It BURNS

As part of our anniversary celebration, Teacherman and I took a trip up to Madison, to eat at l’Etoile, an AMAZING restaurant dedicated to seasonal, local food, and to go to Madison’s epically-sized farmer’s market.

We bought, among other things, four quarts of strawberries (for Teacherman’s first attempt at making a berry wine) and, something that I’ve never eaten before: garlic scapes.

Garlic scapes are the long green stem that grows up out of a planted bulb of garlic. Rarely seen in grocery stores, most garlic scapes are cut off the bulb and tossed away. People who grow garlic themselves, however, have long known that the scapes can be used in food wherever you need an especially pungent kick of garlic.

I’ve read about garlic scapes, certainly, but I’d never seen a recipe that I particularly wanted to make myself. Last Wednesday, though, a recipe for white bean and garlic scape dip appeared in the New York Times. (I would link to it, but it’ll disappear after a few days, leaving my link broken). It’s virtually identical to most white bean dips–beans, olive oil, salt, garlic–but instead of using garlic cloves, it used raw garlic scapes.

I don’t know why the recipe stuck in my mind–I rarely make white bean dips, tending instead to prefer southwestern black bean dip or hummus–but when I saw the garlic scapes at the farmer’s market I was taken in by the piles and mounds of twisty, spiraling, bean-like shoots. Every farmer selling them only wanted to sell the scapes by the pound, but I couldn’t imagine finding a use for an entire pound. I talked one woman down to just selling me a handful–probably 4 or 5 shoots–and took them back to Chicago. I threw the scapes into the food processor with one drained can of white beans, a pinch of salt and a couple of glugs of olive oil. I blended the whole thing until smooth, then scooped the thick mixture into two bowls and served it for lunch with sugar snap peas for dipping.

White Bean Dip with Garlic Scapes

It was astonishingly delicious, the scapes adding a big hit of raw garlic flavor, but also a grassy freshness not present in even the most recently peeled garlic cloves.  It was also so rich with that rawness (really–it was the scapes that added the richness, not the olive oil at all) that it coated every surface in my mouth, and my nose kept smelling it from inside my head. 

We ate the dip quickly and greedily, reveling in the pungency and burn. We finished up with the rest of the sugar snap peas, the sweetness providing a welcome contrast to what had come before.

A few minutes after we finished doing the dishes, though, we noticed that the burning flavor of garlic scapes wasn’t going away. We brushed our teeth. No difference. We brushed our teeth again. No change. We went out and bought NEW toothbrushes and brushed our teeth again. Gah!

I love garlic, but I don’t really care to taste it for six hours straight, with no ability to rid myself of it. The taste filled my mouth all the way up into my sinuses and it Would Not Go Away.

I loved the garlic scape dip. I loved the taste, I loved the burn, I loved how overwhelming it was. I have no doubt that I’ll be making something with garlic scapes in it again. Even now I’m remembering the flavor of the scapes on my tongue: the heat of the dip, due only to the essential garlic oils. I’m almost longing to make the dip again immediately.

It might, however, have to wait until next spring, when I’ve forgotten how absolutely overpowering it is to walk around with my head utterly infused with garlic for hours and hours. If it wasn’t so delicious, it would be horrifying.

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Published in: on June 26, 2008 at 8:37 am  Leave a Comment  

A Year and a Day

What did we eat for lunch on June 23rd last year?

This:

Reception Spread 1
Reception Spread 2
Homemade bread, compound butter, big salads of farmer’s market greens with raspberry-mustard vinaigrette, big bowls of berries, three kinds of cheese (including Gruyere, an aged goat and a tangy Brie-like cheese), a smoked salmon-pink peppercorn tart in an almond crust, and a three-layer fritatta, with a roasted red pepper layer, a spinach layer and a cheese layer.

And for dessert?
Wedding cake

Wedding Cake.

Wedding cake and lemon cheesecake

Specifically, an almond cake filled with mixed fresh berries and frosted with vanilla bean whipped cream and decorated with red currants and a lemon cheesecake topped with lemon curd and black currants.

And what did we have for lunch on June 23rd this year?
Anniversary lunch

Sea scallops wrapped in radicchio and pancetta, then grilled and served with a red lettuce salad from the farmer’s market.

The scallop recipe was beyond simple–sprinkle the scallops with salt and pepper, wrap each one in a radicchio leaf, and then wrap the leaves with a slice of pancetta. My slices were inexpertly wrapped at the butchers, and thus had unraveled. I ended up just wrapping it around and around and around each little radicchio bundle and securing the ends with toothpicks.

