SOJ Chef Demo 11.24.12

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Chef Sam sporting his No Shave November look.

At this week’s South of the James farmers’ market cooking demo, Chef Sam Baker transformed local, seasonal ingredients into a delicious dish for market shoppers. It was a cold and windy morning, so I was grateful that we had an abundance of fall vegetables at our disposal. Fall and winter veggies have a way of warming you to your core, don’t they?

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Chef Sam gathered collard greens, butternut squash, and apples to incorporate into a pasta dish featuring Cavanna Pasta pumpkin ravioli.

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Chef Sam knew he needed an additional ingredient to tie together the dish, and he found the answer in two types of goat cheese.

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For the first time this season, Goats R Us brought some aged goat cheese to market. The Chef counted on the sharp tangy-ness of this hard goat cheese to elevate the flavors in his dish.

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The second type of goat cheese used was Night Sky Farm’s semi-soft chevre, from which Chef Sam made a creamy sauce for the pumpkin ravioli.

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The Chef demonstrated how to chop the greens into ribbons by first stacking and rolling the leaves into a log, then chopping thin strips from end to end. Chef Sam also showed market shoppers how to quickly peel and seed a butternut squash. In important lesson for safety and efficiency was to make cuts that allow you to lay the squash flat, so that it does not roll around while you are chopping it. After cutting the squash into cubes, the Chef steamed the butternut squash for several minutes.

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After steaming the butternut squash, Chef Sam added the apples and greens to the sauté pan. Meanwhile, the Chef cooked the pumpkin ravioli in a large pot of boiling water, and heated the chevre with a bit of the pasta water to create a goat cheese sauce. Chef Sam then seasoned the vegetables and sauce with salt, pepper, and an herb and spice blend from The Village Garden.

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Chef Sam then layered the squash, apples and greens over the ravioli, and topped them with the goat cheese sauce. Then he grated the aged goat cheese over top of the dish. Everyone agreed that the cheese sauce tied all of the ingredients together. The Chef recommended that this dish be made with pears instead for a different flavor. I thought the apples worked really well. Upon tasting the pasta dish from the sample boat, one bystander commented, “finally we can build a positive association with those paper hot dog boats!”

We have just one week left for the South of the James farmers’ market in Forest Hill Park. Stop by to see us next Saturday, December 1st, between 8:00 AM and noon, for our final demo of the season. On the following Saturday, the market moves to the Patrick Henry charter school for the winter.

Thank you to Cavanna Pasta, Drumheller Orchard, Goats R Us, Night Sky Farm, The Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm, and all of our featured vendors for producing this week’s fresh and delicious ingredients!

SOJ Chef Demo 11.03.12

The post is a week late, but the ingredients are still in season, so read on!

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Last week at the South of the James farmers’ market, Chef Sam Baker got inspired by local seasonal ingredients to create healthy and delicious snacks for market shoppers. I had missed a few demonstrations due to wedding festivities and vacation, so I was really pumped to get back in the demo tent for a behind-the-scenes look at the Chef’s creations that day. Chef Sam found inspiration in a stack of large collard leaves from Walnut Hill Farm and a pack of Bombolini Pasta lasagna sheets.

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The Chef planned to stuff the collard leaves and pasta with a mixture of fresh ingredients found at the market. He sautéed a medley of turnips, onion, kale, Brussels sprouts, and apple in oil, and seasoned the filling with salt and pepper. This mixture would go into dumplings that Chef Sam sampled to the crowd.

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Then Chef Sam created a creamy dressing with Night Sky Farm basil and sunflower chevre, oil, vinegar and parsley. He explained that he would normally use a food processor, but given the limited resources at the market he had to quickly whisk the ingredients together to make the emulsion.

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In addition to giving out tips on how to make your own salad dressing, Chef Sam entertained the audience with his original carved root vegetables. The crowd learned a few quick and easy recipes for homemade dressing that beats what you find in the bottle every time.

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Before stuffing the dumplings, the Chef dropped the pasta sheets, one at a time, into boiling water, then removed them after just a few minutes once they were pliable.

