Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Market Remembers Harry

Following yesterday's funeral mass and interment of Harry Ochs, friends, family, merchants and customers gathered at the Reading Terminal Market to remember the "mayor of the market".

Harry's son Nick, however, said his father didn't regard himself so much as "mayor" as "dad" of the market. Indeed, Nick said in his remarks at the funeral mass, many of the merchants and employees at the market called him "dad". Everyone who worked and shopped at the market was his family, Nick said.

Among those attending were two former and the current general managers of the market. David K. O'Neil led the market from 1981 to 1990, playing a key role in revitalizing it under the ownership of the Reading Company, the company which took over the non-railroad real estate assets of the former Reading railroad; he currently consults on public markets. William T. Gardiner, who works with O'Neil for much of the 1980s, returned to manage the market from 1990 to 1994 during the thankless days when it was being reconstructed in connection with the building of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Paul Steinke, the GM since 2001, formerly ran the University City District and was finance director of the Center City District.

Many of the merchants took time off to attend the funeral mass in Upper Darby, then returned to the market for the lunch, which took up half of center court. Marion D'Ambrosio, owner of Tootsie's Salad Express said the participation of merchants in providing food was exceptional.

Throughout the lunch, as everyone told their favorite Harry stories, a television monitor played a DVD produced by the market earlier this year, incorporating excerpts from an oral history project. When I turned round to take a brief glimpse, there was another icon of the market on the screen, Domenic "Pop" Spataro, extolling Harry's virtues as a butcher and a market leader. You can see the video, which also features Harry, on You Tube.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cheer the Herring!

With the approach of Christmas the variety of piscatorial delights at the Reading Terminal Market's fishmongers expands. New today were herring (sardines) and spearlings, both $4.99/pound at John Yi.

I'll pick up some of those herrings (head-on whole, ungutted but scaled) on my next trip. They are probably fated for a quick pan-fry, with those I don't eat immediately destined to marinating in a vinegar brine with onions, then consumed with rye bread slathered with copious amounts of butter, and Aquavit.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Headhouse Stalwarts

Eleven stalwart vendors braved the cold, rainy weather to sell their wares at the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market this morning.

Among them was Beechwood Orchards, which was selling Northern Spys, my favorite baking apple. Dave Garrettson, who with his family owns and operates Beechwood, got the Northern Spys from a neighbor. I'm going to make another apple pie with them.

Next week, which will be the last of the 2009 season for Headhouse, Beechwood will be selling all its apples for $1 a pound.

In addition to Beechwood, today's vendors were: Blooming Glen, Joe's Coffee, John & Kira Chocolates, Mountain View Poultry, Natural Meadows Farm, Queen Farm, Savoie Farm, Star Gazer Wines, Wild Flower Bakery, Young's Garden.

Sharing the coffee stand with Joe is Gil Ortale, whose Market Day Canelés make an excellent accompaniment to the java. These custardy little cakes with a crispy exterior are an adult treat. One of the secrets in their baking is to mix beeswax with oil or butter, then coat the tin mold's interior with this "white oil". The treats have got history, too. Paula Wolfert tells all.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Radicchio Cookoff

Andrea Luca Rossi of Cichetteria 19 won an Iron Chef-style cookoff of radicchio dishes at the Reading Terminal Market yesterday. In photo at right, Andrea describes one of his winners, a scallop dish with grilled Radicchio Rosso di Treviso, to judges John Vena, Anna Florio and Franca Riccardi.

Vena had more than a culinary interest in the proceedings, since he's the owner of John Vena, Inc., a wholesaler at the Philadelphia Produce Terminal who specializes in the import of Italian produce, including all the varieties of radicchio featured yesterday: the spidery Tardivo, the Rosso, and the Variegata di Castelfranco. Vena said the business was started by his grandfather in 1919 after arriving here from his native Gangchi, Sicility. The fourth generation has entered the business through his son, Daniel. (Among the other items he sells is Kiwi fruits; Italy is the world's largest producer of this item, normally associated with New Zealand. They were three for a buck yesterday at Iovine Brothers Produce.)

Joining Vena at the judge's table were Florio, who operates La Cucina at the Market, the cooking school located in the former market kitchen, and Riccardi, director of the Amerian-Italy Society of Philadelphia.

