Monday, April 25, 2011

taking it outside


What an unexpected surprise Easter day turned out to be. Rain was in the forecast, so it seemed unimaginable that we would be eating out of doors that day, especially on the east end of Long Island where it is traditionally too nippy at this time of year to contemplate such a venture.
But we did!
 The tiny potatoes garnished with slow roasted tomatoes tasted as good as they looked.

There is no shortage of wonderful cooks in my family. Everyone contributed something and happily there was a lot to eat!  One of my brothers-in-law is a professional chef and he was unstoppable in the kitchen this year cranking out meticulously prepped roasted Artic Char in addition to the potatoes pictured above. My very hardworking sister-in-law took time out from her pressured schedule to delight us with perfectly crafted onion tarts and my uptown sister made a magnificent pastry covered vegetable torte filled with ricotta and swisschard (I've got to get that recipe). 
One of the loveliest dishes of the day was the green salad tossed with roasted yellow peppers that my brother, the host, served up. It was inspired, yet simple to prepare, in fact almost so simple I nearly dismissed it as too obvious. And yet...
Vegetables roasting on the grill. The red peppers, baby carrots and radishes were served as a side dish. The yellow and orange peppers topped a green salad.
What a brilliant display of color for the Easter table! This salad was fantastically delicious and  satisfying.

After eating huge platefuls of celebratory holiday food I feel as if I shall never have the need to eat again. But tomorrow is another day.

Green Salad with Roasted Peppers
1 yellow and 1 orange bell pepper cut into strips
2 Tbs. olive oil
10 oz.s mixed baby greens
1 small head of raddichio cut into ribbons
3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
6 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

Toss the peppers in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. They can be roasted over a hot grill or in a hot 400 degree oven, in a flat layer on a roasting pan. Grill or roast the peppers for 15 minutes, until softend and charred in spots. Remove from heat and allow the peppers to cool to room temperature. Combine all the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and toss well to coat the lettuce greens with the oil and vinegar. Top the salad with the roasted peppers and serve.

Love all the beautiful colors! Last summer I fell in love with grilled raddichio. Deb, how do you think grilling the raddicchio  would work for this salad? I'll have to test it out!

I just did an email promotion this morning for a white wine that would actually be perfect for this salad. Chateau l'Hoste Blanc 2009 is a delightul white Bordeaux from an outstanding vintage. Plus, it retails for $12.99 which makes it a wonderful bargain! It might be tough to find, but there are many white Bordeaux in the same price range which are equally as delicious! 2009 was such a spectacular vintage that it was hard for a Chateau to make a bad wine. Definitely a vintage to take advantage of - there are an infinite amount of bargains out there.
White Bordeaux are typically a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The Chateau l'Hoste Blanc includes Muscadelle as well. I love this wine! Especially for Spring! It's bright, fresh, and has wonderful acidity and balance. Perfect for a lovely salad!  In fact, this wine would be incredible with any of the dishes Deb mentioned above. (speaking of those dishes...would love the recipe for the vegetable torte!) For those who eat fish, this wine also makes a wonderful match for sushi and shellfish. But don't hesitate to enjoy a white Bordeaux by itself! I particularly enjoy having a glass of this type of wine while I am preparing a meal...especially outdoors while barbequing!

Monday, April 18, 2011

season of the green

Each season brings a specific dish or preparation that defines that particular year for me.
Beautiful things are popping up everywhere!

This year my springtime culinary obsession has already taken form. Sauteed baby greens served cold, as a salad with pickled red onions are going to be part of my weekly if not daily diet for the next month or two. This dish came together while I was cooking lunch in the school kitchen this week. On hand was an abundance of fresh spinach, but not enough to serve as a side dish to 200 children, so I turned it into a salad we could put on the salad bar. It was a long shot, especially when I considered how most children feel about spinach, but the students put a dent in it I am happy to report!

Knowing that all sorts of baby greens would be hitting the farmer's markets just about now I headed over to Union Square and scouted out a vendor who was very excited about her overwintered broccoli rabe, touting it's sweet flavor and warning that it was only available for a few days, maybe a week or two at most. SOLD!

Overwintered broccoli rabe has been planted in the fall and harvested in the early spring. 

Baby greens cook so quickly, you really only have to get them to the wilted stage. This recipe will work equally well with tender spinach, kale, chard, mustard greens, and of course broccoli rabe. Use good quality extra virgin olive oil and add lots of garlic for flavor.
Pickled red onions are easy to make. Plus, they add great color and an acidic pop to this dish.  Make a large batch (a whole onion) to keep in the fridge, it is perfect to top sandwiches and other salads all spring long. 

