I rolled out of my bunk at 6 a.m. still aching and stiff from the night before. The alarm blared in direct competition with the snoring of my husband, our captain. The rest of the boat was quiet; the crew was asleep, using every last minute they could before our 8 o’clock start time. But not me.
It was market day in Chicago. The Green City Market is an organic haven for foodies: a source for the area’s most outstanding meat, cheeses, flowers and produce. Chefs and home cooks alike flock to the center of Lincoln Park to purchase directly from the farmers. Like a ritual, every Wednesday and Saturday I got up early to beat the crowds and the heat.
This morning, I ventured out into traffic still half asleep and blurry eyed. Barely aware of my surroundings, my first stop was a small independent coffee shop that brewed cups full of foam and robust richness.
“Latte?” The woman behind the counter remembered my early morning order.
My eyes began to open with the invigorating smell permeating the car. I whizzed down Lake Shore Drive and drove through the streets. My mind stumbled to life, thinking about the day to come.
By the time I pulled into the park, I was nearly coherent. I stumbled toward the stalls, finishing the last of my coffee, but when I hit the first vendor, I was in a full food mind set.
Nick, a young agriculture student and a throwback to the ’60s generation, greeted me like an old friend. He quickly steered me to what was perfectly ripe.
“These zucchinis were just picked yesterday.” He caressed them lovingly. “These are the first of the summer tomatoes.” We each handpicked a variety of heirloom tomatoes ranging in color from stoplight green to Tour de France yellow. He talked me into cranberry beans for my salad, and I picked out the tiniest banana potatoes, no bigger than a child’s finger. As I paid, Nick slipped a long seedless cumber into my bag assuring me I would fall in love with its flavor.
Within minutes, I was on to my next friend, who supplied me with local organic quail eggs, yogurts and goat cheeses, all handcrafted in a European style. I moved on, this time to a shy taciturn man who didn’t need to speak to convince me to try the honey from wildflowers just west of the city. Next was the woman who grew all her own herbs. I couldn’t escape the distinctive citrus tang of lemon balm, the smell of rosemary and the lingering scent of fresh dill. This was the way to begin a day.
Brightly colored vegetables greeted me at every turn. Carrots the color of Tigger lay with their long feathery tops still attached beside piles of shiny purple eggplant and deep emerald green zucchini. Sweet-smelling fuzzy peaches sat next to a pyramid of dark red cherries on the fruit stand.
Halfway through, I stopped at a tent for a fresh-baked croissant and another round of early morning greetings. Wiping the crumbs off my shirt, I was off to see the 5 year-old girl with big bouncy ringlet curls who helped her mom with flower sales.
“I picked the sunflowers yesterday.” Her innocent eyes turned me into a puddle, and I bought more than I could ever possibly use on the boat.
I quickly unloaded the bags into the car and headed back for one final sweep of the market. Mounds of fragrant basil filled the air, and I couldn’t resist buying numerous bunches for fresh pesto. I grabbed two pints of pencil-thin green beans to toss with it and enough zucchini blossoms to stuff with a cheese mousse for an appetizer that night. In all too short of a time, I jumped back in the car and headed for the boat.
This time, my thoughts raced while I drove back down Lake Shore Drive, flipping from one recipe to another like riffling a deck of cards. All I could think of was how to best use what I had procured. With ingredients so fresh and perfect, I made a point of keeping the dishes simple to showcase their flavors. I would have to roast the peppers and butcher the free-range chickens before I started on a soup with the tomatoes and zucchini. My mind jumped from stall to stall, replaying what had gone into each of my bags.
If I poached the peaches in champagne I could preserve their sweetness without overpowering them. And the baby arugula would be the perfect base for a salad, maybe with the banana potatoes.
By the time I was back at the boat I had my menu set and was wide awake, wishing I could start every morning energizing at the Chicago Green City Market.
Preserved Tuna, Roast Peppers and Arugula Salad
- 1 pound fingerling potatoes, sliced in half
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 16 quail eggs
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon piment d’espellette (or paprika)
- 4 cups arugula
- 2 8-ounce jars tuna in oil, drained
- 2 red peppers, roasted
- ¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced in half
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 4 scallions, sliced on an angle
What to Do?
Bring a pot of water to a boil with the potatoes and sea salt and simmer for 10 minutes until potatoes are tender. Drain. Place in a large bowl. Bring a pot of water to a boil with quail eggs, sea salt and vinegar. Simmer for three minutes. Drain and place eggs in ice water to cool. Drain and peel. Slice eggs in half. In a large bowl, whisk together Dijon, egg yolk, lemon zest, and juice. Slowly, drizzle in the oil, whisking continually to thicken. Season with sea salt and piment d’espellette. Toss with potatoes and mix gently. Add the arugula, tuna, peppers, black olives, capers and scallions and toss gently. Garnish the salad with the quail eggs.