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He did the same with the collard leaves. The blanched collard leaves were used in place of pasta to offer some gluten-free dumplings. Chef Sam also used Empress Farm turkey cutlets to make some meat dumplings, and he included just the vegetable filling for a vegan option. There were several versions of dumplings for all kinds of market-goers.

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After filling and wrapping the dumplings, Chef Sam placed them in a pan with oil and cooked them until brown and slightly crispy on both sides, flipping once halfway through cooking.

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The dumplings were warm and soft on the inside while crispy on the outside. Steam escaped from the inside of each pocket when it was sliced open, and the hearty fall vegetables along with the creamy cheese sauce helped shoppers warm up on a very chilly day.

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I never would have thought to use fresh lasagna sheets, cut to size, as dumpling wrappers, but this seemed to work really well. Every time I visit the demo tent I learn something new, and I can tell that I think about dinner differently since starting to document Sam’s adventures six months ago. Besides embracing seasonal ingredients even more than I did before, I think more creatively about how to put them together to put a meal on the table every night. If you have time to stop by on Saturday mornings, it is definitely worth the trip to the South of the James market to see Chef Sam Baker in action.

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Thank you to Bombolini Pasta, Drumheller’s Orchard, Empress Farm, Night Sky Farms, Norma’s Produce, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of our featured vendors for producing this week’s fresh and delicious ingredients!

SOJ Chef Demo 09.29.12

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In this week’s South of the James Chef’s Demonstration, we saw a lot of dark greens for Fall. Much of the summer produce is still hanging around, but it is waning, and winter squashes and greens are starting to take its place. It was another semi-rainy market. It seems like we always have a lot of mushrooms during the cooler, damper cooking demos, which is fitting I suppose.

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Haas Mushrooms’ roasted mushroom vinaigrette livened up a savory kale and arugula salad. I love a short ingredient list, and this bottled dressing has a shorter, more pronounceable list of ingredients than most of the dressings on grocery store shelves.

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Speaking of sauces, Chef Sam made an extremely flavorful chimichurri sauce to serve on top of herbed pan seared mahi-mahi from Barham seafood. He served the fish alongside a salad of kale, arugula, tomatoes, onion and Goats R Us feta. The second round of salads incorporated Night Sky Farm’s 6 months aged Flora Danica goat cheese. The greens themselves are often overlooked in a salad, but I have to mention that the fresh arugula from Crumptown Farm was very tender, peppery and delicious. I took a break from the demo table to buy some arugula to bring home, just based on the fantastic smell of it, before I even tried any.

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The final dish was a goat cheese and vegetable hors d’oeuvres that incorporated both the florets and the stalks of a head of broccoli. Chef Sam pan toasted some sliced French bread from Tater Dave’s. Pan toasted bread always looks so good at these cooking demonstrations. I think I should stop putting it in the oven and start doing it this way instead.

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After toasting the sliced bread, the Chef grated some broccoli stalks to make a slaw. He told us that he made his first broccoli slaw in the early nineties, when an ingredient order mistake caused his restaurant to have dozens of cases of broccoli (I may be exaggerating now) that overran his kitchen. As time ticked by, Sam had to use up the broccoli as quickly as possible while it was still fresh, so as not to waste anything. And his first broccoli slaw was born. The one he made on Saturday included shredded broccoli, basil, parsley, olive oil, vinegar, black sesame seeds and salt.

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The Chef steamed some broccoli, sliced tomatoes, and constructed an appetizer of vegetables with goat cheese, olive oil, and spices atop toasted bread. He used a spice blend from the Village Garden that was really tasty and spicier than I expected. I never would have thought to put broccoli on bread, but these flavors worked well together and the fresh bite was satisfying and delicious.

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Thank you to Barham Seafood, Crumptown Farm, Goats R Us, Haas Mushrooms, Night Sky Farms, Norma’s Produce, Pleitez Produce, Tater Dave’s, Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of our featured vendors for producing this week’s fresh and delicious ingredients!

We are off next week, but will return to the South of the James Farmers’ Market on October 13th. That’s just one week before my wedding – do you think I could convince Chef Sam to do special occasion food to celebrate? Romantic food? Dishes for entertaining? Who knows!

