Sizzle Simmer Sauté — Summer dishes fresh from the farm

–by Jennifer Ruple

Jennifer Ruple

“Growing up, I loved to garden and grow things in our backyard,” said Joe Felix, executive chef at the Toledo Museum of Art. Today, Felix still loves to garden only in a bigger backyard. His chef’s garden on the museum’s campus contains about 30 raised beds, corralling a myriad of vegetables and herbs that are incorporated into the dishes served at the museum’s café.

In addition to supervising the food operation at the café and overseeing catering for the museum’s internal and external events, Felix maintains his garden beds which are surrounded by beautiful perennials. The chef spends roughly three to five hours in the garden each week where he weeds, harvests and collects seeds. He encourages museum guests to stroll through the garden, which is located next to the entrance of the museum’s main parking lot.

Museum Chef Joe Felix

Throughout the season, the chef’s garden thrives with herbs such as basil, rosemary, lemon balm, cilantro and chives. There are edible flowers and a large variety of fruits and vegetables including six varieties of tomatoes, chiles, tomatillos, zucchini, raspberries and blueberries. “About 10-15 percent of the museum’s overall produce usage comes from the garden. We use it mostly for smaller parties and for chef’s specials; however, 90 percent of the herbs we use come from the garden,” Felix explained.

Chef’s Garden

Sponsored by Rita B. Kern, a museum donor and nature lover, the garden was installed when Felix was the sous chef for the museum. When Felix became the executive chef three years ago, the garden was reworked and renovated. “I’ve gotten more involved in it as the garden has evolved. It’s always a learning experience finding out what grows best.”

Felix enjoys creating dishes for the café’s seasonal menu which are inspired by what he is harvesting. On the summer menu is a cucumber and tomato salad which includes red onion and fresh mozzarella on a bed of fresh romaine lettuce dressed with a basil balsamic vinaigrette. “We use the fresh cucumbers to make our house pickles too,” said Felix. “We are serving a grilled zucchini side salad with pickled red onion, toasted pecans and pecorino cheese. In the fall, we’ll use the butternut squash in our Cabernet Short Rib Gnocchi,” he added.

Felix explained that one of the greatest benefits of the garden is that it helps give visitors a sense of where their food comes from. “They can go out, see the food growing, and know they are getting something really fresh.”

Enjoy the flavors of summer with two of Felix’s recipes below, or visit the Museum Café on Tuesdays and Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays noon to 4 p.m.

Garden Vegetable Bisque

Garden Vegetable Bisque
“The variety of fresh vegetables from the garden give this soup a wonderful sweetness, and the cream provides a nice richness,” commented Felix.
Makes 8 servings.

2 tablespoons of oil
1 large eggplant
1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large carrot, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 portobello mushroom (gills scraped off), diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 sprig of rosemary leaves, chopped
½ cup flour
1 cup white wine
1 quart heavy cream
2 cups water
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
Pinch ground black pepper
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons oregano, chopped
2 tablespoons basil, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

Sourdough Croutons
3 slices ½-inch thick sourdough bread
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch ground black pepper

Peel and dice eggplant into ½-inch cubes. Toss with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and set aside.

Place a one-gallon pot on medium-high heat. Once pot is hot, pour in oil. Let oil heat up and toss in the onion, red bell pepper, carrot, celery, mushroom, thyme and rosemary. Add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt to vegetables and stir.

Once onions are translucent, add garlic and stir. Cook for 30 seconds then add ½ cup of flour. Cook flour for 2 minutes, then add 1 cup white wine and stir to mix in the flour. Let cook for 30 seconds and then add cream, water, and eggplant (with excess liquid). Cook for 10 minutes, stir occasionally. Turn off heat, cover and let sit for 5 minutes.

While soup is cooking, make the sourdough croutons. Cut sourdough into ½-inch cubes. Toss with melted butter, kosher salt and pepper. Place into a hot sauté pan. Stir occasionally until croutons are brown and toasted.

Transfer half of soup contents to a blender and blend till smooth (be sure to vent blender with hot liquids). Repeat with rest of the soup. Place blended soup back on the stove on medium heat and add lemon zest, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon kosher salt and black pepper. Mix the chopped herbs together, reserving 1 tablespoon for garnish, add herbs to soup. Ladle soup into bowls and top with sourdough croutons and fresh herbs.

Bread and Butter Pickles

Bread and Butter Pickles
These pickles top Felix’s Root Beer Braised Brisket Sandwich which will be added to the café’s menu in early October. “They add a nice acidity to the rich meats,” said Felix.

3 cups sliced cucumbers
1 cup onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons coarse salt
1 cup cracked ice
¾ cup cider vinegar
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed

Combine cucumbers, onions, salt and ice in a large bowl. Mix well. Put a weight on and allow to stand 3 hours. (For a weight, Felix uses a plate with a gallon bottle of vinegar or water on top of it). Rinse and drain thoroughly.

Combine vinegar, sugar, turmeric, celery seed and mustard seed in a large pot. Add drained cucumbers and onion. Place pot on medium-low heat. Bring almost to a boil, but do not boil.

Remove from heat and allow pickles to cool in refrigerator.
(Recipes by Joe Felix)

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