For me, the anticipation of the reopening of the seasonal Salem Saturday Market is in many ways like looking forward to sunbreaks, the first flush of green on the dormant trees, and the end of the incessant rain that defines Oregon winters.
After shopping indoors for six months, you just crave browsing the produce, plants, and wares offered up by the many vendors. I feel giddy like a kid whose parents have let him outside to play at the first sign of sunshine.
I wasted no time last weekend. Pulling in to an empty parking space at the edge of the market, I found no crowds. Deterred by the morning rain, people had not thought to head to the market at the first sunbreak of the day. I immediately headed for the Steffen Farms stand, where, as luck would have it, among the beautiful greens on the tables were stacks of verdant miner’s lettuce. Their heart-shaped leaves, pulled into bunches by tight rubber bands, were glistening with water droplets. “You look like you knew what you were looking for. Enjoy them while you can,” the friendly clerk said. “They’ll be gone as soon as the weather warms up.” Sometimes the simple joys in life just don’t last very long. My spirits buoyed by the thought, I bounced along.
Just around the corner on another aisle was a beautiful long table laden with collards, spinach, leeks, chards of all colors and more at the Minto Island Growers tent. What caught my attention, though, was another tent just beyond. A friendly looking man was helping a line of customers. Dressed simply, his face framed by close-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair and eyeglasses that looked just a little too fashionable for Salem, he was smiling as beautiful loves of artisan bread was exchanged for money. This is special bread. I made a beeline for The Bread Board tent, where I overheard the man in front of me order a Country Sourdough loaf. My heart sank as I thought he had purchased the last one. The bespectacled man was handing over a loaf that looked nothing like what you’d find in the supermarket. You could tell that the crust was thick and crisp; it was almost a dark brown. It’s top had a beautiful lattice pattern that had been scored into it before baking. Here and there on the top were lighter-colored flecks of flour dusting that had not been so warmly kissed by the heat of the wood-fired oven. When it came my turn, I asked if there was more of the same bread and held my breath and wished silently that somewhere in that tent was one last loaf for me. The man smiled. His cheeks gathered under the rims of his glasses. “Sure, there’s more.” I did a happy dance inside myself and smiled back and handed him the money as he sacked the loaf and gave me the bag.
If I could ever take a sabbatical and not have to worry about paying the bills, I’d ask Keith Zinn and John Volkmann, owners of The Bread Board in Falls City, if I could apprentice at their bakery to learn how to make that magical bread. To think that this former Northern California couple moved to a town of about a thousand in Polk County to live in the country and do what they love—baking— just blows my mind. When you cut into the bread, the crust is crisp but the inside has irregular pockets of air, large and small, and the bread is so moist, and your nose will tingle at the wonderfully sour and yeasty aroma. Without taking a bite, you can taste the bread simply from the smell. The aroma alone transports me back to the first time I ate sourdough. It was in view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Yeah, you get it. I love their bread.
With my Saturday Market finds in my recycled shopping bag, I hurried back to my car and to pick up Mom from bingo. My mind was already on dinner and what I was going to make. Although it wasn’t tomato season or bell pepper season in Oregon yet, I’d find some at the supermarket on the way home. I was looking forward to smoking some farm-raised steelhead I picked up earlier. Using the smoked steelhead, bread, tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, onion and the miner’s lettuce, I was going to make bruschetta for dinner. I could already taste it.
Since Mom can’t handle eating foods that are difficult to chew, I was going to make her a salad using the same ingredients minus the bread.
I was also looking forward to pairing the bruschetta with some 2013 Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir that I had picked up earlier in the week at their Tasting Room. This dry white wine has great acidity, a beautiful floral nose with flavors of ripe peaches and nectarines, and a lingering mineral finish. It’s the perfect wine to pair with a perfect dinner to herald the arrival of spring.
Smoked Steelhead Bruschetta
- About ¼ of a pound of steelhead per person
- 4-6 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil
- A loaf of good artisan sourdough bread (if you’re in Salem, you better get The Bread Board’s Country Sourdough!)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ of a sweet yellow onion, chopped into small pieces
- 1 ripe tomato, roughly chopped
- ½ of a medium yellow bell pepper, cubed
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- Salt to taste
- 2 cups of miner’s lettuce (or watercress) rinsed and spun dry
- Smoke the steelhead (if you don’t know how, click here for a previous blog post on my technique) and set aside.
- In a cast-iron skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.
- Slice the bread into 6 ½-inch slices or less and lay in skillet to soak up oil and toast on each side.
- Add more oil if necessary to the skillet as you toast the bread. Set toasted bread aside.
- In the same skillet, add the remaining oil and garlic and onions and saute until onions begin to turn translucent. Add tomato, bell pepper, thyme and salt. Stir until the tomatoes begin to weep, and turn off heat.
- Arrange toasted bread slices on serving platter and add a layer of miner’s lettuce to each. Use your hands or a knife to break up smoked steelhead and add to top of miner’s lettuce on each slice of bread.
- Add the cooked tomato, pepper, and onion mixture evenly to each piece of toast on top of the steelhead and serve.