The winner's scallop dish (right) was served on a bed of the Variegata and was accompanied by a radicchio polenta with beets and goat cheese. In addition to his scallop dish, Rossi also offered a risotto. His restaurant is located 267 S. 19th.

The other competitors in the 30-minute cookoff (with running commentary from TV cook Christina Pirillo) were Luciana Spurio of Le Virtu, 1927 E. Passyunk, and Nunzio Patruno of Collingswood's Nunzio Ristorante Rustico, who formerly operated Philadelphia's Monte Carlo Living Room. Spurio prepared Fettucine Radicchio Trevigiano e Gorgonzola. Patruno served a scallop dish featuring radicchio and beans, and shrimp wrapped in the Variegata.

Here are some more photos from the competition, part of a promotion to encourage Philadelphia chefs and home cooks to use these winter chickory-like veggies.

Vena, Florio and Franca contemplate a dish featuring the Tardivo.

Patruno works on his Variegata wrapped shrimp.

Spurio and her assistant prepare the Rosso for their fettucine.

Here's the selection of radicchio displayed at Iovine''s, along with recipes. The Variegata ($11.99/pound) is the light, speckled heads in the foreground, the Treviso the Rosso di Treviso (a.k.a. "early", $7.99/pound) are the romaine-like heads on the right, the Tardivo ($17.99/pound) the spidery samples in the center. All versions come from the Veneto, the region around Venice.

The Variegata is primarily used raw in salads, but the recipe cards distributed at Iovine's included a Parmigiana version in which the leaves are briefly cooked in cream, then finished in the oven with Parmegiano Reggiano.
Citrus On Parade

It's citrus time at the Reading Terminal Market.

Over at Iovine Brother's Produce Spanish clementines are the star, $4.95 for a five-pound box. The skins aren't quite as zippery as they'll get a little later in the season, but they peel easily enough and have a good sweet-tart taste, as is appropriate for this variety of mandarin orange, which some contend is a lemon-orange cross.

I spied at least three varieties of navel oranges today, one selling for four for a buck, another for three for a buck. Jumanis were two for a dollar. Tangerines, grapefruits and other citrus fruits are also coming into season.

I don't recycle fruitcakes I get as gifts: I love them. I've even been known to buy them for myself. Once I went so far as to order 10 pounds worth from Georgia.

Those same Georgia fruitcakes have been available in years past at the Reading Terinal Market at Iovine Brothers' Produce. These are the heavyweight cakes produced by Claxton Fruitcakes in Claxton, Georgia. They are heavily laden with a wonderful variety of dried fruits held together with a barely detectable pound cake binding. Iovine's no longer carries them, but Jonathan Best, the relatively new grocer at the market, does. Alas, Jonathans Best only carries the regular version; it's good, but I prefer the dark variety. I didn't check the price, but when you order direct via the web three one-pound cakes sell for $25.95 plus shipping (you can buy in various weight permutations).

L. Halteman Family sells locally made fruitcakes, which appear to have more nuts, for $6.95 a loaf.
Fowl For Your Feast

A beautiful, mahogany colored roasted bird makes a wonderful edible centerpiece for a holiday table. And no bird is more Christmas-y than a roast goose.

At the Reading Terminal Market L. Halteman Family has locally raised geese in stock. The birds, roughly 10 pounds, sell for $5.79/pound. The Fair Food Farmstand is selling geese from Griggstown (NJ) Quail Farm for $10/pound. Geese and lots of other birds can be obtained from Godshall's Poultry. In all cases it's wise to call ahead and order. It's almost too late to order from Fair Food; orders for the Griggstown geese, as well as pheasants, must be placed with Fair Food by 9 a.m. this Monday.

Fair Food has ordering deadlines for other holiday roasts, including country hams, pork loin and shoulder roasts, briskets, whole prime ribs and lamb legs and shoulders. See Fair Food's weekly newsletter for the details.

All the other butchers at the market (Martin's Quality Meats & Sausage, Giunta's Prime Shop, Harry Ochs & Sons, and S&B Meats) also can accommodate special orders for the holidays. Among other items, Giunta's is selling turduckens for $39.95 apiece.
Latkes Lesson

Want to make potato pancakes (latkes) like those served by Hershel's East Side Deli at the Reading Terminal Market? Andy Wash, co-owner of the deli, provides his recipe and secrets at the Cheftalk website. (Don't pay any attention to the writer referring to Andy as Andy "Washington". The writer mistook his notes with Andy's last name as an abbrevation.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Beignets Arrive!