Who am I kidding–I used about 3 toothpicks per bundle. I am not good at food-skewering.

The grill caramelized the radicchio and infused the flavor of both the pancetta and radicchio into each scallop. In spite of the fiddly eating required by all the toothpicks, it was delicious, especially from our unaccustomed seats under our lawn umbrella (which we haven’t set up, sadly, since our wedding reception). Teacherman poured an Alsatian wine to drink alongside the meal–it reminded him perfectly of the wines from our honeymoon.

Lunch was wonderful, yes, but what did we eat for dinner? Last year, we didn’t eat anything for dinner. Our reception was still going on, and due to the enticements of the lunch board, we’d eaten too much of everything.

This year, though, lunch was elegant and austere. And so, for dinner:

Anniversary dinner

Chocolate-peanut butter cookies and chocolate-peanut butter ice cream. What’s the point of being a grown-up if you can’t do this sort of thing every now and then?

(I have to admit, though, that I don’t feel remotely like a grown-up. Even though I’m nearly 30, and even though I’m married, I still have to remind myself that I’m not a kid. Thus, of course, the ideal dinner of cookies and ice cream).

If you’ll forgive my sentimentality (and if there’s one day a year when one is allowed to be sappy, one’s wedding anniversary ought to be it): Here’s hoping that we always feel this ridiculously young, and that each anniversary is as lovely–and delicious–as this one.

Published in: on June 23, 2008 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Spring’s Last Breakfast

Rhubarb Maple Fool

Rhubarb-maple fool with cinnamon and vanilla.

Published in: on June 20, 2008 at 6:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Spring, at the Last Minute

Yes, it really is spring. Finally.

I know that in less than a week it will technically be summer, but spring itself has been a long time in coming. First it was exceptionally cold and rainy, and then it was exceptionally hot and violently stormy, and in neither of those conditions were any spring vegetables available except for salad greens and occasional rhubarb.

Now, though, there are actually strawberries at the farmers’ markets, not to mention tiny carrots, multicolored radishes and asparagus in myriad sizes. This weekend I even bought some eensy little baby zucchini–THAT made me believe that summer really is on the way, even though today’s high was only in the 60s.

The weird weather, though, has meant that my meals are not as aggressively seasonal as they usually are at this time of year. I’ve had to augment my market-purchased greens with store-bought vegetables, just to vary the salad rut. On the cold days I’ve fallen back on over-wintered, somewhat unfortunate roots and pomme fruits (I’m beginning to be tired of apples), and on hot days I’ve guiltily eaten greenhouse-grown eggplant from much too far away.

Last Wednesday, though, I ate a meal that was almost 100% spring. At the morning market I picked up a small box of sugar snap peas and a small box of shelling peas, along with a bunch of spring onions, a sheaf of fresh dill and a bag of crunchy baby romaine lettuce. When I got home, I chopped the sugar snaps, shelled the remaining peas, and put both into a large salad bowl. I quartered the head of romaine, then sliced the quarters into chunks. I finely minced some of the dill and haphazardly sliced two or three spring onions, slicing finely only near the bulb. The lettuce and aromatics went into the bowl with the peas. Enamored by the crunchy sweetness of the sugar-snap peas and romaine, I went in search of more crunch and found a can of water chestnuts in the cupboard. I drained and chopped the water chestnuts and threw them in as well.

It was shaping up to be a delicious salad. I probably could have stopped here, but I needed some protein as well. I’ve seen a similar recipe that included bacon, but that fat, delicious though it might be, didn’t seem to fit with the clean, springy aesthetic of the salad. I liked the idea of a light smokiness, though, so I decided on some smoked turkey I had in the fridge. I cut a couple of ounces of the meat into pieces similar in size to the sliced sugar snap peas.

The salad now had every component except for dressing. The smoked turkey, the dill and the peas made me think of creamy casseroles; to work in the same mouth-feel and similar flavors, but without the heaviness of a cream sauce, I added a few tablespoons of mayonnaise, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper. One quick stir to coat the salad with the dressing, and the salad was complete.

Spring Pea Salad

It really was spring in a bowl. The fresh crunchiness of the sugar snap peas, water chestnuts and lettuce ribs contrasted with the yielding chew of the shelled peas and the smoked turkey, the pungency of the spring onions and the grassiness of the dill. The dressing was both creamy and tangy, and that tied all the ingredients together. The entire bowl–an enormous pudding basin–disappeared in an instant, and I could have eaten almost twice as much again. To finish? Two or three perfect strawberries, dripping with juice and perfectly balanced between sweet and tart.

