Local produce showcased in August

Chicagoans enjoy local produce in area restaurants this August.
August 18, 2008 9:21:08 AM PDT
The middle of August is one of the best times of the year to enjoy local produce.ABC7's food reporter says two items in particular are worth seeking out over the next few weeks.

Like morels in April or strawberries in June, there are some local foods that taste best in their limited seasonal windows.

Heirloom tomatoes and sweet corn come to mind this week.

ABC7 checked in with a couple of chefs who have both items all over their menus from now until labor day.

Kevin Hickey can get ingredients from anywhere in the world. As Executive Chef at the Four Seasons, price isn't usually an object. But this time of year, he prefers to shop in the local farmer's markets, where a color palette of heirloom tomatoes exists.

"These are the great, indigenous products of America that were kind of homogenized into some awful, hard, crunchy grocery store product that's now gone back to the original, natural product, which tastes unlike anything you've had before," said Hickey

With names like Purple Cherokee and Green Zebra, Hickey assembles them onto a plate, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, topped with a bit of micro basil and some oven-dried cherry tomatoes. A dash of tomato powder is followed by a giant, tempura-fried zucchini blossom that's been stuffed with goat cheese.

He also peels them, cooking them down with butter for about four hours, concentrating the flavors; a dollop of goat cheese and a disc of pastry are added; it's baked again, then turned upside down and paired with lightly-dressed arugula and those oven-dried tomato skins. How about dessert: peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes are steeped in basil syrup, set beneath sweet pastry dough which holds up an avocado-lime ice cream.

"Because they are a fruit, they are naturally sweet and acidic and it works really well; with the avocado and the tomato, it seemed like actually pretty natural, as much as it might sound unusual."

Tomatoes aren't alone. Corn is also on several menus around town including West Town Tavern's, where local and seasonal ingredients are the rule.

"We have it in a soup, we have it in side dishes, we have it in ice cream, we have it in pound cake," said Susan Goss of West Town Tavern. "It's really important; we try and use whatever is seasonal as much as we can, then we won't miss it in December."

Goss adds a mound of fresh kernels to sautéed shallots; white wine and heavy cream are added, and once it all starts bubbling, fresh herbs and even more corn are tossed in. Finally, a knob of rich, marscarpone cheese adds a jolt of lusciousness. A few braised wagyu short ribs are mounded over the creamed corn, plus a small salad for garnish. Goss says come Labor Day, corn will most likely be taken off the menu.

"Corn and white shoes. They just end at the end of August," said Goss.

Tomatoes will be celebrated this weekend at Scoozi in River North. Next Thursday, a tomato festival and contest begins at Café Ba Ba Reeba in Lincoln Park. Meanwhile, a weeklong corn fest is underway at Mon Ami Gabi in the city and Oak Brook.

Four Seasons
120 E. Delaware Pl.
312-280-8800
www.fourseasons.com

West Town Tavern
1329 W. Chicago Ave.
312-666-6175
www.westtowntavern.com

Also: SCOOZI!'s Annual Tomato Fest
August 15th - August 17th
410 W. Huron
312-943-5900

"Show Me Your Tomatoes" Festival and Contest
From August 21st - 27th, enjoy tomato-inspired menu throughout the week-long festival
August 23rd, enter to win a trip for two to Las Vegas www.cafebabareeba.com
773-935-5000
2024 N. Halsted

Corn Fest
Aug. 14 - 20
Mon Ami Gabi
2300 N. Lincoln Pk. West
773-348-8886

260 Oakbrook Center
630-472-1900


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