segment. The thing that makes the Portland Farmers Market as exciting as it is for foodies is that it is all about the food. There are no goat milk soaps, no questionably attractive jewelry, no "whimsical" yard signs with "funny" phrases on them. Unless you are selling something genuinely edible, you're not going to have a booth here.
Without the filler, you get down to the meat. And the pesto. And the fresh pasta. And the chevre. When it comes to variety of prepared food and raw ingredients, you're not going to beat the Portland Farmers Market. It literally is an outdoor market - you could do your weeks' grocery shopping here, and not have to stop at Fred Meyer on the way home.
"I've been pre-thinking," I admitted to Heather as we passed the welcome booth. "And I thought, what if we did a quiche? With a fresh salad?"
"Ooo, that would be good!" she sweetly conceded. "I've got some Fiorucci prosciutto at home from work that we could use if we don't find anything else."
Oh, that's probably something of note. Heather and I met working at a specialty food distribution company. She's still there, with the perks of free delicious samples. Why am I no longer marketing cheese? That is a story for another day, another blog, another book.
As we walked toward the first produce vendors, I was momentarily sidetracked when I recognized a display of raw honey jars. It was the same floral, deep amber honey that I had bought last year at the Villebois Sunday Market, which was now down to the last sad, crystallized spoonfulls in my cabinet. "Oh my god! You're here!" I exclaimed, gleefully grabbing a replacement.
After passing several produce vendors, we began to get a feel for what we were working with. Lots of leafy, hearty green vegetables. For the salad, everyone was sporting spinach. The moment I saw arugula, I dove for it. I had it already in my mind that I wanted leek instead of onion, so I picked out what looked like the biggest of the bunch and stuffed it in my basket. And in between the braising greens and root vegetables I spotted something I hadn't tried before - broccoli rabe. "I bet this would be good if we sauteed it down a little bit for the quiche," I suggested.
Heather was craving feta for the spinach-and-arugula salad, and toward the end of the west row we came across a new goat's milk creamery from Woodland. According to the vendor, this was her first batch of cheese, and she was super-excited.
When it comes to cheese, we are not a pair that's easy to impress. As official professional cheese snobs, we've had it all, from Alouette spread to Delice de Bourgogne, artisan creameries to corporate milk conglomerates and everything in between. So it was with more trepidation than expectation that we tried the Strawberry semi-hard goat cheese.
Whatever those rookie goats are doing, they're doing it right.
The cheese was some of the best I've had since leaving the business two years ago. Absolutely no barniness or goaty aftertaste. And unlike most flavored cheese (*cough*BritishCheese*cough), the strawberry wasn't fake or overpowering. It was just hanging out in the background, not being too sweet or strong, just bringing enough character to make you wonder, "wow! What is in this?" We had our salad!
A couple booths were gathering a large crowd of customers and full-on camera crews with their morels and shiitakes, but we wanted a mild mushroom that wouldn't have to fight with the prosciutto. After a few tries we found some good ol' creminis, and in the meantime I spotted a tagline that made me stop in my tracks (not easy to do, since it was getting more and more crowded): "Pasture-Raised, Hazelnut-Finished Pork."
Hazelnut-Finished? Like the heritage pigs in Italy? Ooooh. It's just like poetry. I picked up two pork chops for Matt and I to enjoy later, and we were ready to go. If I was going to pay for parking and another dozen Full Of Life eggs on the way home, I was going to need the little cash I had left.
When we got back to the house, I immediately started Ina Garten's Perfect Piecrust in the beloved Kitchen Aid as Heather washed and prepped the veggies. Her fiance tried looking up quiche recipes on his iPhone, but only came up with those that called for pre-cooked pie crust. Neither of us had actually made quiche before, and I don't keep frozen pie crust on hand, ever. Running with just the ratio of eggs to milk, we began winging would could potentially be a very effort-filled fuckup.
We sauteed the leek and a couple garlic cloves in olive oil and butter, and added the sliced mushrooms at the very end so at least they wouldn't be raw in the eggs. Then I gave the same treatment to the long stems of broccoli rabe. When it was just starting to soften up a bit, I scooped it back out on the cutting board and sliced into generous chunks. I have a new favorite vegetable. It's like a cross between broccoli and asparagus. I can't wait to work it into the weeknight side dish rotation so that green beans, green salad and corn can take some extra time off.
While the quiche baked and a Penzey's mix vinaigrette married flavors, we all sat out on the porch and actually felt warm. The fuzzy feeling from being able to realize a sunny afternoon with friends in your very own, hard-earned backyard felt pretty good, too.
When all of our hard work was said and done and we sat down to eat, the procured provisions didn't stand a chance. Every last crumb in the Emile Henry pie plate was obliterated, and even the fast-food addicted boys were cheering for real food. Sure, Matt thought the broccoli rabe was spinach- "putting spinach in there was genius", he proclaimed - but we can't educate everyone overnight.
I am proud and confident to present the recipe for Heather and Tabitha's First Quiche. It's the perfect way to use all those beautiful things you brought home, but may not have any idea what to do with.
2 cups whole milk (I still had leftover raw milk from last week! But now it's gone... sad)
1/2 cup shredded cheese (we used extra-sharp Tillamook cheddar that I had in the deli drawer)
5 slices of prosciutto, cut into small strips
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced and stemmed
1 leek, diced
1 bunch broccoli rabe, sauteed and cut into 1" strips
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 recipe for Ina Garten's Perfect Pie Crust, half-baked in the oven for about 25 minutes
Whisk together the eggs and milk in a bowl. Set aside. Saute the leek and garlic in olive oil and butter until softened, about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add mushroom and leek mixture and all the other ingredients to the egg mixture, and pour into the semi-finished pie crust. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until the eggs are 98% set. Top with a little extra cheese. Oh, and feel free to substitute the fillings for whatever your market gives you :)