Jonathan Bardzik’s joy for both cooking and life is absolutely palpable, whether you’ve seen one of his weekly cooking demonstrations at local farmers markets or read either of his cookbooks, “Simple Summer” or “Seasons to Taste.”
A self-described “passionate home cook,” Bardzik’s professional culinary career took its first experimental steps nearly five years ago when he set out on a hot July morning to demonstrate recipes at Capitol Hill’s historic Eastern Market. Working on a patch of dirt — and without a tent — Bardzik recalls, “By the end of the demo I was icing down bowls that had gotten so hot in the sun they were wilting salad greens on contact.”
Since then, Bardzik has invested in a tent to shield himself and his food from the weather but, more importantly, he’s built a career that is distinctly connected to interacting with the farmers market shoppers who stop by to watch him cook — usually at Eastern Market, but also at Bloomingdale Farmers Market and many others along the East Coast.
“I do most of my cooking outside on a sidewalk with just a knife, a cutting board and a camp stove,” he says. “Every recipe I develop is sampled by 60 or more people who take home recipe cards. If a recipe doesn’t work or is too complicated, I know about it.”
Because Bardzik’s recipes are almost entirely made with ingredients that come directly from the farmers markets where he’s cooking, it means that the ingredients are truly accessible to his audience — no need to search far and wide for odd items, which means that Bardzik’s recipes really can be replicated at home, a distinct nod to the chef’s own origins as a home cook.
“This is not just my vocation,” he says, “it is truly my passion.”
Cooking for his husband Jason and extended family is clearly both a joy and a passion that is evident in Bardzik’s new cookbook, “Seasons to Taste: Farm Fresh Joy for Kitchen & Table” (Story Farm, 2015).
“I think that being gay has offered me a special appreciation for the importance of the people who give our lives meaning — both the families we are born into and the ones we choose,” he says. “I see cooking and sharing food as a way to celebrate and nurture those relationships and to share joy.”
Peppered throughout with stories about recipes inspired by family gatherings and dinner parties with friends, “Seasons to Taste” explores how to get the best flavor out of seasonal foods, such as the delicate asparagus of early spring, an experience which Bardzik recalls fondly.
“Jason and I joyfully eat it every night only to find, two weeks later, the newness wearing off … but we eat every last stem, knowing it will be 10-and-a-half months before fresh, crisp, sugary asparagus returns to the market.”
Bardzik acknowledges that we can buy asparagus all year in most grocery stores, yet also seeks to remind us that utterly fresh local asparagus, available just a scant six weeks each spring, has a sweetness that can only be tasted in its own season; by enjoying it seasonally, we learn to truly appreciate its flavor.
While Bardzik typically does not do outdoor market demonstrations during the winter months, he’ll certainly be cooking up seasonal recipes, such as a rich tomato-based Andouille Swordfish Stew and a surprisingly light Celery Root Soup with Bacon & Apple.
“I love winter farm markets,” he says. “First, short days and cold weather make us desperate for fresh food and this is where you’ll find it. Second, there’s something fun and exciting about winter market-fresh food. Everyone can make a summer tomato taste great, but working with winter root vegetables, greens and slow-cooked roasts and braises gives a special kind of sense of accomplishment.”
From Jonathan Bardzik’s “Seasons to Taste: Farm Fresh Joy for Kitchen & Table” (Story Farm, 2015) (reprinted with permission)
With New Year’s Eve on the horizon, Bardzik recommends his Celery Root Soup recipe as one that is worthy of your best china and linens, but isn’t fussy in the kitchen, while the Andouille Swordfish Stew is a perfect one-pot meal for a lazy evening watching the ball drop on television.
“New Year’s Eve demands menus that work well whether you’re hosting a glitzy affair or an easy gathering of old friends,” Bardzik says. “Roasting or braising meats develops depth of flavor without a lot of last minute prep while your guests are in the other room sipping champagne.”
Celery Root Soup with Bacon & Apple
Creamy and rich, with a bright hint of celery and almost no cream. The garnishes take this soup from good to spectacular.
2 strips thick cut bacon, diced
4 shallots, minced
1 large celery root, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
8 cups vegetable stock, divided
2 tbs cream
2 tbs butter
1 tart apple cut in thin matchsticks
1 rib celery, thinly sliced
Celery leaves, chopped
Place bacon in a 4 quart stock pot over medium-low heat. Cook until bacon is brown and fat is rendered. Remove bacon with slotted spoon and place on paper towel to drain.
Add shallots to pan with bacon fat and sauté over medium heat until soft. Add celery root and cook additional 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute until fragrant.
Add 2 cups stock and stew, partially covered, for 5-7 minutes.
Add remaining stock and simmer 10-15 minutes longer until celery root is soft.
Process soup with an immersion blender or food processor until smooth.
Return soup to pot and warm to a simmer over medium heat.
Remove the soup from heat and stir in the cream and butter. Season to taste with salt, white pepper, nutmeg and vinegar.
Serve garnished with apple matchsticks, celery, celery leaves and crumbled bacon.
Tip: White pepper has a lighter, more floral flavor than black peppercorns, making it a perfect pairing with the light, starchy flavor of celery root. Just like black, white pepper is best freshly ground.
Andouille Swordfish Stew
Bright with tomatoes, hearty from meaty swordfish, with just the right touch of heat from spicy Andouille sausage, this lighter alternative to beef stew sacrifices none of the satisfaction.
4 tbs olive oil, divided
1 Andouille sausage, quartered and cut in 1/2” slices
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups ﬁngerling potatoes, cut in 1” pieces
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 14 ounce can San Marzano or other plum tomatoes
3 bay leaves
1 tbs dried oregano
1 1/2 pounds swordﬁsh steak, 1” thick, skinned and cut in 1” cubes
2 tbs chopped rosemary, divided
Warm 2 tbs olive oil in a heavy bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add sausage and cook until browned. Remove with slotted spoon.
Add onions and cook until softened and beginning to brown. Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer.
Add potatoes and cook for ﬁve minutes.
Add wine, partially cover, and stew until liquid is reduced by half.
Add tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano and cooked sausage. Cover and cook until potatoes are easily split with a knife, about 10-20 minutes.
Add swordﬁsh and stir in 1 tbs rosemary. Cover and cook 10-12 minutes until ﬁsh is cooked through.
Stir in remaining 2 tbs olive oil and 1 tbs rosemary, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Tip: Adding some of the rosemary earlier in the cooking gives mellow depth to the dish while sprinkling in a bit more at the end lends a bright, piney punch.