The local foods movement has come a long way in a short time with a bigger network of suppliers, making it easier for restaurants to source food within a 100-mile radius. Now in its ninth year, a local flavors farm-to-fork series kicks off this month at The Garlic Press, an Uptown Normal restaurant that was on the forefront of keeping it local.
The Garlic Press is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and Co-owner Sarah McManus says the business, which sells gourmet food among other items, was about providing the best ingredients even before it opened a restaurant nine years ago. "Our roots are in good food." She added, "We've always been about making things from scratch and creating good food with real ingredients so for us, it's just kind of who we are. But, the market has changed so much and there's so much more available so it's easier for us to find those products."
McManus relies heavily on farms that are part of a limited liability company formed in 2012 to help local farmers market their products to restaurants and other destinations including farmers markets, schools and hospitals. Legacy of the Land includes farms in McLean, DeWitt, Livingston and Woodford Counties and claims its farms don't use chemicals or GMOs.
Local Flavors Events
The Garlic Press will be the first restaurant to host a Local Flavors event. They'll take place on the third Thursday each month, June - October, and will rotate to a different restaurant each month. Chefs from participating restaurants will create a special Local Flavors menu of three or more items featuring almost entirely seasonal produce and proteins sourced directly from central Illinois farmers. McManus says the events are designed to introduce the concept of eating local to some people who haven't caught onto it, despite the growth of restaurants which try to incorporate ingredients from within a 100-mile radius.
"They're new to it," McManus said with a smile on her face. "They might think that sunflower shoot is a little odd. And you know, I get that. I completely understand that. But, we like to ease them in and show them it does make a difference."
Sarah McManus talked with WGLT's Colleen Reynolds for Sound Ideas where you can hear more about The Garlic Press' commitment to local farmers, plus a recipe for an easy, fresh stuffed Roma tomato you can make at home.
Herb-Stuffed Tomatoes with Olives and Garlic Toasted Breadcrumbs
(Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's "Plenty" 2010)
1 cup breadcrumbs
3 T minced garlic
3 T extra virgin olive oil
6 Tomatoes, cored
1/3 cup mixed chopped herbs
-Any mixture of Thyme, Mint, Rosemary, Oregano, Basil that you desire
1/3 cup olives, pulsed in food processor or chopped roughly.
-Herb-brined are nice but any good quality olive will do
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 small red onion, fine dice
Optional 1 t lemon zest
Optional feta cheese
1. Warm sauté pan to medium heat, add 1 T olive oil, garlic, and breadcrumbs. Stir and toss breadcrumbs until amber brown and fragrant. Turn off heat and add lemon zest if desired.
2. Mix herbs, onion, olives, 2 T olive oil, and cooled breadcrumbs in medium sized bowl, tossing to fluff and seperate.
3. Fill tomatoes gently until stuffing is level with the top of the tomato. Top with crumbled feta if desired.
4. Bake tomatoes at 325°F in a bread loaf pan or similar sized straight-sided dish, tomatoes should be lightly packed in, cored opening facing up. Bake 20-30 minutes or until stuffing is toasted and tomatoes are carmelized.
Note:this dish can be prepared up to 24 hours ahead of time and baked off as needed.