Tender Spring Greens Salad with Pickled Red Onions
for the greens:
1 large bunch of young greens- either one variety or a mix (about 3 cups)
4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup pickeled red onions

Wash greens carefully in cold water to remove any dirt or sand. With the water still clinging to the leaves, roughly chop them into bite sized pieces. Heat the oil in a saute pan and add the garlic. Cook the garlic for about five minutes. Add the damp greens and stir to coat them with the garlic and oil. Cook over medium heat for another five minutes till just wilted. Season with salt and pepper and the red wine vinegar, stir and remove from heat. Put greens in a bowl and stir in the pickled red onions (recipe below). Serve at room temp or serve cold after chilling for 4 hours

Pickled Red Onions
1 red onion, thinnly sliced
2 cups cold water
1 teaspoon salt
4-5 Tbs. red wine vinegar
Put the sliced onions in a large bowl and cover them with the cold water. Let the onions sit in the cold water for 10 minutes, then drain. In a small bowl, combine the onions, salt and vinegar, tossing the ingredients to combine. The onions can be ready to use in as little as 10 minutes. The longer you leave them in the vinegar the more wilted and tart they will become (a good thing)
Use the onions right away or store them in a covered container in the fridge for up to a week.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Have a Happy Passover everyone!

Monday, April 11, 2011

a spring braise

The fruits and vegetables of Spring are coming at us at long last and I can't keep my hands off them!
This week I have been making a lot of Mediterranean inspired menus, both for myself and for clients. A light braise of tender spring vegetables is perfect this time of year and goes so well with the Moroccan tagines, spiked with preserved lemons, that keep obsessing me. Artichokes, spinach and fava beans make a great combination and really bring the season to the table.
Fresh fava beans are not always easy to find, even when in season. The average supermarket will probably not carry them. I found a bounty at Whole Foods at Union Square yesterday and grabbed them up. A pound of favas in their pods will yield about a cup and a quarter of beans. Not much. The work piles up when in addition to removing the beans from their fleshy pods, they then have to be blanched and skinned. The skinning requires a pinch and a push for every bean. Not difficult, but certainly time consuming.
Is it worth it? Well, the flavor is delicate. Favas are similar in flavor, looks and texture to young fresh lima beans or edamame, and you could substitute either of those for the favas in a recipe. But fresh favas can be considered a delicacy and so I urge you to go for it if you have the opportunity.
I cheated on the artichokes, buying frozen and saving my busy work for the favas. Fresh, tender spinach leaves melt down quickly in this dish and pull all the flavors together.

Artichoke Hearts, Spinach and Fava Beans Braised in White Wine 
1 lb. fava beans in their pods
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 lb. frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
1 lb. young spinach leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chopped mint
salt and pepper to taste
For the Fava Beans:
Remove the beans from their pods and discard the pods. In boiling salted water, blanch the beans for five minutes, till tender. Strain the beans from the pot and set aside to cool. When the beans are cool enough to handle, gently remove the skin and reserve the beans.

For the Braise:
Heat the oil in a saute pan, add the onion and garlic and cook for 6-8 minutes, till the onion is soft. Add the artichoke hearts to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook the artichokes, stirring ocasionally, for about 10 minutes. Add the spinach to the pan and add an extra drizzle of olive oil if the pan seems dry. Stir the spinach until it is coated with oil and the ingredients are combined. Add the white wine and cover the pan. Cook at a low temperature for 6-7 minutes until the spinach has wilted. Add the fava beans and the chopped mint and stir to combine. Cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes till the beans are warmed through.
Serves four.

This just might be my dinner tonight! But since it is Book Fair night at the elementary school and time is a factor, I might go for the edamame idea. But I do have one question: If I decided to go with fava beans, and did not take the time to remove the skin, would this negatively affect the outcome of the dish? I have not worked with fava beans before, so just curious...

Artichokes are one of the notorious "difficult-to-pair-with-wine" vegetables. They have a tendency to make wines taste more sweet than they actually are. I have read that adding lemon to the dish and pairing with a wine with high acidity is a good remedy for this problem. So Deb, how do you think adding fresh lemon juice to the braise would affect it?

Going this route would have me adding a little lemon juice (pending Deb's response...) and choosing a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Buy extra, and use the same wine for the braise. The Sancerre region is located in the Loire Valley of France, and the wines are made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. They are bone dry, have racy acidity, and typically have very little oak influence. Winemakers tend to focus on bringing out the best, most pure elements of the Sauvignon Blanc grape as well as the terroir.

