Local food signs of summer

Tis the season: Baby squash like these make simple side dishes when sautéed with a little salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil.

They say that Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer. In our thriving local food community, that’s because it’s the time summer squash and other early-season veggies begin joining spring items at tailgate markets. And that’s a big deal for area chefs, including Jeff Miller, proprietor and pit boss of Luella’s Bar-B-Que.

“We’re going to be buying local squash from Hominy Valley Farms all summer long,” he says. “Probably yellow squash, zucchini and other available varieties.” They’re all for a true Southern staple, and one of the barbecue joint’s most popular side items: squash casserole.

“We created the recipe here; it’s definitely unique to Luella’s,” Miller says, noting that the casserole contains hoop cheddar from nearby neighbors Ashe County Cheese Company — the same regional cheddar you’ll find in Luella’s mac-and-cheese.

Miller plans to include other local summer veggies on his menu this year, referencing the commitment printed on the restaurant’s menu and website. “Each year, we’ll purchase more than the previous year, in terms of local ingredients,” he says. “We know we’re advancing in the right direction.

Part of that forward movement includes adding local meat specials each Tuesday. “We’ve been advertising the local Tuesdays mostly through social media, and we’ve gotten an awesome response,” he says. “Our wait staff is proud to serve it, and the cooks are feeling good about it. It’s been a real positive effect through the kitchen, through the front of the house and out to the customers.”

Chef Miller knows pit bosses in the South are practically expected to feature squash casserole, but he also likes to enjoy local squash in a preparation he learned in Italian kitchens. “Slice it very thinly with a little salt, fresh herbs, vinegar and oil — it kind of macerates in its own juice and has a very nice texture.”

Get Grilling

What’s summer without the grill? Over at The Junction in the River Arts District, one of Asheville’s newest restaurants, Executive Chef Camp Boswell plans to pick up summer squash from area markets. He’ll create a grilled squash salad with roasted red peppers, eggplant, spinach-goat cheese cream, basil and smoked tomato vinaigrette. The salad will likely hit The Junction’s menu mid-month.

Chef Boswell promises a constantly changing menu of fresh, local, seasonal ingredients as part of Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s Get Local campaign — a year-round initiative that brings farmers, chefs, and community members together around a featured local food. Find a complete list of participating restaurants featuring local summer squash and other seasonal veggies on the Get Local page of asapconnections.org.

Montford gets a market

Mark your calendars for Wednesday, June 22, the date of the first Montford Farmers Market. The new tailgate market, established by long-time vendors from the Wednesday French Broad Food Co-op Market, will be located in the parking lot of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce/Visitor Center. A few vendors will remain at the Co-op to serve shoppers near that location.

“The chamber seemed a great fit,” says Nicole DelCogliano, a farmer with Green Toe Ground Farm who’s shifting over from serving as the Co-op Market manager to the Montford Market manager. “They have a large parking lot area, it’s near downtown, it’s in the great, supportive Montford community and they’re a focal point for visitors.”

The chamber sees it as a perfect fit, too. “We’re excited to support the local food movement by having the Montford market in the chamber’s parking lot. It will be great for our neighbors in Montford and downtown, as well as our employees and visitors,” says Kit Cramer, chamber president and CEO. “Our staff has been enthusiastic, even though it requires that they park elsewhere. They understand that we’re not just promoting sustainability with words, but with action as well.”

The sizable lot space is exciting for DelCogliano and the vendors, as they hope to soon accommodate more farmers and add artisans to the mix. They’ll also have the space to turn the spotlight on local brewers. Asheville Brewing will be there to warm up the new brewer’s spot on June 22.

The Montford Farmers Market runs every Wednesday, from 2 until 6 p.m. For more information, contact DelCogliano at nicoleandgaelan@yahoo.com. Also, be on the lookout for a Facebook page launching around the inaugural market. The Wednesday Co-op Market is located in the parking lot of the French Broad Food Co-op and runs from 2 until 6:30 p.m.

— Maggie Cramer is the communications coordinator at Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (asapconnections.org). Contact her at maggie@asapconnections.org.

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