SOJ Chef Demo 09.22.12

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This week at the South of the James farmers’ market cooking demo, Chef Sam got creative with a mixture of summer and fall ingredients. Norma’s Produce had a variety of colorful melons that inspired a fresh melon vinaigrette.

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The Chef grated a canary melon, then whisked it together with red wine vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, fresh basil and tarragon. The melon vinaigrette was sweet and tangy. Drizzled over mixed greens, it made a refreshing salad to start the day.

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The Chef used fresh tomato and cucumber to round out the dish for sampling. Reflecting on the dish, I wonder if this melon vinaigrette will make it onto the brunch menu at the Hermitage Grill soon.

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This was the first week I saw brussels sprouts at the farmers’ market, and I was anxious to see how people would react. I of course jumped at the chance to snag some of these beautiful sprouts from Pleitez Produce. These are always a hit at my house, but I usually roast them, so I was interested to see how Chef Sam would prepare them without an oven.

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Sam and I were both so excited to see brussels sprouts available that we decided to make them the Veg of the Week!

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I was anxious to see how people would respond, because brussels sprouts are notorious for making people turn their noses up. I knew I loved them, but I felt like most people would need some convincing. Boy, was I wrong! All morning long, shoppers came up to our table to ask where they could buy their own. I lost track of how many times I heard “oooh, I love brussels sprouts!”

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The one person who did need convincing this week was me. Chef Sam picked up some “chicken of the woods” mushrooms from Haas Shrooms. These highly sought after mushrooms are foraged in the wild and they are known to be a real treat. I have always had an issue with mushrooms and only recently have I even allowed them to touch my plate. Something about fungus just seems inedible to me. I know that is irrational, but I have had a hard time tricking my mind into allowing me to enjoy mushrooms.

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Chef Sam said “they taste just like chicken,” so I considered taking a bite, then changed my mind. He threw them in a pan with some oil, salt and pepper, and they turned a brilliant orange color. They smelled fantastic while they cooked. After I heard the comments from samplers, praising Sam for his ingenious preparation of these odd little seashell shaped fungi, I decided to take a bite.

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Sam was right; they were awesome. That’s right folks, I ate mushrooms and liked them. If my Mom is reading this right now, I can guarantee you her jaw is on the floor. I have to tell you, it was a really cool experience. Over five months, I have watched Chef Sam convert non-adventurous eaters into believers in all kinds of produce. I’ve heard them say they couldn’t believe they were eating (insert odd local ingredient here), and I’ve seen them pick up a new type of produce to try at home per his recommendation. It was definitely strange to find myself in their shoes and have my mind changed about an ingredient.

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Chef Sam composed plates of salad with melon vinaigrette, pan roasted brussels sprouts, sautéed chicken of the woods, and beef hanging tender. I spared you the photos of the beef, because brown food never looks good in pictures. The brussels sprouts were sautéed with onion and garlic in oil, then seasoned with rice wine vinegar and smoked sea salt. The hanging tender was marinated in a mixture of apple cider vinegar, salt, cumin, coriander, garlic and other spices, then slow cooked in a pan over a bed of sautéed onions. Chef Sam explained that the onions keep the meat from sticking to the pan during the long cooking process. He topped the beef with a  dollop of Goats R Us Horsey Chevre, then handed the plates off to market shoppers.

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If anyone needed convincing before, after having a taste of this plate, he was a believer.

Thank you to Deer Run Farm, Haas Shrooms, Norma’s Produce, Origins Farms (formerly Victory Farms), Pine Fork Farm, Goats R Us, Pleitez Produce, The Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of our featured vendors for making (and foraging for) this week’s tasty ingredients.

SOJ Chef Demo 09.08.12

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The last time I wrote about the market, I explained all the reasons why I love rainy farmers’ market days. This week, the rain held off until late afternoon and we enjoyed a warm, sunny morning for the Market Chef Demo. We split the time with a local farmer who wanted to do their own demonstration, so we had time for just one dish. Fall flavors are starting to sneak their way into Chef Sam Baker’s food, and I am a fan.

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This week, the Chef started with the challenging combination of acorn squash, Asian pears, Reginald’s peanut butter, a handful of peppers, and fresh shrimp. It certainly felt like an episode of Chopped.