Sancerre is typically more expensive than the "everyday" category, but you can easily find great wines in the $15-$20 price range. Pascal Jolivet is a big name in Sancerre, and his wines are very readily available. One of my current favorites, though, is the Domaine Laporte Sancerre ($19.99). It offers zippy acidity combined with wonderful citrus, honey flavors, and a fine minerality.

Monday, April 4, 2011

a seasonal frittata

With Spring now firmly in the air my thoughts are turning towards the highly anticipated arrival of spring vegetables. 
Tucking a few forced branches cut from my backyard adds seasonal charm to a $3 bunch of daffodils from the corner deli.

Asparagus can be found anytime of year these days, but I like to wait until Easter is in sight before busting them out on the menu. The cool nip still in the air this week stirred me to come up with a more substantial preparation for them. I was thinking about a way to serve these tender green spikes as a finger food for guests to nibble on while sipping wine before a meal. Spanish Tapas were my inspiration, a frittata specifically, one loaded with asparagus.
This is a bit of a variation on a classic frittata, almost more of a quiche, but without the crust. It was served to friends last night and appeared to be a hit!

Asparagus Frittata

1 bunch of thin asparagus
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 med. potato
3 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated fontina cheese
salt and pepper
1 Tbs Butter

Trim the ends off the asparagus and cut them into 1" pieces. In a pot of boiling salted water, blanch the asparagus for no more than 3 minutes, drain and season with salt and pepper and lemon juice, then set aside. 
Cut the potato into cubes, put pieces into a small pot, cover with water add a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, cooking for 10 minutes, till potato is tender. Drain, season the potato with salt and pepper and set aside. 
In a small bowl combine the eggs, cream and grated cheese and whisk to combine.
In a nonstick pan melt the butter. Spread the potatoes in a flat layer over the butter in the pan. Add the asparagus on top and then pour the egg mixture on top. Keep heat at a low even flame and let the egg mixture set. 
Using a spatula push the edges of the frittata towards the center as it is cooking, allowing the egg mixture to seep down through the vegetables. When the frittata seems to be well set on the bottom, get a plate, the same size as the pan. Lay the plate on top of the frittata and quickly flip the frittata onto the plate. Gently slide the frittata back into the pan and allow it to cook until the egg is set on the bottom side, for another minute or two. Slide the frittata out of the pan and on to a serving plate. Allow the frittata to cool to room temerature before cutting into small serving sizes. 
Sever 4-8 at room temp.

Contributors wanted:
If anyone is feeling inspired, there is a Wiki page called MyCityCuisine that is looking for contributors. The project is creating a resource for travelers looking to sample the best of local cuisines. Check it out at:

While Spring may not be in the air just yet, it is still Spring. I have been so eagerly awaiting the change in produce! Twice in the past two weeks I have made dinner for friends, and both times opted to include asparagus in my dishes. And, both were pasta dishes. At first, I had planned to blanch the asparagus. Then, I considered roasting it. I finally decided to cut it into 1 inch pieces, tossed with shitakes and baby bellas with a little salt and pepper, and olive oil, and threw it in my grill basket. I let it cook on the grill for about 3 minutes, till bright green with some grill marks, but still very crunchy. I absolutely love the smoky flavor the flames give to the vegetables. Outrageously delicious. Deb's fritatta sounds wonderful. I wonder how grilled asparagus would work here? Would the grilled, smoky flavor be too overpowering? I think it could work...

Gruner Veltliner would be my wine of choice. It's one of my favorites to enjoy this time of year. Well, maybe if it was a tad bit warmer. And sunnier. And not so gloomy outside. Gruner is the most widely planted varietal in Austria. The wines typically exhibit wonderful citrus flavors and a distinct aroma of white pepper. While previously Gruners had been made in a "simple" style, today Austria's more serious winemakers have discovered that the grape can actually produce stunningly intense, complex wines. Vegetal aromas are common, like that of asparagus, and the more complex wines show beautiful tropical fruit characteristics. Extremely versatile, Gruner can pair with notoriously "difficult" foods like artichokes and asparagus. The high acidity of the wine provides a great contrast to the rich, creamy flavors of the fritatta. A perfect match for Deb's dish!

One of my current favorite Gruners is the Loimer Lois Gruner Veltliner. A steal at $11.99, it has beautiful perfumed aromatics and a spectacular spiciness on the palate. Bright, fresh and crisp, it is an ideal warm-weather wine.