Who says you can’t get fresh produce in Colorado? Chef Mark Stanczac tells us when, where and how to use locally grown fruits and veggies for an elegant lunch al fresco.
Fun fact: Colorado’s fruit and corn are sweeter than most because of our cold, high altitude nights. The fruit builds a thicker skin to protect itself from the cold, which results in a sweeter fruit. The season might be short, and it might take longer for fruit to come to harvest than in other parts of the country, but it’s well worth the wait.
While there is an abundance of all kinds of fresh produce available in the summer months, Colorado is best known for its Palisade Peaches and Olathe corn. Another lesser known fruit that should not be overlooked, according to Chef Mark Stanczac, is the Rocky Ford Cantaloupe. “Think of the sugar as the jacket of the fruit. When that builds up over cold nights, the result is the sweetest cantaloupe you’ve ever tasted.”
Originally from Illinois, Stanczac has been working as a private chef in Steamboat for over a decade. “Working with fresh produce makes putting together a fresh summer menu easy,” he says. “If you keep it simple and let the product speak for itself, you can’t really go wrong.” That’s not to say he doesn’t have a few tricks (or unusual spices) up his sleeve. We asked Chef Mark to put together a menu for an al fresco lunch that’s perfect for entertaining your summer guests at The Porches. Here’s what he came up with:
Middle Eastern Melon Salad
This simple but exotic salad is the perfect marriage of sugar and spice, featuring melon seasoned with sumac and paired with peppery arugula. It’s bright, healthy, and just the right amount of unexpected.
1 Rocky Fork Cantaloupe, cut thin into thin slices or use a melon baller
2-3 cups arugula
2-3 tsp sumac (or Za’atar)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Find a nice fresh Rocky Fork Cantaloupe, which can usually be found at the Saturday Farmers Market.
Cut into thin half-moon shaped slices (without skin) or use a melon baller.
Season with sumac, a spice Native Americans used by grounding the bark of a sumac tree into a fine powder. It has an earthy, lemony flavor. I buy mine online, but you can also use Za’atar, which is a Middle Eastern spice blend of thyme, roast sesame seed and sumac. You can buy it at City Market or Safeway.
Toss the seasoned melon with arugula and some extra virgin olive oil, finish with salt and pepper.
Grilled Flank Steak with Grilled Olathe Corn Relish
Nothing says summer like grilled meat and veggies, and locally raised beef is one of the best products available in Steamboat. Brighten up your meat with this colorful, flavorful corn relish that screams summer finished with fresh herbs and a dash of citrus.
2 pounds locally raised skirt steak or flank steak
2 ears Olathe corn
2 Palisade green peppers (mild)
1 bunch spring onions
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 tbsp mint (you can use whole leaves if they are small)
Juice from 1 orange
1 tsp orange zest
2 tbsp walnut oil
Grill steak to rare/medium rare, then slice and chill.
Look for baby onions at the farmers market (they look like scallions but are a little bit bigger). Slice the bulbs and throw them onto the grill.
Grill corn right in the husk until tender. Then shuck and throw back on the grill over high heat until a little bit charred. Cut the corn off the cob and set aside.
Grill peppers until charred and tender; scrape off the burned sections (do not rinse or peel or you’ll lose that smoky flavor).
Chop the grilled pepper and grilled onion and combine with corn, cilantro, and mint.
I love making a quick and easy dressing with orange juice squeezed right from the orange, orange zest and walnut oil. Or you can simply use lime juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve cold.
Grilled Palisade Peaches with Goat Cheese and Rose Syrup
This is a simple but elegant dessert that is perfect for the season.
4-5 Palisade Peaches
1 cup Moon Hill goat cheese
½ cup local honey
2 tsp rose water
Cut peaches in half and remove pit. Leave skin on.
Grill half peaches flesh side down until tender.
To make rose syrup, combine honey and rose water over low heat and simmer until combined. (You can find rose water at Natural Grocers on Lincoln Ave).
Scoop about 1 tbsp of goat cheese into the middle of each peach
Drizzle with rose syrup and serve.