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The Chef seasoned the pears with Caribbean jerk seasoning before sauteeing them in a pan.

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The shrimp sizzled in a nearby pan.

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As usual, Chef Sam pulled it all together in one delicious dish. His peanut sauce included local peanut butter, sweet peppers, hot peppers, onion, acorn squash, salt and pepper. It may sound weird, but it was actually very tasty.

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I am of the opinion that a little fresh ground black pepper makes everything better.

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I did not taste the shrimp, but I can testify that the sauce and the pears were pretty awesome. If you could only taste Chef Sam Baker’s sauces and nothing else, you would still be impressed by the food that comes out of that demo tent.

Thank you to Barham Seafood, Crumptown Farm, Norma’s Produce, Reginald’s Homemade, Saunders Brothers Orchard, Victory Farms, The Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of our featured vendors for making this week’s tasty ingredients.

Unfortunately, I will miss next week’s market on September 15th. The market is at Forest Hill Park from 8:00 AM to noon. If you go and take a photo of what Chef Sam made, please share it on my facebook page or shoot me an email at vegologyblog [at] gmail [dot] com!

SOJ Chef Demo 08.25.12

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This past Saturday in Forest Hill Park brought a rare rainy South of the James market. The shoppers who braved the elements and showed up at the market were in for a treat.

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Rainy markets are not great for vendors. However, they are excellent for shoppers. Before I started volunteering at the Chef Demo tent, I shopped the market every weekend and I loved a rainy forecast. My favorite South of the James market was the one on the morning of Hurricane Irene, just hours before the storm hit central Virginia HARD. It poured all morning, and before the wind picked up too much, I headed out the farmers’ market and had a great time. I hesitate to say this, because I’m sure the farmers would disagree, but. . . Rainy markets are awesome! They are full of great surprises and treats for those courageous enough to enjoy them.

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This week, Chef Sam Baker started his weekly demonstration with a cool yellow watermelon salad that had a wonderfully well-rounded flavor. Featuring yellow watermelon from Walnut Hill Farm and blackberries from Agriberry, this fruit salad was just one of the treats that awaited shoppers. Some surprising ingredients in the salad included onion, red jalapeno, basil, and red wine vinegar. Market enthusiasts showed up in head-to-toe rain gear, with umbrellas and waterproof reusable bags, in search of the gems that are sometimes hard to find on fair weather market mornings.

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Kale is waning, but it was abundant at this week’s market for much longer than usual. Figs usually sell out in the first 30 minutes of the market, but they stuck around for two hours this weekend. Easier access to rare produce treasures is just another reason why rainy markets are great for shoppers.

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Because wet markets are more lightly attended, everyone there takes themselves just a little less seriously. The “let’s make the best of this” attitude prevails, and vendors and shoppers alike are a bit sillier than normal. The tents may unexpectedly dump water on your head. You may remove your jacket just minutes before the clouds open again in a spontaneous downpour.

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You may be distracted by the bright colors on a vendor’s table and fail to see the gigantic puddle in front of you as you step right into it. No big deal. You’ll dry out later. This market is about having fun, not keeping up appearances. When you realize you look like a drowned rat and your fingers are quickly starting to resemble prunes, you can duck into a vendor’s tent, dry off, warm up, strike up a conversation and learn something.

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With more one-on-one time with vendors, shoppers have the opportunity to learn a lot more than they would at busier markets. Chef Sam talked visitors through his personal favorite recipe for butternut squash soup and fielded questions like “what should I  make with this eggplant?” I shared my favorite ways to prepare okra and what fall foods I am looking forward to the most.

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Butternut squash is one of them. I prepared my first local butternut squash dish of the season last week, and Chef Sam used this Veg of the Week to add a sweet, nutty heartiness to his turkey soup this weekend. Rainy Saturday mornings in late August allow you to take advantage of both summer and fall produce to create a bright summery soup that warms you to your core.

