When did asparagus start to look like it grew up down creek from the leaky nuke plant? Once upon a time all bundles of asparagus resembled packs of Ticonderoga #2′s, except they were green instead of school bus yellow, and tipped with terminal buds instead of pink erasers. And thin. Thinner than pencils. Not these Asparagus with Horseradish Cream, Chervil and Honey. These guys are hefty, but by today’s standards they’re mid-size. Larger examples abound, at least at our local WFM. Blame France–they started it. A handful of Februaries ago, in a more innocent age of asparagus, I was strolling through the open air market near Bastille with a Parisian friend when she paused before a box of giant asparagus, not yet widespread in the US. Gargantuan and lavender. She pincered a particularly fat one with two fingers, cocked an eyebrow upward as she examined it and then said, “C’est genial, ceci.” Nice, this one. Nice embraces a variety of meanings, but for purposes of this post I’m going to take it to mean delicious. After eating some I had to agree and since then, I’ve grown to prefer big asparagus. Once you get past the, uh, big factor there’s more there there, more asparagus flavor. Thin asparagus are the vegetable analog to spare ribs. Crazy delicious, but you need to eat a wheelbarrow of them before you cry, “Enough!” With the new Schwarzenegger stalks the crazy delicious remains, but embodied in fewer stalks to snap and peel (if you’re the snapping-peeling type) and, since asparagus are finger food, sigh, less opportunity to dribble sauce down your front.
Vegetables never ranked high in my juvenile estimation, and cauliflower occupied a particularly low rung on the ladder, beneath broccoli but definitely above rutabegas. Everybody behaved as though cauliflower were a deviant vegetable, safely edible only after an extended baptism in a volcanic bath to exorcise its cruciferous demons. This reduced it to a watery, …
I met my first leek in high school. I was a senior and the leek was in Julia Child’s Vichyssoise. I wanted to be an instant convert, but it just wasn’t happening for me. Potatoes, these funny sci-fi onions, cream, the cold temperature–it was just too far off the map. Three years later I gave leeks another try. This time I was a student in Switzerland and the leeks were baked in a gratin with cream and Gruyère. Whammo! Direct hit. The Swiss also love potato-leek soup, hot and cold, so I got plenty of opportunity to endear myself to this long allium. As a young householder I braised them with chicken stock and cream, while Jody has always been a bit more restrained, using evoo. As I get older I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to Jody’s side of the fence, ergo this week’s post, Braised Leeks with Meyer Lemon, Pancetta and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Gratin typically brings to mind a rich and cheesy dish of root vegetables (pronounced by all American children to rhyme with “all rotten”). Nutritional guilt over this fat fest drives food bloggers to frantic rearrangements of their refrigerator poetry magnets into epithets like “a holiday indulgence” and a “once in awhile treat.” But in the Adams-Rivard kitchen we scoff at a such reservations. We eat gratins when we feel like it, whether Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny is joining us for dinner or not. Thank God for bicycles. Which offers me a segue into this week’s dish, Eggplant, Pepper and Tomato Gratin. While pedaling through Provence a month ago we couldn’t help but notice how much lighter a Provencal gratin is than its Gerard Depardieu-like cousins to the north. The cream had vanished, along with much of the cheese, both supplanted by olive oil, bread crumbs, and fistfuls of crushed herbs. Olive oil, we were reminded, transforms the flesh of vegetables into something unctuous. Caramelization is the gilding on the lily.
Mexican Corn Salad is a riff on the south-of-the-border street food classic – grilled corn served with lime, mayo and cheese. Except there was no room on our grill, so Jody’s sister Ginny, the creator of the dish, threw it in the oven just to see what would happen. It didn’t get smokey or charred, the way it would have on the grill, but it worked out fine nevertheless. Testing the salad four times in the last two weeks (i.e. fed our kids and their friends), confirmed what we’ve always suspected: whether the corn is local or not is way more important than whether it’s cooked on the grill or in the oven. We sampled corn from Whole Foods, from a farmers market down on the Cape and from our neighbor outside of Boston, Allandale Farms. That latter two choices made corn salads that sing – the Whole Foods option was okay (the kids hoovered it up), but not in the same league as the farm stuff. Don’t cheat yourself. If you’ve got local corn available, use it–even if you just steam it. People get a little loopy about corn, perhaps because it shows up so late in the season. I’ve seen people who would sneer at an out of state tomato pawing through a mound of imported supermarket corn in June, obsessively wrenching apart the husks to peer into the crown, invariably disappointed. What are they hoping to find? Do they really think that the starchy ears trucked in from ten states away will be any good? Have tomatoes taught them nothing? If peace, love and happiness aren’t growing in your own back yard–at least when it comes to corn and tomatoes–then they probably aren’t growing anywhere at all.
This is a recipe for the 5th, 6th or 9th of July, but not the 4th, when the grilling train pulls into town with its freight cars of steaks, lobsters, salmon filets, pork shoulders, eggplant, roasted peppers, whatever. Grilled Spring Onion and Strawberry Salad with Pistachio Pesto is easy–you could do it–but it will get lost amid the fanfare over Aunt Sophie’s famous deviled eggs, and the potato salad made with diced fermented sour pickles from Brooklyn, and the story about your brother Bob who almost blew his thumb off with an m-80 when he was a kid.
Save it for a quiet day this weekend, when a meal with just one main course and only one or two sides or a salad sounds great, when there’s a bit of culinary light left to shine on a rare seasonal treat.
If the word ‘turnips” doesn’t make your heart go pitter-patter there’s a good chance you’re suffering from the after-effects of Araac Syndrome (Ate Rutabagas As A Child). Let’s face it, rutabagas are to gastronomic pleasure what Miss Hannigan is to social work. Not to worry. We have the cure for what ails you: Stir-Fried Hakurei Turnips with Dried Shrimp, Chiles, Garlic and Lime.
Pity Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. The late 18th century polymath would be rolling in his grave in Père Lachaise were he aware of the abuse heaped upon his beloved potato by modern nutritionists. If there were ever a lobbyist for potatoes, it was Parmentier. In Parmentier’s time most of Europe regarded the potato as fit for little more than animal fodder. In France cultivation of potatoes was forbidden by law, a natural outgrowth of then current French belief that potatoes were thought to cause leprosy. Parmentier became acquainted with potatoes while fed them as a prisoner in a Prussian prison during the Napoleonic wars, but few Frenchmen were willing to take him at his word about the benefits of eating them. Determined to bring his countrymen around to his way of thinking Parmentier threw himself into a decades long campaign of public demonstrations, potato-themed dinners for the rich and influential, and public lectures. Today, as a member of the Gang of Three (along with rice and bread), potatoes stand accused of undermining the People’s waistline, usually in league with its natural allies, cream and cheese. But there’s a way of having one potatoes without taking on a wheelbarrow of calories. Enter Boulangère Potatoes.
Something discordant this way comes. It happens in every kitchen, if you cook together long enough. Jody and I did a Dagwood and Blondie over today’s post, Risotto with Kale Pesto, made in a pressure cooker. My willingness to fudge things a bit for a weeknight dinner versus the cruel exactitude of a restaurant chef. As Jody not so delicately summed up our contretemps: “You’re the photographer. [Ouch!] I’m the chef, and my reputation is on the line.” Guess who got the broom in the back of the head?
The idea was to come up with a side dish for Thanksgiving. But after much soul searching and a brainstorming session based on What do you do with Brussels sprouts? we decided that the world wasn’t crying out for another version of brussels sprouts with bacon.
Instead we’re offering Seared Brussels Sprouts with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce. People who do not love Brussels sprouts (me) love these.