Farmer’s Market Challenge Part 2: Main Course and Dessert – Piacere, San Carlos, CA

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Photo courtesy of Miriam Russell-Wadleigh and Piacere Restaurant.

After the viewing success of Part 1, I bet you have been loitering around your computer waiting anxiously for news of Part 2. Well, here it is! This is the second installment of our Farmer’s Market Challenge dinner drama which took place last week. This part will describe the main courses, side dishes and dessert which were just as delectable as the starters featured in Part 1.

As a reminder, the Farmer’s Market Challenge at Piacere (pia-chair-ay) in San Carlos, California is a ‘Eat Local’ challenge to get people interested in and eating seasonal, local produce. Guests bring in vegetables and herbs that they have grown themselves or picked up at a farmer’s market and the chef creates a fantastic meal using those ingredients as well as making additions of her own.

Our baskets included:

Basket One

Bok Choy, Beet Greens, Rat Tail Radishes, Mizuna (Pepper Cress), Nasturtium Flowers and Leaves, Pea Shoots, Snow Peas and English Peas, Grape Shoots (the end of the branches with the new leaves and tendrils), Baba Berries, Strawberries, a Lemon, a Lime, Lemon Leaves, Eggs, Bee Pollen, Home-canned Tuna with Basil, Oregano and Rosemary (a friend caught the tuna in Morro Bay), Peppermint, Lemon Balm (Lemon Mint).

Basket Two

Fava Beans, Spring Onions, Morels (foraged from the Sierras just outside Yosemite), Candy Cap Mushrooms, Eggs, local Honey Comb and local Honey (from Campbell), New Potatoes, Purple Potatoes.

Bibs on? Ok, here we go!

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One of the side dishes was fava beans with new potatoes and mint which was absolutely delicious. Nothing like potatoes that were dug out of the ground only about an hour before! Fava beans and mint is a pretty classic combination and it definitely works. The main thing was that we didn’t have to pod, blanch and shell the fava beans! We showed up with whole fava beans and all the hard work was done for us, leaving us to enjoy their delicious freshness. As an aside, my grandmother has since read that eating a half of a cup of fava beans a day can help those suffering from Parkinson’s because fava beans contain Levodopa which is put into Parkinson’s medication. PLEASE NOTE that if you are taking medication for Parkinson’s eating fava beans can negate the effects of the medication and might even have negative effects, so check with your doctor before you start noshing!

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The second side dish was morel mushrooms with beet greens and stems. For those of you who have never had morel mushrooms, they are incredibly meaty and because they’ve got a honey comb-like structure they absorb flavors really well. This dish was really earthy and the greens complemented the mushrooms beautifully.

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Now on to the main event! The first main course was salmon with bok choy, candy cap mushrooms, bee pollen and orange oil. When this came out I was utterly stunned. Candy cap mushrooms are amazing, first of all. They taste and smell like maple syrup – so much so that we’ve even made ice cream out of them (blog post to come on that!). After thinking about this for a minute, I realized that, of course, salmon would go with maple syrup. And what would make it even better? Orange. Maple syrup and orange? Definitely a good combination. Maple and orange and salmon? Completely fantastic. The bok choy was great and married with everything really well. I can’t say I tasted the bee pollen in particular, but by this point I was so absorbed in the salmon/candy cap combination that I wasn’t paying attention to much else.

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Next was this behemoth of a pork chop which was smoked and served with grilled spring onions and a baba berry gastrique. Baba berries are small, raspberry-like berries and they tasted amazing with the pork. I think we agreed as a group that pork loves fruit, but the slightly charred spring onions also went fantastically well with the fruity gastrique. If the salmon, candy cap and bok choy was the most intriguing dish, this was the most satisfying. Tangy, sweet, smoky, caramelized, what more do you want? It was perfect.

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Dessert – or the cheese course, however you want to look at it – was strawberries with sopraffina (super fine) ricotta and quince saba. Saba is explained in my previous post and, as it’s used in balsamic vinegar of Modena, you can imagine it goes so well with strawberries and the ricotta added a lovely creaminess and subtle sheepy tang. This was a light and fresh finish to a fantastic meal and a wonderful experience.

I can’t wait to go back, but given the popularity of these posts I hope I can get a reservation before the summer’s over!

Bon appetit!

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