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Chef Sam’s soup was just one of those special things that shoppers looked forward to while they moved from stall to stall. Some people stayed at the market a little longer than usual just to have a taste. The soup simmered two and a half hours before it was served. The Chef would have liked to let it simmer another few hours, but a big thunderstorm was rolling in so we served it as early as we could. The hearty soup featured turkey from Empress Farm, along with mushrooms, butternut squash, onion, kale, green beans, potatoes, jalapeno and fresh basil. After a bowl of this soup, market patrons could not possibly have regretted their decisions to suit up and head to the market that morning.

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Maybe next time rain is in the forecast, you should add a visit to the farmers’ market to the agenda. Besides helping to support local farmers when they need it the most, you can manage to have a great time too. From a great selection of prime produce to more interaction with your farmer to fun free samples, the rainy market experience is a rewarding one.

Or, you know, stay at home. More figs for me.

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Thank you to Agriberry, Empress Farm, Haas mushrooms, Norma’s Produce, Pleitez Produce, Victory Farms, Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce and all of our featured vendors for producing this week’s tasty ingredients.

SOJ Chef Demo 08.11.12

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This week at the South of the James Farmers’ Market cooking demo, Chef Sam Baker cooked fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables as the morning went from damp and dreary to warm and bright. With grey puddles underfoot, Chef Sam shopped the market and found some cool fish and shrimp as well as some vibrant tomatoes and large mushrooms. He quickly got to work on the tilefish from Barham Seafood.

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The spicy seasoning on the fish helped heat things up as the rain clouds teased us with an off-and-on light drizzle. The Chef explained that tilefish is a rare treat, as he seasoned it with tarragon, cayenne pepper, curry powder and sea salt. As the fish cooked in a pan, Chef Sam cozied up to some mushrooms from Haas Shrooms.

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After sautéing the mushrooms with some red onion, a splash of water and a bit of salt, Chef Sam stuffed them with Goats R Us dill chevre and pan seared tilefish, then topped them with pan roasted tomatoes and a sliver of fresh Asian pear.

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The stuffed mushrooms paired well with the weather, as the market had a certain damp earthiness that morning.

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After the Chef completed a couple of demonstrations, the clouds parted and the sun came out.

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Shoppers with dogs on leashes and children in strollers showed up. Iced coffee sales spiked for the morning. As the market steamed up, Chef Sam decided it was time to put the shrimp on.

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For his next act, Chef Sam made zucchini and yellow squash boats, complete with shrimp “passengers.” He made a barbecue sauce for the shrimp by reducing a pot of tomatoes and peaches with a splash of water to a thick sauce, then adding some Empress Farm habanero blackberry jam. I tasted the sauce and it was out of this world! It had a great balance of sweet and spicy. After bathing in the sauce, the shrimp hopped aboard zucchini and yellow squash boats stuffed with sautéed zucchini and red onions.

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The shrimp were a big hit, and it was cool to see that I wasn’t the only one who thought it was picture worthy!

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For the final demonstration, Chef Sam made a vegetarian pasta dish that was bursting with fruit ingredients. He used Bombolini Pasta’s herb ditalini as a base. Over the pasta, the Chef layered some seared Asian pears with ground black pepper. These were incredible. If I had been left unattended I would have eaten the whole plate before the Chef could assemble the dish. I was so happy that Kyle had picked up a bag of these pears while shopping that morning! I had plans for a pear pizza and watching this come together got me in the right mindset to pull it off.

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In addition to pears, the pasta dish featured sautéed zucchini, fresh tomatoes, and a tomato peach marinara sauce. This fantastic sauce included tomatoes, peaches, red onion and basil. Some of the plates were topped with a dollop of dill chevre to mix in.

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Whether it was stuffing mushrooms, filling zucchini halves, or packing flavor into a sauce, Chef Sam made sure that every dish was full of flavor and fresh produce. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, summer is the best season for packing in a lot of flavor with little effort. I’m looking forward to seeing what Chef Sam creates for the rest of this season, and what he has up his sleeve for the Fall. Come find out for yourself at the South of the James Market, every Saturday, eight to noon.

Thank you to Barham Seafood, Bombolini Pasta, Drumheller Orchard, Empress Farm, Goats R Us, Haas Shrooms, Norma’s Produce, Rocking F Farms, Saunders Brothers Orchard, Victory Farms, Walnut Hill Farm, and all of the other featured market vendors for providing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients!