The Sunday Market

Sunday mornings are special to me.

While others may dream of sleeping in, or of family outings to the church of their choice, you can (almost!) always find me in Rillito Park at the Heirloom Farmers Market.

I begin my weekly visits with the intention of perusing the full market before buying. But then I see that Eunice and Larry (Larry’s Veggies) have my favorite Minnesota Midget melons, or Laura (Laura’s Locals) has beautiful pink oyster mushrooms, or Alethea and her daughter, Caitlyn (Fiore di Capra), have fresh goat ricotta... I stop and buy immediately.

After all, if I waited for a full tour of the market, all those goodies could be gone by the time I get back to their respective stalls.

Today’s recipe is an inspiration from a recent Sunday morning meander at the market. Ian (White Cane Sockeye Salmon) had beautiful King Salmon, and Eunice and Larry had beautiful clumps of I’itoi onions.

Once thought to be a native to the American Southwest, I’itoi (pronounced ee-EE-toy) onions are actually an introduced species. Research has shown they were brought to this region by 17th-century Jesuit missionaries. Though this, along with other Old-World crops, was eventually abandoned by Euro-Americans, its cultivation persisted among the tribes to whom they were introduced, making the Amerindians inadvertent preservers of these heirloom foods. These heirloom Old-World crops, combined with distinctive native food plants such as the chiltepin in the recipe below, play an important role in the designation of Tucson as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. The name for the variety of onions, I’itoi, refers to Elder Brother, the creation deity of Tohono O’odham narrative. You might know him as the Man in the Maze.

The onions themselves are small and clumping, and are best propagated via bulb divisions. Last time I wrote of them, I was sure there would be seed packets available. Sadly, no. But the bulb divisions are available (seasonally) from Native Seeds SEARCH.

One of the greatest pleasures in life, and certainly among its privileges, is to know the people who grow and raise your food. That connection to the earth is elemental, and I am grateful for my friends — the farmers, ranchers, and artisans — at the market who work so hard to bring their beautiful products to us each week.

~ David

Roasted King Salmon with I’itoi Onion Compote

4 6-ounce salmon fillets, skin removed
8-10 clumps I’itoi onions
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 crushed chiltepin or a pinch red pepper flakes
large pinch salt
2 lemons, sliced paper thin

Brush the salmon fillets with a little of the olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.

Divide the clumps of onions into separate cloves or bulbs; you should have about 40 separate bulbs, but if you end up with more that is great! Trim and peel them, then rinse them well, as the bulbs can be very sandy. If they come with their greens, reserve them for another use. *

Place the remaining olive oil in a small, heavy saucepan and add the whole I’itoi onion bulbs, thyme sprigs, tomato paste, sugar, red pepper flakes, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, at which point the onions should be soft and somewhat caramelized. Discard thyme sprigs and set compote aside; keep warm.

Arrange lemon slices on an oiled cookie sheet to make a bed for the fish. Place the fillets on the lemon slices and roast in the oven for 8-12 minutes, depending on thickness and your preference for how well done you like your fish.

Using a long spatula, transfer each fillet, with some of the lemon slices, to heated dinner plates. Divide the I’itoi onion compote among fish, drizzle any remaining sauce over it, and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

* The greens of the I’itoi onions are very flavorful and should not be discarded. Use them as you would scallions. They are wonderful sautéed as a side dish.

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