Yes, tasty at-work meals are possible, thanks to the bounty of the Downtown Farmer's Market
It's 6 a.m., the air is chill, the sun won't be up for another 20 minutes, but the sellers at the Nicollet Mall Thursday Farmer's Market don't notice as they rush to unload their trucks, get them parked and display their produce before the first customers arrive.
The Thursday market is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. May through October. Right now is my favorite time of year for market shopping; I lose control and buy more vegetables and fruits than I can possibly cook. Here are some of my favorite things to make with the abundance right outside your door. I chose recipes that could be made in an office kitchen, so you can host a fresh Market lunch.
Italian Bread Salad
This simple peasant salad relies on vine-ripened tomatoes, garden cucumbers, onions, sweet peppers and just-picked sweet basil for its goodness. Use a good, sturdy bread -- Pain au Levain from Franklin Bakery, The Marketplace at Marshall Fields, 11th and Nicollet Mall, 1 1/2-pound loaf, $3.29. Buy it a day ahead; it is best slightly stale.
Tools needed: knife, strainer, measuring spoons. For a salad to serve 4:
Half-loaf of good country-style bread, slightly stale, cut or torn into 1-inch cubes
To assemble, add bread, vegetables and sweet basil to serving bowl. Mix garlic with vinegar, olive oil, and water, whisk with a fork, pour over salad, toss, season with salt and pepper, let rest for 5 minutes tossing occasionally so bread absorbs juices from vegetables and dressing.
Taste and correct seasonings, garnish with anchovy filets if desired.
Microwaved Corn on the Cob with Lemon or Lime Butter
The freshest corn, aside from ears from your garden, is the corn sold at the market. Choose ears with small underdeveloped kernels at the tip of the ear - they're sweeter and tenderer. Cut off silk and stalk, remove only the first layer of leaves. The corn, steamed in Mother Nature's packaging, will be the corniest you've ever tasted.
For a single ear, cook 5 minutes total, 2 1/2 minutes each side; for four ears, cook 15 minutes, turning ears every 5 minutes. Let them cool before peeling back husks and silk!
Serve with butter pre-seasoned with drops of lemon or lime juice, salt and black or cayenne pepper.
Toaster-Oven Fresh Peach, Nectarine or Plum Tarts
Many of the fruits at the market aren't local - but peaches, nectarines and plums are in season, wherever they're from. Buy fruits that are highly aromatic, give slightly to the gentlest squeezing, and are free of bruises or blemishes; ask to taste before you buy.
For each tart you will need:
Drizzle lemon oil over toast, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of sugar, arrange slices of fruit to completely cover toast, sprinkle on remaining sugar and bake in toaster oven until sugar dissolves and is beginning to caramelize and fruit is starting to collapse, about 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Serve hot, accompanied by dollops of crme fraiche, mascarpone (Italian cream cheese) or a scoop of fresh peach or vanilla ice cream from Izzy's Ice Cream Caf, Main floor Medical Arts Building, 825 Nicollet Mall.
Surdyk's Liquor Store and Gourmet Cheese Shop, 303 E. Hennepin Ave, carries Boyajian Lemon Oil ($10), mascarpone cheese ($3 for 8 ounces) and two brands of crme fraiche at $3 and $7 a tub.
Rosemary Schaefer, the new cheese shop manager, has joined Surdyk's expert wine staff at their wine seminars with suggestions and tasting of food to serve with the wines being tasted. Coming up:
You can make reservations at 379-3232.
Finally, Aquavit, South 7th Street and the Nicollet Mall, is winding down summer with a favorite Swedish tradition, Crayfish Celebration. A crayfish dinner menu will be available all week Aug. 26-31.
Goodfellow's, 40 S. 7th St., has joined Aquavit in the $10 weekday lunch competition; they now have the Forum Lunch Special and lighter lunch entrees in the $10-and-under range.
Have a comment or a great Downtown food tip? Pam Sherman can be reached at email@example.com.