Chef Marc Panas brought a little extra pizzazz to the Oro Valley Farmer's Market March 6, whipping up a delectable tasting menu from fresh, mostly local ingredients chosen on the spot.
"We previewed everything a few weeks ago," admitted a smiling Panas, 46, who recently opened his bistro Livorno on Oracle and Rudasill roads. "I walked around this morning and looked at all the beautiful things and tried to do something simple to showcase the food."
The market began operating in the fall every Saturday at Oro Valley Town Hall, 11,000 N. La Cañada Drive, and features a wide variety of fresh produce, breads, meat and accompaniments.
Panas started with three salads composed of ingredients picked the day before at La Oestra gardens, just a few miles away: one of vine-ripened red and sweet yellow tomatoes with fresh mint; a second of spinach leaves with virgin olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar; and a third of field greens and "micro greens," baby escarole and radishes, red and green lettuce and mesclun.
For the tomato salad, he added a sharp, crumbly "Queso Cotija" from Michoacan, a type of Mexican Parmesan supplied by John's Cheese. The same market regular also carries the pale yellow, buttery "Queso Menonita," named for the Mennonite communities of northern Chihuahua that produce it, and the freshest "Queso Fresco," a mild white cheese of cow and goat's milk.
As an accompaniment, he used "a beautiful, organic rye bread, stone ground with no fillers" from Washington-based Peggy's Bakery Organica and seven-grain bread from Mona's Danish Bakery.
For the main entrée, Panas chose wild Alaska king salmon, seared it in olive oil and served it, moist on the outside and meltingly rare in the center, with a brown butter and fresh dill sauce.
"The fish is very delicate, it will cook another few minutes even when removed from the heat," he said.
Karie Knoke, of the Elfish Fish Company, of Sitka, Alaska, said the wild king salmon is caught the old fashioned way, live by hook and line, one at a time, and then cleaned on the boat. "That makes a difference in quality," she said. The fish are flash frozen and brought by barge to Seattle, where they're trucked to Tucson during the winter months. The trick is to thaw the fish slowly in the refrigerator overnight, Panas said.
For the same price ($12.95 per pound), Knoke also carries Ivory King, a special white-fleshed wild Alaska king salmon with a slightly milder taste. Smoked salmon is $16.95 per pound.
For a flavorful side dish, the chef first blanched in hot water and then sautéed in olive oil a mix of fresh carrots, zucchini and yellow squash from Hellicious, a produce vendor from Picture Rocks and RichCrest Farms, out of Dragoon.
Panas selected a second entrée of grass-fed lamb shoulder and a lamb rib chop from Brian's B Bar X Ranch in Cochise.
"I seared them first to get a nice crust, then deglazed the pan with a little chicken stock, let the water evaporate, and then added a small pat of butter and some cream, which makes a heavily reduced sauce, a pan demi-glace," the chef explained. He then de-boned the lamb and braised the smaller chunks in the sauce for five or six minutes until done.
Coming from a large Polish-Lebanese-Spanish family, Panas took to heart lessons learned from his mother, grandmother and great aunt in Tucson and his great-grandmother in Indiana.
"They were always in the kitchen, and that's where the girls were," he said. "I'd go and flirt with the girls."
When he was 12, the family spent a month in Italy, where he had his first 10-course meal in Livorno, a little city in Tuscany.
"It was my first multi-course, wonderful, take-your-time-and-eat-for-two-hours experience," he said. It also inspired a desire to open a restaurant some day.
The chef and his wife Kristine and three daughters have lived in Oro Valley for 12 years and Tucson before that, although Panas is practically a native.
"I used to ride horses and dirt bikes when there was nothing here," he said. He started in the food business but to support his family, worked as an area manager for a regional car wash company.
"I was always cooking for everyone," he said. Last year, he completed an accelerated Cordon Bleu culinary arts program through the Scottsdale Culinary Institute and then trained briefly at Cafe Terra Cotta in Tucson and the Hilton at South Mountain in Phoenix.
Just after Christmas, he opened his bistro, Livorno, 5931 N. Oracle Road, specializing in the cuisine of northern Italy and the Provençal region of southern France. The restaurant makes everything from scratch, including its polenta, crepes, breads and fresh mozzarella and ricotta (see recipe for Livorno's Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Wild Mushrooms).
At Saturday's market, Panas put away a few items just for the restaurant: eight yellow squash, a piece of wild Alaska king salmon and six pints of sweet California strawberries from Larry's Strawberries.
"We usually slice them and fan them out on dessert plates," he said. That night, they were paired in a tart with blackberries and pastry cream and garnished with shaved chocolate. Now that's fresh.
Next week at the Oro Valley Farmer's Market:
10 a.m. to noon, March 13. Everything's Gone Green! Featuring:
€ John Swanson, Fiesta Gardens: "Planting and Growing Edible Spring Vegetables"
€ Lesley Mansur, The Family Tree: "Landscaping and Yard Design"
€ Jeanne Oehler, Torque Ranch: "Origin, Uses and Maintenance of Scented Geraniums and Medicinal Uses of Aloe Vera"
€ Joe Frawley, Enchanted Hills Cactus Nursery: "Caring for Your Cacti"
For more information call 793-8344
RECIPE: Prosciutto wrapped pork tenderloin stuffed with wild mushrooms
€ 1 small to medium sized pork tenderloin
€ 5-6 thinly sliced pieces of prosciutto
€ Assortment of wild mushrooms, can be fresh or dried, crimini, shiitake, oyster, lobster, chanterelle or combination there of is a good way to go, about a pound total weight 6-8 cups port wine, more as needed if using dried mushrooms
€ Salt and Pepper
€ One half to one cup extra virgin olive oil 2-3 pats of butter
€ 1/2 cup cream
Clean pork tenderloin of all fat, sinew, skin, etc., then " butterfly" open. Simply slice almost in half lengthwise, keeping piece intact but "opened" or butterflied. Or have it done when purchased! Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper If using dried mushrooms re-hydrate in water and some port wine until soft, about 30 minutes, if using fresh, saute quickly with some butter and olive oil till just soft Rough chop half of mushrooms reserving other half for sauce Place slices of prosciutto vertically on work surface, place tenderloin lengthwise across prosciutto near top of slices, top with generous amounts of chopped wild mushrooms carefully roll down prosciutto with the tenderloin, rolling tightly, seam side down Heat pan to near smoking, add olive oil, place tenderloin seam side down, sear till prosciutto starts to crisp, turn down heat to medium, turn loin over sear till crisp remove pan from heat, de-glaze with some port wine, return to heat, reduce wine to half, add balance of whole mushrooms, cream and butter, heat to low, reduce to nice thick consistency, if sauce becomes too thick, or starts to become dry before desired doneness has been achieved add a small amount of water to thin. By time sauce has thickened pork will be done! Slice into 5- 6 pieces, serve with favorite side dish and enjoy! Yields 2-3 servings depending on loin size.