A few months ago, I bypassed the corner store in D.C. where about once a month for seven years I had resorted to buying last-minute, uninspiring staples. I headed two blocks northwest for my first visit to Each Peach Market, which opened in August.
There were no sticks of Kirkland brand butter or blocks of Kraft cheddar cheese there. Instead, I found items that roused my creative juices, such as Cured DC charcuterie, Pequa Valley whole-milk yogurt, vibrant leeks, grass-fed strip steaks and good olive oil.
In the center of the room, a farm table was graced with bunches of fresh herbs standing in jars, like small floral arrangements. And then I saw Frenchie’s croissants, the best in town, and a basket of fresh everything bagels. A perfect Sunday was in the works.
“Do you have smoked salmon?” I asked the young lady behind the counter.
“We do,” she said. “But we also cure our own. Would you like to try some?”
If there is any doubt that a food movement is gaining traction in Washington, step into some of the small markets that have opened in the past few years. They aren’t the typical corner stores to duck into just for milk, eggs and mayonnaise. They are micro-grocers that carry squid-ink pasta, vegan faux gras, duck confit, fresh kale, farro and bloomy rind cheese from West Virginia. The eggs are most likely from free-range chickens, the milk is organic and the mayo might be flavored with rosemary or white truffle.
Their owners prefer to source locally. They curate the offerings based, in part, on their own tastes and are likely to have bona fide cooking credentials; many of them are chefs who realized their customers were cooking at home more, but in a different way.
“They are 50-50 cooks,” says Tracy Stannard, who co-owns Broad Branch Market in Chevy Chase D.C. “They’ll cook half a meal and round it out with prepared foods.”
I visited many of these markets with the idea of putting together a meal as a busy cook on the way home from work might, the 50-50 way. The best strategy is to let each place guide your menu.
David Hagedorn is co-author with chef Cathal Armstrong of My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve.
Spaghetti With Baby Clam and Arugula Pesto
MAKES: 6 servings
PREPARATION: The pesto can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.
For the pesto
2 ounces (2 cups packed) arugula, coarsely chopped
1 small clove garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the pasta
3 tablespoons kosher salt, for the cooking water
1 pound dried spaghetti or linguine
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
20 ounces canned baby clams
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
For the pesto: Combine the arugula and garlic in a mini food processor or blender; pulse until the greens are finely chopped. Add the cheese, the canola and extra-virgin olive oils, and the salt and pepper; process until smooth. The yield is 1/2 cup.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the salt, then the pasta, and cook according to the package directions.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the wine in a large, nonreactive saute pan over medium-high heat; cook until most of its alcohol burns off, about 2 minutes. (You’ll be able to tell when you sweep your hand over the pan, toward you, and can’t smell the wine.) Add the lemon juice, the clams and their can juices, the extra-virgin olive oil and the crushed red pepper flakes.
Transfer 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water to the saute pan. Reduce the heat under the saute pan to medium; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat.
Drain the pasta well, then add to the saute pan along with 1/4 cup of the pesto (reserve the rest for another use). Return the pan to medium heat for 1 minute, tossing to coat the pasta completely and warm through.
Divide among individual wide, shallow bowls. Serve right away.
MAKES: 6 servings
PREPARATION: The choucroute can be made a day or two in advance and gently reheated, but you risk drying out the sausages that way.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Four 4-ounce fresh sausages, such as chicken, pork or turkey
12 ounces peppered bacon, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, cut into very thin slices
1 large leek, white and light-green parts, halved lengthwise, cut into 1-inch pieces and washed well
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thick
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon caraway seed
1 teaspoon juniper berries
1 large bay leaf
1 small head (2 pounds) white cabbage, cored and shredded
1 cup hard cider
2 cups sauerkraut, squeezed dry
Dijon mustard or whole-grain mustard, for serving
Heat the oil in a large, straight-sided saute pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the sausage; brown them for about 2 minutes on each side, then transfer to a plate.
Add the bacon, onion, leek, mushrooms, garlic, caraway seed, juniper berries and bay leaf to the pan; cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the leek and onion have softened, the bacon has browned and the liquid released from the vegetables has evaporated.
Stir in the cabbage; cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens and begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the cider to deglaze the pan, stirring to dislodge any browned bits on the bottom. Stir in the sauerkraut until well incorporated.
Return the sausages to the pan, seating them deep into the cabbage mixture. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 30 minutes, until the sausages are cooked through. Discard the bay leaf and juniper berries.
Serve hot, with mustard at the table.
Spinach, Farro and Duck Confit Salad With Poached Egg
MAKES: 2 servings
PREPARATION: The farro and the eggs can be cooked a day in advance. Bring them to room temperature before serving.
For the eggs
2 large duck eggs (may substitute chicken eggs)
6 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
For the salad
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup semi-pearled farro
Two 6-ounce, store-bought duck confit legs
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thick
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces (4 cups packed) baby spinach leaves
For the eggs: Line a plate with paper towels. Fill a bowl with water and ice. Crack each egg into its own ramekin or small bowl.
Combine the water, salt and vinegar in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Once small bubbles form at the edge of the water, reduce the heat to medium.
Hold each ramekin or bowl close to the water’s surface. Gently slip 1 egg, then the other, into the water, leaving plenty of space between them. Cook undisturbed for 30 seconds, then use the edge of a flexible spatula to make sure neither egg is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Use the spatula to bring the white up, over, and all around each yolk. Cook for 2 1/2 minutes to soft-poach them. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs to the ice-water bath to stop their cooking, then transfer them to the lined plate to drain. Use a paring knife to trim the eggs into neat ovals.
At this point, if you’re not serving the salad right away, the eggs can be placed in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
For the salad: Combine the water, salt and farro in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes or until the farro is tender. Drain in a colander, then rinse with cool running water and drain.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a plate with paper towels. Have a baking dish at hand.
Place the duck legs skin side down in a saute pan over medium heat; cook until the skin crisps and releases easily, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the baking dish skin side down; bake to warm the meat through, about 10 minutes.
Remove all but 1 tablespoon of duck fat from the pan; reserve that fat for another use. Increase the heat to medium-high; add the mushrooms and stir to coat; cook until they begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate.
Whisk together the shallot, mustard, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper in a large salad or mixing bowl. Add the spinach, farro and mushrooms to the bowl and dress them well.
Divide the salad between individual plates. Top each with a duck leg and a poached egg. Serve right away.