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Welcome to Gardens to Tables Recipes Main Courses Farm-to-Table Among the Skyscrapers
Farm-to-Table Among the Skyscrapers Print E-mail
Written by Michael Costa   

Fresh Picks produce

The other day a friend of mine asked what to do with all the garlic scapes she bought at a farmers market here in Chicago—she simply thought they looked cool. “I have no idea what they taste like, what they're used for, or how to prepare them. Any helpful hints?” I wanted to say, “Just scapes? What do you do with an entire box of farm-to-table vegetables that you don’t know the contents of until it arrives at your door?”

This is the culinary quiz that my wife and I gladly take each Wednesday. We live in a high-rise condo among the skyscrapers in Chicago’s Loop, we don’t own a car, and our tiny balcony has just enough room to grow handfuls of rosemary and mint this summer. We could trek down to the Green City Market or even the nearby Daley Plaza Farmers' Market once a week, but it’s just not as fun as receiving a seasonal mystery box collected from nearby farms in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.

“Farmer's Shuffle” is what I call it—like an mp3 player’s shuffle, using food instead of music, presenting serendipitous surprises. The “shuffle” we subscribe to is Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks (

Every Wednesday, they’ll deliver a large box containing seasonal produce—we get the “double box” of vegetables, and often the fruit box too. There are also artisanal breads, tofu, tempeh, eggs, and even chicken and beef, if the farms make them available that week. There’s an indication on the company’s Web site a few days before delivery about what they think will be in the box, but never a definitive list. For example, this week’s lineup reads: “Fresh Picks Box Double - All Local! For the week of June 29th we expect beets, kale, cabbage, zucchini, lettuce, scallions, fennel, snap peas, dandelion greens and savory.”

The key word there is “expect.” Everything listed doesn’t necessarily arrive, and sometimes items not listed will arrive.

Which brings me back to the scapes question. What if, for example, you’ve never cooked with dandelion greens? Or in the winter, burdock root? Part of the fun for us is to rinse and taste unfamiliar items raw, and the core flavors will put our recipe gears in motion.  

Not that our recipes need to be complicated though. The fresher the food, the less you need to prepare it. Otherwise you’re burying the taste, and the reason you want farm-to-table produce in the first place.

Our goal each week is eat everything that’s delivered before the next Wednesday. During the summer, that’s easy because everything is in season. During the winter, not so easy, because there’s only so much you can do with root vegetables. Lots of goulash between December and February here!

One of our shortcuts is to match lots of seasonal flavors and ingredients in a single dish. One template we have is for a bean salad, which has multiple uses: A filling for a wrap, a topping for potatoes or eggs, and a tasty topping for bruschetta, to name just a few.

Seasonal Bean Salad Template


Olive oil and balsamic vinegar: 3 to 1 ratio. Feel free to experiment with flavored oils and vinegars.
Beans, fresh or canned: white beans, black beans, lentils… most work in this template. We have a bag of dried Vermont cranberry beans (from Wisconsin!) that we’re going to try here soon.
Aromatics: garlic scapes, scallions, red onion… they all work well. Experiment with the amount of each to your specific taste.
Fresh herbs: rosemary, fresh oregano, fresh basil, fresh tarragon… same as above.
Grape tomatoes: halved. A key ingredient when in season.
Red, yellow, or green bell pepper: diced
1oz - 3oz. feta cheese: diced
One whole zucchini or cucumber: diced
Handfuls of fresh spinach, mustard greens, dandelion greens... same idea as aromatics: Experiment with the amounts and ratio of each to your taste. Best if chiffonaded.


Create the dressing in a separate bowl. Rinse and cut the other ingredients, place in a large salad bowl, add the dressing, toss… done! Store leftovers in a sealable container in the refrigerator.

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