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Those who shop our Market at the Square, held Saturday mornings at the corners of Illinois and Vine in Urbana, know that it is a fantastic source for fresh, seasonal and local foods. But those new to East Central Illinois this fall might not realize what a great social scene our little market provides. Thousands of local patrons show up every Saturday to buy vegetables from arguably the richest soil on earth, sustainably raised meat and eggs, baked goods and crafts designed by our finest local artisans.

Yet, while shopping they catch up with friends, discuss politics and weather, and support local organizations. They run into classmates, workmates and neighbors, meet people with shared interests and share recipes. It is this conviviality that fills the aisles with laughter and friendship and makes our market more than just a marketplace, but an event that draws you in week after week.

As you shop the Market over the course of the summer something special begins to happen. Instead of just shopping, you begin to form relationships with the farmers who grow and raise your food. Slowly you get to know them as people and vice versa and soon enough you are no longer a customer but more likely a friend. And although their are over 150 vendors, the market is an intimate and welcoming place full of familiar faces.

For me, the market is one of the best parts of my week. I love all it has to offer and this week is no exception. Tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplant, beans and corn are the highlights and there are enough varieties offered to keep us busy for weeks. I am glad that tomatoes, zucchini and corn are so versatile and essentially pair well with everything. Lately I have been making a lot of salsa, which is so refreshing (and addictive) in this heat. For great salsa recipes I turn to Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill in Chicago:

Essential Roasted Tomato-Jalepeno Salsa

from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen

1 pound red, ripe tomatoes
2 large fresh jalapeno chiles
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Salt, about a scant 1/2 teaspoon
1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
A generous 1/3 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro
About 11/2 teaspoons cider vinegar (optional)

1. Roasting the basic ingredients. Lay the tomatoes on a baking sheet and place about 4 inches below a very hot broiler. Roast until blistered and blackened on one side, about 6 minutes: with a spoon or pair of tongs, flip the tomatoes and roast on the other side.

Cool, then peel the skins, collecting all the juices with the tomatoes.

While the tomatoes are roasting, roast the chiles and unpeeled garlic directly on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium. Turn occasionally until both chiles and garlic are blackened in spots and soft, 5 to 10 miuntes for the chiles, about 15 minutes for the garlic. Cool, pull the stems off the chiles and peel the papery skins from the garlic.

2. Grinding the salsa. In a food processor or blender, grind the chiles, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt to a coarse paste, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times. Add the tomatoes and pulse a few times until you have a coarse-textured puree.

Transfer the salsa to a serving bowl, and stir in any reserved tomato juices.

3. In a stainer, rinse the onion under running water, shake off the excess and stir into the salsa, along with the cilantro and optional vinegar. Add water, if necessary, to give the salsa a thickish, but easily spoonable consistency. Taste and season with salt.

There is still plenty of time to get to know our Market as it runs every Saturday morning from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. now through November 8th.