6 spring things local chefs love at farmers markets

Ramp it up: Ian Robertson, the executive chef at the forthcoming restaurant Oak Park, prepared a filet mignon with asparagus, ramps and morel mushrooms in a sherry cream demi-glace. Photo: Billy Dohrmann.

Writer: Karla Walsh

If past years are any indication, more than 25,000 people will head downtown Saturday for the season’s first Downtown Farmers’ Market. And while anticipation is high, the amount of fresh local produce is still pretty low this early in the spring — at the downtown market as well as the many other markets around town.

Still, you can find a lot more than baked goods and breakfast burritos. We asked local culinary pros to help us curate a handy guide to early spring shopping. So make your list, check it twice and dig in.

Asparagus, ramps and morel mushrooms. The restaurant Oak Park won’t open on Ingersoll Avenue until the fall, but executive chef Ian Robertson is already testing recipes to feature on the menu. “This time of year, I’m inspired by foraged ingredients,” he said. “That’s why I love using ramps and morels. They pair well with the asparagus, and parsnips help sweeten the dish, balancing the earth tones.”

Arugula. These locally grown greens pack a more peppery kick than their supermarket siblings, said MacKenzie Schultz, sous chef at Little Brother in Windsor Heights. She seeks out Dogpatch Urban Gardens at their Urbandale FarmStand to stock up on arugula that lends “freshness to any dish, especially anything luscious or fatty.” Case in point: Arugula’s spicy notes act as a foil for the rich steamed egg, aioli and cheese in Little Brother’s Soon-to-Be-Famous Breakfast Sandwich.

Rhubarb. “My first memory of rhubarb was harvesting it from my grandmother’s backyard to make rhubarb custard pie,” said James Richards, executive chef at Proudfoot & Bird in the Hotel Fort Des Moines. “It was one of my first experiences cooking food directly from the earth.” These days, Richards swings by the Prairie Lake Acres stand at the downtown market, then likes to quick-pickle fresh rhubarb with brown sugar and red wine vinegar. When it’s ready, he slices it thin to toss into salads for extra texture and flavor.

Edible flowers. Kristen Daily, baker and owner at Pie Bird Pies in Des Moines, plans to forage edible flowers, like pansies and violets, or source them from Ray Family Farms at one of their many local market appearances. “I’m really excited to try pressing them onto shortbread. You can bet we’ll have them on our menu for pickup at Peace Tree,” she said, hinting about the popular weekly events her home-based bakery hosts at the East Village brewery. If you pre-order through Hotplate, your petal-topped cookie will be waiting for you.

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