The heavy-duty stand mixer finally arrived at Beck's Cajun Café so the new Reading Terminal Market eatery can now make those beignets.

I've never been to New Orleans so I won't presume to make comparisons to what's offered by the finer establishments of the Crescent City at 2 a.m. to local and foreign drunkards looking to put something in their stomachs to hold down the liquor.

What I can say is that these are a quite fine variation on the theme of hot fried dough with sugar.

Who among us doesn't, at least occasionally, crave hot fried dough?  It's even a religious tradition. (Tonight being the first night of Hanukah, it's time to indulge in sufganiot, one of the the traditional fried foods of this festival, basically a jelly doughnut, just as the Pennsylvania Dutch love their fastnachts for Fat Tuesday.)

Bill Beck's rendition is among the lightest hot fried dough I've ever had, which seems like an oxymoron. Not that these are low-caloric! He drowns them in confectioners' sugar, as you can see in the photo. Order them with a cup of Community Coffee (with chicory) imported from New Orleans.

Beck is also proud of his jambalaya, as you can see in the second photo.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Harry Ochs:
He Will Be Remembered

Although most everyone who reads this blog probably has heard the sad news, I cannot help but note the death from cancer yesterday of Harry Ochs Jr. at age 80.

I'll leave it to the obituary writers to recount his life and contributions to the Reading Terminal Market, his fellow merchants and his customers. (See today's Inquirer here.)

It's a comment on how well he was loved by everyone connected with the market that last spring its merchants association used its annual shindig as a "surprise party" for Harry's 80th birthday. They knew it likely would be the last time to celebrate Harry while he was alive. So what if they couldn't keep the party a secret from Harry? When it came the Reading Terminal Market, very little escaped his notice. Few market regulars will fail to notice his absence.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

New Winter Market at the Piazza

The Piazza at Schmidts, developer Bart Blatstein's residential complex on North Second Street in Northern Liberties, plans to start a new winter farmers' market in mid-January. Tom Culton, a regular at Headhouse Square who also supplies a number of city restaurants with his unusual produce, plans to be there to sell greens. More details when I get them.
Headhouse: Two More Weeks

The ranks of vendors at the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market are thinning, but there were still plenty of produce stalls today offering potatoes, apples, root veggies, romanesco, greens, onions, etc. The Headhouse market will continue through Dec. 20, the last Sunday before Christmas.

Produce vendors making the trip were Blooming Glen, Weaver's Way, Culton Organics, Queen Farm, Savoie Farm and Beechwood Orchards. Protein vendors were Mountain View Poultry, Natural Meadows and Otolith (a fish purveyor which only occasionally shows up at Headhouse). Other vendors today were Joe Etc. (coffee), Wildflower Bakery, Young's Garden, and John + Kira Chocolates. As I was leaving a lunch vendor (might have been Taqueria de la Pueblo) was setting up.

Beechwood continued to offer a nice variety of apples. I picked up some more Newtown Pippins for storage.

Today was Blooming Glen's last week at the market until spring. I purchased German butterball potatoes and a small head of radicchio.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Today at the RTM

The Radicchio di Treviso at Iovine Brothers Produce at the Reading Terminal Market was priced at $17.99/pound today in cello-trays. Heads of regular radicchio were $5.99/pound.

If you buy those Hass avocadoes from the Dominican Republic for $1 apiece (they still need a day or two to ripen, based on my light squeezes this morning), the limes to accent your guacamole are a little less dear: five for a buck.

Once upon a time you could buy dried Italian porcini mushrooms at Iovine's. All they've had recently are Chilean porcinis, which aren't bad but not as good to my taste. You can find the Italian ones over at the  Spice Terminal; while I don't recall the price, it's considerably north of $30 a pound.

I'm lazy today so I passed up buying ingredients for soup. But it's definitely the right weather for it. I ran into one acquaintence who was planning to make a mushroom soup with maitakes (a.k.a. hen of the woods). For a mushroom barley or cream of mushroom soup, I like the dried porcinis, but also plain old fashioned white button mushrooms. Plain domestic mushrooms tend to be a forgotten food among foodies, but they represent excellent value and depth of flavor, particularly if they're a bit shriveled (but not slimy), which intensifies their flavor.