I want to eat another salad as seasonally rooted as this, but I don’t know where to start. I’ll be going to one more farmer’s market before the first day of spring; hopefully I’ll find inspiration amidst the stalls.

Published in: on June 16, 2008 at 7:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Long and Scattered

Behold, I am alive.  Ambulatory, even.  (Kind of.  I’m walking perfectly easily, just not for very long periods of time). 

What’s more, I have been cooking.  AND going to the newly-opened farmer’s market. 

Given that it’s still so early in the spring, I’ve been able to do very little at the farmer’s market aside from make a considerable dent in the supply of pea shoots and rhubarb every week, but still.  The pea shoots have graced innumerable salads and sautes and stir-fries, and the rhubarb has been part of soup (poached in red wine and cassis), sorbet (cooked with the juice and zest of blood oranges) and smoothies:

Rhubarb Smoothie

(Greek yogurt, fresh ginger: need I say more?)

Unfortunately, aside from dishes containing the just-picked farmer’s market produce, my main meals have been somewhat lackluster.  Nothing has been actually bad, but nothing has excited me or made me want to write about it.  I haven’t saved a recipe I’ve prepared in almost a month. 

I am not entirely discouraged, however.  Even when living on hum-drum lunches and mediocre dinners, breakfast is always there to save me. 

Like probably 50% of the rest of the population of the U.S., when I was growing up, my parents would occasionally fix ‘breakfast for dinner’ as a special treat.  Whole wheat pancakes with scrambled eggs and bacon was the standard meal when the whole family sat down, and enormous potato pancakes–really thinly shredded hash browns bound with beaten egg and served with (forgive me) ketchup–when the food was meant for just my sister and me. 

Unlike most of the population of the U.S., however, my family also ate breakfast for breakfast.  I know that many people are unable to stomach heavy food–or food of any kind–early in the morning, but my family has never been been part of that group.  Toast (with peanut butter and honey) and fried eggs was my default meal through childhood, while my sister took her toast neat and her eggs scrambled.  My parents both consumed large quantities of yogurt and granola, and chili-covered cheese-filled omelets were rampant.  All of this on ordinary weekday mornings, no less. 

I don’t eat quite the same way anymore.  I have to eat my breakfast at 6:30 am to be able to get to work on time, and I cannot allow myself unlimited time to prepare a meal.  I must, however, eat just as heartily as I always have.  My usual lunch break isn’t until 1 pm, with no break for a snack, meaning that my breakfast has to last me more than six hours (and a 1.5 mile walk, when I’m up to par).

On weekdays I stick to my strict schedule: I eat a hardboiled egg, some homemade sausage (variety subject to change at a moment’s notice) and a large serving of whatever fruit is in season. 

Weekends, however, are a different story.  I have much more time to prepare my meal, and, given that I’m an early riser even without an alarm, the kitchen to myself to prepare it in. 

Farmer's market eggs

My weekend meals usually center around eggs.  Sometimes savory–two weeks ago I poached three eggs in the leftover sauce from a curry-roasted chicken.  It was tangy, spicy and absolutely divine.

Curried Eggs

More often, though, I use my eggs for sweet dishes.  Souffleed omelets and jam-filled crepes are my fall-back meals for weekends.  Both are usually topped with fruit, and both benefit from the eggs I get from the farmer’s market.  The yolks are bright yellow and melt into a custard with almost no need for additional flavoring; the whites are stronger than I am and whip up to stratospheric heights. 

Last week I made a very simple souffleed omelet–I whisked three egg yolks with two tablespoons of simple syrup and a teaspoon of vanilla, then folded in three egg whites, whipped to stiff peaks.  I poured the mixture into a hot cast-iron skillet, the bottom filmed with flavorless oil.  After a second on the heat to set the bottom, I slid the pan into the 400 degree oven, for 15 minutes, until it was cooked through–golden on the outsides, but still soft on the inside, like a meringue. 

I topped the whole thing with fresh strawberries tossed with slivered mint.  It looks enormous and sounds decadent, but it was so light on the tongue that the entire omelet disappeared without a second thought.

Strawberry souffleed omelet

Yesterday morning I made crepes.  Three more of those lovely eggs whisked up into the batter, along with a little Amaretto.  I filled each one with apricot jam, dusted the plate with cinnamon and topped it with raspberries.  It was, believe it or not, a clean-out-the-refrigerator meal. 

Breakfast is my favorite meal, and I’ve been having some great ones, but here’s hoping that the other two meals are soon up to snuff.

Published in: on June 2, 2008 at 7:49 pm  Leave a Comment