I had mixed feelings when I learned that another farmers’ market was opening on the state fairgrounds across from the grandstand. On one hand, I’m always excited to see increasing availability of local food. On the other, the Old Capitol Farmers’ Market has been expanding since its rebirth in 1999. (The original OCFM in the 1970s, on the Old State Capitol square, was discontinued more than 20 years ago.) I was concerned that another market might hurt its growth, not only for itself, but also because the Old Capitol market has helped revitalize downtown Springfield.
Two years later, it’s clear I needn’t have worried. The Old Capitol Market has continued to grow — it’s even now expanded west on Adams Street beyond the railroad tracks. Recently, I arrived at 11 a.m. on a Saturday to find many vendors had already sold out. The Illinois Products Market has grown as well; on recent visits, the bustling scene had many more vendors and customers than last year.
Even though the Illinois Products Farmers’ Market has some of the same vendors as its older downtown sibling, there are enough different vendors and products to give it its own unique ambience. Evening markets tend to have more prepared foods, and this one follows that trend, making it possible to combine shopping and dinner. The Illinois Beef Association stand features Crown Beef hamburgers and ribeye sandwiches. Midwest Meats often offers pulled pork sandwiches. There are two popcorn vendors. The market also has frequent Samples of the Week, including Ropp Cheeses and the popular Zillions Chili. Hopefully, there are more to come.
One of the biggest contributors to the Illinois Products market’s ambience is wine. Folks stroll around with (real) wineglasses filled with
wines ranging from light whites to earthy reds. The stand is operated by the
Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association. Last year, says the IGGVA’s Megan Presnell, the stand offered a variety of wines each week from several
wineries. This year, wines from a single, different winery are sold each week,
giving customers a chance to meet the winemakers and learn firsthand about them
and the fruits of their labor. “They’re selling lots of wine,” says market manager Kristi Jones. “Some travel two or three hours for this, and they’re all just so happy to come.”
“This market’s really starting to mature,” says Dale Merwyn, who also has stands at the Wednesday and Saturday downtown
markets as well as three in the St. Louis area. “Look at this pile of empty boxes!” Having multiple markets to sell his produce clearly makes him happy — and weary.
The Illinois Products Farmers’ Market takes place on Thursdays from 4-7 p.m. until Oct. 22, excepting Aug. 13 and 20. Parking is plentiful and most stands are set up under a pavilion.
(Swiss) chard rolls with chicken and mushrooms
Swiss chard is a close relative of the beet — so close that their botanical name is the same, Beta vulgaris. Swiss chard has other names, including silver beet and spinach beet. Those are more logical monikers than calling chard “Swiss,” according to Elizabeth Schneider, author of Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini. “After 25 years of futile probing, I can find no significant reason to keep it,” she says, adding that she now calls it simply chard.
Whatever it’s called, chard is delicious. Its mild flavor compares favorably with spinach, but, unlike spinach, it can withstand our hot and humid summers.
Not only is chard good to eat, it’s also decorative enough to use as an ornamental plant. That’s true of common white-stemmed chard and even more so of ruby chard with its deep red stems and veins. But chard reached new heights of gorgeousness with the introduction the Bright Lights strain: green leaves are supported by stems in a veritable riot of colors, from hot pink, sunny yellow, pink-streaked orange, magenta and more. I’ve seen it grown in planters along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.
Unfortunately, cooking fades those brilliant stems, but Bright Lights and other chards are too tasty to just grow for appearances’ sake. Besides, trimming the plants keeps them from getting unwieldy, and encourages new growth. Interestingly, Schneider says that in most American chard recipes, the stems are discarded and only the leaves used; while in Europe, often the stems are cooked and the leaves discarded. I occasionally use just the leaves, especially if I’m substituting it for spinach. More often, though, I use them together. However, I do cook them separately or in sequence, since the stems take longer.
A favorite chard preparation in Italy and Spain (and at my house) is to sauté the chopped stems in a little olive oil, then throw in a handful of raisins and sauté until the raisins have plumped up. Add a bit of minced garlic if you like, then throw in the roughly chopped or torn leaves and sauté until they’re wilted. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with a handful of toasted pine nuts.
These chard rolls aren’t quite that simple, but they’re worth the effort. A good way to use leftover chicken, they’re also a boon to anyone watching carbohydrates and calories.
- 12 large chard leaves, at least 10-12 inches long, not including stems
- 4 T. olive oil, divided
- 12 oz. mushrooms, either button, cremini, or portabella, sliced
- 2 c. chopped cooked chicken
- 1 tsp. minced garlic, or to taste
- 1/2 c. chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaved
- 3/4 -1 c. freshly grated parmesan OR aged asiago
- 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Marinara sauce, approximately 3 c.
- Grated mozzarella, about 2 c., optional
Cut the thick stems carefully from the chard leaves about halfway down, keeping the leaves as intact as possible. Reserve the stems. In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the leaves just until wilted (30 seconds to 1 minute), then place in a strainer under cold running water until cool.
Mince enough of chard stems to measure 1 1/2 c. Heat 1 T. of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Reserve in a large bowl. Add the remaining oil to the skillet and turn heat to high. When hot but not smoking, add the mushrooms. Sprinkle lightly with salt and sauté, stirring constantly, until the mushrooms are well browned and cooked through 5-8 minutes. Don’t crowd the pan. If necessary, do this in two batches. When the mushrooms are done, cool to room temperature, then coarsely chop.
Add the chicken, mushrooms, garlic, parsley, cheese, eggs and nutmeg to the bowl with the chard stems. Add mushrooms and mix well. Add salt and pepper as needed. Divide the filling into 12 portions (1/3-1/2 c.)
Heat the oven to 350°. Blot the chard leaves with a lint-free towel. Lay one of the leaves on a flat surface with the stem end closest to you. Overlap the edges where the stem was cut to form a single sheet. Put a portion of filling on the lower third of the leaf and form it into a log, leaving about 2 inches clear on the bottom and both sides. Fold the leaf bottom up over the filling, fold the sides in and then roll away from you to form a neat package. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling. Note: For a vegetarian version, substitute 2 c. ricotta for the chicken.
Cover the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold the rolls in one layer with marinara sauce to a depth of about ½ inch. Place the rolls on top of the sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella if desired. Cover with a lid or foil and bake until bubbly and heated through, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately
Makes 12 rolls, serving 6.