I complained previously about the high price of grapes. The green seedless ones were even more expensive today: $3.99/pound. Bell peppers are about as expensive as they ever get: even the frying peppers were $1.99/pound today.

The long English cucumbers (nearly seedless) are a good deal at Iovine's, however. Two for a buck. I'm going to make a quick Scandinavian style pickle from one to accompany fried fish for dinner.

As we near the holidays, the variety and price of fish seems to increase, especially those staples enjoyed for Night of the Seven Fishes. I picked up some cod filet from John Yi today at $9.99/pound, which is pretty much the normal price in retail markets. Good-looking whole wild striped bass was available at Yi and Golden Fish for about $6/pound.

What the Reading Terminal fishmongers don't carry is one of my favorite clam varieties: the soft "steamer" clams, which when prepared for frying are often called "Ipswich" clams. You can get them at Wegman's for $5/pound. The RTM fish stalls also don't offer much variety in the way of oysters. Chesapeake, Virginia and, occasionally, Long Island shell oysters are available for about a buck apiece, as are shucked oysters for stewing and frying, but I've yet to see this bivalve from more the northern waters of Maine, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Still no beignets at Beck's Cajun Café.

Joe Nicolosi does more than make great roast pork sandwiches at Tommy DiNic's. He's an accomplished musician. Although his main thing these days is classical piano (he's hard at work on his Chopin), he's going to be playing bass with his old band in a reunion of sorts Wednesday at Johnny Brenda's.

It's always fun to people-watch at the Reading Terminal. Today I squinted rudely to read the badges of one group of visitors attending a convention: the American Anthropology Association. They must have been there to study participants in a cheer-leading competition at the convention center, who were also gawking at the food and sandwich stalls.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Radicchio di Treviso

Last February I wrote about Tardivo, a variant of Radicchio di Treviso that I found at Iovine Brother's Produce at $22/pound.

This year the Reading Terminal Market and Iovine's are dedicating an entire festival to Radicchio di Treviso. Or at least 45 minutes worth of festival.

The program, to be held a week from today in Center Court beginning at 11 a.m., will include a brief Iron Chef-like cookoff among local chefs.

Christina Pirello of Christina Cooks (a national PBS show produced by WHYY) will serve as emcee of the event. Among the judges will be Anna Maria Florio, owner and operator of  La Cucina at the Market. Samples of the radicchio will be available at Iovine Brothers Produce.

How to use this bitter veggie, a descendant of chicory?  You could wilt it in sautéed onions and use it in pasta or, without the onions, fold it into a risotto at the end of cooking; blanch it in a water-vinegar mix spiked with bay leaf, salt and peppercorns, then marinate it overnight in olive oil and serve as a salad, garnished with chopped hard boiled egg; prepare a fritto in a thin beer batter; or, do as McDonald's does, and add a few pieces to a mixed salad.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

New Avocado Source

A month or so ago, Chilean avocados appeared at Iovine Brothers Produce at the Reading Terminal Market. Today the $1 apiece fruits hailed from the Dominican Republican, which I had not seen before.

We seem to be in an interregnum as far as table grapes are concerned. All the varieties I looked at recently have been priced at $2.99/pound. We may not see significantly cheaper grapes until the Chilean harvest starts in late winter.

I picked up some nice, heavy-for-their-size navel oranges today, three for a buck. Not a bad price, but they should come down a bit as we get into winter.

Smoked Haddock

I started to use the smoked haddock I picked up a few weeks ago at Wegman's in Cherry Hill. I took about five or six ounces out of the one-pound filet and mashed them up with an equal amount of cream cheese (softened with about a tablespoon of sour cream), ground in some black pepper, and finished with a couple tablespoons of both onion and parsley. Very yummy on good rye bread.

Speaking of sour cream, I bought some at Fair Food. Although "all natural" it was full of vegetable gums, for no apparent reason. The Dairylead brand, available at some supermarkets, is made from nothing but cream. It may not be organic, but it's good.

One of my readers reports that he tried to find the smoked haddock, a.k.a. finnan haddie, at Wegman's, but they were all out. If you find it, don't pass it by.