S F Forage keeps popping up in my consciousness or e-mail box, quite predictably peaking my curiosity, so when I got the secret e-mail regarding the date and location of the “underground” farmers market I could not resist the pull, but I did. Then my friend Gigi called and said she was going to the East Bay one, they also have it in S F, so I went. Very interesting indeed. Having been a part of helping organize above ground farmers markets for a long time I wanted to know what the difference was, plus it stirred my competitive ire. When I asked the folks at Forage SF, via their website, what the difference was, it really was only differentiated by the permit processes that choke a good deal of crazy inventive and mega talented chefs, bakers and food producers. To sell at a regular farmers market you need proof of a permitted commercial kitchen to produce your food in according to all health codes. You also have to follow a whole host of sometimes ridiculous rules. This can be not only intimidating but expensive as well and incredibly inconvenient to boot. At the underground market you do not go through this process. As I was explaining this to my Dad, he voiced the thought we all had upon first hearing of this which is, in a word, yuk.
At the last minute we were given the location, an auto dealer parking yard at Broadway and 24th in Oakland. Intriguing. When we rounded the corner off Broadway we were greeted with a long line outside of a gate. On the inside of the gate were several hundred people milling about and probably about 50 vendors peddling their wares. After scouting a parking spot, we waited in a pretty swift moving queue and paid two bucks at the gate to get in. Scents wafting about our heads kept us in that line salivating, anticipating gastronomies’ delights. First we encountered these amazing vegan chocolate and lavender cupcakes and truffles, beautifully and professionally decorated. Meringue sandwich cookies, chocolate chip cookies, handmade breads, caramel and fluer de sel ice cream, basil ice cream, more luscious cupcakes, enough sweet stuff to make you feel high just looking. I succumbed to a delightfully tiny coconut and vanilla bean cupcake. My eyes blurred and I had to stop Gigi and Kelly to make them take a bit. Amazingly and surprisingly it tasted as good as it looked. Most baked goods, in my opinion, do not and are not worth the calories. We tasted kombucha, a fermented drink with intestinal healing qualities that we quickly realized we would need if we tasted too much more. Heirloom tomatoes layered in a Chinese take out container with hand made fresh ricotta, basil sprouts and olive oil topped with a crack of black pepper was the best savory food to my palate although there was a really nice lentil and lentil sprout dish that was a close second. Things I did not taste but can only imagine were really good were the macaroni and cheese with homemade hotdogs, sharp cheddar and salty potato chips sprinkled on top. These guys had a long line as did the jerk chicken people, the slider people and the ever present pulled pork people. All organic, hormone free, fresh made buns, fresh made mustard and ketchup etcetera. We tasted a tamale with black beans and quinoa that was great and there was even a stand selling raclette melted under an ingenious machine imported from Switzerland gooed over the top of garlic and olive oil roasted Yellow Finn potatoes and cornichons. Also present at many booths were the jams and jellies representing peak season in California. One fascinating to observe hippy guy was concocting these cones made of flax seed and spices with yummy salads and pastes inside drizzled with his special tamarind sauce. I did not see anything yucky, nefarious doings or anything dirty or not at the temperature it should be at. Plus there was really good beer on tap.
Live music was setting up to play when we finally left after 8 pm. They were going to 10 pm and the party was getting started.
I did not see anywhere any fresh produce though. Apparently there was an earlier market that was all produce and this was the all food one. Vendors are strictly screened and pay fifty bucks a pop to appear in the underground market. They all said that it was indeed a circuit and they knew all the vitals well ahead and that there was always a line around the block at all the markets. It was a fun experience and I will go again when a certain secret e-mail drops almost as if by a Hogwarts owl into my box.
Some summer recipes…..
Fresh Corn and Tomato Risotto
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped fine
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 cups Aborio rice
1 cup white wine
7 to eight cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups fresh corn cut off the cob
1 cup chopped fresh heirloom tomatoes, your choice
½ bunch chopped fresh basil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Manchego cheese for grating on top
In a medium saucepan, heat the stock. Heat olive oil in a wide heavy pan. Add the onion and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes and add the rice. Sauté the rice until opaque in color. Add the wine and let simmer for a minute. Add the stock a ½ cup at a time allowing it to absorb after each addition stirring constantly. The rice will become creamy. Taste occasionally to check for tenderness. Add tomatoes and basil and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with cheese. Serve at once.
Serves 4 to 6.
Grilled Peaches w/ Fresh Mozzarella and Balsamic
3 pounds fresh peaches, peeled and halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound fresh mozzarella
½ cup basil leaves
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Toss the peaches in olive oil and set on a hot grill. Mark and heat through. Remove from grill and set aside. On a platter alternate slices of peach w/ slices of mozzarella and basil leaves. Drizzle w/ balsamic and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Eggplant, Summer Squash and Heirloom Tomato Tian
4 Japanese eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise and grilled
4 yellow squash, sliced lengthwise and grilled
4 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced crosswise
1 pound chevre, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
On 4 separate plates, arrange a slice of tomato. Follow with a slice of squash and then a slice of eggplant. Sprinkle with a bit of rosemary and add a slice of chevre. Repeat w/ remaining slices of vegetables and cheese. Sprinkle w/ olive oil and vinegar and season w/ salt. Serves 4.